Extracts from Issue 2 - 2002


A man who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses after 43 years now heads "Silent Lambs" a US National self help group for men and women who were molested by other members and leaders when they were children.

William Bowen, an elder for many years, resigned in protest over the mishandling of sexual abuse accusations.

Two years ago, while still a leader, he discovered proof that a fellow elder had been involved in child molestation. He approached senior leaders, and then the church hierarchy who all wanted to cover up the incidents, rather than report them to the police. The only action they were prepared to take was to remove the offender from his position as elder.

So the long-time member decided to resign.

He then went public, wrote to the group’s governing body; the Watchtower Legal Service Department and the Writing Department identifying the problems, and requesting action.

None was forthcoming. So he set up a website - www.silentlambs.org - for victims whom he claims have been afraid to speak because of "threats and intimidation" dished out by the Watchtower leadership to protect the image of the organisation.

A US federal court sentenced Manuel Beliz, of the Othello Washington Spanish congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to 11 years imprisonment for repeatedly molesting and raping a member when she was a child.

Erica Rodriguez (23) had brought a civil sexual abuse lawsuit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation. The case was heard in Spokane, Washington. Part of the lawsuit claimed that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society "routinely" gave paedophiles "sanctuary, protection, sympathy and support"

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK (Western Australia) -Feb-March 2002

In Canada, a judge ruled that a 16 year-old Jehovah’s Witness suffering from leukaemia must continue receiving blood transfusions against her will.

Justice Adele Kent of Alberta Court of Queen’s bench castigated the teenager’s mother for trying to tamper with the transfusion lines. She also criticised her for comparing her daughter’s treatment to torture by the Nazis and said the mother was incapable of making a decision on her daughter’s behalf.

The judge ruled that the girl was being manipulated by her family and her church, adding: "Her life has been sheltered and she has not yet reached that stage where she can question her faith."

The case has caused a rift in the family. The girl’s mother and two sisters support her

stand against the transfusions, while her father has consented to them. The parents are now living apart, and he says he is shunned by other Witnesses.

After the court decision, the father said: "I am very happy that my daughter has a chance to live."

A legal challenge to a by-law requiring all canvassers to obtain a permit before knocking on doors in a small Ohio village has reached the US Supreme Court.

In 1998, the village of Stratton (population 278) brought in the by-law to protect villagers from conmen. The permit, issued free from the mayor’s office, requires canvassers to give their names and describe their activities.

But the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed this is an attack on their freedom of expression. "We don’t believe anyone needs permission of the government to talk with their neighbours," said Paul Polidoro, a lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a brief to the court.

Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto gave an opinion that laws limiting freedom of expression that appeared to be neutral are often used to target minorities and those engaged in "radical speech."

A similar by-law restricting door-to-door preaching by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Quebec town of Blainville was struck out in April last year by a Superior Court judge.

Justice Jean Crepeau called it a violation of basic freedoms, ruling that the activities of the Witnesses were protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights.

In 1953, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Quebec City could not penalise a Witness for handing out literature on the street, setting a precedent protecting public preaching.

"In both the United States and Canada, a lot of the history of civil liberties has actually been made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they have been so willing to engage in this sort of litigation," said Professor Roach.

There are 1M Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US and roughly 180,000 in Canada.

Feb 21 &27, March 28, April 11 & 4, 2002


As we reported briefly in the stop press of our last issue, Lawrence Wollersheim has received a cheque for more than $8.6M from Scientology.

The former Scientologist filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles nearly 22 years ago. He accused the organisation of mental abuse that pushed him to the brink of suicide.

He became a member in 1969 and signed a "billion year" contract, but he says he ended up being punished in a "thought reform gulag." He was consigned to the hold of a ship docked off California for 18 hours a day. The ship was part of Hubbard’s mini navy "sea org.2

A California appeals court said in 1989, the church’s conduct was manifestly outrageous.

Wollersheim, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was forbidden to seek medical help, and his mental condition worsened until he became suicidal.

He left the organisation after spending $150,000 on Hubbard’s "mental health" treatments.

In 1986, a jury awarded him $5M in compensatory damages and $25M to punish Scientology for what jurors called intentional and negligent "infliction of emotional distress."

This was reduced to $2.5M on appeal, but officials vowed they would pay "not one thin dime for Wollersheim" - a chant taken up by members.

Scientology’s attorney William Drescher blamed Wollersheim for the long delay in resolving the case.

He claimed that no effort was made to collect the judgement for 11 years.

But the claimant’s lawyers said payment was evaded by the setting up of corporate shells and employing endless hard-ball legal tactics, based on Hubbard’s policies that aimed to ruin ex-members who sued.

The $2.5M judgement was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1994, and gathered interest. When a Los Angeles judge was set to start yet another hearing, Scientology suddenly gave up and paid up.

Wollersheim, who is now 53, and lives in Nevada, called his victory a landmark for former members.

He said "significant amounts" of the money were owed to people who had loaned him cash, believing that eventually he would prevail. He must also pay eight law firms that worked on a contingency basis over the years.

The Washington Post
May 10, 2002

Scientology’s British headquarters has been put on the tourist trail.

An official guide "West Sussex. Places to visit 2002" lists Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead among 13 historic buildings open to visitors.

It is described as a "fine Sussex sandstone manor, built 1792. Restored by final owner, author and Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard."

West Sussex - Places to Visit 2002


Our adult son joined an authoritarian group. He became alienated from us and lost his independence of thought. His devotion was to his leader, and his family seemed to become less and less important to him.

Our normal human reactions were that he was being ungrateful, misguided, and irrational. We thought that eventually he would come to his senses and see the group as we saw it.

We were advised to keep in touch with him, and to learn all we could about the group. We did keep in touch. We also found out quite a lot about the belief systems of the group. This really just made our son’s behaviour seem all the more inexplicable, as the beliefs seemed so bizarre. Our underlying attitudes remained critical and reproachful.

What we desperately needed, though we didn’t realize it, was a proper understanding not primarily of the beliefs of the group, but rather of how our son came to believe them and of the psychological mechanisms that were holding him. In fact, we did not really accept that anything was holding him to the group other than his own stupidity, and we thought he should be able to walk away under his own steam.

We needed an understanding of how social psychology and group influence work and thus how authoritarian groups work. We finally found this information in two books recommended by DialogCentre UK.

The first one is ‘Cults in Our Midst’ by Margaret Singer, which we obtained from the charity Catalyst. It’s also available from Amazon. This book described with uncanny accuracy everything we were experiencing.

In one way it was frightening, because Margaret Singer explains that a person’s attitudes and behaviour can be radically changed in a way that is not easy to undo. Our naive idea that ‘He will come to his senses’ had to be abandoned.

In another way it was comforting, because we saw that we had not been making things up and imagining things. Our distress was justified.

It also gave us hope, of a sort, because when you understand a situation you are able to see better how to behave so as to improve things, and not make them worse. Our ill-concealed critical, reproachful, and impatient attitudes disappeared overnight. We suddenly understood the pressures our son was living under. We wanted to learn how to help and support him rather than expect him to come and make it up to us. What a difference!

The impact of Margaret Singer’s book was reinforced by reading a second book, called ‘Influence - the Psychology of Persuasion’ by Robert B Cialdini. Reading this book makes you realize that far from being an independent autonomous being you are subject to the influence of those around you all your life. Learning how influence works can however make you a bit more independent because you’re aware of what’s happening to you.

It took the help of a skilled counsellor to repair the rift that had grown up between us, and to enable our son to start to think for himself; but in fact he also read Robert Cialdini’s book, and it helped him to see what had happened. We’re obviously the sort of family that likes to learn from books!

But if I were asked to recommend one book that helped the most it would be Margaret Singer’s ‘Cults in Our Midst’.

‘Cults in Our Midst’ is published in paperback by Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0 7879 0266 7
‘Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion’ is published by Quill (William Morrow and Company). ISBN 0 688 12816 5. The same material by the same author is published under different titles. Another of the titles is ‘Influence - Science and Practice’ (Addison - Wesley educational publishers). A CONTRIBUTOR


Conference in Barcelona

"Children and Cults"

14th and 15th May 2002

Representatives of FECRIS were received by the Catalonian Parliament President, Monsieur Joan Rigol i Roig. It was encouraging to hear in his words of welcome that he had a clear understanding of the larger issues of the cult phenomenon and the dangers that these pose for democratic communities.

This Conference was organised by the Spanish Group AIS and held in the Barcelona Conference Centre. Funding was generously provided by the Youth Department of the Catalonian Government.

28 countries and 43 Associations were represented; these included the American Family Foundation. There were 16 presentations on the subject. These included reports on the extent and effect of physical and mental abuse of children and adolescents who were either taken into sects or who were born into them. The presentations by two young people, born in a cult, focussed our attention on their special needs when entering the real world for the first time. In 1993 they had left the cult of their own volition. From the discussions it was clear that the need for education of child protection agencies in particular, and in general for local authorities and social workers, was essential in order to address the problems for such individuals.

Presenters from Moscow, Serbia and the Ukraine each reported that the problem of cult activities was high profile. Church leaders are fearless and proactive in their challenge of these.

Fecris website: http://www.fecris.org

May 2002

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