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.
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The Watchtower may imagine that Jehovah has intervened and they have won a great theocratic victory and saved Bethel’s treasury millions. But is it really a victory, having a wordly court go on record before the gaze of the media to state that it agrees with the Watchtower’s lawyers that it is simply too burdensome for elders to lift a finger to protect the children of their congregations from being molested by men whom they know are pedophiles? Is it not rather a cause of reproach that God’s name is attached to this ugliness?
Jehovah’s Witnesses would do well to meditate on this passage from the eighth chapter of Jeremiah, because it surely applies to the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses at this moment in time: “‘Do they feel ashamed of the detestable things they have done? They feel no shame at all! They do not even know how to feel humiliated! So they will fall among the fallen. When I bring punishment on them they will stumble,’ says Jehovah. ‘When I gather them, I will bring them to their end,’ declares Jehovah. ‘There will be no grapes left on the vine, no figs on the fig tree, and the leaves will wither. And what I gave to them will be lost to them.'”