Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America. The Church and related Catholic charities and schools have collected more than $1.6 billion since 2012 in U.S. contracts… Continue reading
On a Friday morning in August, one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses top leaders sat before an Australian government commission investigating whether the organization hid child sexual abuse from secular authorities.
That Geoffrey Jackson, one of the seven members of the religion’s Governing Body, was being grilled in public captivated a global community of former Witnesses that watched the live stream on their home computers.
During two weeks of hearings, Jackson and members of the organization’s top brass in Australia gave hours of sworn testimony, but at least one big question remained: Were any of them telling the truth?
Since the 1950s, the Witnesses have preached a doctrine allowing Jehovah’s followers to deceive anyone outside of the religion if doing so protects the organization. They call it “theocratic warfare.”
The policy has taken on a new significance today as Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming under scrutiny across continents for enabling and concealing child sexual abusers. Top leaders are being questioned under oath as judges and investigators try to get to the bottom of a global scandal.
A 1957 article in The Watchtower magazine – named for the Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – grants permission to Jehovah’s followers to hide the truth from “enemies” of the religion. The religion teaches that the world outside the organization is controlled by Satan.
“So in a time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth,” the article reads. “Today God’s servants are engaged in a warfare, a spiritual, theocratic warfare, a warfare ordered by God against wicked spirit forces and against false teachings.”
The theocratic warfare doctrine teaches that refusing to cooperate with criminal investigations involving Jehovah’s Witnesses is sanctioned by God because outsiders are not entitled to the truth.
Although the term theocratic warfare appears in Watchtower literature less and less over time, the organization’s leadership still teaches that secrecy is a crucial method of avoiding the scrutiny of the justice system. And there’s reason to believe it’s still in practice.
For 25 years, Watchtower policies have directed elders in all U.S. congregations to hide cases of child sexual abuse from law enforcement agencies as well as their own congregations, according to confidential documents from inside the organization.
Reveal looked at more than a dozen lawsuits and discovered evidence suggesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have either lied under oath or refused to cooperate with secular authorities on the hunt for abusers. In some cases, those elders remain in positions of power in their local congregations.
‘These three brothers lied in court about this and much more’
Three Jehovah’s Witnesses elders lied under oath about their role in enabling a known child molester to continue abusing children, according to another elder who claims to have knowledge of the events.
In a 2011 lawsuit, Michael Clarke, Gary Abrahamson and Larry Lamerdin, elders in the North Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, took the stand to face questions about why they didn’t report to police that one of their members, Jonathan Kendrick, had confessed to sexually abusing his stepdaughter.
Clarke and Abrahamson testified that they had brought together all of the congregation’s elders and instructed them to watch Kendrick closely to make sure he did not abuse more children.
But in a series of 2013 letters to Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders, Rod Francis, who was an elder in the North Fremont congregation in the 1990s when the abuse occurred, accused the three elders of lying under oath.
“None of the other elders, including myself were aware that a child sexual predator was in our midst even though the offender was in my book study,” he wrote. “Because of this the congregation and our own families were unable to be adequately protected resulting in catastrophic outcomes for other young girls and damage to my own family. These three brothers lied in court about this and much more.”
Francis declined to comment for this story. Reveal obtained his letters from a third party.
Clarke, Abrahamson and Lamerdin did not return calls seeking comment.
The 2011 case was brought against the Watchtower by Candace Conti, who claimed the Witnesses could have prevented her abuse by Kendrick in the 1990s by warning the congregation that he had previously abused a child. The court awarded Conti $28 million in damages, a number later reduced to an undisclosed amount.
Kendrick has confessed to molesting two girls but denies abusing Conti. He was never criminally prosecuted for his alleged crimes against her and remains a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing.
Why a judge called the Watchtower’s omissions ‘reprehensible’
In another California lawsuit against the Witnesses last year, one of the organization’s top leaders, Governing Body member Gerrit Lösch, refused to testify.
In that case, a San Diego court looked at allegations that an elder named Gonzalo Campos had sexually abused a Jehovah’s Witness boy named Jose Lopez in the 1980s.
Lopez’s attorney, Irwin Zalkin, subpoenaed 17 years’ worth of records collected by the Watchtower containing the names of known and suspected child sexual abusers in its U.S. congregations. The Watchtower acknowledged that the records existed but refused to hand them over.
Zalkin also subpoenaed Lösch to testify to the Governing Body’s role in forming the organization’s child abuse policies. On Feb. 5, 2014, Lösch submitted a sworn declaration explaining why he should not have to testify.
“I am not, and have never been, a corporate officer, director, managing agent, member, or employee of Watchtower,” Lösch wrote. “I do not direct, and have never directed, the day-to-day operations of Watchtower. I do not answer to Watchtower. I do not have, and have never had, any authority as an individual to make or determine corporate policy for Watchtower or any department of Watchtower.”
Although Lösch claims he has no power over any department of the Watchtower, internal Watchtower documents show that, as a Governing Body member, he oversaw one of two Watchtower departments that deal with allegations of child abuse, at least until 2014.
Lösch’s declaration also directly contradicted the testimony of Watchtower officials in which they said that the Governing Body reviews and approves all Watchtower policies, including those pertaining to child abuse.
Allen Shuster, a senior Watchtower official, said as much during his testimony in the Candace Conti case. When Conti’s attorney asked whether the child abuse policies came from the Governing Body, he answered, “That is an accurate statement, yes.”
Shuster continued: “On a high level, review, the Governing Body does establish policies.”
San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis, who heard the Jose Lopez case, threw the Watchtower’s defense out of court for refusing to comply with court orders.
“Watchtower’s actions or omissions were ‘reprehensible,’ ” she wrote in her decision.
She also dismissed Lösch’s declaration that he, as a Governing Body member, had no power over the Watchtower.
“The award of punitive damages against them will hopefully send a message to Watchtower and its managing agents, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that their handling of sex abuse cases within their congregation was absolutely reckless,” she wrote.
Lewis awarded Lopez $13.5 million.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also facing pressure outside the U.S.
The investigation in Australia has been the most sweeping government inquiry into the Watchtower’s child abuse policies to date.Prior to the hearings, investigators uncovered allegations of child sexual abuse against 1,006 Jehovah’s Witnesses members in Australia since 1950. None were reported to the police.
Requests to interview Geoffrey Jackson and other Watchtower officials were denied.
The commission lacks the power to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but has referred some cases to criminal authorities and plans to issue recommendations to the government.
During the hearings, Vincent Toole, the head of the Watchtower’s legal department in Australia, was asked whether he was aware of the theocratic warfare doctrine.
“Well, I’ve heard the expression,” he said, “but I’m not really sure what it means.”
He was then asked whether Witnesses were allowed to lie to protect Jehovah’s name.
“We are truthful,” he said. “To be a Christian, you have to be truthful.”
A rabbi from a Jerusalem yeshiva was arrested after one of the pupils filed a complaint saying he was molested for five years, Hebrew-language media reported on Thursday. The 19-year-old victim claimed other pupils at the religious academy were also abused by the rabbi, according to the Ynet news website. The suspect, who denies the charges,… Continue reading
DALLAS, Sept. 22, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Carla Sweet and Ed Gomez of Dallas, Texas, filed suit today in Dallas, Texas, state court against First Baptist Church of Rockwall: seeking justice for their son, John “Jeremy” Sweet-Gomez, who was repeatedly sexually abused by a Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church of Rockwall. The suit alleges that a… Continue reading
Ex-confidant of founder says group scanned fiscal records of six federal judges, Schumer and others
Albany Times Union
By Brendan J. Lyons
Sunday, September 20, 2015
A former close confidant of Keith Raniere, founder of the NXIVM corporation, claims top officials in the secretive organization used a Canadian investigative firm or other means to sift the financial records of six federal judges and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., according to court records.
The former NXIVM insider, Kristin M. Keeffe, said that Seagrams heiress Clare W. Bronfman, who oversees NXIVM’s operations, ordered the financial probes at the direction of Raniere, 55. The six judges whose financial records Keeffe alleges were analyzed have all presided over cases involving NXIVM or its perceived adversaries and critics.
The allegations by Keeffe, 45, are outlined in emails attributed to her that were filed recently in Albany County Court in a case involving Barbara J. Bouchey, a financial adviser and former NXIVM executive board member charged with hacking into the corporation’s computer system. Bouchey has pleaded not guilty and is fighting the computer trespass charge, which her attorneys said is baseless.
Keeffe was a legal liaison for NXIVM and for many years was part of Raniere’s inner circle at the Albany-based corporation, which specializes in “human development” training, according to federal court records.
The judges whose financial records that Keeffe claims were targeted include four federal judges in Albany: U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe; U.S. Magistrate Randolph F. Treece; U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr., and U.S. Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy. The judges all have presided over cases in which NXIVM was a party or had an interest in the litigation. Keeffe did not say in her email when the alleged searches took place.
Keeffe alleges the corporation also conducted financial research on two federal judges in New Jersey: U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh and U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk, both of whom have presided over a pending lawsuit filed in 2006 by NXIVM against Rick Ross, a self-described cult tracker. NXIVM’s lawsuit accuses Ross of publishing — without authorization — protected materials from its training programs. NXIVM has denied it is a cult.
In the New Jersey case, Ross has fought back against NXIVM and, in court filings, accused the corporation of hiring a New York investigative and security firm, Interfor, to conduct background checks on Ross, including obtaining details of his banking records and personal relationships. A report attributed to Interfor, whose president, Juval Aviv, is a former Israeli intelligence officer, was filed in U.S. District Court in connection with the litigation. The nine-page report includes Ross’s Social Security number, date of birth, medical and psychological history and details from his personal checking account and telephone records.
It’s unclear how the banking information listed in Interfor’s report was obtained. In her email, Keeffe alleged that a small Canadian investigative firm, Canaprobe, was hired to conduct a “bank sweep” on Ross. A telephone listing for a company called Canaprobe Investigation in Montreal was disconnected. The company’s owner could not be reached for comment.
“The long and short of it is that there has never been any definitive proof or determination about how exactly they came to get it,” said Peter L. Skolnik, a New Jersey attorney who represents Ross, referring to the banking records listed in Interfor’s report. “They haven’t denied going through Ross’ garbage, but on the other hand Ross had testified that he never threw any of those phone bills or banking records into his garbage.”
In court filings, NXIVM has accused Interfor of going beyond the scope of their agreement in investigating Ross. Interfor, in court filings, said that it did not use illegal tactics to investigate Ross and that NXIVM officials, including Keeffe, were aware of what was being done. The company also said NXIVM officials did not object when Interfor provided two detailed reports on Ross in 2004 and 2005. Interfor also noted that NXIVM initially paid Interfor’s legal fees to fight a subpoena that Ross served on the investigative firm in August 2006, after NXIVM had received Interfor’s reports on Ross.
Keeffe “closely supervised Interfor’s investigation of Ross through numerous telephone calls and frequent meetings,” according to a response by Interfor that’s filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. “No action on the Ross investigation was taken by Interfor without Keeffe’s express approval.”
Keeffe, in the email attributed to her in Albany County Court files, claims that NXIVM also obtained the financial records of George R. Hearst III, publisher and CEO of the Times Union; Rex Smith, the newspaper’s editor and vice president, and James M. Odato, a former Times Union reporter who wrote numerous stories about NXIVM. The Times Union has extensively covered NXIVM, and in 2012 published a series — “Secrets of NXIVM” — which included one expert describing NXIVM as an “extreme cult.”
Bronfman, 36, declined to comment on Keeffe’s allegations. Raniere did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Keeffe broke away from NXIVM in February 2014 and is in hiding, according to correspondence and conversations attributed to her in court records filed in Albany County. She initially went to a domestic violence shelter with the assistance of a State Police investigator, Rodger Kirsopp, who built criminal cases against four people accused of illegally hacking into NXIVM’s computer system, according to court records.
Keeffe used an encrypted email system to send information about her allegations to NXIVM’s attorneys and to her former NXIVM associates, including Bouchey. The criminal case against Bouchey relates to a nearly two-year State Police investigation that targeted four people: a NXIVM critic, Bouchey and two of her former NXIVM associates. They were all charged with low-level felonies for allegedly gaining unauthorized access to NXIVM’s computer servers using accounts and passwords of two former NXIVM clients.
The state attorney general, Saratoga County district attorney and Albany County district attorney all declined to prosecute the case, which was eventually presented to a grand jury by a special prosecutor in Albany County.
Keeffe’s defection from NXIVM signals the first time that someone at her level in the organization has turned on Raniere and shared information about the organization’s alleged inner dealings. The February email attributed to Keeffe was initially sent to two of NXIVM’s longtime attorneys, Stephen R. Coffey and Pamela A. Nichols, who are with the law firm O’Connell and Aronowitz in Albany.
“I am guessing Clare never disclosed to either of you the depths she went to, as directed by Keith, to obtain financial records for leverage against every potential anti NX (NXIVM) party,” Keeffe wrote in the email. “This included getting records for every Judge in every NX (NXIVM) related case.”
In the email, Keeffe said that she also “forwarded all the Canaprobe transactions to a third party gmail account for safe keeping as they came in.”
The email thread indicates Keeffe forwarded it on Feb. 26 to Bouchey, who has pleaded not guilty to the felony charge filed against her in February.
Reached Monday, Coffey, whose firm has represented NXIVM for years, said he was not familiar with the court filings that contain Keeffe’s email, so the Times Union forwarded a copy of the documents to his office.
“Well, let me see, I may get back to you and say I’m not going to say anything,” Coffey said on Monday. “I will tell you this — it’s not a warning: Kristin Keeffe has some significant difficulties. Aside from the emails, there’s some real issues with her.”
On Wednesday, Coffey, after reviewing a copy of the email, said he would not comment further on the matter.
The emails were filed Sept. 9 in Albany County Court by attorneys for Bouchey, who was indicted Feb. 27 on one count of computer trespass. Bouchey’s attorneys, including Mark J. Sacco of Schenectady, filed two motions recently seeking to have the indictment dismissed. One of the motions accuses Kirsopp, who consulted with NXIVM’s attorneys numerous times during his criminal investigation, of distorting facts to build a case against Bouchey.
Kirsopp did not respond to a request for comment.
Sacco’s court filings include an email from Ben T. Myers, a computer technician and NXIVM contractor, that indicates Myers provided Bouchey with the sign-on and password information of a former NXIVM student, Svetlana Kotlin, and instructed Bouchey to use the information. The indictment against Bouchey accuses her of using Kotlin’s sign-on information to access NXIVM’s computer system without authorization on one occasion in January 2014.
The criminal case against Bouchey and another former NXIVM member, Toni F. Foley, who was previously Raniere’s girlfriend, is being prosecuted by Holly Trexler, a former Albany County assistant district attorney serving as special prosecutor. Felony computer trespass charges also are pending against Joseph J. O’Hara, an imprisoned NXIVM critic who once did consulting work for the organization. In an unrelated criminal case, O’Hara was sentenced in July 2013 to three years in federal prison for his conviction in a bribery case involving a public school district contract in El Paso, Texas. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Brooklyn.
A fourth defendant in the computer trespassing case, John J. Tighe, 58, of Milton, pleaded guilty last November to felony computer trespass charges. Tighe, who once published a blog called Saratoga in Decline that included critical postings about NXIVM, is serving five years and 10 months in federal prison on child pornography charges. The illegal materials were discovered on Tighe’s computer after State Police seized it during their investigation of the computer trespassing allegations. In the state case, Tighe was sentenced to a year in jail and is serving that term concurrently with his federal sentence.
Bouchey and Foley have pleaded not guilty to the charges. It’s unclear whether O’Hara has been arraigned. Trexler, the special prosecutor, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
More than a year after the criminal probe began, NXIVM filed a federal lawsuit in October 2013 alleging unauthorized access of its confidential information by O’Hara, Tighe, Foley, Odato and another journalist, Suzanna Andrews, who writes for Vanity Fair magazine.
The federal lawsuit was thrown out last Thursday by a U.S. District Court judge in Albany.
Attorneys for the defendants asked a federal judge to dismiss the case on the basis that the complaint was not filed within the required two-year period after NXIVM discovered the alleged unauthorized access. In last week’s ruling, U.S. District Senior Judge Lawrence E. Kahn said that Bronfman, a member of NXIVM’s executive board, acknowledged during testimony in an unrelated bankruptcy case — more than two years before the lawsuit was filed — that NXIVM suspected intrusions of its computer servers, including by Tighe.
NXIVM’s lawsuit accused Tighe, a vocal critic of the corporation, of using the computer access to gain information about NXIVM’s private events, such as annual picnics and training seminars, and that he would show up and harass its members. During his guilty plea in Albany County Court last November, Tighe admitted trespassing on NXIVM’s servers “50 to 60” times, he told the judge.
Raniere has described himself as the “philosophical founder” of NXIVM, according to a State Police report. He founded NXIVM in 1998, shortly after Consumers’ Buyline, his multimillion-dollar discount buying club in Halfmoon, collapsed under allegations it was a pyramid scheme. Raniere admitted no wrongdoing and paid the state about $40,000 in settlement fees after an investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
Jennifer’s memories were scattered and fleeting. They came suddenly, triggered by a smell or a glimpse of light dappled through stained glass. The aroma of freshly baked mince pies repulsed her nostrils. Scented candles, like the ones in the small San Antonio, Texas church she attended as an elementary school girl, made her gag with disgust.… Continue reading
A federal appeals court Thursday ruled in favor of faith-based nonprofits who fought Obamacare’s birth control rules, dealing an elusive victory to religious employers who now have a stronger hand in urging the Supreme Court to shield them from the administration’s “contraception mandate.” In a pair of opinions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth… Continue reading
Administrators are investigating what went down at the Villa Rica high school in Georgia after a video was shared on YouTube:
The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice. “We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.
Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked for an immediate investigation (which the school district says is now underway), and she notes that many students involved in the football program are unlikely to have a choice in the baptism:
“Starting this video out, they call it a step of obedience, and then the camera pans to the students,” said Gaylor. “It’s forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team. How are they going to cross their coach? They have no choice. It’s proselytizing, it’s coercive, and it’s not legal in our schools.”
TO ALL FOOTBALL PLAYERS, PARENTS OF PLAYERS, COACHES, AND STAFF………We sometimes have to wear our football ARMOUR off the field. We have to wear a breastplate of righteousness, helmets of salvation, and we must wear our cleats for the preparation of the gospel of peace. Our uniforms are our ARMOUR both on and off the field. ” We have to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. TAKE UNTO YOU THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13. So not only on Friday nights do we wear our ARMOUR but everyday so that we are UNDEFEATED. GO CATS!!!!
There are definitely some school officials at Villa Rica that need a lesson in civics, specifically the chapter on the separation of church and state.
The latest report submitted by the government of Pakistan to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a poor apology for not doing enough for the country’s children. The government is required to submit to the UNCRC a report every four years describing what has been done by way of compliance with… Continue reading
FUNDAMENTALIST government of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi still prefers military spending instead of improving social fabric of Indian society. Rising number of rapes are attributable to religious fanaticism, nation’s patriarchy, widespread poverty and lack of law enforcement. Now, India has become an eternal ordeal for ladies, and every 23 minutes a lady… Continue reading