by Poul Bregninge
Recently, I sat down to try to attack the issue of pedophilia within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious communities from a broader view. The reason that I am interested in the topic is actually very banal, namely the flow of contributions to the debate, which you can read on the Internet, especially on Facebook. A steady stream of obnoxious images of pedophile criminals downloaded directly from the police criminal albums, criminals who in an unknown extent have operated within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I understand very well, that the issue arouse disgust among many people and, in particular, is perceived as a highly sensitive issue within the Witnesses themselves. In fact, I found a Wikipedia article on Google, possibly authored by Watchtower. I will later return to this article.
I first heard about child abuse issues within the Witnesses in 2005, when I was about to complete the Danish edition of my book, Judgment Day Must Wait (JDMW). I had contacted Barbara Anderson, who is a former employee at Watchtower Society in New York, to interview her about her life at the Watchtower headquarters. Instead I got an incredible exiting story, which subsequently became known worldwide as “Barbara Anderson’s Discoveries” (read the updated version in JDMW, published in English on YBK Publishers, NY, 2013). To my great surprise was the main topic in Barbara’s story her discovery of longtime child abuses within Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congregations.
Before Barbara became aware of the issue of pedophiles within the movement, she had worked at Watchtower’s Writing Department, where she conducted research for a new history book, the later so-called “Proclaimers” published in 1993. During her work, Barbara found unknown archival material that showed that William H. Conley, a banker in Old Allegheny, Pennsylvania, had been Watchtower’s first president from 1881 to 1884. This discovery came as a big surprise to everyone at headquarters. Barbara became almost world famous of this revelation. Barbara’s subsequent discovery about pedophilia, which she privately investigated, gave not the same resonance, rather the contrary. However, Barbara worked on with her unauthorized project and found out that the Watchtower organization actually knew the problems, which, however, had been handled incomprehensibly clumsy. Barbara’s discoveries eventually led to her break with the organization and subsequently to the unprecedented crisis for the Watchtower Society, as we experience today.
Knew the problems
Before the storm caused by NBC Dateline’s interview with Barbara Anderson and Bill Bowen in 2001-2002, Watchtower had for many years, however, treated the pedophile assaults in several articles in Awake! — for example in January 22, 1985 and October 8, 1991, but the leadership had reportedly failed to do anything effective about the problems. Again in 1992, Watchtower treated the issue in a letter to “all Bodies of Elders,” presumably to accommodate the many parents who were anxious for their children.
Watchtower’s damage control could not stem the tide, which subsequently came pouring in the beginning of 2002 and gave thousands of sexual abused children the opportunity to air their frustrations. If the Watchtower was “God’s organization” on earth, why in heaven’s name could God then not control the Watchtower leaders a little more? Here in 2015, thirteen years later, it amazes me still how these crimes could take place so long time without the Witnesses’ leaders intervened more effectively.
Bregninge is the author of two books (one published in two languages) and will contribute columns to the bullet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org