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  1. SAN DIEGO (CN) — The national Jehovah's Witnesses organization must produce any documents in its possession relating to perpetrators of child sexual abuse, a California appeals court ruled. Jose Lopez sued Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and the Linda Vista Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in June of 2012 for the sexual abuse he allegedly suffered when he was seven years old at the hands of his Bible instructor Gonzales Campos. In 1986, Lopez's mother allowed Campos to give her son bible study lessons after an elder from her congregation recommended him because he was "good very good with children." According to the complaint, after Campos had given Lopez several lessons, he sexually molested him. The abuse was reported to an elder of the church after Lopez told his mother, but nothing was done after the elders spoke to Lopez about where he was touched. This was not the first time there had been allegations Campos had sexually abused young boys. Another boy from the same congregation accused Campos of sexually molesting him four years earlier. Campos admitted to acting inappropriately, but the elders continued to allow him to be around children, and even continued to recommend him as a Bible instructor. Lopez and his mother left the congregation shortly after the alleged abuse, but Campos continued to rise within the congregation over the next several years, eventually serving as an elder and being placed on the congregation's governing service committee. Yet, according to the Lopez's complaint, between 1982 and 1995, Campos sexually abused at least eight other children. Neither Watchtower nor the congregation ever reported the incidents to law enforcement officers, the complaint said. With more than 1.2 million members and 13,777 congregations across the United States, the Jehovah's Witness religion's practices, policies and administrative duties were supervised by Watchtower during the relevant time period, including congregation elders who served as its agents. Watchtower challenged two discovery orders -- one requesting the church produce documents concerning the sexual abuse of other victims; the other seeking to compel the disposition of an individual believed to be the managing agent of Watchtower at the time. The organization also requested that an order, compelling it to pay nearly $38,000 in monetary sanctions, be terminated. In addition to rejecting claims the document request was overly broad and violated attorney-client privilege, a three-judge panel with California's Fourth Appellate District also found that, although unusual, the 27-year post-incident request "is partly a function of the permissive limitations statutes governing child sexual abuse under which Lopez was seeking to recover for an alleged wrongful act committed almost three decades earlier." Watchtower's claim that the document request was overly oppressive because it would take years to comply was also rejected by the panel, which pointed out the church's computer system had a search function that could easily identify information within the scanned documents. The panel also shot down Watchtower's First Amendment objection by citing relevant cases, including a decade old case in which the court held it did not violate constitutional religious freedom when an archdiocese was order to product documents about priests who were indicted for sexually abusing children. While the three-judge panel upheld the discovery order, it found the disposition order was not supportable because there was no evidence that the named individual was a managing agent at the time Lopez was abused. Judge Judith Haller, writing for panel, concluded the ruling by finding the sanctions order needed to be vacated. "There was no question Watchtower willfully failed to comply with the document production order." Judge Haller wrote. "The fundamental flaw with the court's approach is there is no basis in the record showing the court could not have obtained Watchtowers' compliance with lesser sanctions." D066388.pdf
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  2. MONTPELIER, Vt. – Two adult sisters are suing a Jehovah's Witness congregation in Vermont, saying they were sexually abused by a minister when they were minor children and the church did nothing to protect them. Twenty-three-year-old Miranda and 27-year-old Annessa Lewis say they were abused in the 1990s at age 4 and 5. The sisters have sued the Bellows Falls congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the then-ministerial servant Norton True, as well the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. They say their mother reported the allegations to the congregation but no action was taken against True. The congregation and the Watchtower Bible and Track Society of New York did not return messages seeking comment. True could not be reached; there is no phone listing for him in Vermont. Source:
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  3. On Friday three Franciscan friars charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to hold jobs where he molested more than 100 children, surrendered in Pennsylvania. They were confronted by the mother of one of his victims who said to them her 26 year old son committed suicide because of their 'bad decision making.' 69 year old Robert D'Aversa, 62 year old Anthony Criscitelli, and 73 year old Giles Schinelli, are free on unsecured bond until an April 14 preliminary hearing on child endangerment and conspiracy charges. Each charge is a third-degree felony carrying up to seven years in prison.
  4. By David DeKok HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Hundreds of children in western Pennsylvania were sexually assaulted by about 50 Roman Catholic priests over four decades while bishops covered up their actions, according to a state grand jury report released on Tuesday. The report found that former Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop James Hogan, who died in 2005, and his successor, Joseph Adamec, who retired in 2011, worked to cover pedophile priests' tracks and that some local law enforcement agencies also avoided investigating abuse allegations, said state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. "The heinous crimes these children endured are absolutely unconscionable," Kane told reporters in unveiling the report, based on a two-year investigation. "These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe." Revelations that some priests had habitually sexually abused children and that bishops had systematically covered up those crimes burst onto the world stage in 2002 when the Boston Globe reported widespread abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. That report, which won a Pulitzer Prize and was the subject of last year's Academy Award-winning film "Spotlight," set off a global wave of investigations that found similar patterns at dioceses around the world. They led to hefty lawsuits and seriously undermined the church's moral authority. No criminal charges will be filed because the alleged incidents are too old to be prosecuted, Kane said. Advocates for victims of sex assault have long urged lawmakers to give prosecutors more time to bring charges of sex assaults of minors, noting that particularly in the case of assaults by members of the clergy, victims can take years to come forward. The report contains explicit details of scores of attacks, naming perpetrators, many of whom have since died. Many of the surviving priests were still serving parishes at the time the investigation began, Kane said, but all have since been removed by the current bishop. "This is a painful and difficult time," current Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak said in a statement. "I deeply regret any harm that has come to children. "We're saddened but not the least bit surprised," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It proves what we've long maintained: that even now, under the guise of 'reform,' bishops continue to deceive parishioners and the public about their ongoing efforts to hide abuse." Adamec, the retired bishop, did not respond to a request for comment. Source:
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  5. Elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have the same privileged communications exemption as religious advisers in a sacramental confession if the confession does not involve a penitent. The potential landmark “first impression” ruling, reported by Delaware Law Weekly, was made recently by Superior Court Judge Mary Miller Johnston in refusing to throw out a case filed by the state against the Laurel Congregation of the Witnesses. The state said the elders should have reported a case child abuse between a juvenile and an adult member of the congregation. The elders met with the juvenile, her mother and an adult member who confirmed the relationship after the boy reported the matter to his mother. They then excommunicated the juvenile and the adult involved. The state sought civil penalties but the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they were exempt from reporting under the Delaware law of “clergy/penitent privilege.” That law is similar to the attorney/client privilege but the judge ruled that the conversations were not a “sacramental confession.” The defendants said the congregation members were “seeking spiritual advice and counsel from us as elders in a private setting.” Judge Johnston also held that the privilege exemption itself is, if narrowly interpreted, unconstitutional because the terms “priest, penitent” [and] sacramental confession” give preference to one religion. She also said it could be read to apply to all religions. The case will now go through further legal hearings but the General Assembly should consider clarifying the language of the existing law.
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  6. A Jehovah’s Witness elder who sexually assaulted two vulnerable teenagers he met through the church was sentenced to three years jail yesterday over the “destructive” abuse. David Frank Pople, 68, met the boys through the Safety Bay congregation of the church and assaulted them between 1989 and 1996. One of the teens reported the sexual assaults to elders in 1997 but police were not made aware of the abuse until he filed a police report in 2014. Pople was forcibly ejected from the church for being “insufficiently repentant” in 1997 and readmitted the following year at his request. District Court judge Troy Sweeney accepted Pople was genuinely remorseful but said he had interfered with his victims’ natural maturing process in a “very destructive way”. “A message must be sent that child abuse is abhorrent and will not be tolerated by any civilised society,” she said. “They were vulnerable because they were young and because you were a church elder and their boss.” When Pople admitted assaulting one of the boys during a conversation with an elder in the 1990s, he was told a judicial committee would be formed to deal with the issue. The elders spoke to Pople in an apparent attempt to determine his level of remorse and later sent a letter to certain members of the congregation explaining in great detail why he had been ejected. Pople was in his 40s when he assaulted the boys at work, on his yacht and in his Shoalwater home. He was close friends with the parents of his first victim and had helped the second victim with his Bible studies. Defence lawyer Nick Scerri told the court Pople was candid with the leadership of the church and made “very frank admissions” about some aspects of the offending in 1997. He said his client has been living three lives and was “deeply unhappy” when he assaulted the boys. “He had the life of the family man, the father, the husband,” Mr Scerri said. “ At the same time, he was balancing the religious obligations that he had as a leader in that church. “And thirdly, he had this secret homosexual sort of latency, I suppose.” Pople pleaded guilty to six sex-related charges as well as breaching his protective bail conditions in 2014. He will be eligible for parole after spending 18 months behind bars.
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