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Quebec police probe possible cases of child sexual abuse in Jehovah's Witnesses congregation


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Quebec provincial police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by two members of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Mont-Laurier in the Laurentians, Radio-CanadaÂ’s investigative program Enquête has learned.

Both men have been sanctioned through the churchÂ’s internal disciplinary process for dealing with allegations of child abuse, but congregation elders did not share their findings with civil authorities.

One of the men being investigated, Michel Courtemanche, who has been expelled from the congregation, was acquitted of charges of sexual assault and indecent assault in 1996.

However, the Sûreté du Québec has renewed its investigation of Courtemanche and has begun investigating another man, former congregation elder Georges Leclerc, based on new evidence from at least seven alleged victims.

Leclerc has been stripped of his status as an elder, but he has not been arrested or charged, and he refused to speak with Enquête.

Courtemanche has not been arrested or charged as a result of the new investigation and denies the allegations against him. In an interview with Enquête, he pointed to his 1996 acquittal.

“My answer is there was a judgment on this based on very precise facts, and I was acquitted,” he said.

At least 7 potential victims, police say

Enquête spoke with Pénélope Herbert, the woman whose allegations of repeated sexual assaults starting when she was just 10 led to Courtemanche’s 1996 trial.  

Carolle Poudrier, now in her mid-40s, also told Enquête of alleged sexual contact by Courtemanche, over a period of months when she was 11.

In the case of Herbert, she said the assaults continued until she was 17 — even after her family moved from Mont-Laurier.

“He would come to our house to say hello and would sleep over,” Herbert, now 42, told Enquête. “Those nights, he would come to my room. We’re talking total rape, those nights.”

Carolle Poudrier and Michel Courtemanche

Carolle Poudrier told Enquête of alleged sexual contact by Michel Courtemanche, over a period of months when she was 11. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)

Enquête has learned the SQ has interviewed more than 40 people, of whom seven have been identified as potential victims of either Courtemanche or Leclerc.

Four of the seven, including Herbert and Poudrier, have now filed formal complaints with police. SQ spokesperson Martine Asselin told Enquête they’re now seeking other possible victims and witnesses.

“We’re looking to identify other potential victims who perhaps feel they’re alone and aren’t ready to talk,” Asselin said.

“They should know that investigators are ready to meet with them and witnesses.”

Both men were friends

According to Enquête, Leclerc and Courtemanche were friends around the time Herbert’s parents lodged an internal complaint with the congregation about the alleged assaults on their daughter.

Leclerc was, as a congregation elder, a senior member of the congregation who is responsible for providing religious guidance and ruling on disciplinary matters.

Enquête said Leclerc allegedly did not speak to Herbert to learn the details of her complaint, as required by Jehovah’s Witness protocols in such matters.

Courtemanche was later reprimanded and allowed to remain in the congregation.

Georges Leclerc and Michel Courtemanche

Georges Leclerc and Michel Courtemanche were friends around the time Pénélope Herbert’s parents lodged an internal complaint with the congregation, according to Enquête. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)

Disillusioned with how the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses had handled her complaint, Herbert took her allegations to police in 1995.

Courtemanche remained a Jehovah’s Witness after his acquittal but was expelled in 2014, Enquête found, after two other women filed internal complaints alleging he had assaulted them as minors.

Leclerc remains with the Mont-Laurier congregation, but Enquête says he was stripped of his elder duties after at least three women filed complaints internally with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, alleging he had assaulted them when they were minors.

Police, youth protection not notified of allegations

According to Enquête, the first time police investigated Herbert’s allegations against Courtemanche in the mid-1990s, they were not aware Carolle Poudrier’s parents had also alleged Courtemanche had assaulted their daughter.

Poudrier’s parents were members of a congregation in Terrebonne, just north of Montreal, and had filed their complaint there — not with Courtemanche’s congregation in Mont-Laurier.

Poudrier alleged that Courtemanche, who was working for her dad, would make her sit on his lap so he could caress and tickle her, which made her uneasy. A few months later, he kissed her twice.

“He asked me if I’d ever kissed anyone, and he put his tongue in my mouth. I found that disgusting,” Poudrier told Enquête.

After she told her parents and they complained, Poudrier was made to recount what happened to a congregational elder in the presence of her father.

Carolle Poudrier Jehovah's Witness

Carolle Poudrier told what happened to a congregational elder in the presence of her father. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)

“I was really stressed talking about sexual matters with a man I didn’t know, in front of my father. It was embarrassing,” Poudrier said.

She said the elder thanked her for telling him what had happened and said that “he was there to take care of it.”

In a lawyer’s letter to Radio-Canada, the elder in question, John MacEwan, said he knew Poudrier’s family but denied meeting with them concerning allegations against Courtemanche.

When asked by Enquête if the Terrebonne congregation had shared the complaint against Courtemanche with his Mont-Laurier congregation, MacEwan refused to answer.

Neither police nor youth protection authorities were ever notified of the alleged assaults on Poudrier.

The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses leadership, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, has given preference to internal judicial procedures and protocols for dealing with matters such as child abuse.

Michel Courtemanche

Carolle PoudrierÂ’s father, left, had worked with Michel Courtemanche, right. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)

“In some jurisdictions, individuals who learn of an allegation of child abuse may be obligated by law to report the allegation to the secular authorities,” an internal memo to elders from 2016 reads.

“In all cases, the victim and her parents have the absolute right to report an allegation to the authorities.”

When it comes to sharing information with outside authorities, however, the leadership has insisted on maintaining confidentiality, citing privacy and the ecclesiastical privilege conferred by confessions.

Enquête found there are as many as 30 steps a Jehovah’s Witness must take before that person is allowed to testify in court or furnish civil authorities with church documents, when it comes to matters of child abuse.

“When you study the process, you realize it’s really a process for avoiding, a system for protecting the reputation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,”  said Marilou Lagacé, a former Witness interviewed by Enquête.

New instructions regarding allegations of child sexual abuse

A recent royal commission in Australia found the JehovahÂ’s Witness church there had recorded allegations of child sexual abuse against 1,006 members over a 60-year period. Not one allegation had been reported to authorities outside the church.

With pressure mounting in the wake of that royal commission and other allegations of sexual abuse of children in its ranks, on Sept. 1, the Watchtower Society issued new instructions regarding allegations of child sexual abuse.

Those instructions recognize child sexual abuse as a crime and assert that members should be “clearly informed that they have the right” to report an allegation of abuse to police.

“The congregation’s handling of an accusation of child sexual abuse is not intended to replace the secular authority’s handling of the matter,” the Sept. 1 letter reads.

“Therefore, the victim, her parents, or anyone else who reports such an allegation to the elders should be clearly informed that they have the right to report the matter to the secular authorities.

Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.”


http://www.news.club/quebec-police-probe-possible-cases-of-child-sexual-abuse-in-jehovahs-witnesses-congregation/

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    • An interesting concept, bible discipline. I am struck by the prevalence of ignorance about spiritual discipline on "Reddit." While physical and mental disciplines receive attention, the profound impact of spiritual discipline on a person's physical and mental well-being is often overlooked. Is it possible to argue against the words of the Apostle Paul? When he penned those words in Hebrews 12, he was recognizing that there are moments when an individual must be "rebuked" in order to be corrected. Even Jesus himself established a precedent when he rebuked Peter and referred to him as Satan for failing to comprehend what Jesus had already revealed to the apostles. Did that imply that Jesus had an evil heart? Not at all, it was quite the opposite; Jesus had a loving heart. His need to correct Peter actually showcased his genuine love for him. If he hadn't cared, he would have let Peter persist in his mistaken ways, leading to a fate similar to Judas'. There is a clear emphasis on avoiding the apostate translation and its meaning, yet many seem to overlook the biblical foundation for the reasons NOT to follow the path of the fallen brethren or those with an apostate mentality. Those individuals have embraced the path of darkness, where the illuminating power of light cannot penetrate, to avoid receiving the righteous discipline based on God's Bible teachings. They are undoubtedly aware that this undeniable truth of life must be disregarded in order to uphold their baseless justifications for the unjust act of shunning. Can anyone truly "force" someone or stop them from rejecting a friend or family member? Such a notion would be absurd, considering the fact that we all have the power of free will. If a Witness decides to distance themselves from a family member or friend simply because they have come out as gay, who is anyone within the organization to question or challenge that personal sentiment? It is unfortunate that there are individuals, both within and outside the organization, who not only lack a proper understanding of the Bible but also dare to suggest that God's discipline is barbaric. We must remember that personal choices should be respected, and it is not for others to judge or condemn someone based on their sexual orientation but should be avoided under biblical grounds. No one should have the power to compel an individual to change their sexual orientation, nor should anyone be forced to accept someone for who they are. When it comes to a family's desire to shield their children from external influences, who has the right to challenge the parents' decision? And if a family's rejection of others is based on cultural factors rather than religious beliefs, who can impose religious judgment on them? Who should true followers of Christ follow? The words of God or those who believe they can change God's laws to fit their lives? How can we apply the inspired words of Paul from God to embrace the reality of God's discipline? On the contrary, how can nonconformists expect to persuade those with a "worldview" that their religious beliefs are unacceptable by ostracizing individuals, when God condemns homosexuality? This is precisely why the arguments put forth by ex-witnesses are lacking in their pursuit of justice. When they employ misguided tactics, justice remains elusive as their arguments are either weak or inconsistent with biblical standards. Therefore, it is crucial to also comprehend Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:27. The use of the word "shun" is being exaggerated and excessively condemned by those who reject biblical shunning as a form of punishment. Eph 5:3-14 NIV 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.  8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. The impact of the message becomes significantly stronger when we emphasize the importance of avoiding any association with unrighteousness and those who remain unrepentant. In fact, it becomes even more compelling when we witness how some individuals, who dismiss biblical shunning as a method of discipline, excessively criticize and condemn the use of the word "shun". Therefore, Jehovah's Witnesses do not shun people; instead, they choose to focus on the negative actions being committed, which is in accordance with biblical teachings. This should be construed as ex-Witness rhetoric. Now, let's consider why ex-Witnesses specifically target one particular religion. What justifications do they provide when other Christian denominations also adhere to the same principle grounded in the Bible? Chapter 1 - Preface Both must therefore test themselves: the one, if he is qualified to speak and leave behind him written records; the other, if he is in a right state to hear and read: as also some in the dispensation of the Eucharist, according to  custom enjoin that each one of the people individually should take his part. One's own conscience is best for choosing accurately or shunning. And its firm foundation is a right life, with suitable instruction. But the imitation of those who have already been proved, and who have led correct lives, is most excellent for the understanding and practice of the commandments. "So that whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup."  It therefore follows, that every one of those who undertake to promote the good of their neighbours, ought to consider whether he has betaken himself to teaching rashly and out of rivalry to any; if his communication of the word is out of vainglory; if the the only reward he reaps is the salvation of those who hear, and if he speaks not in order to win favour: if so, he who speaks by writings escapes the reproach of mercenary motives. "For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know," says the apostle, "nor a cloak of covetousness. God is witness. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children."   (from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2) Divine promises 2. The manner of shunning, in the word escaping. 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    • Nice little thread you’ve got going here, SciTech. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.
    • It's truly disheartening when someone who is supposed to be a friend of the exclusive group resorts to using profanity in their comments, just like other members claiming to be witnesses. It's quite a ludicrous situation for the public to witness.  Yet, the "defense" of such a person, continues. 
    • No. However, I would appreciate if you do not reveal to all and sundry the secret meeting place of the closed club. (I do feel someone bad stomping on Sci’s little thread. But I see that has already happened.)
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