AAP (Australia), Sep. 22, 2002
Some elders of the Jehovah’s Witness church covered up child abuse and obstructed police investigations, according to victims of the abuse and former elders.
The church’s leader in Australia on Sunday denied the allegations, but said police were sometimes not informed to protect victims.
One victim, Simon Thomas, a member of the Corrimal congregation on the NSW south coast as a boy, said if the church had listened to his pleas other children could have been spared abuse by convicted paedophile Robert Souter.
Souter pleaded guilty in August 2000 to one count of buggery and four counts of indecent assault on two teenage boys from 1978-80 and was sentenced to five years jail with a non-parole period of three years.
“If the church had listened to my pleas, all of those kids could have been saved,” Mr Thomas told the Nine Network’s Sunday program.
Souter was arrested after the Thomas family went to the police.
During sentencing Judge John Goldring criticised the lack of action by the Jehovah’s Witness, officially known as the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society, after Souter admitted the offences to church elders.
“This matter was not reported to the police, as it should have been … I cannot criticise the church sufficiently seriously for not having reported this matter,” the judge said.
Another victim, Natalie Webb, who was sexually abused by her father from the age of four to 17, said elders told her not to notify authorities.
Her father is serving a 10-year sentence in Victoria after she finally went to the police.
“I was very apprehensive but the police were just the most compassionate, wonderful lot of people. I got more caring and genuine concern from them than I got from any elder,” Ms Webb told Sunday.
Former elders said they were told not to reveal to the authorities if a particular child abuser had confessed to his crimes and to do everything possible to prevent police from gaining access to church files.
“We were to resist every approach by the authorities to willingly give over information,” former elder Jim Donald said.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia president Harold Mouritz told AAP church elders did not instruct victims to stay away from the police.
Mr Mouritz said in some cases the victims would not want to go through the trauma of a police investigation.
“We don’t force the victim to do it because they may not want to go through with it,” he said.
“We have no obligation under the law to report it (but) we don’t want to stop the victim from doing so if that’s his or her desire.”
He said the church was dutybound to respect confidentiality and defended keeping a convicted paedophile within its congregation.
“We don’t necessarily disfellowship him, we have to make a judgment – is he repentant?,” Mr Mouritz said, adding that church members would carefully watch such a person.
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