Jehovah’s Witnesses not negligent in $35M child-abuse case, courtroom guidelines

Jehovah’s Witnesses not negligent in $35M child-abuse case, courtroom guidelines


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By Amanda Robert
January 13, 2020, 1:40 pm CST

The Montana Supreme Courtroom has reversed a $35 million judgment towards Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to report that one in every of its members had been sexually abusing youngsters for years.
In its 7-Zero choice, the courtroom held that although Montana regulation requires clergy and different officers to report little one sexual abuse to authorities, Jehovah’s Witnesses fell beneath an exemption on this case “as a result of their church doctrine, canon, or follow required that clergy preserve reviews of kid abuse confidential.” NPR and the Related Press have protection.

Holly McGowan, one in every of two plaintiffs within the lawsuit, instructed elders within the Thompson Falls Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1998 that her stepfather, Maximo Reyes, had inappropriately touched and fondled her, the courtroom’s opinion states.

The elders instructed McGowan that with out a confession from Reyes or one other witness, they might not take motion towards him. In line with the courtroom’s opinion, McGowan was later raped by her stepfather quite a few instances.

In 2004, one in every of McGowan’s male family members instructed an elder that Reyes had additionally sexually abused him. McGowan served as his second witness, however as an alternative of reporting Reyes to authorities, the elder convened a committee that banished him from the congregation for one yr, the courtroom’s opinion states.

Reyes had began sexually abusing one other feminine relative, Alexis Nunez, on a weekly foundation two years earlier when the lady was 5. In line with the courtroom’s opinion, the abuse continued after Reyes rejoined the congregation.

McGowan and Nunez sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2016 for damages stemming from their failure to report Reyes to authorities. The district courtroom dominated in favor of Nunez, awarding her $four million in precise damages and $31 million in punitive damages.

In its reversal, the Montana Supreme Courtroom wrote that Montana’s necessary little one abuse reporting statute states that “a member of the clergy or a priest just isn’t required to make a report beneath this part if the communication is required to be confidential by canon regulation, church doctrine, or established church follow.”

In line with the courtroom’s opinion, it was demonstrated on this case that “Jehovah’s Witnesses have a longtime course of for receiving and investigating reviews of kid abuse inside their congregations; that they take into account this course of confidential; and that the method essentially includes a number of elders and congregation members, together with the accused, [Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses] elders who present religious steering, and native elders who conduct the investigation.”

In line with the U.S. Kids’s Bureau, about 18 states require those that suspect little one abuse to report it to authorities, NPR reviews. Whereas some states require clergy to report abuse, exceptions are granted for privileged communications, together with confessions.

Whereas the ABA Journal doesn’t sometimes identify survivors of sexual abuse, the regulation workplace representing the 2 plaintiffs on this case instructed NPR they granted their permission.



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