Elders erred in abuse case, court told

The Canadian Press, Sep. 24, 2002
James McCarten

TORONTO — In 1988, a terrified victim of childhood sex abuse — raised from birth as a Jehovah’s Witness — did as allegedly instructed by church elders and confronted the abuser: her father.
In so instructing <A HREF="javascript:zoek('vicki boer')" "javascript:void(0);" onmouseover="return overlib('Click for archived news items on this subject’, CAPTION, ‘Link Info…’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’);” onmouseout=”return nd();”>Vicki Boer, those elders shattered the life, faith and family of a formerly devoted Witness and ought to be held to account, Boer’s lawyer argued Monday.

“She was almost like a turtle without a shell,” Charles Mark told Ontario Court Justice Anne Molloy during day-long closing arguments in the civil case, which has been sitting for more than two weeks.

“Her life had been built around the church, and because of the way this has been handled, her life is a mess.”

Church elders Brian Cairns, Steve Brown and John Didur, along with the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Canada, should never have forced Boer to confront her father about the abuse, Mark said.

Instead, they should have reported the abuse to the Children’s Aid Society and encouraged Boer to get counselling as soon as possible.

“If that had been done, none of the confrontations would have had to take place.”

It was in keeping with the tenets of their faith that the elders in Shelburne, Ont., decided to compel Boer to confront her father, Gower Palmer, even though it was plain the idea of such a meeting was abhorrent to her, Mark said.

“The descriptions . . .are those of a person who is on the edge of suicide. That’s the degree to which it frightens her.”

For two weeks, Molloy has been getting a crash course in the ways of the Witnesses as Boer squares off against the church that shaped her life for more than 20 years.

Boer, now 31, alleges the defendants failed to get her adequate treatment for the abuse she suffered between the ages of 11 and 14 in the family home in Shelburne, about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

Rather than immediately notify the Children’s Aid Society and allow Boer to seek counselling outside the church, she was required, according to Biblical principles, to confront her father in 1988 and allow him to repent his alleged sins, the suit alleges.

“She was brought up (believing) that the church was what mattered; the rest of the world was a hostile (place) with which she should have no contact,” Mark said Monday.

“She accepted this, as it had been instilled in her from youth.”

But it was apparent throughout the day that Molloy was struggling with Mark’s interpretation of the law.

“It’s not like this was a professional disciplinary body,” she said at one point about the three-member “judicial committee” that determined Palmer’s punishment in 1989.

“This is to do with issues of spirituality; how does that differ from someone going to a confessional in a church and receiving absolution?”

Then later in the day, in response to Mark’s suggestion that despite having free will, Boer had to follow the counsel of the elders: “You can always choose to say, `I don’t want this religion anymore,”’ Molloy said.

“That is also an expression of free will, and one that, evidently, some people do choose.”

Eventually, some six weeks after the allegations first surfaced, the case was reported to Children’s Aid and the police, although no charges ever ensued.

Palmer, 58, continues to live in Shelburne.

The defendants, meanwhile, have argued strenuously that they never prevented Boer from seeking help or forced her to confront her father.

Their lawyers, expected to begin their final arguments Tuesday, have suggested that it was the abuse, not the ways of her church, that sent Boer down a rocky path in her adult life, one rife with job insecurity, sexual dalliances and emotional turmoil.

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 what she alleges in abuse 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.

Anyone who runs afoul of the religion’s strictest tenets will find themselves excommunicated, often to such an extent that they’re shunned by their own family.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 25, 2002.
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