In early October, I wrote about a verdict issued in Montana, where a jury decided the Jehovah's Witnesses owed $35 million in a case involving unreported sexual abuse of children.
Unfortunately, however, the Montana Supreme Court has now reversed that decision. The seven Supreme Court justices were unanimous in their decision. They cited Montana law which states that religious authorities are not obligated to report the sexual abuse of children.
Attorneys for the Jehovah's Witnesses actually stated in court filings that Montana law exempts elders from reporting "internal ecclesiastical proceedings on a congregation member's serious sin."
Justice Beth Baker wrote in the court's decision that the church was not mandated to reporter abuse because of the exception in the state law. The law states that "a member of the clergy or a priest is not required to make a report under this section if the communication is required to be confidential by canon law, church doctrine, or established church practice."
Behold the terrible outcome of giving religious organizations special permission to govern themselves.
Neil Smith, a lawyer for two women who were abused for years as children, issued a statement: "This is a very disappointing decision, particularly at this time in our society when religious and other institutions are covering up the sexual abuse of child victims."
It really is terrible that a horrible law, upheld by uncaring justices, will keep in place protections for the Jehovah's Witnesses to go on protecting and sheltering clergy or members of their congregation who abuse children.
These women suffered abuse for years. The elders in the Jehovah's Witnesses were informed multiple times and did not stop it.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go combating systemic corruption in religious organizations much more broadly.