A Belmont resident who says he was molested during a Jehovah's Witnesses meeting as a child has called on the organisation to join the National Redress Scheme and formally apologise to survivors of child abuse.
The religion, which claims to have 68,000 followers in Australia in 786 congregations, is one of the largest institutions identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to have not yet notified the government of its intention to join the National Redress Scheme.
Documents examined by the Royal Commission revealed the organisation's Australian branch holds case files recording more than 1000 allegations of child sexual abuse made internally against its members since 1950.
Dale Mowday, 57, who practised the religion "on and off" until he was 45, said he had spent the majority of his life in fear of the religion's god, Jehovah, after he was inappropriately touched by a congregation member in the bathrooms of a now defunct "Kingdom Hall" in Swansea at the age of six.
"He said to me if I told anyone, Jehovah would kill me," Mr Mowday said.
The mental health and disability support worker only shared the incident with friends and family when he "woke up" and left the religion 13 years ago.
He reported the abuse to Lake Macquarie police in 2013 and spoke at a hearing of the Royal Commission in Sydney.
Mr Mowday said that since making the allegations to authorities, relatives of his had ceased contact with him. For this reason and others, he says the incident still "affects him every day".
"I have a lot of anger," Mr Mowday said. "Because they [Jehovah's Witnesses] have destroyed lives, and they destroy families. They should say sorry and let everyone in the world know what they have done."
Mr Mowday wept when he spoke of how his interpretation of the religion's teachings had increased his trauma after the incident. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in an impending Armageddon, a time in which "good people who love Jehovah will make the New Earth and this present wicked world will be destroyed".
The organisation had predicted this would occur in 1975 when Mr Mowday was 14. At the time Mr Mowday believed the incident in Swansea had made him unworthy of saving.
"I thought I was going to die. I didn't study at school," Mr Mowday said. "I thought only the good Jehovah's Witnesses would survive."
He said the fear had accompanied him throughout his interactions with the religion as its leaders made subsequent predictions for the date of Armageddon. He believed it had contributed to three decades of alcohol addiction.
I thought I was going to die. I thought only the good Jehovah's Witnesses would survive.Dale Mowday
"To me, realising I wasn't going to die at Armageddon and all that stuff, it lessened the pain a little bit and I started thinking about how I could give up the alcohol. I have been sober for 12 years," Mr Mowday said.
The national administrative body of the religion, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, has so far made no commitment to the Department of Social Services to join the National Redress Scheme. The intentions of 30 other institutions identified by the Royal Commission, including Football NSW, Swimming Australia, Tennis NSW and several Catholic orders, are also still unknown.
The Newcastle Heraldwas introduced to Mr Mowday through Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon's office.
Mr Mowday has been in contact with the founders of Australian website Saysorry.org, who visited Ms Claydon in Canberra while she was deputy chair of the Joint Select Committee on oversight of the implementation of redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The website raises awareness about Jehovah's Witnesses failure to apologise to survivors.
The parliamentary committee recommended in April that the government introduce measures to remove institutions charitable status or other tax concessions if they do not sign up to the National Redress Scheme by the closure date in 2020. A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said the "government is carefully considering" the recommendations.
Ms Claydon said she supported the recommendation, saying the redress scheme would only become "truly meaningful" when all the institutions identified by the commission signed up.
Dragging out these time frames is completely reprehensible.MP Sharon Claydon
"Frankly, they would need to be preparing now to make the deadline by June next year and if they are not showing any willingness to do so, the Commonwealth needs to think about the levers available to them," she said.
"The first principle should be to do no further harm to survivors and dragging out these time frames is completely reprehensible."
Responding to the question whether the Jehovah's Witnesses would join the redress scheme, the spokesman for the Watchtower wrote in a statement: "With regard to the National Redress Scheme, we understand that it is a voluntary scheme for non-government institutions, which have until June 30, 2020, to agree to participate."
The commission found the organisation had several problematic policies and practices in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse, including that before 1998 a complainant of child sexual abuse was required to make allegations in the presence of the alleged abuser for leaders to conduct a "spiritual investigation".
The organisation's "two witness rule" means that unless a person accused of abuse confesses, or two people witnessed the incident or provide circumstantial evidence, the accused is to be considered innocent by the congregation and spiritual leaders.
The commission also found the practice of "shunning" or ceasing contact with those who decide to leave the religion would make it harder for victims of abuse to leave because of the loss of interaction with friends and family.
The royal commission concluded it was the general practice of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia to not report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police unless required to do so by law.
The commission stated there was no evidence of the organisation "having or having not" reported any of the allegations it had on file to police.
The spokesman for the Watchtower said only 50 members out of the 1006 alleged offenders recorded in the files were in leadership positions at the time of the alleged abuse and were members who did not have familial ties to the victim.
He said of the religion's structure that, " Jehovah's Witnesses never take custody of children and does not sponsor any programmes or activities that separate children from their parents".
"Jehovah's witnesses do not have boarding schools or Sunday schools, they do not have youth groups, choirs, or sponsor any programmes for children," he said.
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