Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia have been accused by a government commission of discouraging church members to report child sexual abuse. Around 1,006 cases were kept from police, the commission was told.
The investigation into sexual abuse and its aftermath heard on Monday that the church had hidden more than 1,000 cases of child molestation since the 1950s. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, first created in 2013 to tackle allegations of abuse by Catholic priests in Australia, was told that Jehovah's Witnesses operated as a restrictive sect determined to hinder the reporting of abuse.
"Evidence will be put before the Royal Commission that of the 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse identified by the Jehovah's Witness Church since 1950, not one was reported by the church to secular authorities," said Angus Stewart, the senior lawyer assisting the commission.
"This suggests that it is the practice of the Jehovah's Witness Church to retain information regarding child sexual abuse offenses but not to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police or other relevant authorities."
Stewart went on to describe official doctrine allowing church elders to practice discretion in reporting cases of child molestation unless there was a clear legal mandate to do so. The Jehovah's Witnesses has allowed at least 230 suspected abusers to return to the church, 35 of whom have been accused multiple times.
Two anonymous church members were also set to testify that they had been discouraged by church authorities from informing police about abuse allegations.
The US-based Jehovah's Witnesses, known for their door-to-door proselytizing, number around 8 million members worldwide, 68,000 of whom are in Australia.
Australia's abuse commission has heard stories of abuse and cover-ups not only from inside Christian #link:18507561:churches like the Catholics and the Jehovah's Witnesses, but from Orthodox Jewish communities as well. The implications have reached even inside the Vatican, where Australian Cardinal George Pell, who is now is charge of church's economic activities, has come under scrutiny over charges that he failed to adequately protect child victims years ago.
Pell has dismissed the allegations as "false" and "outrageous" and has said that hurting children is "completely contrary" to the teachings of Christ.
es/kms (KNA, Reuters)