The Duel Justice of the Jehovah's Witnesses
Former members of the organization denounce that this religious entity that is recognized by the State covers up cases of abuse of minors and other crimes after judging them internally
Israel Florez reports that he had been sexually abused at age five and that Jehovah's Witnesses had asked him not to report him.
Officially, according to the register of religious entities of the Ministry of Justice, there are 110,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain. They have been registered since 1970. Their own estimates raise the figure to 200,000. Jehovah's Witnesses are known, above all, for two stereotypes: their determined preachers and their refusal to receive blood transfusions. A third and delicate feature is returning, in the last days, to the present. They face, in Spain and other countries, multiple police and judicial denunciations for not acting against cases of sexual abuse within the congregations. They deny it, but internal documents show that the organization has a kind of duel justice, governed by biblical principles and in which, without going to the authorities, it is judged, supervised and sentenced (or acquitted) to the members who have committed what they determine as sin. Often the sins they judge internally are in fact crimes.
"Documents relating to an allegation of sexual abuse of minors ... should be stored in an envelope that will be kept indefinitely in the confidential file of the congregation," says one of the confidential documents of Jehovah's Witnesses to direct elders and shows what procedures are followed in this organization when they encounter cases of this type.
The letter, dated August 1, 2016, was drafted by the Governing Body, the home office leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses in New York, and sent last summer to the branches of all countries. From there, the leaders of the Spanish congregations (known as the Body of Elders) were sent the letter and were ordered to follow the guidelines described in the letter and then file it under strict confidentiality. This is how the Witnesses work: the leadership of the elders drafts the guidelines to follow, the internal rules, and each congregation must scrupulously observe them.
"In all cases, the victim has the absolute right to report abuse to the authorities," the document states. But, from there, the letter does not return to refer to the law and bases all the instructions and orders in internal protocols of action. "When an allegation of child abuse is presented to the Body of Elders, two of them must immediately call the Department of Legal Affairs to receive legal advice. (...) After receiving advice from the branch, the Body of Elders will name two of its Members to conduct a Bible-based investigation of any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. They must scrupulously follow the procedures laid down in the Scriptures ... If the Body of Elders determines that there is sufficient biblical evidence for the formation of a judicial committee, the Coordinator will assign it. "
The document also refers to the sentence received by a pedophile, which will at most be permanently expelled from the congregation, although in most of these cases the expulsion is temporary until they show repentance, as can be read in the same documents . That is to say: a pedophile would not only not be expelled from the Jehovah's Witnesses, but, with repentance, he will be absolved and pardoned.
The Police Investigate Complaints
Israel Flórez Pérez belonged to Jehovah's Witnesses until 2008. He currently resides in Toledo and is 43 years old. When he was five he was sexually abused by a relative, also a member of the religion. He was placed it in front of a mirror, undressed and made to act out a scene that Israel only understood years later. It was not until 1999 when he decided to tell it. "I did it because I realized that it had happened to many more companions when they were children", he says sitting in the cafeteria of an avenue of Toledo. " I then went to the Elders of the congregation. And they did absolutely nothing. They hid it. Two years later, another Witness abused my wife and, again, they stopped him. That's when we realized we had to get out of there. "
Flórez decided, along with other ex-members of the Witnesses such as Juan Bourgon, Miguel García or Noelia Piris, to found the group 'AbusedJW' to share experiences. "In total, we have already filed some 20 complaints of molestation and abuse, but almost all of them are being investigated." Some of them reported their case a few days ago in El Periódico de Cataluña, currently the Police investigates these complaints and the Barcelona court has opened a new case for Noelia.
Manuel is the fictitious name of another member of AbusedJW who for many years was a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Spain. He is the leader in speaking out against the problems within the organization. AbusedJW has forced the Jehovah's Witnesses in Spain to register more than a hundred cases of sexual abuse of minors within the religion. If not for their actions, all of the cases would have been tried internally and filed away from the reach of the authorities.
Abuse crimes by Jehovah’s Witnesses have recently been exposed in Australia. There, the government announced last July that it is investigating 1,006 cases of sexual abuse that have been hidden by the organization and not reported to authorities. Manuel takes this research as an example. "There are about 66,000 members in Australia and more than 1,000 abuse cases are being reported. In Spain there are almost 200,000. A little math and logic can give a staggering figure. " There have also been several abuse cases in the United States in recent years.
They deny that they have hidden cases of child abuse
Aníbal Matos is the spokesman for the Office of Institutional Relations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Spain. We are received with kindness at the organization's headquarters, a group of low and spacious buildings located in Ajalvir, outside Madrid. With a quiet voice and certainty, Matos asserts that they only judge "what is considered a sin, never a crime." And he adds: "If any member incurs a case of molestation, the first thing we do is urge the victim and his family to report to the police. If they refuse, out of shame, because this sometimes happens, we have a moral and even legal obligation to go to the authorities. "
The reality is that, since Jehovah's Witnesses have existed in Spain, not one single case of abuse of minors has ever been reported, as confirmed by the Branche's own spokesman. The members of 'AbusedJW” contradict Matos' explanation. "They never go to the police. They submit the case to an internal tribunal known as a Judicial Committee, they impose the sentences - which consist of temporary expulsions of the confession – and or forgiveness, "Manuel says.
Florez adds: "Jehovah's Witnesses inn Spain have not reported several hundred criminal offenses and abuses. They encourage the victims to hide them. Victims of sexual abuse have had to listen that to go to the worldly law would be to betray Jehovah. We received a lot of pressure to keep quiet. " Matos retorts again: "We are based on biblical laws, but this does not justify or protect against breaking the law." And he attacks: "The ex-members sometimes distort reality, reinterpret the facts because something has bothered them and that is why they are gone."
Diego Hidalgo, a resident of Lleida, was a member of Jehovah's Witnesses for many years and served as a congregation Elder and on Judicial Committees for the organization. He says that "there is a record where they keep cases of sexual abuse." "They are stored in blue envelopes, where the case reports are stored under tight security," he says. "Do not be surprised that they are being destroyed right now if they suspect we are talking about this. Do not believe in the justice of the State because there is a phrase in the Bible of St. Paul that says: 'Dare any man take his brother before The justice of a man? "They will never go to the police, they will discourage it whatever the crime, they say that if you do, you will bring reproach on name of Jehovah.
Flórez, who was abused as a child and asked not to go to the police, smiles bitterly: "If the Police some day in the headquarters or in the congregations and get these envelopes ... It is going to put together a lot of good ".
Jehovah's Witnesses define themselves as a Christian, millenarian, antitrinitarian and anti-ecumenical confession. They carry out a literal interpretation of the Bible and were founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1881 in the United States. Its central legal seat is in Brooklyn (New York), in an enclosure called the Watch Tower.
According to their own data, they are present in more than 150 countries and have about 8 million members worldwide. In Spain they are distributed in about 1,400 congregations. 'Shepherd God's flock' is the title of the book - edited by the organization itself and only accessible to the Elders of the congregation - which serves as jurisprudence for Jehovah's Witnesses. It explains the procedure for forming judicial committees, appeals and convictions that consist of the judgement of the guilty.
This parallel justice has consequences. "People suffer because they can not express their problems. It is a vicious circle: those who hurt you take care of your justice and offer you support. It is traumatic. Brutal, "explains Flórez. His own sister, Naomi, suffered one of these trials. When the Judicial meetings had been going on for several months, Naomi committed suicide.
It happened on August 21, 2015. Five years earlier, he had decided to leave the Jehovah's Witnesses. In doing so, the congregation shunned her. Together with the divorce, Noemi was left alone, with 3 small children and a pension of 400 euros per month. The situation, seasoned by the pressure of her parents, made her return to congregation last year. As she had been divorced - something considered a sin - she was summoned before a Judicial Committee. Noemí entered into depression and the support that received was offered as a spiritual type. "The Committee assigned her the help of a Witness who was neither a psychiatrist nor had a basic education. My sister stopped eating. They made a mental cocoa. She felt guilty, she depended on the Committee, she had no one to go to ... She could not get up from that, "says Israel in a choked voice. "I do not say that Naomi would commit suicide for that, but what I have clear is that it was fatal."
The organization's own jurisprudence, the book 'Shepard the Flock', directs what should be done when there is a risk of suicide. It states on page 89: "On occasions when the accused threatens to commit suicide, it is best to suspend the hearing and focus on helping the person to regain his or her balance. They must assure him that the desire of the committee is to help her, and then to deal with the subject of depression and suicide using the Scriptures. "
The same book, on page 85, makes it clear that this judicial system, apart from the rule of law, must be preserved in secret. He says: "If a journalist or a lawyer representing the accused communicates with the Elders, they should not provide any information about the case or confirm the existence of a judicial committee. Rather, they will give the following explanation: 'The physical and spiritual well-being of the Jehovah's Witnesses is of primary importance to the Elders, who have been appointed to shepherd the flock. This pastoral work is done in a confidential way. "
A page later, the book adds, "If the authorities demand confidential documents or ask the Elders to testify about confidential matters of the congregation, you should call the branch right away."
Diego Hidalgo, after serving as an Elder within the organization and his work as an internal judge, now devotes himself to "deprogramming" Witnesses, as he explains sitting in the living room of his small apartment in Almacelles, Lleida. "My first case was with a woman from Galicia who refused to receive a blood transfusion. Jehovah's Witnesses consider it a sin to receive blood from others. Her health was getting worse, so the family called me and I had several talks with that woman until I convinced her. " The family offered Diego a generous sum for his work, but he refused. "I do not do it for money, I do it to help."
Since that first meeting, in 2008, Diego has helped about forty people get away from JW control. A few years ago he decided to give shape to his work in the form of an association, which he called 'Freedom', and presides today. The process is often repeated in each performance: the family calls Freedom, Diego meets with the Witness and makes him hesitate. "A person abducted, fanatic, does not attend to reasons. So my first encounter is always in biblical terms. Debate with the person using biblical arguments to make him understand that his religion is not true, that his beliefs are not found in the Bible as they have led him to believe. Once inoculated the doubt already begins to need logic".
Arantxa Martínez, a 22-year-old from Madrid, was "deprogrammed" by Diego two years ago. "I thought about leaving the organization, because the Witnesses are asking you not to study the Bible, that it takes time to read the Bible. So my parents worried and took me to talk to him." Arantxa remembers that he did not want to use logic, but Diego made him think things over. "He used the Bible to show me that they deceive us with interpretations. I was a hardcore believer, but from that day on, I was done with them."
Sometimes, Diego has to send these people to the psychologist or even to the psychiatrist. "The State is supposed to act against this cult: they are against the law, against the Constitution and against Human Rights, and they are protecting them, the State is guilty of allowing this to happen. It is a tolerated cult. "
Then, sitting in his living room, he reads a paragraph from the book 'Shepherd God's Flock', the internal rule book of the organization: "Is it wrong to love our relatives?" "Of course not, but we must love Jehovah more. And if he is worried about the behavior of an expelled relative, tell him to return to Jehovah, or have nothing to do with him, and remember: to always obey is the best option. "Diego closes the book, shrugs and shows the palms of hands.
THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
Members of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are called brothers and sisters, can not receive blood transfusions, can not smoke, get drunk, be adulterers, homosexuals, can not vote, join a party, join unions or associations, can not read apostate literature or relating to people who have left their religion, even if they are your relatives.
Nuria is the fictitious name of a young woman from Madrid who spent her childhood as a Jehovah's Witness. "My parents were not members and neither was I when I was younger, my parents joined, when I was about 10 years old," says sitting on a terrace in the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés. "From that time I remember that I could not celebrate birthdays. And that hurt a lot. Every time a classmate brought treats for his birthday I could not accept them because they came from Satan. " The other children made life impossible for her. "I was a weirdo. I was always alone and they harassed me. "
At Christmas she did not receive gifts either. "My parents tried to compensate for it in some way, so they let us choose a toy from the catalog for good grades. I remember that one year, when returning to class after Christmas, we were sent to write with the gifts we had received. And I had to leave it blank. "
Nuria has also recorded in memory the photo album of her parents' wedding: "They were married by the Catholic church before entering the religion. So my grandmother, who is a Witness, cut out all the catholic crosses and symbols out of the photos. The photo album of my parents' wedding is shattered. "
Nuria's mother, who also asks to hide her name, remembers her stage as Witness with some bitterness. "When you are a Witness you are a sheep and the rest of people are goats. And we avoided getting together with goats, "he explains. "You withdraw, you become locked in yourself. I changed my character. Everything seems sinful to you, it is impossible to integrate yourself into normal life. You are not part of the world, you are a sacred people. "