Royal Commission: Jehovah's Witnesses Grilled over Bungled Child Abuse Investigation

World Today
August 4, 2015

ELEANOR HALL: Let's go now to the royal commission into child sexual abuse which has heard further evidence today about how the Jehovah's Witness Church dealt with a confessed child sex offender.

Angela Lavoipierre has been following the latest developments in the inquiry and she joins us now.

Angela, who was giving evidence this morning?

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: So the commission has heard from an elder of a Queensland congregation called Loganholme named Allan Pencheff. So, this all goes to a case of a woman known as BCG. Which has been one of the key focuses of the commission.

So her father, a senior member of the Jehovah's Witness Mareeba congregation in Queensland, abused her when she was 17; that was around 1989.

The commission has heard extensive evidence about the fact that BCG's account was not deemed to be provable under the biblical rules used by the Jehovah's Witness Church; that's despite the fact that her three sisters were also abused, and their father, as you mentioned, even confessed to some of the allegations at one point.

So BCH her father was ultimately disfellowshipped for infidelity in his marriage, charges that were completely unrelated to the abuse of his daughters.

The focus of today's hearing is that way that BCH was then handled in the decades that followed. He was first admitted back in the church just two or three years after being removed, and joined a different congregation.

So, as I mentioned, Allan Pencheff an elder from one of the congregations who BCH then went to, he chaired the panel of elders that dis-fellowshipped BCH again in 2003, this time for lying again unrelated to the, well, tangentially related to the child sexual abuse offenses.

So counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart asked Mr Pencheff why BCH's dishonesty was the subject of the hearing, rather than child sexual abuse.

ANGUS STEWART: It certainly suggests, Mr Pencheff doesn't it, that in the view that your judicial committee took of matters, a charge of dishonesty is more serious and pressing to be investigated and resolved than a charge of child sex abuse of a daughter?

ALAN PENCHEFF: No the two go hand in hand. We were looking at his honesty in regards to the sexual abuse of the daughter. We weren't looking at whether he stole something from the corner shop; we were talking about some serious allegations to which he had already confessed and now was denying, so we were very serious about that matter.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Jehovah's Witness elder Alan Pencheff speaking with counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart.

So Angela did the church authorities explain then why their internal church hearing didn't focus on the child sex abuse matter?

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Well, counsel for Alan Pencheff, who is also acting on behalf of a lot of the Jehovah Witness elders did make a point in his subsequent questioning, that his client and the rest of that panel, had received legal advice not to focus on the sexual abuse allegations, because by that stage there were criminal proceedings on foot against BCH, which were ultimately proved, and that there was a risk of prejudicing the outcome of that case.

In fact, those criminal proceedings were apparently the first time that that BCH's new congregation in Loganholme knew about the abuse allegations. So that's also of interest to the commission, because it means that the Loganholme elders knew of no reason to restrict his contact with children because of the danger he posed, so he was just allowed to carry on relatively uninhibited there.

ELEANOR HALL: And what can we expect from the next witnesses?

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Well we're starting to reach the end of the witness list for this series of hearings which means that more senior members of the church are being called to give evidence.

In particular, members of the church who work at the Jehovah's Witness headquarters. So those are the people who give advice to congregations about how to handle cases as they arise, from both a legal and a child protection perspective.

So they're likely to be asked about that quite shocking figure that emerged in the first days of the hearing, that files on 1,006 perpetrators or alleged perpetrators collected since 1950, none of them handed to secular authorities.

ELEANOR HALL: Angela thank you. Angela Lavoipierre there our reporter covering this series of hearings of the royal commission into child sexual abuse.








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