Feb 23, 2024

Attorney Irwin Zalkin explains the article, Pa. courts weigh whether JW's Witnesses elders must report confessed child abuse

February 22, 2024

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court memorandum opinion that [was] posted on the [Jehovah's Witness Discussion Forum] discussion board 2/22/2024 was confusing enough ... to ask Attorney Irwin Zalkin to explain the issues. He promptly replied and gave me permission to post here the following important information that he provided.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court memorandum opinion raises the question of whether Jehovah’s Witnesses (“JW’s”) Elders, who are volunteer clergy, fall under an exception to the mandatory reporting law of the State of Pennsylvania. JW’s members of the Ivy Hill Congregation of JW’s sued the PA Department of Human Services (DHS) and asked the court to issue a judgment that as a matter of law makes JW’s elders exempt from PA’s mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse, including child sexual abuse. PA’s clergy mandatory reporting law has an exception when the clergy member learns of the child abuse under circumstances that require him or her to maintain the information secret or confidential. The Ivy Hill Congregation members argued that under the tenets of JW’s organization, elders are required to keep that information secret and therefore fall within this exception to the PA clergy mandatory reporting law. The lower court where this issue was first raised, dismissed the lawsuit holding that there was no actual controversy raised by the lawsuit since DHS has never brought any legal action against the JW’s related to mandatory reporting, and that DHS is not the proper enforcement agency to take legal action against the JW’s. In essence, the PA Supreme Court held that the Ivy Hill Congregation sued the wrong party.

"The PA Supreme Court did not decide the issue of whether JW’s elders are exempt from PA’s mandatory reporting law. It reinstated the Ivy Hill lawsuit on the basis that the judge’s dismissal was inconsistent with another Ivy Hill case where the court refused to dismiss that case at the request of DHS, on different legal grounds but in essence finding that a case against DHS is proper. PA’s Supreme Court sent the second Ivy Hill case, referred to as Ivy Hill II, back to the lower court for that lower court to rule on whether JW’s elders are exempt from PA’s clergy mandatory reporting law.

"The Zalkin Law Firm (“ZLF”) has been representing survivors of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization for over 20 years. In many of these cases JW’s have argued that their elders are exempt from various state mandatory reporting laws for the same reason they raised in the Ivy Hill Congregation cases. What PA’s DHS may not know, and what ZLF has learned through these years of litigation against JW’s is that congregation elders are not required to keep information they learn about child abuse, including sexual abuse secret. In fact, their requirements are the exact opposite. Congregation elders are required to disclose the information to the national organization’s Service Department and Legal Department. Further, records are maintained relating to disciplinary action taken against the alleged perpetrator. These records are available to other elders who may be new to the congregation at a future date. If the perpetrator moves to a new congregation, the elders of the new congregation are required to be advised of the information relating to the allegations of child abuse or child sexual abuse by that perpetrator. So, unlike other religious denominations where such information remains confidential between a priest, pastor or rabbi who cannot disclose such information to anyone else, JW’s require that many other individuals have access to the information. There is no reason that JW’s elders should be exempt from reporting child sexual abuse to the proper authorities. Given the long and known history of child sexual abuse within JW’s organization, mandatory reporting by the elders needs to be required and enforced."

Irwin Zalkin
Senior Partner
The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C.
10590 W. Ocean Air Drive #125
San Diego, CA 92130
(858) 259-3011 (800) 617-2622


No comments: