“We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down…

…We’re going after the system.”

– From the 2015 film Spotlight

On August 14th, 2019, multiple civil lawsuits were filed in the State of New York, naming the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses as co-defendants.

The all-male eight-member ruling authority faces accusations of negligence by controlling an institution which carelessly abused its power, resulting in the sexual abuse of a large number of minor children.

Attorney Irwin Zalkin is going after the system.

In an interview with JW Survey’s editors, New York and San-Diego-based Zalkin identified the core reasons for naming the self-appointed Governing Body as defendants in the latest round of lawsuits.

“They are now going to be named defendants in a lawsuit. They are headquartered in the State of New York. They direct all of the activities of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization from the State of New York. They are very hands-on. The Governing Body is very hands-on in making policy and practice for the organization in issuing directives to elders including directives related to their sexual abuse policy. “

Among the directives approved by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the 274-page secret elder’s manual known as Shepherd the Flock of God. An entire chapter has been devoted to managing child abuse, with the very first subheading titled “Legal Considerations.”

While Jehovah’s Witness elders claim that they endeavor to cooperate with law enforcement, they are neither permitted nor encouraged to immediately phone the police when they become aware of child molestation allegations.

Instead, they are under strict instructions to promptly phone Watchtower’s legal department in Patterson New York, where anonymous men type detailed allegations into their child abuse database. Before handing the call off to the religious Service Department, legal advisors decide whether mandatory reporting laws apply to clergymen in the state where the crimes occurred.

CSA Intake
2018 JW Legal Department Intake Form- Top

Despite clergy-mandated reporting in nearly every State, Watchtower’s legal department relies heavily upon a broad interpretation of clergy-penitent privilege, a loophole which Watchtower leaders exploit in virtually every child abuse case.

The quandary is, courtrooms across the United States disagree with the liberal interpretation of clergy privilege. Watchtower claims that all conversations between elders and victims, perpetrators, Circuit Overseers, Appeals Committees, and New York Service Department elders are covered by this privilege.

However, clergy privilege was intended to protect the confession of a perpetrator to his priest or elder, It was never intended to protect an internal investigation initiated by a body of elders within a congregation. Attorneys for Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are being unfairly held to the Catholic Church model, where privilege only applies to a confession made between the penitent and his priest.

From Shepherd the Flock Elder Manual

Multiple Lawsuits Filed

In the wake of the newly-enacted Child Victims Act legislation, dozens of lawsuits were filed on behalf of victims seeking justice. While a significant number of cases target Catholic New York Dioceses, Jehovah’s Witness abuse survivors are also lining up seeking justice, compensation, and validation.

The New York law sets aside Statute of Limitations restrictions for a period of one year, opening the door for victims previously barred from suing organizations which covered up abuse.

Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are an insular religious community, very few cases were ever brought before criminal or civil courts. Witnesses are encouraged never to bring reproach upon the “name of Jehovah” by straying outside of the organization to resolve matters involving church members. Such matters include allegations of child abuse.

While parents are sometimes advised by elders that they are free to report abuse allegations to the authorities, under no circumstances are they implicitly directed to do so.

Survivors Michael Ewing and Heather Steele know all too well what it’s like to have their lives destroyed by appointed members of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Both have sought the aid of the Zalkin Law Firm after decades of suffering the after-effects of their abuse and the corresponding cover-up.

Court documents describe evidence that church leadership intentionally tried to circumvent law enforcement in an effort to reduce notoriety.

The abusers in both cases were appointees of the Governing Body, including an elder and a ministerial servant. Both are considered agents of the church.

Attorney Zalkin outlines a long history of non-compliance and non-cooperation with law enforcement, citing numerous secret church mandates sent only to congregation elders.

In both complaints, Zalkin states:

“Notwithstanding the reports received in response to the March 1997 and July 1998 letters which continue to be sent to this day, defendants WATCHTOWER and GOVERNING BODY left intact a longstanding Jehovah’s Witness policy dating to a July 1989 policy letter that required elders to frustrate law enforcement efforts to investigate child molestation, and to contact defendant WATCHTOWER’S Legal Department about child abuse allegations instead of cooperating with law enforcement or reporting child molestation allegations to the police. Similarly, victims were still to be discouraged from seeking any form of therapy where Jehovah’s Witness molestations may be disclosed to non-members. Despite being staffed with ministers, defendant WATCHTOWER’S Service Department has never made a mandated child abuse report to law enforcement.”

Attorney Zalkin seeks to hold the top officials for Watchtower responsible, specifically the eight members of the Governing Body. In 2014, Zalkin filed a motion to compel the deposition of the longest-standing member of the Governing Body, Gerrit Losch.

In defiance of this motion, Losch used two law firms outside of Watchtower to quash the motion to compel, with Losch claiming that he did not answer to Watchtower or create any of their corporate policies. Watchtower’s attorneys compared Losch to the Dalai Lama.

Zalkin intends to prove that Losch’s professed detachment from Watchtower’s corporate structure is an attempt to evade accountability for the creation of dangerous and influential policies which affect over 8 million Witnesses worldwide.

While the Governing Body removed itself from the legal corporations owned by the religious empire in 2000, the new lawsuits indicate that this was merely a legal formality and that there are no policies which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the ruling body.

Gerrit Losch
Gerrit Losch

The Governing Body and their corporations are in fact, alter egos of each other.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, two more abuse victims have come forward as a result of the abuse of Heather Steele and her sister.

Plaintiffs Lynn Hagan and Tarah Bird have filed a 30-page civil lawsuit in which they allege that their own biological father, Donald Nicholson, sexually abused them for twenty years. Nicholson was the same prominent church elder who molested Heather Steele.

Complaint Filed by Hagan and Bird

Nicholson had been arrested and found guilty of molesting the two daughters of Jehovah’s Witness elder Lee Steele, who was a New York State Trooper at the time. Nicholson pled guilty in 1982 and spent 3 1/2 years in prison.

Nicholson Re-Offends While Incarcerated

Approaching the end of his prison sentence, Nicholson was transferred to the Wallkill Correctional Facility in New York, which had just initiated a family visitation program for qualifying prisoners. During recurring overnight visits, four-year-old plaintiff Tarah Bird was regularly forced to endure sexual assaults while her mother, Gail Nicholson, watched.

Gail Nicholson died October 3, 2018.

According to court documents filed on behalf of Nicholson’s daughters, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses harbored a known child molester from 1974 to 2010. Attorneys for Hagan and Bird state:

“Additionally, upon information and belief, a known child molester was appointed to the Governing Body in 1974, and he controlled Watchtower Defendants’ database of molesters, policies toward their judicial cases, and non-reporting to authorities until his death in 2010”

The Governing Body member referred to is Theodore “Ted” Jaracz. It is unclear whether the law firm of Bochetto and Lentz will present physical documentation to substantiate the allegations against Jaracz.

Additional Lawsuit Filed Against Governing Body and Watchtower

On August 15th, 2019, attorney Irwin Zalkin filed yet another civil lawsuit against the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this time in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County.

The new case alleges that Kevin Ramirez was molested by Humberto Ramirez (not his father) between 1999 and 2001, when Kevin was between six and eight years of age. The documents state:

“Humberto molested Plaintiff on numerous occasions, including during and after Church events such as field service, bible study, and during a Jehovah’s Witness Assembly.”

Complaint filed by Kevin Ramirez

Humberto Ramirez was a congregation elder, appointed at through the oversight of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the complaint, in 2001 Kevin finally revealed to his parents that he was being abused by Humberto Ramirez. His parents reported the allegations to congregation elders, who discouraged the family from reporting the matter to the police.

Congregation elders opted not to pass on the allegations to law enforcement officials, despite being mandated reporters. The filing also revealed:

“Humberto used his position with Defendants to ingratiate himself with Plaintiff’s family. Without Humberto’s position with Defendants, he would not have had access to Plaintiff or the ability to commit the acts of molestation alleged herein. Humberto threatened that Plaintiff would not be accepted into paradise if he did not allow the molestations to occur. Indeed, Humberto used his position to molest multiple boys in Defendant Congregation”

All of the cases filed represent a growing cross-section of the Jehovah’s Witness community, a place where trust for congregation elders, ministerial servants, and the underlying organization has become increasingly dangerous.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is principally silent on the matter of child sexual abuse, but in 2015, Stephen Lett issued the following statement:

“Think about the apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward pedophiles. I mean, that is ridiculous, isn’t it? If anybody takes action against someone who would threaten our young ones, and takes action to protect our young ones, it is Jehovah’s organization. We reject outright such lies.”

Additional Information: Please watch and share the latest Watchtower in Focus episode, where the JW Survey editors interview Attorney Irwin Zalkin from his New York Office:

Mark O'Donnell

Mark O'Donnell is a former Jehovah's Witness turned whistleblower after discovering the disturbing child abuse epidemic within the religion. His story, along with the revelation of a secret database of child molesters were featured in the March 2019 online issue of the Atlantic Magazine: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/03/the-secret-jehovahs-witness-database-of-child-molesters/584311/ O'Donnell continues to investigate allegations of child abuse within the Witness organization, and works with law enforcement, attorneys, and survivors of abuse, writing about his findings on jwsurvey.org and other outlets.

24 thoughts on “Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses Named as Defendants in Child Abuse Lawsuits

  • August 21, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    It’s not surprising to learn the Watchtower was protecting on of it’s own! “the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses harbored a known child molester from 1974 to 2010. Attorneys for Hagan and Bird state:

    “Additionally, upon information and belief, a known child molester was appointed to the Governing Body in 1974, and he controlled Watchtower Defendants’ database of molesters, policies toward their judicial cases, and non-reporting to authorities until his death in 2010”

    The Governing Body member referred to is Theodore “Ted” Jaracz. It is unclear whether the law firm of Bochetto and Lentz will present physical documentation to substantiate the allegations against Jaracz.”

  • August 21, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Amazing work Mark. The heat is now on to them to start facing the reality of their deluded little power trip.

  • August 21, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    Hooray, Thanks for the update. Great work. It is time for the TRUTH to be known. I have long felt that this abuse must go to the top, Governing Body, for their to be such a rigid policy in place for so many years. Please keep us posted. Thanks

  • August 21, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    What would Jesus say about the WT today?. I don’t think he would be happy realizing that most of the time these people are going to be ending up in court houses.

  • August 21, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    Stunning exposure, lost for words, a GB member a pedo.

  • August 22, 2019 at 12:58 am

    In my personal opinion, I believe that the Organization and the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply a front for the greater powers that are hiding behind the religious aspect of this publishing company. I believe that people like Mark O’Donnall and Irwin Zalkin won’t stop investigating this organization until they get a good look behind the many curtains of this deceptive front. But I don’t see that happening until going through the process of attempting hold these Governing Body puppets accountable for the great amount of CSA that has been all too commen within this CULTure before being able to find out those who really are responsible for pulling their strings. This article shares exactly what is snowballing towards this possibility. It is my hope that these victims are financially compensated in order to receive a long over due sense of justice. But more importantly, to somewhat over time, recover from some of this abouse by those in leadership positions. Whether allegations of abouse was perpetrated by family members or members of the congregation, these allegations should have been reported to the secular authorities. But with how members of the organization haveing been tought to not trust the secular world because of it being under the influence of the devil along with being directed by those taking the lead on life’s big decisions such as these, they will allow themselves to be directed on how they are to be made to believe that they are to not share these kinds of matters with anyone. Members often believe following what the elders have directed them in, is the same as following how Jehovah would have them deal with matters.
    Perpetrators are notorious for convincing their targets of abuse that they need them for their survival. But in actuality, the perpetrator is always in greater need of their targets.
    (BTW, if looking up the definition for the word mouthpiece, you’ll find spokesperson and representative among other definitions, but my favorite definition is, a front.)

  • August 22, 2019 at 2:03 am

    Holy cow!….a GB member!..well there were rumors….no wonder they’ve been so defensive… and…..to have the WT lumped in shoulder to shoulder like partners in crime with it’s arch enemy the Vatican who they’ve spent the best part of a century vilifying. Too sweet.
    No doubt those deluded idiots will be praying their asses off for Armageddon to come and release them from their self imposed hell.
    Thanks, Mark. You’ve made my day.

    • August 22, 2019 at 10:17 am

      Virtually every CSA-related decision the WT leadership has made in the past quarter century has had – at its core – the goal of keeping the rank-and-file from fully grasping the scope of the problem…

      …and thusly having the Org’s claim that they are “God’s Exclusive Earthly Organization” called into question.


      Because if it becomes public – and irrefutable – knowledge to the rank-and-file that a “known child molester” (a sweet irony that they used that particular wording in the same manner that the Org has recently used internally to try and downplay the scope of the problem, IMO) was a decades-long member of the Governing Body, AND directly responsible for the Org’s policies regarding the problem…

      …good luck maintaining that fictitious position of exclusivity with anyone possessing a functioning brain, (JW or otherwise).

      And if it’s not “God’s Exclusive Earthly Organization”, where’s the incentive to stay?

  • August 22, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Am I the only one to find the appearance of the G B rather sinisterly inscrutable. All wearing dark suits, all got that clean shaven ‘affable’ but blank, unreadable, look about them – they remind me of 2nd hand car salesmen or estate agants (realtors for the USA). Look like they want you to think they are nice boring people, whilst they’d be eating you alive, as they tell you they really really care about you.

    OK almost clean-shaven, one has a moustache. Which raises another Q nobody has answered. Why is a moustache OK but not a beard. One is hair on the upper lip, one is hair on the lower lip. Difference, anybody?

    • August 22, 2019 at 9:10 am

      Historically, mustaches imply authority.

      Rutherford hated full beards, and getting rid of them became a tradition/litmus test.

      • August 22, 2019 at 9:33 am

        Indeed, Mark 7 vs 8, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”. The obsession of suits as uniforms, the very suit itself as a derivative of British miitary uniform 9to contrast with the ‘loose sloppy clothes’ of colonised countires in te 18, 19 C, the hoerarchy, the standardsiation, the unquestioning of higher authirty All very military indeed.

  • August 22, 2019 at 6:18 am

    One word: Hallelujah! Finally.

    The cop-outs abound from the unfaithful at the top. The deflection of responsibility. All because they do not want the police involved. The police go to the Child authorities and determine next steps. The responsibility shifts from the Watchtower to the law enforcement community. For me, that seems more logical.

    Now Watchtower if filed a lawsuit (19-40) in the United States Supreme Court. Link: https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/19-40.html

  • August 22, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I have just read EVERYTHING you have listed here twice & follow the ‘watchtower focus” forum without fail.
    It can’t be said enough Mark, thank-you for your hard work & continued efforts to keep us fully up to date with this fast moving situation over there in the states. Like all the court cases, the G|B surely cannot deny their spectacular cover up of this horrific chain of events any longer.
    I had 2 elders tell me at Excel this past weekend that we investigate, because children “lie” to get attention, because they are rebellious. I go under cover as a Australian tourist & tape these hideous conversations I have, when I innocently ask jw’s what is that protest over there is all about.
    I want to express my gratitude to all these brave people that are coming forward. And to the G\B I say – start packing your bags for rapture boys, because satan’s world is coming after you big time.

  • August 22, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I always knew there was something higher up the chain. But unless the rank and file get to know about the GB being involved in abuse or being abuser themselves how will anything ever change?

  • August 22, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I can’t even begin to imagine how much money they have & are spending on legal costs, millions & millions of Dollars, THEODORE JARACZ, To bad he is dead & gone, wonder what he thinks looking down from heaven, what a joke.

  • August 22, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    So much gratitude for your relentless offence against this toxic cult.

    I hope your efforts will culminate in the beheading of this beast, in the nation of it’s birth.

    Watchtower would rankle on globally, but in a weaker form, with less power. That would be a result!

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  • August 23, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you so much Mark! Also the rest of the JW Survey team! It makes me happy to think that this cult is finally going to get what it deserves. The Watchtower stole my childhood, drives a wedge between me and some of my family, and has humiliated me while I trusted in their lives. Even worse, is all of the sexual abuse so many poor people have had to endure all for the benefit of pathetic men who simply wanted power and authority. The whole time that we thought we were supporting a good organization, we were being victimized by the JWs. It’s time for them to be humiliated and to lose years of their lives to jail.

  • September 10, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    This morning here in Australia the Victorian Government has legislated that all Priests & Religious leaders must report Child abuse to the police or face a 3 year jail term, this legislation is moving right across the country. the “SaySorry web site is claiming that all Elders have been instructed to destroy all records pertaining to child abuse, including any personal info they may have on home computers or even in personal files, oh how they love to have personal files, looks like the net is tightening on this group.

  • October 30, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    perhaps there is a child porn ring right up there in plain sight.

  • November 1, 2019 at 3:57 am


  • November 4, 2019 at 3:20 am

    When we left in 2002, on the Silentlambs website, they had a special protest arranged where they walked down one of the main streets of New York to ask the governing body to change their policies on child abuse. As they approached the headquarters in Brooklyn. By the way, this was reported on a news story and also it was recorded by somebody who was there. Upon approaching the gates, a band of suited up young men ran down and locked the gates so that those demanding answers were unable to enter. They proceeded to have a ceremony where they attached toy lambs to the railings and awarded courage awards out to those who had been abused and been disfellowshipped because of it.

    They were invited to say something. One of the people was a woman around 50 who gave an experience of being raped by Jaractz when she was a teenager. At the time of speaking she had been homeless, living in shelters and was dying of breast cancer.She said that she had no proof of it. A very sad story and those men at the time including Jaractz locked the gates from them like they were scum. When I saw it online that day, I decided to leave. It sickened me watching that. It is very satisfying knowing that justice will finally prevail. Thank you for your informative and well written article.

  • November 19, 2019 at 2:16 pm


  • November 19, 2019 at 2:17 pm


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