A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses allegedly allowed convicted paedophile, a former church elder, to cross-examine two of his victims at a public meeting.
The Charity Commission told The Independent that it had “ongoing serious concerns” over the child protection policies and procedures at the Manchester Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where the incident is said to have taken place.
Jonathan Rose, 40, a former elder, was jailed for nine months last year for abusing two girls then aged five and 10. But following his early release from prison in March he was apparently permitted by the congregation in Moston, Greater Manchester to question the two victims and another woman after they sought to have him barred from the church.
Campaigners for the victims of child abuse described the treatment of the women, now in their 20s and 30s, as “outrageous” and called for an investigation into the Christian denomination’s safeguarding policies.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, of whom there are nearly eight million worldwide, believe incidents need to be observed by at least two people for them to be credible – a belief based on the Bible. But experts say this rarely occurs in child abuse claims where there is normally only a victim and the accused present.
The two women came forward to police after Rose was branded a paedophile on Facebook by a woman whom he was found not guilty of abusing as a teenager at an earlier trial.
It emerged yesterday that the congregation held three “disfellowship” meetings during which the women were repeatedly asked to read a scripture on bearing false witness and consider what it meant. A source told the Manchester Evening News: “They had to go through the abuse in detail and were asked if they encouraged it. One of the victims was asked if she had enjoyed it.
“At the third meeting, Rose was present. He questioned the women in detail about the abuse with no one stepping in to stop bullying as would happen in court. The victims had already done this in court, which elders attended. But even though it was very distressing, they bravely went through it again.”
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “I can confirm that the Commission has ongoing serious concerns about the Manchester Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with its policies and procedures for the protection of vulnerable beneficiaries.”
A spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses confirmed Rose was no longer a member of the congregation and described child abuse as “abhorrent” and “a crime and a sin against God”.
The spokesman said the church would not seek to shield those guilty of committing abuse and that elders were “responsible for shepherding the flock”.
“When any one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is accused of an act of child abuse, the local congregation elders are expected to investigate. If a victim wishes to address a matter, this can be done directly or in writing. No victims are forced to attend a meeting or confront an alleged perpetrator of child abuse,” it said in a statement.
Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors’ Trust said: “This shows a complete lack of understanding of the impact of sexual abuse on a victim and of how a perpetrator might behave. It shows a complete disregard for any kind of child protection or safeguarding policies.”
Peter Saunders of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood said: “This process is akin to what the witness goes through in court but it is worse because it has a spiritual dimension to it. Victims need trained people to support them in these situations.”