Canadian Press, Sep. 12, 2002
TORONTO (CP) – The first church elder to hear Vicky Boer’s allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of her father told court Wednesday he never insisted that the former Jehovah’s Witness confront her abuser.
Sheldon Longworth, 72, was a Witness elder with a Toronto congregation in 1989 when a 19-year-old Boer told him she had been molested by her father for several years, beginning when she was 11 or 12. Longworth said he consulted several other Witness elders, who advised him that Biblical teachings required Boer to try and sort out her dispute with her father in a face-to-face meeting.
But all Longworth asked Boer to do was ask her father to consult with elders in his congregation in Shelburne, Ont., 100 kilometres north of Toronto, he testified during cross-examination.
“What I asked Vicki to do was to go to her father and tell him to go to the elders in their congregation,” Longworth said.
When asked by Colin Stevenson, the lawyer for the defendants, whether he ever insisted Boer “confront him with her allegations of sexual abuse,” Longworth replied, “I don’t recall doing that.”
He also seemed surprised by the suggestion Boer was distraught and suicidal at the time, and was taken aback when Stevenson told him of Boer’s claims that she felt treated badly by several elders, including Longworth.
“That would blow me over,” he said.
“I tried very, very hard to be as kind, compassionate and helpful as I possibly could be.”
Longworth is not among the defendants named in Boer’s lawsuit, which include three church elders and the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Canada, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The suit alleges the defendants failed to allow Boer adequate treatment for the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father; failed to properly report the abuse to the Children’s Aid Society; and forced her to meet with her father to give him a chance to repent his alleged “sins.”
Longworth said he and two of the elders named in the suit visited the local Children’s Aid Society office after the meeting took place.
They were told it was a mistake to put a victim and an abuser together, he said.
They were also told that as clergymen, Ontario law “obligates us to report to the authorities” and that their religious status “does not give us immunity.”
While victims of sexual abuse normally aren’t identified in public, Boer has agreed to allow her name to be publicized as part of her effort to promote abuse she alleges within the confines of the church’s congregations.
As part of their beliefs in a strict interpretation of Bible teachings, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject anything political or “worldly” that distracts from their focus on Christ and the second coming, which they consider imminent.