Elders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US have been given instructions to deal with paedophiles after a series of damaging revelations.
But its critics say that the sect’s decision to accept accusations only if the abuse has two independent witnesses is unlikely to solve the problem.
The Watch Tower, its headquarters in Brooklyn, is used to implicit obedience and is struggling to regain its battered authority.
In a letter to be read at services, it says: “We abhor the sexual abuse of children and will not protect any perpetra tor of such repugnant acts …
“However, we must bear in mind the Bible’s clear direction: ‘No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good (Deuteronomy 19:15).”
The church, which has 6 million members around the world, has been convulsed by the revelation that its elders have protected sex offenders, refused to report accusations to the police, and even punished children and families making accusations.
Two members have been charged with “disrupting the unity of the congregation” and “undermining confidence in Jehovah’s arrangement” for repeating their accusations on an NBC television programme.
Barbara Anderson, a former headquarters employee who claimed to have seen hundreds of suppressed files of accusations, was expelled after a private hearing held in her absence. The case against the second, Bill Bowen, a Kentucky elder, has been postponed.
Mr Bowen was so alarmed by the suppression of allegations that he created a website, silentlambs.org, to investigate the scale of the problem.
He told NBC: “It’s a paedophile’s paradise within the organisation. I believe that. I believe it with all my heart.”