We are used to hearing about Catholic priests molesting children and the Church covering up the crime, but sexual abuse is not only a Catholic problem.
A $13.5 million judgment has been ruled in San Diego Superior Court against The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the organization that oversees Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The court finds a church elder, Gonzalo Campos, guilty of sexually abusing then 7-year-old Jose Lopez in the mid 1980’s. The abuse took place during Spanish Congregation bible study at the Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Linda Vista, California.
ABC 10 News was told by Attorney Irwin Zalkin that The Watchtower knew Campos had been accused of abusing children years before he even met Lopez. The Watchtower swept the sexual abuse under the rug.
Zalkin says six other people have settled sexual abuse cases with The Watchtower and another lawsuit will go to trial in June. He believes these cases are only the tip of the iceberg and “there are probably hundreds if not thousands of perpetrators.”
“This problem of childhood sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization is insidious and it is an epidemic. $10,500,000 of that is punitive damages; intended to punish them, to send a message that their type of conduct is reckless and reprehensible and needs to stop”.
Zalkin speaks further of his experience with The Watchtower,
“These guys will deny and deny. They are belligerent, they are arrogant”.
The victim, Jose Lopez, said,
“It’s been very hard on me. It’s never going to be over. I don’t think it’s ever … life changing, tragic”.
Lopez says he tries to attend Christian churches, but he’s protective of his three sons.
“When I have to leave my kids at church, I can’t. I don’t know”.
Campos has avoided prosecution by fleeing to Mexico and Lopez would like to see him returned to the United States to pay for his crimes.
“I would just tell him how much he hurt me and I just want him to be behind bars where he belongs; he’s a coward”.
The Watchtower has issued the following statement:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses will appeal the decision of a California judge in a case involving an alleged act of child abuse.
The trial court judge rendered a multimillion-dollar damage award to a man who claims that he was molested once in 1986 by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who held no position of responsibility in the congregation. The trial court judge awarded $3 million in compensatory damages against Watchtower and added $10.5 million in punitive damages following a hearing at which Watchtower was barred from participating. Watchtower believes the appellate court will ultimately agree that the trial court abused its discretion by terminating its right to defend itself in this case”.
The Associate General Counsel for The Watchtower, Mario Moreno, had the following to add:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. The trial judge’s decision is a drastic action for any judge to take given the circumstances of this case. We will seek a full review of this case on appeal”.
Local San Diego news station ABC 10 filed the following report,
NBC 7 in San Diego also reports,