Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed notes about child sexual abuse to stop them falling into the wrong hands and to “protect their wives”, a church elder has told a national hearing in Sydney.
The opening day of a royal commission hearing into abuse within the church has heard how 1006 allegations of child abuse since 1950 were dealt with internally and never reported to police.
It has also heard that victims were made to confront their abusers and left feeling as if they had sinned.
Max Horley was an elder for the Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Narrogin, Western Australia, in the late 1980s when a woman, known as BCB, was interviewed about her relationship with another church elder, Bill Neill.
On Monday, BCB, 47, told how Neill, who is dead, groomed her from the age of 15. She said he would molest her and spy on her when she was in the shower.
She was friendly with Neill’s daughter and spent a lot of time at their house, where “uncle Bill” would tongue kiss her.
When the abuse was revealed, BCB was asked to attend meetings with two elders and Neill, who joked about what he had done.
At meetings BCB said she felt guilty and found it hard to detail the abuse.
Neill denied any intentional misconduct.
Mr Horley said Neill was later stood down as an elder because the allegations cast a shadow over his qualifications to teach the word of God.
Mr Horley, an elder in the church for more than 30 years, said notes about sexual abuse allegations were not kept in case they fell into the wrong hands.
“We do not want our wives knowing our stuff – what sort of things we are dealing with,” Mr Horley said.
He also said they destroyed notes because they wanted to limit the number of people in the congregation who knew about the abuse.
Mr Horley also said he did not realise at the time the abuse was a criminal matter, and it was not the church’s practice to report allegations of sexual abuse to police.
The elders would go for advice to the Branch – the body that oversees congregations in Australia – if they had any hesitation about how to proceed “legally and scripturally”.
In an opening statement, counsel advising the commission, Angus Stewart, SC, said the organisation, which has 68,000 members in Australia, had dealt with all allegations internally.
He said the church was preoccupied with sin and sinning.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and interpret it literally.
He said that documents would be tendered, which showed the elders considered the spirituality and seductiveness of the complainant in determining the allegations against Bill Neill.