Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 040
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 40 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. This episode discusses child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organisation and as such listener discretion is advised.
Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness in the 1970s and 1980s, child sexual abuse within the religion of my birth was never something I heard about, although I was abused at school by a teacher now long since dead. I started to hear about child sexual abuse cases within the organisation in the 1990s, but I was led to believe it was rare and always—always—dealt with properly by the elders. Except it wasn’t.
I myself was appointed as an elder in 1999. At first, I was under the impression that child sexual abuse didn’t really happen in “the truth”, at least not as it did in “the world”. Allegations in the news were said to be “apostate lies”. We had nothing to worry about. The organisation was clean. Except it wasn’t.
Starting around the year 2000, bodies of elders began receiving confidential instructions from headquarters to destroy minutes of elders meetings. We were instructed to be extremely careful what we wrote down while dispensing our duties as elders, and specifically to call the legal department if an allegation of child sexual abuse was made. The unspoken rule was that we should try to keep such matters “in house” to avoid bringing “reproach upon Jehovah’s name”. In the back of my mind this seemed strange, wrong even, but who was I to question God’s channel of truth on earth? I was just a young elder. They knew best. I could trust God’s organisation. Except I couldn’t.
Roll on to the year 2002 and the BBC Panorama programme Suffer the Little Children aired. It caused a bit of a stir with some Witnesses—some even left “the truth” over it—but they were just “spiritually weak”. We, the “strong ones”, knew better. It was all just “apostate lies”. Sure, there may have been the rare child abuser in our midst, but they were always found out by Jehovah’s holy spirit, and always dealt with, right? Wrong.
By 2004 I was struggling with my own issues—doctrinal—and by 2006 I had been disfellowshipped on a charge of “apostasy” for expressing my doubts, but I was no apostate. I still loved Jehovah and felt Watch Tower was his organisation, even if it had some things wrong. Like most JWs of the time, I certainly didn’t think child sexual abuse was a big deal in the organisation, so much so that I even felt fine getting reinstated in 2009 for the sake of my family. But in 2012 the shit hit the proverbial fan. CSA victim Candace Conti was awarded $28 million in damages (more lies?) Then the Australian Royal Commission hearing went public in 2015 (surely not true?) Finally, the governing body tried shutting the gate in 2019 with their Watchtower Study article about child sexual abuse, but the horse had bolted. I was one of several in my congregation who simply couldn’t bring myself to attend the public meeting at the Kingdom Hall and listen to how well the organisation was handling child sexual abuse because, well, it just wasn’t. It felt like the governing body was running damage control. It stank to high heaven of propaganda, but even that wasn’t enough for me to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Despite my doctrinal doubts, I always had a good “reason” to stay—my family, my kids, the reputation I’d spent 10 years rebuilding after my 2009 reinstatement, my position as a regular pioneer (a full-time preacher). Hell, I was even reaching out to be an elder again! I’m ashamed to say that the pain and unjust treatment of child sexual abuse victims barely registered with me back then. I so wanted “the truth” to be—just that—the truth. Except it wasn’t.
Subconsciously, I knew my days as a Jehovah’s Witness were numbered, but it took my marriage breaking up in 2019 and being disfellowshipped again—losing my entire family to shunning this time—to finally accept how wicked and cruel the Watch Tower organisation had become. Until then I’d had doctrinal issues, but like most Witnesses, I was complacent about child sexual abuse, and that, I feel, is the problem. Unless it affects them personally, a Jehovah’s Witness is conditioned to dismiss child sexual abuse. It doesn’t happen, but on the “rare occasion” it does, it’s always an unspiritual weirdo, right? The perpetrator is never an elder, and certainly never a governing body member! Everything is fine. There’s nothing to see here. Move along folks! Except the truth is, everything isn’t fine—far from it.
Child sexual abuse is rampant among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the Candace Conti story broke in 2012 literally thousands of child sexual abuse cases have come to light. Yet elders are still conditioned to keep knowledge of it “in house” to “avoid bringing reproach on Jehovah’s name” (ie. the organisation), and despite the claims about always reporting when it’s legally mandatory to do so, they don’t. The general attitude among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially among elders, is one of complacency. Their minds are so conditioned to believe their religion is always right, always true, always holy, that they can watch their governing body on TV dismissing child sexual abuse allegations as “ridiculous” and “apostate lies”, even lying to judges—and yet never blink an eye! They have “the truth”. The governing body is God’s channel. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s all good! Except it isn’t.
It doesn’t dawn on most Jehovah’s Witnesses that the reason their governing body may be downplaying child sexual abuse is that it’s an issue even within their own ranks. Think, Leo Greenlees, former governing body member and alleged abuser of a 10-year-old boy; or current member Gerrit Lösch, now facing charges as a protector of a historical abuser while living at Bethel, who is still serving as a pioneer in the field. Who knows whether other governing body members are hiding similar filthy secrets? I suspect they are. My intuition tells me they definitely are. Why else would they vehemently protect their “right” not to provide their database of alleged sex offenders to courts and government officials? Why else would they allow Witnesses who confess to viewing child pornography to avoid facing a judicial hearing, or being reported to secular authorities, depending on the frequency of their “sin”, settling instead for merely “strong counsel” to adjust the “sinner”? Why does the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses not view the possession and viewing of child pornography as complicity in child sexual abuse—not just a “sin” but a crime deserving of imprisonment. Answer: the governing body makes the rules that protect itself. There’s something they know that they’re not telling their followers. It’s written all over their faces.
It’s only now I’m unplugged from the cult that I can see how despicable Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organisation truly is, and especially so their governing body. The governing body trains members to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la”. I did it for years without realising I was, inadvertently, part of the problem. Just like certain civilians in World War Two Germany who turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities, looking the other way when you know what’s happening makes you complicit in evil. I’m sorry if that offends some of my listeners, but it’s true. In the past, excuses have been made by Jehovah’s Witnesses for remaining in the organisation—I did it myself—but it’s reached a point now that if I was still a member I would absolutely have to leave. My sense of right and wrong would not allow me to stay. The problem of child sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the governing body’s total lack of conscience, is now blindingly obvious. Things have reached an all-time low. The governing body is so clearly corrupt. It lies to protect itself, on-screen, to the masses—to you. It doesn’t care about abuse victims. It doesn’t care about individual Witnesses who put their trust in them. It cares only about its own self-preservation.
So, this is my sincere appeal to active Jehovah’s Witnesses not to make the same mistake I made in the past. Don’t be complacent about child sexual abuse within the organisation. Stop making excuses for the governing body and its evil policies. They know exactly what’s happening under their watch, and they are covering up heinous crimes against children for their own protection and reputation. They are liars, cowards, and truly immoral.
If you still believe the Bible and care what God actually thinks, recall the words of 2 Corinthians 6:1: “‘Get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing; and I will take you in.'”; or the words of Revelation 18:4, 5 which surely must apply to the Watch Tower organisation now: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to [the] heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.”
This is why you should leave Jehovah’s Witnesses.