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Did Jehovah’s Witnesses Lie to the Montana Court About Confidentiality?

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Did Jehovah’s Witnesses Lie to the Montana Court About Confidentiality?

by Alexandra James

As many activists know, the Montana Supreme Court reversed a $35 million judgment against Jehovah's Witnesses recently, in a case involving the religion's failure to report child sex abuse to the authorities. (See this news story.)

Confidentiality Trumps Mandatory Reporting Laws

The court noted when religious authorities are exempt from the state's mandatory reporting laws; from page 14 of their ruling:

"Clergy are not required to report known or suspected child abuse if the knowledge results from a congregation member’s confidential communication or confession and if the person making the statement does not consent to disclosure."

In other words, if someone communicates something to their clergy and expects that information to remain confidential, that clergy member is not required to report that information to authorities or anyone else.

Jehovah's Witnesses Promise Confidentiality to Congregants

The decision by the state justices referred to statements made by Dave Chappel,¹ "a Jehovah’s Witnesses Service Department elder designated by the Watchtower and CCJW [The Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses] boards of directors to serve as their representative in this litigation":


In short, Chappel argued that congregants in the religion are promised that things discussed with elders remain strictly confidential. Chappel used this promise of confidentiality as a legal argument against requirements of reporting child sex abuse to the authorities.

The Deception Over "Confidentiality"

There is a problem with this so-called promise of confidentiality, however. The 2010 edition of "Shepherd the Flock of God," the handbook used by Jehovah's Witness elders, chapter 7, paragraph 15, says:


These instructions are repeated in the 2019 versions of the "Shepherd" book, in chapter 15, paragraph 15.

In other words, these so-called promises of keeping things confidential are rubbish. Elders are outright instructed to share things said during judicial committee cases with other elders, the circuit overseer, and the branch office as they see fit, without informing the "wrongdoer."

I'm not a lawyer so I have no input as to how this information affects any legal case, if at all. However, set that aside; from a moral point of view Jehovah's Witnesses were, at the very least, downright deceitful in their arguments. They don't ensure confidentiality during the judicial committee process, even instructing elders to use someone's name in certain discussions and to not tell that person that they'll be sharing their supposed confidential information.

Whatever anyone's legal arguments and outcome of any court case, there is no doubt in my mind that Jehovah's Witnesses continuously fail child sex abuse victims in their religion. They keep the secrets of molesters, fail to warn parents, fail to notify authorities, fight victims in court, and say whatever they can to protect their assets over their children.

I'm heartbroken over how the court's decision must make those victims feel, and knowing that the case was reversed based on a dishonesty obviously doesn't make things any easier to accept.

*** ***

¹It's my understanding that the person's name was Douglas, not Dave.

*** ***


This came through to me today, so I thought I'd share it. 

Whilst I don't fully agree with massive payouts to victims (or lawyers), I do agree with a payout of a reasonable amount accompanied with an apology from the Org. It never puts the wrong, right. It never can. But it would give the Victim a closure and a sort of 'contentment' of actually being believed. 

Yes i know that lawyers and solicitors rub their hands greedily for their financial gain, but that must be on both sides i would think. Or do the GB's lawyers do it out of love ? 

One thing this article does point out for sure, is that there is no confidentiality within JW Org, they just share the secrets amongst themselves. Hopefully more brothers and sisters will gain a better conscience and report any wrongdoings to Police and Authorities as it still seems that Elders are exempt from doing so. 

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12 minutes ago, Arauna said:

Confidentiality by lawyers and clergy is guaranteed by law.  Please read CNN news! 

JW elders are clergy and WT Lawyers have said so! The JWorg website for the public has "erroneous" information about this subject. :))

When will this "new light" about the WT Society Management structure come out titled, 
What exactly are the elders in fact?", and will this be announced and presented during meetings to members, as a "clarification"?

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Here is the way to look at events in Montana: I wrote it up this morning and posted on my blog. Reproduced here:

After the multi-million dollar verdict against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Montana was reversed, I visited the Witness-bashing website to see how they were taking it. They were not happy. However, the ones who knew law were analytical.

“This isn’t the fault of the courts,” one said. “It’s the fault of the Montana law as written. Courts must follow law or risk reversal on appeal. This case was never going to be ultimately won. The law was way too clear on the matter.”

Another: “Montana followed the law. It’s that simple and of course Watchtower followed the law...”

Yet another: “The case never should have been started, as the law clearly backed JW’s actions. It never had a chance of surviving appeal.”

They sure didn’t talk that way after the first trial. Some of their cohorts wanted to rub my nose—line by line—through that first transcript. ‘The court found your people guilty, TrueTom! Why would they do that unless they had broke the law—they who say they adhere to the law!’ I didn’t respond because I am not a lawyer that would try to unravel their affairs. Moreover, courts, while they may represent the best human justice available, are clearly not above bias from pre-existing philosophical leanings—if they were confirming a Supreme Court Justice would take ten minutes. ‘Wait until the fat lady sings,’ was my attitude. When she did, it was to throw out the judgement of the skinny lady.

Not all were so retrospective after that reversal. “F**k the Montana Supreme Court!” was the outraged complaint woven throughout the thread, with some accusing those seven justices (the reversal was 7-0) of being enablers themselves! Child sexual abuse is the most white-hot topic of all and calm heads rarely prevail. One of them muttered at how they must be “celebrating this victory” at Watchtower HQ. But they showed no sign of it. The Witness attorney summed up events: “There are no winners in a case involving child abuse. ‘No child should ever be subjected to such a debased crime....Tragically, it happens, and when it does Jehovah's Witnesses follow the law. This is what the Montana Supreme Court has established.’” Obviously if one is on the hook for several million dollars and then no longer is, they will not mourn over it. But the focus was kept on the victim, as it should have been. Ideally, she gets full justice from the perpetrator directly responsible.

The gold standard in matters of child sexual abuse is to “go beyond the law.” It is a crazy expectation and I can think of no parallels to it. The expectation is found in a remark already presented, but in truncated form. The full remark was: “Montana followed the law. It’s that simple and of course Watchtower followed the law, rather than just simply reporting child abuse like a good Christian organization.”

If the gold standard regarding child abuse is to “go beyond the law” then MAKE that the law! That’s what law is for! Three times before the ARC Geoffrey Jackson pleaded for such a change—it would make his job “so much easier.” ‘Going beyond the law’ is surely to trigger the wrath of those who, not unreasonably, expect you to abide by the law! Change the law and everyone is happy.

As though on cue, a report surfaced regarding another faith. An Oregon woman has filed a lawsuit for $9 million against the Mormon church because they DID report a confidentially disclosed sexual abuse of a minor. “Clergy are not required to report known or suspected child abuse if the knowledge results from a congregation member's confidential communication or confession and if the person making the statement does not consent to disclosure," Justice Beth Baker wrote in the Montana Supreme Court opinion. It is a statement that will clearly help the Oregon woman, but would not if it were not the law. Change the law if you are really serious about nabbing pedophiles.

The way everything unfolded in Montana pretty well accords with my initial assessment. So great is the world”s frustration at not being able to make a dent in the child sexual abuse pandemic that the first court chose to ignore law in pursuit of that end. It might well be combined with some religious bias, but I would not hang my hat on the latter—outrage over child sexual abuse is sufficient in itself. The Witness organization did follow law, as the Supreme Count validated, but the first court reinterpreted law and made it retroactive to make it seem that they did not. I wrote about it here:

Change the law! Why cannot that be done? If Watchtower wants to change a policy, they can do it overnight and have it implemented worldwide within the week. It is the basket-case eternally squabbling, turf-guarding, plethora of competing jurisdictions that cause many Witnesses to become Witnesses in the first place—they see how hopeless it is with human governments.

Ones who want to bring the Watchtower down on the pretext of child sexual abuse, such as those who predominate at the Witness bashing site, are hardly out of bullets, but they are continually frustrated. Their efforts to put Witness stories above all others gains little traction because the pattern elsewhere is that the leaders of organizations, religious or otherwise, are the abusers themselves, something rarely true with the Witness organization, and also that child sexual abuse appears to be the primary export of the planet, crowding out stories of “lesser” significance. With Watchtower (as in Montana) the situation is typically that of abuse within a family or step-family and Witness leaders come under the gun for evoking law and not reporting it, leaving that up to the persons involved—sometimes they do but often they don’t. History may well judge that harshly, but it does not hold a candle to leaders actually committing the abuse themselves. The class action suit in Quebec that I wrote about was similarly dismissed. Moreover, that contributing perception—that it is a disgrace to call attention to child sexual abuse—has been firmly put to rest among Witnesses.

The Epstein joke making the rounds is: “If you were surprised at Jeff Epstein committing suicide, just think how surprised he must have been!” Of course. With prison security protocol breaking down “at every level” and with 60 Minutes concluding that his injuries far suggest homicide over suicide, the conclusion that he was put to sleep by powerful interests to protect other pedophiles will never be squashed. People are naive, but not that naive. 

A DisneyLand executive was recently sentenced for pedophile offenses, and Erin Elizabeth of HealthNutNews, who has lived in the area, says it happens all the time. The point is, there is no place where child sexual abuse is not, but participants on the anti-JW site see it in only one place—a place where its intensity pales next to places where leaders are the abusers, not just ones trying to stem it who may have done so clumsily.

Thirty years into all-out war against child sexual abuse and barely a dent has been made! For my money, the JW organization is the most proactive of all, gathering every single member on earth to consider detailed scenarios in which child abuse might happen—if there are sleepovers, if there are tickling sessions, if there are unsupervised trips to the rest room, if someone, even a relative, shows unusual interest in your child, and so forth—so that parents, the obvious first line of defense, can be on the alert. This was done at the 2017 Regional Conventions, which were held globally.

It is the common and accepted legal practice to go as high up on the food chain as possible with regard to any lawsuit—everyone knows this and judges it an unremarkable fact of life. “Knew or should have known” is the legal expression that carries the day and effectively amounts to a tax on the common person. Governments raise taxes. Businesses raise prices. When I hear that my neighbor’s lawyer secured him millions of dollars for his auto accident, I rejoice with him—then I open my insurance premium bill.

As people become ever more debased, just where does this end? Women on airlines are reporting sexual abuse. Even rape has been reported, and with passengers being packed in like sardines, attendants expected to monitor this are caught dumbfounded. Do they “know or should have known?” In an increasingly depraved world, your guess is as good as mine.

As to sentiment on the Witness-bashing website? Look, whenever one discards a scenario in which there is discipline for one in which there is not, it will be like releasing a compressed spring—it rebounds wildly, delirious with its newfound freedom, caring not where it goes. This will be true when one leaves behind the school, the military, or the job. It will especially be true if one quit or was expelled from that institution—and that is the case of most on the anti-JW site. Many of them have come out as gay. Witnesses may not gay-bash as do some evangelicals, some of whom froth on the subject and tirelessly prod legislators to make it hot for gays in general society—Witnesses don’t do that—still, there is no place for gay relations within the Witness organization—and that hardly endears them to former members who have gone that way. There is a plain backdrop of ‘settling the score’ to be detected in many posts. It is anything but easy to hold the line on Bible morality in a quickly changing world.

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@TrueTomHarley  I read half of it Tom, but you do tend to go over the top. 

One thing i find quite funny is the FACT that the GB / JW Org change the use of their conscience when it affects their bank account.

In many countries JW Preaching is AGAINST THE LAW.  But as the apostles said 'We must obey God as ruler rather than men'. So in many countries Witnesses deliberately break the law to preach. 

BUT, the GB / JW Org won't 'break the law' to protect young children from being Sexually Abused. 

Even if it it not a legal requirement' to report, SURELY it IS a requirement from GOD through CHRIST to report all forms of Abuse, Child or Adult, to those authorities which GOD HAD PUT IN PLACE.  

Berean Study Bible  James 1 v 27 
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

New International Version Romans 13 v 1
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Christian Standard Bible
Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

Your GB and its Org have no excuse. 


1 hour ago, Arauna said:

Confidentiality by lawyers and clergy is guaranteed by law.  Please read CNN news! 



"Church stands by its decision

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said it considers protecting victims a top priority, and has a 24-hour help line to report abuse. "
It seems that they have more of a conscience and better morality than the GB and JW org. They may have broken man's law but they obeyed God's law. 
And no I do not want to be a Mormon. 
But I think there is a scripture somewhere that says something like, 'when those without law do the things of the law' And of course it is talking about God's law not man's.
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1 hour ago, TrueTomHarley said:

Another: “Montana followed the law. It’s that simple and of course Watchtower followed the law...”

If Montana have such law than that is obviously lawful how Supreme Court of Montana found elements that released elders and WT and Congregation from responsibility of such report. I am not expert to read documents in such a way and to see what is what into details.

What is interesting, again, from several cases and Court documents known to public, is very strong interest of WT Society and JW elders to be considered in front, before secular authorities, as clergy, priesthood with all legal rights as Catholic clergy. In fact WT lawyers using Catholic clergy as example, how they want to be treated in the exactly same way.  

WT Society, elders and regular members have history of preaching against all religions and theirs priesthood who are instruments of satan, and how these churches and their priesthood lies to people and teach falsehoods. But now WT Society asking, in fact demands to be treated exactly in the same way, to be in same level of "spiritual position, authority" that have Catholic clergy. That is something disgusting, for observers. When taking such position, JW elders drinking "same wine of adultery" with their Catholic "colleagues".      

JW church has not "confession" doctrine  as Catholic church has. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101989217 Why? Because, JW church had not clergy ....until now :))) 

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Quote @TrueTomHarley "..  because the pattern elsewhere is that the leaders of organizations, religious or otherwise, are the abusers themselves, something rarely true with the Witness organization, .. "

Tom you would not know. Because the GB and their lawyers are withholding over 20 years worth of Child Sexual Abuse details in America. How can you possibly know who names are in there ? 

For you to state that it is rare amongst the JW Org for its 'leaders' to be involved, you would need to have access to those files. 

Some on here have even said that GB members were homosexuals. And it was also said that a GB member had been accused of sexually abusing someone in Bethel.  I think this information came from JWI. My apologies to JWI if I'm wrong.

Oh and I read the rest of your comment which I knew would be a total waste of my time, and it was. You go of on a tangent talking about world affairs and then you go 'gay-bashing' but pretend not to be. Then you do your normal JW thing by blaming those that tell the truth about your GB and JW Org.  You try to turn the tables on those people that have found true faults in your Org. You use that stupid old pretence that all people that find fault must be d/fed JWs. Sorry Tom that idea died long ago. Although you don't admit it, there are REAL VICTIMS of CSA  that have PROVEN that Elders and others have misused their 'authority' in the Org and hidden the truth and/or lied about CSA in the JW Org. 

But keep up your story telling Tom, some naive ones might believe you. 

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17 minutes ago, 4Jah2me said:

For you to state that it is rare amongst the JW Org for its 'leaders' to be involved, you would need to have access to those files. 

Not everything in life is dependent upon “access to files.” Sometimes looking at what is right in front of your nose is enough.

Montana is typical of other CSA Witness cases—no involvement whatsoever of elders other than their role of persons who did not report. Other organizations you do not hear of CSA unless it is one of the leaders arrested for it. Other than a rotter in San Diego, are there any such cases with JWs?

As it turns out, I have it on excellent authority that each and every person you have interacted with over the past year is a disgusting pervert. How do I know that? Easy. It is in the files that are hidden from me!

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7 hours ago, 4Jah2me said:

Hopefully more brothers and sisters will gain a better conscience and report any wrongdoings to Police and Authorities as it still seems that Elders are exempt from doing so. 

I think that is the general idea, and that we have seen the last of any pedophiles or child molesters getting away with their disgusting crime. Also, I think anyone thinking about doing anything disgusting to children will think twice about it. (However, there is the problem of new people coming in, they may not be aware of this strict child policy. But I do know that brothers who are being considered for appointment as elders are asked if there is anything in the past that would disqualify them from taking up this position).  I do not expect to see any more new cases in the coming years. I think if any cases come to light now, it will be from the past.

A few months ago I researched the Montana case quite extensively (I read the 400 or so page court transcript) and posted some of my "observations" in the Private JW Club. This was another classic instance of  "a dirty old step dad/grandad molests step children and then years later a step grandchild". (If memory serves right, I think this happened about 10 years ago). The step daughter with the grandchild knew that her step dad had molested her sister, and despite that, she brought her child (the grandchild) to his house for baby sitting because of convenience sake. I don't think this sat too well with the Jury, since it was evident she had knowingly put her child in harms way. Most of the members of that family were not very strong in the truth, and one of the victim's claim was thrown out of court as unreliable (basically she made some stuff up).

I have not followed up on the results of the lawsuit, so thanks for posting that. Anyway, what I remember from reading the transcript is that it all seemed to hang on clergy privilege law in Montana. You might already know this, but each state in USA has their own state laws. Some states have no clergy confidentiality, and others do. Then there is the issue of "what exactly is meant by "confidential". Does this mean no one but the one whom the confidential issue was disclosed to knows? If I remember right, what had to be established by the court was: whose definition of confidentiality was going to be used. Was it going to be the "Catholic" version, where only the priest knows, or was it going to be the particular religions version, in other words what that particular religion viewed as confidential. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, confidentiality is not the same as the Catholic version of confidentiality. As we know, when a JW judicial matter is said to be confidential, it means that more than just one elder gets to know the matter and in the case of CSA, advice is sought from the branch office as to reporting laws, i.e. what does the law for that particular state say about reporting? So here we already have perhaps more than 4 people who know about the matter. However, in this version of confidentiality, only those persons who are involved in handling the matter know. No one outside of that circle is privy to this information*. Also, another criteria for the Catholic version of confidentiality is that the penitent must approach the cleric, the confessional.  However, with the Witnesses, this is not always the case. The perpetrator is approached by the elders, as it was in this case. So, although I haven't read the report yet, it appears that the state of Montana recognizes a religion's interpretation of confidentiality, therefor they deemed the JW version as confidential information. So it wasn't because the elders were lying about confidentiality in order to deceive the court. The transcript clearly showed that the elders said how they proceeded, so the court was well aware the that more than one person knew, and that the elders on the judicial committee also called the branch for consultation. There was no deceit on the part of the elders.

* It just occurred to me that if no one outside the confidential circle was to know, then parents of other children were not to find out either. However, this is not the case now. When it is established that there may be concern over the behavior of someone in the congregation, then the parents of any children in that congregation are notified. So really, now there is no confidentiality for the sake of protecting the children. So, I wonder how we can even claim clergy penitence now, because of that. It seems this would be a moot issue with any new cases. It makes me see how in contrast, the other version of clergy penitence is a danger to children, because the priest must not tell anyone else. This is why I think it's stupid for any state or country to have this outdated religious law written in their secular law. Some states are trying to abolish this, but religious tradition is so closely intertwined with politics that it may never happen. Especially not in predominantly Catholic countries....

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2 hours ago, Anna said:

In two-thirds of the states, a communication is considered confidential if made privately and not intended for further disclosure except to other persons present for the purpose of the communication.

That "third" person appears (to me) to be someone who helped write or translate a letter for the penitent, or who helped translate the person's voice or words from another language (including sign language).

It was interesting that the same site you quote also included:

It’s important to understand the difference between clergy privilege and the duty of confidentiality. Privilege simply means the information cannot be shared in court. The duty of confidentiality applies in all contexts and is an ethical matter every minister must navigate carefully. A minister’s duty of confidentiality is breached when they disclose confidences to anyone, anywhere. However, there may be times when it is appropriate to share confidential information, under extreme circumstances where people may be killed or severely injured. There are only nine cases in the history of this country where a minister was sued for breaching the duty of confidentiality. Of those, only three of the cases found the minister civilly liable for sharing confidences. In the other six cases, the courts concluded there was no duty under the circumstances for the minister to keep the confidentiality. So it can be concluded that ministers who decide to share confidential information should not in most cases be held personally liable from a legal standpoint, but they certainly won’t be held legally liable for not sharing. The exception to this rule is child abuse. In 41 states clergy are mandatory reporters of suspected or known child abuse.

It gives the impression that it's rare that a minister would ever get in trouble for revealing a confidentiality, but that they would never get in trouble for breaching the confidentiality of child abuse by letting the authorities know.

When these laws are invoked to say it was OK for Witness ministers to keep the child abuse secret, it's contrary to the spirit of these current laws about privilege and confidentiality in child abuse cases. They are intended to protect the child, and make sure that the minister does not get in trouble for revealing confidentiality. But we still seem to be asking for these rules to be invoked to protect the organization.

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