This is the latest summary of the Royal Commission in Australia by non-disfellowshipped JWsurvey reader “CovertFade,” who is standing in for the JWsurvey writing team as we process the fast-paced events “down under”…
The closing moments of Day 7 of the Royal Commission’s investigation into Watchtower’s child abuse procedures saw some heavyweights from Watchtower’s Australia branch face up to some brutal questioning by the Commission’s Senior Council, Angus Stewart.
At one point the following remarkable exchange took place in which Terrence O’Brien, the coordinator of the Australia Branch, is accused of deliberately trying to deceive the commission in an apparent attempt to protect Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson from being called to give evidence.
- Mr Angus Stewart SC: Mr O’Brien, you have given evidence that you gave instructions to counsel on the point of Mr Jackson not being able to assist and his activities being in relation to translations. I, as a matter of fairness, must put to you that those instructions you gave were false, were they not?
- Terrence O’Brien: No, I don’t believe so. Mr Jackson does oversee the translation work, but as part of the writing committee member, which he is one of the Governing Body members on that committee. So —
- Stewart. And I suggest to you, or I put to you, that when you gave those instructions, you knew them to be false?
- O’Brien. No. I disagree.
- Stewart: And by giving those instructions, you sought to mislead the Royal Commission, to protect Mr Jackson from any potential summons to appear?
- O’Brien: No, I disagree. I think the reason we asked consideration to be shown to Mr Jackson was the grave situation of his father – the very reason he is in Australia.
- Stewart: Yes, and in relation to that, in view of what I have put to you, perhaps you can answer this: how are we to know if what you say about Mr Jackson’s compassionate circumstances is, in fact, true?
Attempting to mislead a Royal Commission is a criminal offense. If charged and convicted, Mr O’Brien could face a fine of up to $20,000 and up to five years in prison. So how on earth did the normally legally-savvy Watchtower manage to put itself in a situation where the head of its Australia branch was caught out in such a clumsy lie? Especially when the previous six days of testimonial curb-stomping clearly demonstrated that the Commission team was very smart, very aware of Watchtower’s inner workings, and quite prepared to examine matters with a fine tooth comb until it uncovered the truth.
Well, with hindsight, one can see the answer, and it revolves around the Cult Of Personality that the Watchtower has recently started to build around its Governing Body.
By Day 5, it was clear that a number of aspects of Watchtower’s handling of child abuse were seriously troubling the Commission. They included the two witness rule, the all-male nature of the judicial process, allowing a guilty-but-reproved offender to remain in the same environment as his victim with no real sanction, and more.
It was also clear that Watchtower considered these policies unchangeable due to their supposed scriptural basis, and that it was eagerly offering concessions in some lesser areas while carefully trying to sneak the weightier matters of concern out of the Commission’s spotlight unaltered.
The logical conclusion being drawn by the Commission was that they simply had to talk to the Governing Body. Ordinarily, this would be impossible; the seven members of the Governing Body reside in Brooklyn USA and as such are beyond the Australian Commission’s reach.
However, it transpired that Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson had actually been in Australia since early July. The Commission made two separate approaches to Watchtower to organize testimony. Watchtower replied to the effect that Mr Jackson was in Australia for private, compassionate reasons and, also, that since the Governing Body was not involved in the implementation and administration of policies and procedures in relation to child sexual abuse, he would not be able to give relevant evidence.
The idea that a Governing Body member would not be able to give relevant evidence in this matter is absurd. Yet it should be noted that this fits a pattern of behavior. Gerrit Losch also refused to appear in defense of the organization’s child abuse policies in a US civil action the previous year. Nonetheless it appears the Commission was content at that point to let the matter go, and did not issue a summons. (It is important to note that refusing a summons to a Royal Commission is a criminal offense than can carry a sentence of up to six months imprisonment.)
However, by Day 6 it was clear that not only was the Commission realizing no meaningful change was possible without Governing Body sanction, but also that Watchtower was pulling out all the stops to firewall Jackson. My theory is that Watchtower Australia was given strict orders from Brooklyn that under no circumstances was Jackson to be summoned.
The damage to the cult of having one of the illustrious seven Faithful and Discreet Slave members, together comprising a revered mouthpiece of God, cut to dry-mouthed ribbons under examination as to his support for indefensible child abuse policies, was too awful a scenario for them to permit.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the Day 6 testimony of Senior Service Desk Elder Rodney Spinks.
In the context of what we now know, it’s clear Spinks was tasked to mislead the Commission into believing Watchtower Australia had the authority to implement any changes the Commission might recommend, and thus shield Jackson from involvement. He does this in a manner that would make some of the most slippery political spin-masters green with envy. Let’s look at “Slippery Spinks” in action as he answers a simple, direct question. (By the way, the simple, direct answer to the question is: Yes we would need permission from the Governing Body.)
- Mr Angus Stewart SC: But if you are to publish something new which sets out how child sexual abuse allegations are to be dealt with within congregations in Australia, would you need to get the clearance or the go-ahead from the Governing Body that what you have set out is fine, because it is not in conflict with the scriptures?
- Spinks: I think the documents would show that we correspond openly with the Governing Body on matters of interpretation. I think my point is clear, that if recommendations from this Commission, and some things that we can obviously see ourselves – so, for example, if there is a legal requirement, whether it’s because of mandatory reporting or because of a criminal law that is less familiar to me than you, but if there are legal implications and we are working outside of those, you can be certain that an adjustment will be made here in Australia and a document produced relative to Australia, including collating those, as you see it – and correctly so – references from decades, that would be better into a single document tailored for the law, the culture, the expectation here in Australia. Absolutely.
- Stewart: And you would only do that through engagement with the Governing Body?
- Spinks: That’s – as many things could be done here in Australia, what I’m saying is we have such great respect for the Governing Body, we would have no issue at all with corresponding with them back and forward. I am confident there would be no issue, if we don’t stray from the scriptures, that they are happy for each branch committee – remembering that those members of the Governing Body are simply, as well, unpaid members of the organization that are selected from elders from different countries. So that’s not the issue. The issue is: is it in harmony with the scriptures and is it appropriate here in Australia. And the Australia branch committee would have that.
Notice how Spinks tries to dance around a simple and truthful “yes” every time, never quite telling an outright lie but still giving the false impression that the Australia branch can give the Commission everything it wants and thus there is no need to trouble Jackson.
During Day 6, the question of Jackson’s participation again comes up, and this extremely significant exchange takes place between Justice McClellan and the Watchtower Legal Council, Mr Tokley (bold is mine):
- Justice McClellan: Now, these are very significant issues. They are not small issues, they are significant issues. At the moment, we are, as I say, facing the situation where we can see a problem, but we do need assistance from the church in what is the solution. We rather thought that Mr Jackson might be able to assist us in that respect. I understand the reason for compassion being extended to him. I have no difficulty with that. And for that reason, I have not issued a summons requiring him to attend. But at the moment we face a serious issue with which only the church can help us. Whether that needs a response now, I don’t know, but we would like you to reflect upon that situation.
- Mr Tokley: Your Honour, may I respond on behalf of the persons I represent. Your Honour’s points are being taken on board, are being addressed, and are being given the most earnest consideration by the authorities. Mr Jackson would probably not have been of any assistance in any event, because his role and his responsibility is in relation to the translation of matters; it’s not in relation to these sorts of matters.
Remember that specific wording. That’s going to come back in a big way. Watchtower has just set something in motion that cannot be undone.
As Day 6 ends, it’s clear that Slippery Spinks has failed to protect Jackson. The Commission is clearly unconvinced. But it’s Day 7 when the wheels spectacularly come off the wagon for Watchtower Australia. During examination of the first witness of the day (Vince Toole, the elder in charge of the Legal Desk) the Commission submits a piece of previously unseen evidence.
- Mr Angus Stewart SC: You say your understanding is that the branch committee members are equals. One of them is actually designated coordinator, is that not right?
- Toole. Yes, I think he’s the coordinator of the – of the branch committee.
- Stewart: And that designation or responsibility also is an appointment by the Governing Body?
- Toole: I believe so, but I’m not absolutely certain – but I believe so. I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of information on that, but I just – I’ve never been involved.
- Stewart: There are other copies coming shortly, but I’d just like to show you – there’s a copy for you – a document. You see it’s headed “Branch Organisation Effective December 15, 1977, Revised February 2003”. It says “This material in Branch Organisation –being the name of the publication –should not be copied or duplicated except with the permission of the Branch Committee.” It’s published in the USA, I understand, by the Governing Body. Have you seen this publication before?
Yes, for reasons that will come to light in a future JWsurvey article, the Royal Commission managed to obtain a copy of the Branch Handbook. If you thought the elders handbook was hard to obtain, that’s nothing compared to the Branch Handbook.
If the elders handbook is all about running a congregation, then the Branch Handbook is all about running a multi-million dollar worldwide corporation, and details, among other things, the full responsibilities of the Governing Body – the same Governing Body Watchtower Australia is desperately trying to insist has no say in the issue.
The day continues. Toole disgraces himself in his own special way during testimony, and also frantically tries to avoid giving straight answers as to the role of the Governing Body. Yet finally he is done, and Watchtower Australia’s big cheese, Terrance O’Brien, takes the stand.
Keep in mind what has happened up to now. Previous elders have been frantically spinning the narrative that Jackson is not needed, yet the Commission is clearly deeply suspicious, and most critically of all, Watchtower legal council has officially stated that Jackson’s role is limited “to the translations of matters.” To back away now would expose their deceit, and lead to possible criminal charges. But at the same time, it’s clear the Commission have all the evidence they need to see through the ruse. They have the Branch Handbook for crying out loud!
This is the no-win situation confronting O’Brien as he takes the stand, on an international live webcast, to face Mr Angus Stewart Senior Council, who has previously made mincemeat of every elder placed before him (even Slippery Spinks) and who now possesses the very publication that tells O’Brien how his own organization works.
The transcript records Stewart using the Handbook to establish Jackson’s role spanning multiple committees, including the writing committee and the teaching committee, both of which have direct involvement in the Commission’s area of interest. Then, the final nail in the coffin:
- Stewart: I understand that you have not served as a member of the Governing Body, so I’m asking you from what your understanding is. But your understanding is that the seven members of the Governing Body, as a Governing Body, meet weekly, do they, every Wednesday?
- O’Brien: Yes, so those who are present meet weekly.
- Stewart. It will be that Governing Body as a whole, or those who are present, who would authorize the various publications and guides and guidelines, and so on; is that right?
- O’Brien:. They would give the final approval for the publishing of them, yes.
- Stewart: You will have heard yesterday that senior counsel representing the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia and the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Australia said that Mr Jackson would not be likely to be able to assist this Commission, because his role is in the translation of matters. Now, that, do you accept, is in clear variance to what you have explained in your evidence?
Think about it. What would you do? Admit the truth and your previous deception, or keep trying to deceive, even though it’s clear that the evidence to disprove your testimony is literally resting in the hands of your opponent? O’Brien makes his choice. Stick with the lie.
- O’Brien No – sorry, it’s not. The translation, it comes under the writing committee, as I understand, which is what Mr Jackson is a member of.
Stewart: But he’s also the coordinator of the teaching committee that has many other responsibilities, and not translation – not so?
- O’Brien Yes, he – as a member of the Governing Body, he has a number —
- Stewart. So can you explain, Mr O’Brien, how it came about that senior counsel representing the organization was given instructions that Mr Jackson’s role is confined to the translation of matters, when it clearly is not?
Finally! It took two solid days of testimony, of dancing around the issue by various senior elders, and dogged persistence by the Royal Commission to establish an answer to the simple question of: What does Geoffrey Jackson do? Two Days!
It’s not over yet. When Justice McClellan next speaks, the webcast audio records a softness to his tone that underscores that severity of the situation more than a raised voice ever could.
- Justice McClellan: Mr O’Brian, did you give those instructions to senior counsel?
- O’Brien: The instructions regarding Mr Jackson?
- McClellan: Yes.
- O’Brien: Yes.
- McClellan: It led me to believe that there was little that Jackson could add to the discussion, and no doubt that is what you expected would happen; is that right?
- O’Brien: That’s true, and I still concur with that.
- McClellan: Well, I’m starting to form a totally different impression, I have to tell you.
The day ends on Watchtower’s worst case scenario: Justice McClellan issues a summons for Geoffrey Jackson. What will the fallout be?
At the time of writing, it is unknown if O’Brien will face charges. On the surface it would appear the case against him is compelling, and it’s clear both Mr Stewart and Justice McClellan viewed O’Brien’s misdirection seriously. Additionally, it’s clear this was part of a strategy of misdirection employed by every Branch-level elder who testified. Yet even if all involved escape legal sanction, the fact of their deception is preserved online for all the world to see.
Google doesn’t forget.
What of Jackson? He has three options.
- Refuse to appear before the Commission, stay in the country to look after his reportedly dying father and go to prison.
- Appear before the Commission and take part in the worst PR debacle the cult has even seen.
- Refuse to appear, flee the country and make it clear to the world that he is so scared of the Commission he will even abandon his dying father to avoid testimony.
There is one final irony. As mentioned, the witness preceding O’Brien was Watchtower Australia’s top lawyer, Vince Toole. During his testimony, the concept of theocratic warfare was directly put to him:
- Ms David: In the Watchtowers in 1957 and 1960, have you heard they say that: “As a soldier of Christ, you are in theocratic warfare and you must exercise added caution when dealing with God’s foes. Thus the scriptures show that for the purpose of protecting the interests of God’s cause it is proper to hide the truth from God’s enemies.” Have you heard of that?
- Toole: No, and I’ve never read 1957 magazine articles, I’m sorry. I only became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1972.
- Ms David: But, as a lawyer, you would be aware of such concepts, wouldn’t you – that you can lie to protect Jehovah’s name?
- Toole: (Visibly angry) We are truthful. To be a Christian, you have to be truthful.
Maybe O’Brien didn’t get the memo?
You can watch a full playlist of the Royal Commission below…