CA -- Victims blast ruling reducing church abuse award
For immediate release: Tuesday, April 14
The largest jury award ever in a church child sex abuse and cover up case has been reduced by an appeals court. This is a heart-breaking ruling that will mean more children will be sexually assaulted, more predators will go undetected and more employers will act more recklessly, callously and deceitfully.
Our hearts go out to Candace Conti and her family. They have now been betrayed three times – first by irresponsible, secretive and self-serving Jehovah’s Witness officials, then by a child molester named Jonathan Kendrick, and now by an appeal court that apparently values the freedom of adults to avoid independent scrutiny over the freedom of children to avoid heinous sex crimes.
Expecting purportedly “spiritual” officials to warn their flocks about child molesters, this court claims, would be too “burdensome.”
Frankly, it’s just hard for us to understand that whatever “adverse social consequences” the duty to keep predators away from kids might cause that would be worse than the "adverse social consequences” millions of men, women and children have endured and are enduring because of those who selfishly commit and conceal horrific sexual violence against the vulnerable.
The court worries about “the burden” that might be caused when church officials have a “reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm.” But for heaven’s sake, Kendrick admitted sexually assaulting a child, was protected by Jehovah’s Witnesses officials, then went on to sexually assault another child. So who cares what church officials “believed” he was capable of? They knew, from his own admission, that he had already sexually had abused a child. They should have called 911. They should have never deceived their flock. They should have never given him a chance to hurt another child.
This ruling is a tragedy. Our nation has just become safer, not for kids, but for those who put their own reputations, comfort and careers ahead of the well-being of innocent boys and girls and vulnerable men and women.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
California court guts child abuse ruling against Jehovah’s Witnesses
By Trey Bundy / April 14, 2015
Candace Conti drew worldwide attention in her fight against the Jehovah’s Witnesses when a jury awarded her $28 million in damages – the largest verdict for a single victim of child abuse against a religious organization in U.S. history.
The amount was later reduced to $15.6 million, including $8.6 million in punitive damages.
Now, three years later, an appeals court has eroded her courtroom victory even further by ruling that the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had no duty to warn congregants that a confessed child molester was one of their own. As a result, judges eliminated the punitive damages in the case. Conti still stands to receive $2.8 million.
The decision by the California Court of Appeal is the latest ruling in a rash of lawsuits aimed at Jehovah’s Witnesses policies directing elders to keep child abuse secret from their congregations and secular authorities.
Conti, who is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, had sued her abuser, her former congregation in Fremont and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent corporation – in 2011. She claimed that Watchtower policies allowed a Witness named Jonathan Kendrick to molest her repeatedly when she was 9 and 10 years old.
Kendrick had admitted to North Fremont congregation elders that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter. The elders informed the Watchtower of Kendrick’s confession in 1993, but in accordance with Watchtower policy did not notify police or warn the congregation. Soon after, Conti says, Kendrick began abusing her.
In their ruling Monday, the judges said forcing the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses to warn congregants about child abusers would be too burdensome.
“While it is readily foreseeable that someone who has molested a child may do so again, the burden the duty to warn would create and the adverse social consequences the duty would produce outweigh its imposition,” the judges wrote.
“The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision.
“Since that ‘secrecy policy’ was the only basis for the punitive damages assessed against Watchtower, the punitive damage award must be reversed,” the judges added.
Rick Simons, Conti’s attorney, disagreed with the new ruling in an interview.
“They think in public policy terms that there’s too much risk in broadening the church’s responsibility and liability so that it burdens what churches do,” he said. “We think there’s too much child abuse in these institutions.”
Conti could not immediately be reached for comment.