Another Church Sex Scandal… but It’s Not What You’re Expecting

A nine-year-old was molested by a church leader many years ago. The church knew about it, but kept it a secret. The victim is now 26. It’s taken that long for this case to run its course. But the church leader was found guilty of the abuse and the church was found guilty of covering it up.

A jury has just rewarded the victim $21,000,000 in punitive damages and $7,000,000 in compensatory damages. The church will owe $23,800,000 of that amount while rapist Jonathan Kendrick owes the rest.

The most surprisingly part of the story?

It has nothing to do with the Catholic Church:

The woman sued Watchtower, the Fremont, Calif., congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kendrick in 2011. She contended church elders acting under the authority of Watchtower knew about the risk of child sex abuse in their midst but kept it secret.

The lawsuit alleged that Watchtower had a policy that instructed elders in its Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations to keep reports of child sex abusers within the religious group secret to avoid lawsuits.

“I once wanted to be the best Jehovah’s Witness I could be. Now I feel I’m doing more to help other children in Jehovah’s Witnesses than I ever did walking door to door to spread the ‘good news,’” the woman said in a news release issued by [attorney Rick] Simons.

The woman added that she tried to get the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Southern California and in Fremont to change their policy but they wouldn’t listen to her. Suing them publicly was the best way she knew to expose them.

It worked. Let’s hope more people abused by JW leaders now have the courage to go public with their stories.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • mother555

    Test post

    • DanielMHazz

      Jehovah’s Witnesses pedophile cover up problem at a glance:
      It’s the Watchtower’s protocol for (non) handling of criminal pedophilia that is the root of this evil.Recent Watchtower legal department ‘damage control’ in house memos on ‘correcting’ past cover ups and years of past stone walling/foot dragging does not undo decades of child abuse damage.Too little too late!
       
      Jehovah’s Witness church is *apocalyptic* meaning they believe Armageddon ( the end of the world) is coming any moment to *fix* their internal crimes.So they play down scandals like child abuse.Involving serious issues of a moral or even criminal nature (as well as everyday matters like back-stabbing by fellow JWs) I would be told,”Danny just wait on Jehovah,any day we are going to be in the new system”.So,they let problems fester without dealing with them,this is what makes JW crimes unique to other groups.–Danny Haszard *tell the truth don’t be afraid* 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GIK2LNOOIERDVWXBJBN76JAHH4 Cheryl Kohout

        Maybe Armageddon is coming – for the JW, anyways. That’s one heck of a judgment, though I’m sure the hiding of the assets has been in full force for a while now.

        • Exjaydub

          Great conversations over @ reddit http://www.reddit.com/r/exjw/

      • gerard07

        Do you not have a life you jump from site to site telling the same story

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Do you jump from site to site following him?

  • 0xabad1dea

    Jehovah’s Witnesses often discourage their children from going to college because it will have been a “waste” when the world ends Any Day Now. What a blight on childhood they are. 

  • Crystal16

    Jehovah Witnesses always appear to me as a cult religion.

    • Glasofruix

      Maybe because it is a cult.

      • http://www.facebook.com/NemooftheCifer Nathan Cifer

        Of course it is a religion. 

    • Get

      Is there any that aren’t?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I thought the definition of ‘cult’ was that the leader was still alive.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Natalie-Willard/100001251170798 Natalie Willard

           The founder of the church is dead, for sure, but it’s an organization; there are a ton of different leaders, and as each leaves his position for one reason or another, he is replaced by another. They have all the leadership they need to keep functioning.

  • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D-Ma

    This is a problem in the Southern Baptists as well.  They tend to cover up any transgressions for the “cause of the gospel”.  Unfortunately it seems as though they are really covering them so they don’t lose adherents a.k.a. tithers.  The gospel just sounds like a much more noble cause.  Lying for the lord…nothing new under the sun.

    • Pauline

      Could you please elaborate on this?? My family is joining a SB church (it’s a great church BTW) but I was wary to attend service with them because I’ve heard there’s a negative connotation attached to being Southern Baptist. The only things I could find on the Internet were about how they were vehemently against integration during the Civil Rights Movement, but since have apologized publicly for being fools and might be soon electing their first black president.

      What else is bad about them?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D-Ma

         Here’s a link to StopBaptistPredators.org.  There’s loads of reading there.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D-Ma

         Now I have time to reply a bit more personally.  Southern Baptist Churches follow the Southern Baptist Convention, then their state convention.  While each individual church is supposedly autonomous, they are designed with the Pastor as authority over the church(as per Pauline instruction).  There’s one teeny tiny flaw here.  Pastors are given full authority over the church. 

        “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” ~Lord ActonWhile there are many pastors who are not corrupted to a point of the pure evil of predatory magnitude,  it seems to me, having sat under several in a short period of time, that most are, at the very least, ego centric and power hungry.  They try to control and manipulate their congregants into a very narrow and defined way of thinking which, wonder of wonders, just happens to align with their own.  There is spiritual abuse from the pulpit against anyone who dares raise a hand to question their thinking.  It is generally perceived as a threat to their authority.  Just a question.This is not an exaggeration.

  • Gwydion Frost

    A Jehovah’s Witness once tried to tell me that she refused to vote because “democracy” was from the Greek, meaning, “DEMON RULED”. Although I tried to correct her as politely as I could, she was adamant. From that moment on, I realized just how much brain damage ignorance can cause.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TLHIXVS2CHDJNWYPZJIZ5NNZ3A Robert

      Refused to vote?   She is doing us a favor.

    • gerard07

      She actually was right your the ignorant one lol democracy =government ruled by demons look it up!

      • Baby_Raptor

        If you’re going to call someone ignorant, try not to bugger basic spelling. You meant “you’re.”

      • amycas

         Democracy= demos (people) kratos (force)

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          politics = poli (many) tics (blood sucking parasites)

          • amycas

            I was just showing that the word actually has nothing to do with demons. 

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              Well yes, but of course you’d say that if you were possessed by demons.

  • John Purcell

     Anyone that thinks sexual abuse is limited to the Catholic Church is kidding themselves. It’s simply that much more egregious occurring, and being covered up, by self-appointed arbiters of morality.

  • Stev84

    Ultra-orthodox Jews have also covered up rapes and abuse

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501196907 Ste Ríkharðsson

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are very concerned with their image… and almost obsessed with keeping things secret from their members. Members must believe, North Korean style, that everything in their congregation is perfect. The elders take great pains to insure that any negative things are kept silent, even if it involves child abuse cases.

    Once they have judged the offender to be “repentant”, to them it’s almost as if the crime hasn’t occurred. They really believe that a multiple offending paedophile can “turn around” and be forgiven, without having any sanctions place on him. They disfellowship (excommunicate) people for disagreeing with their petty doctrines, yet allow a paedophile to say “I’m genuinely sorry/repentent” and get away with it. They don’t like to get the real authorities involved, because they think that THEY are the highest authority. They have no respect for the rule of law in this regard.

    • Stev84

      A not uncommon side effect of forgiving any transgression like that is that it quickly turns into victim blaming. They are quick to forgive the abuser and when the victim persists with accusations, he or she is attacked for not being forgiving

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GIK2LNOOIERDVWXBJBN76JAHH4 Cheryl Kohout

        This  hits a chord, Stev84. I’m dealing with this very issue in my family. Here I am, going on 50, have been dealing with the ramifications of childhood sexual abuse for 30+ years and when I stick up for myself, refuse to be bullied or stand my ground, I’m told I need to get over it.

        Well guess what? I have gotten over it, and it’s been quite a journey, let me tell ya. It’s why I have the strength, courage and knowledge to be able to stick up for myself, refuse to be bullied and stand my ground. Them, they just see me as someone who needs to go away and deal with *her* issues.

        Frankly, I’m not sure how they expect this to be *over* when they refuse to take even one step in seeing how their actions then and NOW have not changed one single iota. It’s still an f-ed up family, but in their mind, I’m the one who needs to deal with the crap so they can stay in their fantasy place of peace and tranquility. And when I  mess it up for them, they blame me.No more. The next counselor I see  is going to help me decide if/when/how to disengage from these unhealthy relationships. I don’t need to get triggered by their actions and then cope with the resultant post-traumatic stress.

        And I commend this woman for her courage to take on the church knowing how much venom will be cast her way by those whom she thought loved and cared for her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommie-Tolivar/100000529143586 Tommie Tolivar

    Funny there is no other link to this story but here….lol

  • labby

    about time JW’s were punished for something.  i promise to punish them if they ring my doorbell ever again.

  • The Atheist Geek

    This isn’t new. It’s been a problem for some time, just like with the Catholic Church. Silent Lambs is an org created to combat this very thing within this very religion. It’s good that the rest of the world has finally taken notice of this and some of the WTS’s other problems.

  • Alice

    How truly unfortunate those from the organization who believe that if there are no witnesses to a crime then it must not have happened.  I too have been a victim of their excommunication practices for speaking up against an abusive elder.  He held his position while I was thrown away at 16.  Funny how someone can get away with sexual abuse, but not smoking.  My profound gratitute to the woman for speaking up, standing up, and pushing back.

    “What goes around, comes around!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/krystal.crowly Krystal Crowly

     Honestly this makes me want to reach out to any female door knocker I get . Let her know it is a safe place and f one girl had the courage so can any. Though most likely I wont get someone needing help, but I might.

  • jtperkin

    My local news here in South Carolina just posted this story with the teaser headline: “Do you think she should have won this case?” Sigh.

  • DG

    Gasp!  You mean, you mean, you mean kids have been abused outside of the Catholic Church?  You don’t say.  I had no idea.  There I thought if it weren’t for the Catholic Church, no kid in history would ever have been molested.  I guess it’s pretty common in other Christian denominations, too. Thank goodness there are clear thinking atheists out there to point the way to the truth.  Geeesh. 

    • amycas

       Clearly that’s not what anyone said or meant. Don’t be so disingenuous.

  • RixxFett

    I was a JW for many years and many EX JWs like me have been trying to raise awereness about this issue. The Watchtower Society has many harmful policies in place, including the one in question. Thay would rather cover-up pedophilia accusations than soil their imagined good name.

    Find out more about this: http://www.silentlambs.org

  • Gerard07

    I like how how the story gets switched everywhere I read first I read sex abuse for 2 yrs then another where she just wantd money and to trash the jws and I like how the stories say he was a member and how here he’s a leader it looks like a bunch of bullshit to me if your abused as a child why are you gonna wait 18 yrs to get justice for being touched inappropriatly is my question smells like BS to me specially the part of 144000 cents for the ‘faithful and disceet’ that looks like more of a publicity stunt and money for her the wrong way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/russ.painter Russ Painter

      When these things happen, the Jehovah’s Witness elders are instructed to put pressure on the victim to NOT go to the police.  This is the root of the problem.  They tell the vicitim’s family that having the police involved will “bring reproach on Jehovah’s name”, and therefore could jepordize their own hope of eternal salvation.  It sounds crazy from the outside (because it is), but when you’re in it, the cult indoctrination is powerfull shit.

    • amycas

      Way to discount all of the ways abusers (and society at large) pressure victims not to ever speak up or talk about it. Who are you to judge what her mental and emotional state were like while she was being abused? Who are you to say how she *should* have reacted in the situation?

  • Tripleoinc

    I’m sorry. Am I missing something? Everyone is blaming this religion including her parents. I got one question. Where the hell were her mom and dad while their 9 year old was being abused? Why didn’t they teach their daughter how to protect herself? Especially when I personally have recieved more than one of JW’s magazines with practical guidance on how to protect your children. Get real people. Mom and Dad reap what they sow. I will never let my young daughter be in this position. They should be ashamed and stop lying to themselves and everyone else. And only person at fault for actual crime is the man who did it!

    • The Atheist Geek

      Please research topics before posting such a strong opinion about them so vehemently. The court files are available online. The reason the Society is being responsible is because they knew about it and covered it up. Also, they failed to report past offenses–this was not the guys first offense–when they were obligated to do so. That’s is. This isn’t just about morality; it’s about the law. I’m not sure how your comments are relevant to that in any way.

  • Liberated Liberal

    It’s clear that child abuse happens in every religious system, and they should all be held equally accountable.  I’m only surprised that this church was so harshly punished while the Catholic Church is hardly ever held responsible.  It seems as though the set-up is exactly the same – multiple offensives, a known cover up (whether at its lowest level or highest, it doesn’t matter), etc.  Why is it that nobody wants to convict priests and bishops?  Nobody actually holds the Catholic Church responsible, even when lower-level coverups are often provable.   Do the Catholics simply have better lawyers?  I know they have to pay sometimes, but never at this level.  If the Church had to pay this much for each victim, they’d be bankrupt in a hurry.  Why aren’t they held to equal standards?  Although, maybe this will set the standard for secular and religious institutions.  There is never an excuse for child abuse of any kind. 

  • http://twitter.com/JOHNCOBB10 JOHN COBB

     When are these punk preachers going to stop what they are doing.The Church don’t have God and money is all that matters.They all going to hell.

  • JBernadyn

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
     
    John Bernadyn, Managing Partner
    United Advocacy Group, Inc.
    (331) 452-6045
    JBernadyn@UnitedAdvocacy.com
     
    Memoir Details Sexual Assault by Defrocked Clergy Member
     
    (CHICAGO) – In a newly released memoir, Betrayed By The State: A Ward of the State Speaks Out, Illinois-based author John Bernadyn describes his struggle growing up as a youth ward of the state.  “My goal is to get the word out that youth are experiencing struggles that even grown-ups are unable to cope with,” Bernadyn said.
                After detailing, often graphically, a troubled childhood experience with a dysfunctional home, Bernadyn spends time discussing his experience being sexually assaulted in a state facility.  He alleges that the perpetrator was John Woulfe, a former religious brother as part of the Marianists.
                Bernadyn doesn’t stop there, though.  In Chapter 8 of his book, what can only be described as heart-wrenching and graphically depicted, he lays a visual and emotional scene for the reader as to his experiences. 
                After being removed from the Marianist order because of allegations of sexual assaults by numerous young men at a school overseen by Woulfe he relocated to the small town of Onarga, Illinois.  As the Catholic Church historically did not publicize or pursue justice for victims of clergymen, Woulfe was never formally charged with a crime.  He was able to secure employment working with troubled teenagers after passing the state-required criminal background check.  This is where Bernadyn would come in to contact with the man he would later refer to as a ‘monster’.
                Although Bernadyn left the facility prior to Woulfe’s departure, he would later learn that Woulfe was given the opportunity to be a school counselor in the Kankakee, Illinois area where he would once again victimize another youth.  It would be no small consolation to learn of Woulfe’s failing health and residence in a nursing home.
                Woulfe had already died and Bernadyn felt robbed of the chance to say, “I forgive you but I will never forget.” 
                John Bernadyn is the managing partner for United Advocacy Group, Inc., lectures widely throughout the country, and manages training and strategic planning for healthcare organizations.
     
    -END-
     
    ###


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