One of the most senior members of the Jehovah’s Witness Church worldwide said compensation could be made to people allegedly sexually abused within its ranks if there was a Biblical basis for a redress scheme.
Geoffrey Jackson is one of seven men on the church’s New York-based Governing Body, which oversees decisions regarding the organisation’s 8.2 million members internationally. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse issued a summons for Mr Jackson, who was in Queensland visiting his sick father.
Appearing via video link from Toowoomba on Friday, Mr Jackson told the royal commission that the church would join a co-ordinated redress schemes for victims of institutional sexual abuse, provided “that nothing was scripturally against us doing that”..
In evidence, Mr Jackson said an apology to alleged sex abuse victims was “perceivable”.
“We want to treat victims in a loving way,” he said. He told the commission the church would not change a rule which requires alleged sex abuse victims to appear before a committee of male elders.
“Is there a chance to make women elders? No. There is no leeway there,” he said.
Mr Jackson told the royal commission the decision was based on immutable Biblical teachings but said women played a “dignified role” in the church. “We certainly do not want women to feel like second-rate citizens,” he said. “In God’s view, men and women are equal. But even people who fly aeroplanes realise you can’t fly an aeroplane by committee – there has to be a pilot and a co-pilot. A woman is a co-worker, a complement, the Bible refers to her as.”
He said there was no Biblical impediment to women being involved in sexual abuse hearings but, “scripturally, the men make the final decisions”.
The royal commission has previously heard evidence from a woman who said she felt uncomfortable describing intimate sexual details before a committee of older men.
“Can you understand how a woman might feel when allegations which she makes of having been sexually assaulted by a male are determined exclusively by men?” royal commission chairman Peter McClellan asked.
Mr Jackson responded: “These elders, they are friends of those in the congregation.”
The Governing Body would be prepared to bring its teachings in line with contemporary social attitudes if it could be supported by the scriptures, Mr Jackson told the commission.
“We need to take that into consideration but the primary responsibility we have is to think, what does Jehovah God mean by this?” he said.
Mr Jackson told the commission the Governing Body oversees all business regarding “analysing the scriptural basis for decisions” and disseminates its findings through its publications, The Watchtower and Awake!
The Australian-born Mr Jackson, who has been on the Governing Body for 10 years, described members as the “anointed servants of Jehovah God”.
The royal commission is examining how the Jehovah’s Witness Church responds to allegations of child sexual abuse. The commission has heard evidence that church identified more than 1000 alleged child sex abuse perpetrators within its ranks over 60 years but failed to report them to secular authorities.
The hearing has adjourned.
Read more – The Sydney Morning Herald