Royal commission examines Jehovah Witnesses cover-up

The Saturday Paper

In the West Australian Wheatbelt town of Narrogin, they wait for Armageddon. They wait for Jehovah’s angels to empty the vials of his wrath, turning the oceans into blood and fracturing the land with “a great earthquake, such as was not seen since men were upon the earth”. The vast fields that surround their town will no longer yield crops; the voices of avenging angels will sound like trumpets in the sky. Despite numerous revisions to their prophecies, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe End Times are imminent. This eschatology remains central to their faith – their expectation that the world will be violently purged. Politics is anathema, a vain repudiation of this final reckoning. It is what explains their tireless evangelising – it’s pointless to change a world that will be destroyed, the real game is changing souls.

BCB – a pseudonym appointed by the royal commission into child abuse – was a young girl living on her family’s farm in the Wheatbelt. About 1979, her parents decided she should change schools to the nearby town of Narrogin. Her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, and decided they should change to the Narrogin congregation as a matter of convenience. “The Sunday and Wednesday meetings of the Narrogin congregation were held at the Narrogin Kingdom Hall and were attended by the whole congregation,” BCB said in tearful testimony this week. “At these meetings, one of the elders would usually deliver a public talk from the platform based on a reading from The Watchtower magazine, or give a talk from the Bible. At these meetings, the elders would also lead question-and-answer sessions and give specific training about our door-to-door preaching.

“Bill Neill was one of two elders. At the time I understood that Bill’s position as an elder gave him authority in the Jehovah’s Witness community. I looked up to Bill because he was an elder. Everybody in the congregation respected and trusted Bill, including my mum.”

Neill would serially molest BCB throughout the 1980s. But compounding the trauma of this abuse was the congregation’s disastrous – and yet entirely predictable – response to it.

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