An Oregon man and a woman are suing Jehovah's Witnesses for allegedly concealing the existence of sexual abuse among members of its congregations, The Oregonian reports.
According to Irwin Zalkin, the lawyer for Velicia Alston and an unnamed victim, John Roe, the Jehovah's Witness organization is "more concerned about protecting its reputation than it is about protecting its children," as evidenced by the fact that when sexual predators are discovered in their midst, they do not report them to the police.
Members of the clergy are considered to be mandatory reporters of child abuse by Oregon law, but according to Zalkin, the Jehovah's Witnesses' Governing Body deems allegations of child abuse to be privileged religious communications. Moreover, they have a policy in place requiring that the accused abuser confess and two eyewitnesses to the abuse testify before they will take any action.
In the lawsuit, Alston claims that Daniel Castellanos, a leader in the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, molested them in 1986 and 1987. He allegedly fondled her under her clothes during piano lessons he taught at his house. She told her mother, who then spoke to the congregation's leaders -- but they told her to remain quiet, and not to go to the police.
Castellanos was disciplined -- he was "disfellowshipped" by the congregation for three years -- before being allowed back in. Alston's lawyer said the problem is, the leaders never informed the congregation why he was punished, so now "no one but the elders can ever know that there is a child predator lurking in that congregation."
Although the statute of limitation for criminal charges has expired, Oregon law does allow victims of child abuse to file civil suits within five years of discovering the effect the abuse had on their lives.
"I know that there are other victims," Alston said at the press conference, by way of explaining why she chose to come forward. "I know that you're scared because you're worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it's OK to say something. Because if you don't say something it's going to keep happening."
Watch a press conference with Alston and her attorneys below via The Oregonian.