Hard Copy. ABC News “It’s not the responsibility of [] to protect children from sexual abuse”

You’re about to meet a young woman
raised as a Jehovah’s Witness who says she was molested by a fellow church
member. And that the church had been protecting paedophiles within their midst.
Now alleged victims from across the country are coming out with claims of
their own. With the religion under siege tonight, here’s Nightline co-anchor Dan
Harris. I can remember feeling like you know the inside of me is screaming out
to the people of the congregation for help. This is the story of Candace Conte. A
young woman stepping out of the shadows to take on the all-male leadership
of a wealthy secretive religion. On behalf of the North Fremont congregation
of Jehovah’s Witnesses… who she says failed to protect her from a predatory
paedophile. Just kind of screaming out for somebody to come protect me. What
most of us know about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they may have knocked
on our door as part of their global proselytizing campaign celebrated in
church videos like these, Bringing solace to millions in a troubled world’. But now
Candace Conti is out to prove that there is a dark side, that church leaders
ensconced in their New York City headquarters known as The Watchtower,
have fostered a policy of silence on child abusers. Do not reveal the
confidential talk of another. Some of whom have gone on to repeatedly re-offend.
Do you remember your first impression of Jonathan Kendrick? He’s just a big person,
found him very scary. When Candace was nine years old she says she was abused
by a well-liked member of her small congregation in Fremont California. While
door-to-door evangelizing which Candace would often do without her parents, she
says Jonathan Kendrick began taking her to his house and molesting her. I don’t
really want to go into everything else because I don’t have nightmares. Right
understood. She testified that he abused her several times a month for what she
says felt like two years. When you were a kid why did you feel like you couldn’t
come forward? Bringing that up just would demolish the only people that I knew, i
think i was scared to. Candice had nowhere else to turn, she says because of her
beliefs she grew up isolated. Do you remember what the church taught you
about the world? Everybody outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are pretty much walking dead.
Like all Jehovah’s Witnesses she was taught that Armageddon is coming soon
There will be a new earth, a paradise earth And that the only survivors will be true
believers who will live in a heaven on earth. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness
Candace didn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas and she didn’t make friends
outside of the church. Anybody outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses could be used as a
tool by Satan to pull you away from your your Christian family. So it was only
years later after she’d grown up and left the church when she found Jonathan
Kendrick on the Sex Offender Registry for abusing another child in a different
congregation and she finally decided to act. I felt really guilty for not, for not
doing anything so that this wouldn’t have happened to somebody else. She went
to local church leaders and told her story. But they wouldn’t listen to me
unless I proved my case. How do you prove that you’ve been abused? You have two
witnesses to the crime. According to the religions internal system of justice,
it’s believed that the Bible requires there to be at least two witnesses in
order for a crime to be punishable Who abuses children with two witnesses?
Nobody does, and that was precisely the point. …the law is… So she went to the
police instead but with Kendrick denying the abuse the police never brought
charges although they continue to investigate. Her next move was to sue the
Watch tower itself. They need more than one lesson. She hired a lawyer Rick
Simmons who had spent many years representing the victims of paedophile
priests in the Catholic Church. If ever there was a group that needs the sun to
shine on them it’s this one, because when your doorbell rings on Saturday morning
and your kid answers the door, you don’t want that guy to be a child molester.
Alright sir please raise your right hand. When Candace and her attorney began
conducting depositions with local church leaders known as elders, they learn
something astonishing. Do you recall becoming aware at any time of sexual
abuse of a child by Jonathan Kendrick? “Yes”. Even before Candice was abused, the
elders knew that Jonathan Kendrick, who then held a leadership position in the
congregation had molested his own stepdaughter, his first known victim.
“He confessed to touching her one evening when he came home”. And yet
the elders did not call the police, and did not warn the rest of the congregation.
Did that make you furious? Yeah I was disgusted I was absolutely disgusted. It was
more damage control at that point than saving somebody. “What was the reason that
the congregation was not notified?” We don’t make that public – to the
congregation. That’s confidential. A confidentiality policy set by the church
leaders back in New York. In a series of letters to elders across the country on
the issue of child abuse, The Watchtower made it’s policy clear. Though they
acknowledge that some states have child abuse reporting laws, they said
allegations should otherwise be kept secret to all but church leaders, because
worldly people are quick to resort to lawsuits if they feel their rights have
been violated. “We kept an eye on his actions while he was in the congregation”.
They also removed Kendrick from his leadership position per Watchtower policy
on the grounds of uncleanness. The members of the North Fremont
congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse of any form. In court
attorneys for the church argued that it’s not the responsibility of a
religious organization to protect children from sexual abuse by other
congregation members. That Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a youth group. They
said the church provides education to parents on the risk of sexual abuse, but
they argued that Candace’s alleged abuse never took place on church property. And
they also question whether she was specifically assigned by the elders to go
door-to-door preaching – known as ‘field service’ with Kendrick. The elders did
their job spiritually and I think that’s all we can ask of these men. Thank you.
The Watchtower denied our request for an interview but sent us a statement
peppered with Bible citations that said victims of child abuse have the right to
report to governmental authorities and that the church won’t stand in their way,
adding that they do not shield abusers from authorities or the consequences of
their actions. The jurors sided with Candace. One step closer, oh my gosh. In a
landmark verdict in 2012 she was eventually awarded more than $15 million
dollars. The Watchtower is appealing the case. I felt wrong and I felt dirty.
Candice Conte’s victory has opened the floodgates. I just want him to be behind
bars where he belongs. Apparently inspiring around two dozen other alleged
victims from across the country to file lawsuits, accusing church leadership of
covering up charges of abuse. Absolute silence to
protect itself from scandal. But as these alleged victims muster the courage to
tell their stories, their alleged abusers like Jonathan Kendrick are steering
clear of the spotlight. Okay this is his street, pulling up to his house. He was
absent from the trial and he denied our repeated requests for an interview, so we
went to see him. “Mr Kendrick my name is Dan Harris I’m from ABC News, can we
talk to you about Candace Conte.?” My statement is this, I’ve never been alone
with Candace Conti. I never molested Candice Conte. Do you really think she’s
just making this up? What do you mean ‘think’, I just told you. “You never did any field service with her alone?” Never! I’ve never.. Okay get this right, I’ve never
been alone with Candace Conte, ever. Never have I been alone with Candace
Conti. Kendrick strongly denies it. I’m sure that’s the smart thing for him to
say, but do you expect honesty from a child molestor? Really? “When you told church
officials about what happened with your stepdaughter. Do you think they should
have told the rest of the congregation?” That’s not, hey, you know what.. it wasn’t my
call. I’m calling the police. “Did they tell you to keep it secret?” No. Of course not! Could you please send the police to..
This woman is Kendrick’s current wife Well there’s newspaper people here,
trying to get a story.. You may remember that Candace only decided to step
forward after learning that Kendrick had abused another child. A crime that landed
him in jail for seven months. That child, Kendrick’s third alleged victim was
his wife’s 7 year old granddaughter. Can we ask about the case with your
granddaughter? No you can’t! Why not? Cuz it’s none of your business! He paid for
that crime! ABC News. Candace is now trying to move on with her life. She graduated from college, and
recently got engaged, but she says she will continue fighting on
behalf of all of the victims of child abuse. It’s not just me, I don’t hold
a monopoly on pain. And if we can change that momentum instead of being
victims we can have our words speak for change, and this pain might be a little
bit worth it. Since Candace’s verdict the church appears to have made some
adjustments to its confidentiality policy when it comes to child abuse. But
critics including Candace say it’s not enough. And Jonathan Kendrick, he says he’s
still a member in good standing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. You know what..
For Nightline this is Dan Harris in San Francisco.