The mission of Jehovah’s Witnesses is to spread belief in the Bible in hopes of rescuing folks before the world ends.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attorneys seem to have another mission: do anything to keep internal documents revealing the names of alleged child molesters, and the congregations they attended, from seeing the light of day.
The second directive is unfolding in two San Diego courtrooms. Attorneys for José Lopez and Osbaldo Padron — both alleged victims of molestation by an elder from the Linda Vista congregation named Gonzalo Campos — say Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, refuses to turn over documents. This is despite the fact that two San Diego County Superior Court judges have imposed millions of dollars in sanctions for similar conduct.
In a June 17, 2017, email, Lopez’s attorney Devin Storey accuses the Watchtower of withholding documents that his client needs to “establish Watchtower’s practice of protecting molesters from prosecution.”
The struggle for documents is not isolated to San Diego courtrooms but is playing out in several countries. Watchtower’s policies of requiring more than one eyewitness to the abuse before launching an investigation; of forcing the abused, often young children, to confront their abuser; and of prohibiting members from contacting law enforcement with complaints of sexual abuse have created what one former member and outspoken critic of the Watchtower Tract Society, William Bowen, calls a “pedophile’s paradise.”
Last year, a Royal Commission in Australia found that Jehovah’s Witnesses had hidden more than a thousand reports of child abuse from that country’s law enforcement. In the United States, during the past five years, the Watchtower has paid out numerous settlements to people who claimed they’d suffered child abuse at the hands of church elders. To date, seven San Diego residents have sued the Watchtower Tract Society regarding sexual abuse of minors.
In 2015, Superior Court judge Joan Lewis awarded Lopez $13.5 million after Watchtower repeatedly failed to turn over documents and provide access to witnesses. The Watchtower appealed the decision. A state appellate court ruled that the judge did not give the Watchtower enough opportunity to turn over the documents. Appellate court judges remanded the case back to the trial court, providing the church another chance to turn over the requested documents.
In a separate case, but one following a similar pattern, San Diego Superior Court judge Richard Strauss imposed a $4000-per-day penalty against the Watchtower for failing to turn over documents in a case filed by Padron, another one of Campos’s alleged victims. Watchtower’s attorneys, as they did in the Lopez case, filed an appeal.
Attorney Storey from the Zalkin Law Firm, says the Watchtower is back to its old tricks in the Lopez case, once again producing heavily redacted documents and failing to produce others despite orders from a court-appointed mediator. Meanwhile, Storey and lead attorney Irwin Zalkin are preparing for yet another appellate court hearing wherein the Watchtower hopes to nullify the $4000-a-day fine given in the Padron case.
Fled to Mexico
Gonzalo Campos, 54, became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1979 after moving to San Diego from Mexico. He was baptized in 1980 while attending the congregation in Linda Vista. Six months following his baptism, church elders promoted Campos to “publisher,” a member who visits homes with hopes of spreading church doctrine, also the first step in becoming an elder.
But according to accusations against him, Campos and his mother were staying at a member family’s home in 1982. Campos shared a bedroom with a young boy. In the middle of the night, the boy felt somebody pulling down his pajama pants and felt wetness on his buttocks. He opened his eyes and Campos was kneeling next to his bed. The boy punched Campos and then grabbed a baseball bat. The boy’s mother kicked Campos and his mother out of her house. Days later she lodged a complaint with church elders Justino Diaz and Carlos Ramirez at the Linda Vista congregation. The elders did not punish Campos. Instead he remained a publisher and was allowed to teach Bible classes to children.
It was not the last time Campos is alleged to have sexually assaulted a child and received protection from church elders. Eight now claim that Campos molested them. The alleged molestations happened between 1982 and 1999. Elders have been accused of refusing to report the molestation to law enforcement.
During those nearly two decades, Campos is said to have meticulously groomed his victims and their parents. Accusers say he convinced parents to let their children accompany him on gardening jobs, ostensibly as a chance for the children to learn hard work and receive instruction on church dogma.
Once at the job site, accusers say, Campos would often let the kids swim in his clients’ pools. Once the work was done and the kids finished swimming, Campos would force the kids into the shower. While showering Campos would touch them and eventually sodomize them.
In exchange for their silence, several witnesses have testified, Campos would buy them Hershey’s chocolate bars, McDonald’s Happy Meals, and toys such as Transformers and Matchbox cars. In one case, the alleged victim says Campos repeatedly assaulted him over a five-year span and paid him money to keep quiet.
All the while, church leaders at the Linda Vista congregation continued to promote Campos, eventually to the position of elder, a person responsible for arranging and speaking at meetings.
By 1993, parents began to discover what had happened to their children. One mother found out after finding a note her teenage son had written to a girlfriend. She contacted the elders at the Linda Vista congregation to report Campos.
Days later, elder Roberto Rivera called the mother back. “But he say something to the fact that [Campos] was an elder now and not to do anything,” testified the woman during a December 2013 deposition. “That if I will speak or keep moving things around to find out stuff, that they will say something that I did in the past.”