Lawsuit contends Jehovah's Witnesses protected pedophiles

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2002

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- A woman who said her family was shunned after reporting sexual abuse by a Jehovah's Witness leader claimed in a federal lawsuit that the denomination protects pedophiles.

The suit by Erica Rodriguez, 23, now of Sacramento, Calif., contends the religion's policy has given pedophiles ''sanctuary, protection, sympathy and support'' while blaming and shaming victims.

Rodriguez seeks undisclosed damages from the international Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Manuel Beliz, a former Jehovah's Witnesses leader in Othello, Wash., who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year for molesting Rodriguez.

She claims leaders in Sacra-mento and Othello were told Beliz was a pedophile yet made him an elder and failed to prevent further molestation, and that the Rodriguez family was shunned and threatened with excommunication after complaining about Beliz.

Timothy Kosnoff, Rodriguez' lawyer, said in the religion's practice, ''unless there are two witnesses to misconduct, it didn't happen.'' But that's ''absurd, particularly in the context of child abuse, which is committed in secrecy.''

At the religion's headquarters, spokesperson J.R. Brown said two witnesses are required to establish sin because that's what the Bible teaches.

Brown had no comment on the suit but said Watchtower policy is ''to protect innocent children and to not allow pedophiles to circulate among us,'' and that ''where the state requires that this be reported, we comply fully.''

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