Woman sues church

Claims Jehovah's Witnesses hid sex abuse

Toronto Sun/September 1, 2002
By Brodie Fenlon

A New Brunswick woman claims two Jehovah's Witness elders and the Canadian church hid the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her father.

The woman, whose trial begins next Monday in Toronto, is suing the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Canada and two elders of her former congregation in Shelburne, just north of Orangeville, for $700,000.

The church and elders Brian Cairns and Steve Brown deny any wrongdoing and plan to fight the action in court.

The 31-year-old stay-at-home mom, whom The Sun won't name, says in her statement of claim that she was sexually abused by her father from age 11 to 14. The abuse was never reported.

Years later, while working in Toronto as a live-in nanny, the woman claims she suffered from guilt and severe depression.

She approached the elders in her Jehovah's Witness congregation, who turned for advice to church headquarters in Georgetown.

Internal Handling

She says in her statement of claim that the main branch advised the case be dealt with internally by the Shelburne congregation and "advised the Toronto congregation three times not to report the abuse to the Children's Aid Society (CAS)."

In her claim, the woman says that Cairns, Brown and the Watchtower Society:

Refused to report suspicions of child sex abuse to the CAS as required by Ontario law.

Conspired to hide or bury the charge internally.

Told the woman she didn't need psychiatric or psychological counselling as "God's way alone would be beneficial."

Forced the woman to confront her abuser and relive the abuse through repeated interrogation that caused her "permanent emotional injury."

Church spokesman Clive Thomas said that while the church has sympathy for her case, the lawsuit is misdirected.

"The elders were trying to provide her with spiritual help during a difficult time and the elders feel that she is basically biting the helping hand," he said.

In their statement of defence, the defendants insist the elders "were instrumental in ensuring the matter was reported" to CAS by the father. No charges were ever laid.

No one hindered the woman from seeking help from psychologists or psychiatrists, the statement of defence says.

As well, the church argues the woman never sued her father, and never complained to the elders or church about how her case was handled until the lawsuit was filed in 1998.

None of the allegations in either the claim or defence have been proven in court.

'Ready to Fight Them'

"I have so much anger ... that I'm ready to fight them until the end," the woman said in an interview with The Sun.

"They don't realize the damage that they have done to people and to myself," she said. "I don't care if you want to be a Jehovah's Witness. All I'm saying is that the way they deal with child abuse is wrong and it has to be stopped."

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