ABOVE PHOTO: Pennsylvania Lawyer Normal Michelle Henry speaks throughout a information convention, Friday, July 7, 2023, in Philadelphia. A Pennsylvania grand jury investigating youngster sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses neighborhood has charged one other 5 folks with raping or molesting kids as younger as 4, the most recent developments in an ongoing probe that has recognized 14 suspects. (AP Photograph/Matt Slocum)
By Maryclaire Dale and Peter Smith
PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania grand jury investigating youngster sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses neighborhood has charged 5 extra folks with raping or molesting kids as younger as 4, the most recent developments in an ongoing probe that has recognized 14 suspects.
Pennsylvania Lawyer Normal Michelle Henry, at a Friday information convention, mentioned that whereas the misconduct dates again years and even a long time, “the trauma endures for these victims.”
Henry didn’t deal with the church’s dealing with of complaints however mentioned the investigation would proceed.
Critics say that Jehovah’s Witnesses elders have handled youngster sexual abuse as a sin fairly than against the law, documenting complaints in inside recordsdata however not reporting them to authorities. They usually say the church usually required a second witness to substantiate a criticism, a regular that may be unattainable to fulfill when perpetrators usually isolate their victims.
Mark Haugh of York Haven, Pa., a former elder who left the church in 2016 and now advocates for survivors of abuse within the church, applauded investigators.
“I hope elders are arrested who knew about youngster abuse and lined it up after which it occurred once more,” mentioned Haugh, who testified to the grand jury concerning the church’s construction and about his personal daughter’s abuse inside a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation.
He additionally hopes organizational leaders are known as to account, “as a result of it’s not only a Pennsylvania drawback, it’s a nationwide drawback.”
Within the expenses introduced Friday, Henry mentioned that the boys had groomed or gained entry to the youngsters by means of the church, typically when the kid’s household took the individual into their house. One individual mentioned that she was raped 50 or extra occasions between the ages of seven and 12 by a church member who was 18 when the assaults started. Others concerned much less critical expenses of inappropriate touching.
The 5 charged have been David Balosa, 62, of Philadelphia; Errol William Corridor, 50, of Delaware County; Shaun Sheffer, 45, of Butler County; Terry Sales space, 57, of Panama Metropolis, FL; and Luis Ayala-Velasquez, 55, of Berks County. 4 have been taken in custody, whereas Balosa was being sought. It was not instantly clear if any of them had legal professionals representing them.
Church spokesman Jarrod Lopes mentioned in a press release that whereas the church can not touch upon particular grand jury actions, “the information of somebody being sexually abused, whether or not a baby or an grownup, sickens us.”
The church has lengthy labored to “educate and warn dad and mom by means of our publications, conferences, and web site, about how one can shield their kids in quite a lot of circumstances,” he mentioned. “We are also fast to assist and supply pastoral care to these affected, whereas working to make sure that unrepentant perpetrators are faraway from the congregation. Anybody who has been victimized has the complete assist of the congregation to report the matter to the authorities.”
The church has additionally mentioned that the second-witness rule applies solely to inside church self-discipline and that elders adjust to mandated-reporting legal guidelines.
In a single case, the grand jury obtained information from Sheffer’s congregation in Zelienople, documenting an inside investigation into his conduct. In three different circumstances, alleged victims testified that they advised elders of their abuse. The grand jury presentments — statements outlining the fees — give no indication that any elder ever contacted police to report abuse.
One of many 9 earlier defendants killed himself earlier than he was arrested, Henry mentioned.
The grand jury probe of Jehovah’s Witnesses started with a referral from a county prosecutor who felt the state ought to take a broader take a look at the problem. Dozens of witnesses then testified earlier than the key grand jury in Harrisburg or supplied data to the lawyer basic’s workplace.
In a case with some parallels, a state grand jury investigation into youngster sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen culminated in a prolonged 2018 report that concluded a whole lot of clergymen had abused kids in Pennsylvania over seven a long time and church officers had lined it up. Extra lately, an identical report was issued in Maryland.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, a world Christian denomination based within the Pittsburgh space greater than a century in the past and headquartered in New York state, claims 8.7 million members worldwide, together with 1.2 million in america.
Members won’t bear arms, salute a nationwide flag, or take part in secular politics. Believers are identified for his or her evangelistic efforts, together with knocking on doorways and distributing literature in public areas.