Two people who say that as children they were sexually abused by a leader in a Hillsboro Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation filed a $10.5 million lawsuit Monday – among the first in Oregon to accuse the religious organization of hiding decades of sexual abuse.
Attorneys for Velicia Alston, 39, and an unnamed man said the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership continues to cover up sexual abuse against children by leaders. They say it is more than a decade behind other organizations, such as the Catholic Church, that have been forced to address their problems through many years of civil litigation.
Let me guess – they summoned Jehovah as a witness and he didn’t show?
“There is a crisis of silence in the Jehovah’s Witness organization,” said Irwin Zalkin, one of several attorneys representing Alston and the man. Zalkin described the religious organization as “more concerned about protecting its reputation than it is about protecting its children.”
For example, Zalkin said the seven men who make up the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body have a policy requiring a confession from the perpetrator or two eyewitnesses to the abuse before leaders will take any action.
Ahh that policy – the one that guarantees that leaders will take no action.
“Even if they do disfellowship a perpetrator, they don’t tell the congregation why,” Zalkin said during a news conference Monday in Portland. “No one but the elders can ever know that there is a child predator lurking in that congregation.”
Zalkin said Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders don’t call police. Rather, Zalkin said, they take the position that although Oregon law defines clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse, they don’t need to report the abuse because it was a privileged religious communication.
Say WHAT?? Sexual abuse of a child by a “leader” is a privileged religious communication? “Privileged” in a legal sense, like that between lawyer and client? In what universe?
Zalkin, an attorney from San Diego, said this is the first case of its kind that he knows of in Oregon. His firm has 14 active cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in other states that include California, Connecticut and New Mexico. Several others also are pending in the U.S.
Another item to watch.
The suit alleges that Daniel Castellanos, who held the equivalent position of a baptized ordained minister in the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, molested Alston in 1986 or 1987 when she was 11 or 12 years old. The suit claims Castellanos also molested a boy, described only as John Roe in the suit, when the boy was 8 to 10 years old.
Alston said she chose to use her name and speak to reporters Monday because she wants to give victims a voice. She said filing civil litigation in hopes of changing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policies did not amount to committing an act against God, even though her attorneys say the Jehovah’s Witnesses might shun her for doing so.
“I know that there are other victims,” said Alston, who now lives in San Diego. “I know that you’re scared because you’re worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it’s OK to say something. Because if you don’t say something it’s going to keep happening.”
Seriously – if you’re going to believe in a god, don’t believe in one who smiles approvingly on grownup men molesting little girls and boys.