Two women filed a civil suit Tuesday alleging they were sexually
abused as young girls by a fellow member of a Jehovah's Witnesses
congregation in Annandale, Minn.
The women, both now 22 and living in the Twin Cities, say the
religion's very tenets make it virtually impossible for victims to
come forward, because at least two witnesses are required to
corroborate any act of wrongdoing.
"After these incidents,'' said the women's attorney, Jeffrey
Anderson of St. Paul, "these women went to the elders, and they were
told, 'We don't really believe you, because we require two witnesses
to this for it to have happened, and if there aren't two, you are
giving false testimony.' "
At issue is Jehovah's Witnesses' understanding of the Bible,
specifically Deuteronomy 19:15, which says a single witness shall
not suffice in convicting a person of a crime or wrongdoing.
Although Jehovah's Witnesses do not interpret every passage of
the Bible literally, they base their beliefs solely on principles
found in the Bible.
"If the accused … denies the charges and there are no others who
can substantiate them, the elders cannot take action within the
congregation at that time,'' says an official statement called
"Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Protection,'' posted on the
organization's Web site.
Both plaintiffs allege that while they were between 10 and 12
years old, they were fondled by a man who was eight years older and
a member of the congregation.
Named as defendants are Derek Lindala, 30, of South Haven, Minn.,
who is alleged to have fondled the girls on separate occasions
either in his family home or while on church-related activities; the
Annandale Kingdom Hall, or congregation; and the Watch Tower Bible
and Tract Society, the Jehovah's Witnesses' incorporated
headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Officials in New York had not reviewed the suit filed in Wright
County, Minn., Tuesday afternoon, and Lindala did not return a
telephone message left at his home.
Richard Olson, presiding overseer of the Annandale congregation,
said the elders were to meet Tuesday night to discuss the matter.
One of the elders, Paul Lindala, is the defendant's uncle and was
identified in the suit but is not a defendant.
"We don't think it's especially appropriate right now to comment
on legality or various details,'' Olson said. "We're going to get to
the bottom of it, but it will just take a day or two before we have
an answer that will satisfy everybody.''
The plaintiffs said they eventually brought their charge against
Lindala to the elders of the congregation and an investigation
"They determined I had misinterpreted the entire incident, were
the exact words told to me,'' said one plaintiff, Heidi Meyer of
suburban Minneapolis, "and I needed to be careful about what I said
about this because I did not have two eyewitnesses to the
Meyer, who said she was fondled on several occasions, said she
was told that if she spoke publicly, she could face a judicial
committee for slander or gossip and ultimately could face
"disfellowship,'' or excommunication.
"That's a very powerful threat, one powerful enough to have kept
me silent for this long,'' she said. "But it needs to be spoken out
about. I need to tell this story for my own healing and hopefully to
inspire other victims of the same type of abuse to speak out about
their own story.''
A general statement given to the Pioneer Press by Watch Tower
headquarters in New York, which calls its sexual abuse policy
"progressive'' but "not perfect,'' said victims "should never be
told by elders not to report their allegations to authorities.''
"Jehovah's Witnesses are good people as a religion,'' said
William Bowen, a Jehovah's Witness elder who founded a group —
"silentlambs" — for those molested by members of the religion.
"They're just misinformed. They don't understand what happens when
molestation issues arise.''
The other plaintiff, who said she was fondled once, said she
chose to remain anonymous so that other potential victims would know
they could come forward and do the same.
The official Web site of Jehovah's Witnesses at http://www.watchtower.org/.
A Web site for victims at http://www.silentlambs.org/.
Stephen Scott may be reached at (651)
228-5526 or sscott@pioneer press.com.