Then I suddenly fell ill, losing my business and income. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me and I struggled on until I was diagnosed some years later with Myalgic Encephalopathy. During the same time period, my grandmother, who raised me, died and my two sons, ages seventeen and nineteen, began associating with a bad crowd and both ended up in prison for first and minor offenses.
As I was taking a walk in our neighborhood, I became very emotional and confused. Crying, I began to pray to God asking him to help me and tell me what he wanted me to do. I had always believed in a God or creator. When I returned home, the gardener was working in our garden. I asked him if he believed in God. Well, “Of course," he replied. He was a Jehovah's Witness. He took me to meet his wife, who began a bible study with me. We studied through several chapters of the "Live Forever" book. She talked about a resurrection of my grandmother, about a world full of honest happy people, and told me that God had a name. I was elated! I had been searching all my life for this. I did not remember that a Jehovah's Witness used to study with my mother, when I was a small child and she read the "Paradise" book to us all the time!
When Salvatore, my husband, came home and I told him I had found the meaning of life, he said, "Keep away from those Jehovah's Witnesses." Why did I not listen to him? I was out preaching house-to-house by Spring and baptized in the Autumn of 1986. I preached part-time, when I was well enough, although I was ill and sleeping the rest of the time. I studied every week and Salvatore and Theresa, our daughter, began studying, also, but my husband said to me, "These people are not living up to the standards they are teaching you."
We lived in an area, surrounded by Jehovah's Witnesses, who had sold their properties in the early 1970’s, in anticipation of 1975 and the "end of this system of things," while acquiring new cars, etc. and working full time in the preaching work. Disillusioned when the end did not come, many had turned to living double lives. I did not know all of this at the time, but Salvatore could see through it.
The couple, with whom we studied, were so nice and I went to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall and all of the group studies and conventions. Salvatore decided to go along, because he could see I was beginning to heal, but later he told me that he was going to get me out of it.
My husband studied with an Elder and the "brother" I was studying with was disfellowshipped. I was told that I was not to speak to him but, to me, this was not acceptable, so I would say, "Hello," and smile when I saw him. Theresa was distraught and didn't like it at all. She said all the Jehovah's Witnesses at her school smoked cigarettes, had sex and were living a lie. I became angry and did not believe her. In 1989, my husband and daughter decided to get baptized, also, but I think they only did it for me. I was thrilled.
Theresa met a young "sister" at the baptism pool and became good friends with her. Theresa would go over to the girl's house where she lived with her little boy. This girl introduced her to a waiter. Later, he stalked her, got her drunk and raped her. She was only sixteen years old. Theresa told me everything the next day and I told her that she had to tell the elders and the police. She refused to tell the police. She said she was in love with this man, who was on the run from the police himself for a murder in Rome, we later discovered. He was trying to marry and have a child, so he could live with them. My God! When I think back about this, it seems so incredible.
Our book study elder came to our home and we sat and told him all that had happened. He was very nice and we thought that would be the end of it. At the next meeting, my husband was called into the back room and the elders told him that a Judicial Committee had been formed and Theresa would have to be seen. I was distraught, for fear that she was going to be disfellowshipped. I waited in the car and Salvatore went in with her, but they wouldn't let him go into the meeting with our daughter. She was in a terrible state of mind. When she came out, my husband was so angry. I had to control him, because I thought he was going to lose his temper. Looking back, I wish he had, after all. Theresa told us that she was coerced into telling the elders all the details of the events leading up to and during her encounter with the waiter. The outcome was that she was publicly "marked" as bad association, lost all her congregation 'privileges' and was not allowed to answer at the meetings. Theresa never truly emotionally recovered from this.
My husband and I decided that since we lived so far away from our family, we would move back to our roots in Bologna. We did not buy a home this time. I became so disabled that I began using a wheelchair. We settled into our new home and a new congregation. My sister began studying, also, which made me think I had Jehovah’s approval. I found a doctor of naturopathy and, with his help, I began to slowly recover. Our daughter began to go out in the full time ministry again and we joined her for two months in the Spring. My husband was given the position of Ministerial Servant and we had a congregation bible study group at our home for many years.
Theresa met a "brother," who became her future husband. His name was Enzo and he was a Ministerial Servant from the other congregation that shared our Kingdom Hall. They began to court and I must say that I did not like him right from the start. He always appeared to be high on narcotics, smelled of strong drink and his parents were very strange, but as Christians do, we welcomed them into our family.
One night, Theresa came home crying and we went into her room to see what was wrong. She said when she told Enzo about the rape, he became very angry, threw her out of his car, and drove away, leaving her. Alarm bells were ringing now. The next day, his parents telephoned us and said they were coming to our home to discuss it. His father kept asking, "But can she still have children? Was there any damage?" over and over again. I said to her and my husband how strange this was, and they both agreed that he was a very strange man anyway. The next day, Enzo came to our house. I asked them both to come into the living room. I talked to them and said that I did not think they were ready to be married and asked them to wait another year. Enzo refused to change his mind and said that they were not waiting. He and our daughter were married within months, at the Kingdom hall. I wanted to ask the elders not to let them, but my husband said that she might run away and elope with him.
A little information about Enzo's parents: both were raised in a Jehovah's Witness family. We were not told about this, until after my daughter divorced Enzo. His father beathim unmercifully when he was growing up and had even been known to hit him, when they were out in the preaching work.
Enzo was a very complicated young man of twenty-four. He had no confidence at all and did nothing without his father's consent. His mother worked full time in the preaching work. Her mother was an alcoholic, who ran off with a young boy and had a child, was disfellowshipped and then returned to the Watchtower Society. There was a very strange relationship between the grandmother and Enzo. I was told that when he began attending school, he didn't even know what day his birthday was on. My daughter only told us all these things, later after the child abuse. She remained very loyal to him, but her life went from bad to worse on the wedding night, when Enzo told her to throw the bible away, that they weren't bothering with all that crap anymore and he tried to have anal sex with her.
They were married for two years before she gave birth to our granddaughter. By this time, Enzo refused to go to work. He was a window cleaner, self-employed. He made her go to work, while he stayed home and took care of our granddaughter, with the exception that on Fridays, when he worked for a contract his father had, and he would take the little girl with him early in the morning. Our granddaughter became very thin and would not eat. I began to take her with me, as much as I could, and she would eat for me. I suspected something wrong was happening, but I just did not know what it was. My husband went to talk to Enzo several times and came close to hitting Enzo for the way he was treating our daughter and our grandchild.
All this time, the elders were informed, but they did nothing to help. The Circuit Overseer suggested that they study the Watchtower magazine with an elder, but Enzo never went to them. My husband and I kept on receiving trickles of information about Enzo being an alcoholic, and about him having had sexual relations with an older "sister." He had been engaged to a "sister," who had his child and he had been marked on many occasions, also for homosexual behavior with other "brothers," etc. We learned later that many elders knew about it and not one of them told us or warned us. Looking back, I can see now that my daughter was targeted in some way.
Their second daughter was born and, by this time, Enzo had become very strange. He would leave home, taking their older child with him. When we would try to find him, he would eventually come home and say that he didn't know where he had been. The dog, which they had acquired when they were first married, would cower and urinate on the floor when he came home, because it was so scared of Enzo. My older granddaughter told me recently thatshe would hide behind the sofa, so he couldn't find her, because she was so afraid of her father. She has had to have a lot of psychiatric therapy, but still has not fully disclosed what her father did to her.
Enzo did not pay the rent and the police came to their house. We talked to Enzo's parents, to see if they would help, but all they said was, "He made his bed and he can lie in it." We had to pay almost two and a half million Lira for their unpaid rent, to prevent them from being evicted. We tried very hard to help him. I wanted to take the other child. My daughter was suffering so badly with depression that she could not cope.
Then Enzo rented a house further away from us and moved them away. He would bring our younger granddaughter on Fridays. She looked like an orphan most of the time. Then he began not bringing her, over and over again, and claimed not to know where he had been with the child. I was very disturbed by now and suspected he was doing something to the girls, but I couldn't do anything when he picked them up from my house. I was heartbroken to see their little faces as he would drive away with them.
There was one occasion when my daughter could not awaken her oldest daughter for a few days and she had to take the other one to their doctor for anal bleeding. The doctor told her that it was chicken pox, but our granddaughter had no spots.
One particular day, when the phone rang, it was Theresa. She was hysterical and begged us, "Please come take me away from this evil man!" My husband immediately went to pick up our daughter and granddaughters. Our daughter was in a terrible state of mind. She had their phone bill and was in shock, because their bill was for almost one million Lira and there were hundreds of premium numbers. She had once found their eldest girl talking to someone on the phone and took it away from her. The lady said, "Did you know your child telephoned a sex chat line?" Our daughter thought it was just a coincidence. We realized, after she told us about it later, that the child must have pressed the redial button. Now she could see that here was the proof as to why Enzo would not go to work before the postman arrived, and we also realized why his car was frequently seen parked on a well-known street, where prostitutes plied their trade.
Theresa stayed with us and my husband went back to their house, telephoned Enzo's father and waited for Enzo to come home. When his father arrived together with Enzo, my husband showed him the phone bills and all Enzo's father could say was, “We need to be careful what we do about this. We are servants in our congregations." He said this repeatedly. My husband told Enzo that he would have to stay at his parents' home for a while, in order to give our daughter time to think and decide what she wanted to do. The elders were informed and, although he admitted to having many chats on sex lines, while masturbating, the elders decided it was not adultery and she was not allowed to leave him, according to Watchtower Society guidelines the Elders were following.
Meanwhile, our granddaughters began to tell very strange things of a sexual and weird nature. One of them said that their father would take her into the bathroom, make her remove all of her clothing and pour syrup over her. Our daughter took the girls, ages three and five years, to the doctor for an examination. It was concluded, after sessions with Child Protection, that sexual encounters had taken place. The Police were called and Enzo was arrested, although he denied it and he was given bail.
The Elders said they were going to make him sweat. Since a district convention was to occur soon, they would leave Enzo's case until afterward, when they would speak with him. Enzo began to come to our meetings and sit behind us, something that became a regular occurrence. The children were afraid of their father, and the youngest wet herself every time she saw him. Even after the Elders were made aware of this, they did nothing.
The District convention arrived and Enzo was there. During lunch, he came over and threatened us, informing us that the Elders had seen him and they said he was in the clear! They had decided not to do anything. The police interviewed the girls and they told them plenty, but did not reveal everything they had told us. Because the youngest girl was only four years old, they wanted to get her evidence on tape, so my husband had to sit with her on his knee. While she was being interviewed and taped, all she did was cry and cling to her grandfather. He was in tears, too. Because of this, Enzo wasn't charged as they said they, too, needed two disclosures, without which they could not prosecute. The elders then said they could do nothing and he was allowed to walk freely at assemblies, conventions and in the Kingdom Halls.
We found out that a man, with whom Enzo was conducting a study years before, had sexually abused several children, also, and gone to prison. I wondered if this was just a coincidence. These children's mother had accused her parents of abuse, years earlier, and nothing was done. There was nothing we could do, so we moved into a different territory and changed congregations. My husband had his position of Ministerial Servant taken away. We were told that it was because we had become inactive. In one of the interviews in the back room, the Elders said to my husband, "Are you sure this is not just a case of silly women?” Salvatore was furious!
We settled into our new congregation, although it was almost 113 kilometers for the round trip. Within months after we joined the new congregation, the Presiding Overseer, who was also an assembly speaker and married with two children. was disfellowshipped for sexual behavior with an eighteen-year-old "sister," who was working full time in the house-to-house ministry. It was revealed that he began the relationship with her on her sixteenth birthday. The Presiding Overseer was reinstated within the year, but the girl is still disfellowshipped. So many cases have come to our attention since then, including almost two dozen young girls in another congregation nearby. Another Elder’s wife told me that her father was abusing her and her sister more than half a century, years ago, and the list goes on.
One of the strangest things is that my youngest granddaughter told us of a red SUV she remembers her father taking her to on his travels when he "could not remember where," when she was four years old. We realized the connection later when we heard that the excommunicated presiding overseer had a red SUV. Things became too much for us again, so we moved away and joined another congregation. We were never accepted there and were always treated with suspicion.
By this time, Theresa had become very mentally ill and she is still in therapy. After all this time, she still blames herself. She stopped going to the meetings and met a really nice man. They built a new life and business together and plan to be married at the end of this year.
After two years, the Elders called on her. The one who used to be a gang member and on drugs, bullied her and would not take his foot out of the doorway, as he continuously repeated, “SO DON’T YOU WANT TO BE A JEHOVAH'S WITNESS THEN?"
The Elders disfellowshipped Theresa without telling any of us, not even her. She has not received any written confirmation from them. A week later, early in the morning on the day we were going to my mother-in-law's home to bring her to live with us, we received a phone call.
Elder: “Hello. Can we come and see you this morning?”
Husband: “Well, we were just leaving to get my severely disabled mother and bring her to live with us, a 320 kilometers round trip.”
Elder: “Oh. Well, I have to tell you that your daughter is being announced tonight. She is a Jehovah's Witness only until tonight."
Elder: "You know the consequences, don't you?”
Elder: “You know we have affection for you.”
End of Call...!
That was two years ago in 2012. No one contacted us or came to see us for more than a year, other than someone leaving a memorial leaflet on our door several times. We have told them we want to be left alone. We have written a letter of disassociation. It is on the mantel above the fireplace. Apart from just one, there is no one speaking to us so I cannot see any reason why we should not give the letter to the Elders. This, as I say, is only in brief, there were many more things.
Our only consolation is that Enzo died several years ago. He overdosed on drugs. His parents, lifelong Jehovah's Witnesses, Pioneers in the full time ministry and his father, a ministerial servant said, “We do not want to ever see the girls again." This was just after all that Enzo had done was revealed, and they have kept their word.
Salvatore Cuore Impavido: Sophia, here is my side of the story as promised. I have tried to be as chronological as possible, but going back so many years makes it difficult to be totally accurate about the way events unfolded. There is also the question of brevity. We could (and probably should) write a book if we could bear to relive the full story, but that will come later. Here then is the abridged version. You have my permission to use it as you see fit, especially if you think it could help anybody.
A “Brother's” Tale....
I can understand why I believed it,“ said my wife, “but I can't understand how you were taken in.” This recent comment by Sophia, my wife, has prompted me to write my little tale. There are two reasons for doing so. First, I am sure it will strike a chord with many a husband who followed a similar line to me and help people to appreciate how easy it is to become trapped in a way of life that seems so alien to most. Second, it would be nice to think that someone might find a bit of comfort when they realize they are not alone in this situation and even a bit of hope that things will eventually change.
I would never describe myself as a 'spiritual' man. I was brought up as a child of the sixties, including peace signs, love beads and long hair! My childhood was a very happy time and I inhabited a fantasy land created by my parents, inveterate readers of westerns and adventures. From their books they taught me a set of values, including the stiff upper lip and that a true man always did the decent thing in the end, even if it cost him. Silly as it might seem these old fashioned ideals stuck with me into adult life, so I would describe myself as basically a good man. Any religious notions were vague, but I was brought up as a nominal Christian and attended a Christian school. I did well with my exams, though I turned down a more formal education in favor of a job in the civil service. I developed a reading habit and over the years accumulated a lot of knowledge. I suppose you could sum me up now as a good man, who was also reasonably well educated and intelligent. I believed in a Creator, but it was a superficial belief, tempered by socialistic ideals prevalent at the time. I was aware of the wars and atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion, so I never felt the inclination to join a church.
My lovely wife, Sophia, was (and still is) a 'spiritual' person. Sophia was definitely searching for the true meaning of life and attended a few different churches to find it, though always ending up dissatisfied and frustrated with what she was told. Because she instinctively knew the kind or thoughtful thing to do in any situation, I was more than happy to accept her clear superiority in this department.
Being so happy in one another's company, we decided we needed to be together all the time so we both began to work as baristi. It was the wrong job. Our innate honesty was bound to cause problems for us in what was a patently dishonest job. Twice I made bad decisions which cost us our home, as well as job, on both occasions. We stuck together through these disasters and Sophia supported me emotionally and later financially until I could pull myself together. During these dark times, I did sometimes wander into a church and offer up prayers to 'God' for help, and eventually things began to look up. I got a job that I enjoyed and Sophia had her own business telemarketing her life insurance company.
Suddenly, almost overnight (so it seems), Sophia fell victim to a mysterious illness. She was always so exhausted in a way that is impossible to describe. It turned out to be a form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but no one had heard of it at the time, and the medical profession seemed to regard her illness as spurious, much to our anger and disappointment. Because they couldn't cure her, the doctors decided that it must be her fault! Sophia struggled on for a while, but had to close her business down. I was working so that wasn't a big problem.
One day I came home to the fateful statement from Sophia, “Salvatore, Salvatore! I've found the meaning of life!” Yes, she had been talking to our gardener, who turned out to be a Jehovah's Witness. He introduced her to his wife and as they lived close to us, Sophia had taken her bible with her and started to study there and then. She was there for a good couple of hours, but in that short space of time, she found positive and satisfying answers to questions she had had for years. Looking back, it is easy to see how vulnerable she was, with the loss of her beloved grandmother, our teenage boys were in and out of trouble and of course, this crippling illness which robbed her of her vitality and life force. I was somewhat taken aback, but pleased to see her so animated, although I did dampen her enthusiasm a little by replying,“That's wonderful....what's for dinner?”
Up to then, my only contact with Jehovah's Witnesses had been with a family who lived close by when I was in growing up. The mother had become a Jehovah's Witness and when she left her husband and kids, she was the talk of the village. I became good friends with both boys, but they never would talk about their upbringing. Sadly one was killed in an accident and the other began living as a homeless person.
Sophia continued to study avidly and asked me to come along just to see what she was learning. We had always shared everything together, so I went with her. This is a good point at which to state that the vast majority of Jehovah's Witnesses that I ever encountered were good, decent and honest people, who genuinely believed in what they were saying and doing.
The "brother" and "sister" we studied with were a good example. They were genuinely a lovely couple. Dominic was a very charismatic man, who had gypsy ancestry. He was one of few members of his family to settle down and live in a house. He had striking blue eyes, but he was humble and so gentle. He and his wife, Anna, had been special pioneers in Bolivia and they regaled us with tales of the rural communities they served riding on a donkey which was their only means of transport. Bolivia was a difficult territory for the Jehovah's Witnesses back then and even though they didn't make any converts, their lovely warm manner and behavior won them many friends there. Dominic had a serious problem he was struggling with. All his brothers were alcoholics and he had the same genes. The first 'study' lasted an hour, the second ten minutes less and so on, until Dominic was hardly there at all. One evening, Anna needed something and she asked me if I would go to the tavern and get it from Dominic. She was embarrassed at having to ask me, but I went and found him. He had a bottle of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other! As they had been telling me that I would have to stop smoking, I thought it was a bit two-faced to say the least. I liked Dominic, so I never said anything to Sophia, let alone his wife for many years. Anyway back to the 'study.'
Sophia said she was studying the bible, but she was not. She was actually studying a book published by the Jehovah's Witnesses. In this case, the 'You Can Live Forever on a Paradise Earth' book. The way it worked applies in principle to all the 'study aids' produced by the Jehovah's Witnesses, including the Watchtower magazine, itself, which was studied weekly on Sundays. A short paragraph is read. The paragraph may or may not include a written or cited scripture that is claimed to support the central idea of the paragraph. A question is asked on that paragraph, the answer to which can only come from that paragraph, so there is no scope for discussion or individual thinking. It is very simplistic but very clever. For example: You read a paragraph about the possibility of being reunited with dead loved ones and living forever in a paradise where you never get sick or get old. The question is, “Would you like to see your loved ones again and live like this?” Who is going to say “No?" You have been directed exactly where the Jehovah's Witnesses want you to go. This works, no matter how complicated the subject seems to be. There is one and one only answer that is acceptable from the paragraph. That is the only answer the Jehovah's Witnesses want! It is human nature to give the 'right' answer especially in a congregation setting. Who would ever want to appear stupid in front of his 'brothers and sisters.' Anyone who dares to depart from this rigid ritual by offering an independent thought is quickly dismissed by the study conductor and ignored completely, if they persist with their 'wrong thinking.' Sophia made quick progress and was baptized before long.
I sat on the fence for as long as I could, working my way through several brothers, who tried and failed to convince me. By this time, I was having my study with another man who I liked and had respect for. Our daughter had also begun studying and was making plans to get baptized.
One day, Sophia was rushed to the hospital, after she collapsed. After the doctors performed surgery, they couldn't revive her. They kept telling me to come back in an hour or so and she would be alright. This happened several times. I sat outside on my own and thought she was going to die. I made a deal with God. If she woke up, I would get baptized. I knew this would make my beloved wife very happy and I reasoned that it would only take up about six hours of my time each week. This was a small sacrifice compared to what I know she would have done for me. Happily, Sophia did eventually recover consciousness and, as you have read my background, you can guess just what I did. That's right. I did the decent thing and kept my word.
My daughter and I were baptized at the same time. It was a very happy occasion for all of us. Fellow Jehovah's Witnesses, who had become friends, were so pleased and it was good to be the cause of so much joy. We quickly settled into a routine. I used work as often as possible to get out of going to meetings and out in the house-to-house ministry. It was a good excuse. A man had to support his family or be worse than one without faith. I adapted amicably enough to our new schedule, although there were a couple of difficult decisions to make. My parents ordered us out of their house when we became Jehovah's Witnesses and I had to choose between them and our new life as Witnesses. I rationalized that, as we lived over 320 kilometers from them, it would not be too much of a problem to choose our new way of life. Over the next few years, they came around and we all drew close again, especially Sophia with my father. She was the only person, to whom I ever heard him say, "I love you."
With my wife and daughter, both in what Jehovah's Witnesses referred to as "the truth," I was now stuck with my decision, so I plodded on, concealing my new status at work, and keeping these two worlds strictly separate. I also had a safety valve. I kept on smoking, not a lot, and only occasionally, but this was my little 'statement' of independence. Obviously, this caused me problems making me a hypocrite and causing me some anguish, since it went against my natural inclination to be honest. So much for the 'truth' making me a better person! Also, Sophia discovered me smoking several times, so I went dutifully to the elders to confess my sin and promise repentance. There is no doubt that I was now fully locked into this situation. I was totally convinced that Sophia would not be able to forgive me if I left the organization. Not out of spite, but out of love. Naturally, she wanted me to be with her and our daughter in paradise. Don't feel sorry for me. It wasn't too bad or arduous (apart from darned conventions – a logistical nightmare!) and I was happy enough. How long we would have continued like this I don't know, but Sophia's health worsened. I had to give up work to look after her and we came upon an opportunity to move back to Bologna, which would put us closer to family who could help me.
After we moved back to Bologna, one of Sophia's sisters began studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses. This signaled the start of a more insidious way of binding me to the organization. The congregation book study was assigned to our home. This was great for Sophia, as it was the one meeting she could always attend. We were told what a great 'privilege' this was and how only exemplary families were ever used in this way. I knew I wasn't exemplary (still having a crafty smoke) but figured – what the hell – Sophia was exemplary enough for both of us!
Then came other 'privileges.' I had joined the Ministry School and found to my surprise that I had a great aptitude for public speaking. I enjoyed the preparation and practice and worked hard to produce coherent, well-developed talks. I received many favorable comments from the 'brothers and sisters.' I was assigned 'responsibilities' in the magazine department. My book study conductor, another lovely and gentle man, who I admired deeply, gave me some points to work on so I could be used more fully in the congregation. Eventually, I was appointed as a ministerial servant. I was also appointed as magazine servant and given a prominent place on the meetings, conducting Kingdom ministry articles from the platform. The compliments flowed quick and fast. “I love it when you are giving a talk – I know it will be interesting,” “I could listen to you talking all night,” “You are a natural”, etc., etc. Who could resist such flattery? I couldn't and I admit it. The feelings were intoxicating and the lure even more irresistible!
Although still a ministerial servant, I was assigned public talks and even, strictly against the rules, taken on a shepherding call by an elder. Allegedly, I had been appointed by Holy Spirit, but any qualms I had about my worthiness were soon dismissed when I attended my first Elders and Servants meeting with the district overseer. It was like being back at school. I had gone to an all-boy’s school and it was exactly the same mix of humor and camaraderie. That was surprising, but what was appalling was the way the 'brothers' referred to and discussed the 'sisters.' The attitude of these 'loving shepherds' and 'older men' was dismissive and derogatory. “Oh, we have to keep them in their place boys. They are only women. We know best!” I admit that I was shocked and told Sophia about it when I returned home later that night. We decided to “leave it in Jehovah's hands,” the Jehovah's Witnesses' mantra.
As the 'golden boy,' I was now definitely hooked, but not very long after, real doubts began to surface. The impetus came after a trip to London Bethel (Watchtower Society Headquarters in the U.K., which I organized on behalf of the congregation. There was great excitement in the air about 'new thinking,' (generated by the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society), regarding 'the generation that would not pass away' before the end. As we were in Bethel, we all received a copy of the relevant Watchtower magazine before nearly everyone else. The 'new thinking' effectively removed a time scale from the length of the generation in complete contrast to previous belief that it was a literal generation. The phrase at that time was “They've moved the goalposts!” And that is exactly what had happened.
I considered writing my thoughts and sealing them in an envelope to show to Sophia the next time 'new thinking' brought new 'understanding,' but of course, I did not. I thought her beliefs were too deeply entrenched and her loyalty too strong, even though her natural inclinations had helped us ignore the most abhorrent practices of the organization. For example, we never fully supported the society's stand on disfellowshipping and shunning. We would never do what some'brothers' did, which was stand outside a church at a friend or relatives wedding or funeral. We'd go inside and stand discreetly and respectfully at the back. Then there was the dilemma about Holy Spirit appointing men to positions of oversight. If they had been appointed by Holy Spirit, how could the Holy Spirit get it wrong? How could it be claimed that they were only imperfect men when they sinned? If the organization was guided by Holy Spirit, why did they have to revise teachings and understandings so often? It didn't make sense, but we felt obligated to “leave it to Jehovah.”
I was on the point of being made an elder when the most devastating blow fell. Our daughter had married 'in the truth,' but the marriage had not been a success, even though two beautiful girls duly arrived. Enzo, Theresa's husband, an ex-ministerial servant, quickly renounced his responsibility as a family head. It turned out this marriage was his way of escape from overbearing Jehovah's Witness parents, but there could have been even more sinister motives. Enzo would not work, took narcotics, drank a lot and disappeared with the little girls for whole days without being able to remember where he had been or what he had done. We had tried to help, the elders had supposedly tried to help, but Enzo knew exactly what sort of attitude to use with them, an attitude of remorse and repentance, so their hands were tied. Our daughter was told to stay with him and “wait on Jehovah.” (Yet another version of the Jehovah's Witnesses' mantra.)
Eventually, Theresa got irrefutable proof that Enzo had been using sex chat lines. This opened up a web of lies and deceit. It seemed he had been meeting with prostitutes, although he denied it. He went back to his parents' home and we supported Theresa and the girls. Then Child Protection got involved in helping our family and they became disturbed by some of the strange things our granddaughters were saying. It was obvious to them that sexual abuse had taken place and they called the police. They interviewed the girls at their home. It was very distressing for all of us. The oldest girl, age seven years, would not answer any questions, but our younger granddaughter sat on my knee and recounted some very disturbing occurrences in the language she had at the time as a four- year-old. However, for her evidence to count, she had to repeat her statement on camera with none of her family in the room, just a trained police officer and her. I sat in this secret house with her until it was time for the filming to start. I was ushered into another room where we could watch proceedings. She clammed up and began calling out for me, her grandfather.
It was pitiful and just writing this after all these years has made me tearful, but so angry at what that man did, as well. With no concrete evidence the police could not proceed to trial. Evidently, the police needed "two witnesses," just as the Watchtower Society insists on having in cases of sexual assault. Enzo denied all accusations and only received a caution, although the case was held on file just in case any further evidence ever came to light. It's academic now, because Enzo overdosed on narcotics and died a few years later.
What would happen to us now? As the "golden boy," who auxiliary pioneered for at least one month a year, as a soon to be appointed elder, and as the head of an exemplary family, surely we had nothing to worry about. What an opportunity for the Christian congregation to extend the love to us that it was so proud of.
Wrong. My first inkling that things were not going to be what I expected came when I was taken into the back room of the Kingdom Hall with three elders. They were upset that the police had been called in on the case, because it could bring reproach on the name of Jehovah. One elder asked if it was maybe 'just a case of women over reacting. We know what hysterical women are like." I wanted to punch him. Within a short time, the book study was relocated to another Jehovah's Witness's home, another magazine servant was appointed in my place and I was even asked to cancel a public talk, which I was scheduled for. I refused! We became ostracized by former friends, who didn't want to be somehow tainted by our misfortune. Then, of course, what was to be done about the husband who had caused this trouble in the first place. Our book study conductor was a new elder. “I'm on your side,” he told us. The plan was that Enzo would be left to 'sweat it out' before being questioned about his conduct. The three day district convention was scheduled to be soon, so the judicial hearing would be postponed until after that. It did not happen like that.
A week later, we turned up at the Kingdom Hall to be told the matter was settled. Enzo had been questioned and denied all charges of abuse, although he admitted to the drinking and sex calls and displayed the usual remorse and repentance, the usual line. He was reprimanded and that was that. He was advised that it would be better for him to attend a different meeting from us, but it was not compulsory, so if his football team were playing on a Sunday afternoon he would happily turn up at our meeting and sit among the congregation behind us with his mates as if nothing had happened. Our youngest granddaughter would wet herself whenever she saw him. As for our poor daughter, the judicial committee decided, after some incredible correspondence between the body of elders and Bethel, that her husband was....wait for it....NOT guilty of 'pornaeia,' which was the only acceptable grounds for her to get a divorce, according to the Watchtower Society. If the woman, to whom Enzo was speaking while masturbating, had been present, that would have been pornaeia, but since she was at the other end of a telephone line, it was not! So while Theresa was allowed to separate from him, she was not allowed to remarry, because if she did, she would be guilty of adultery!
After several unhappy incidents when Enzo came to our meeting and a particularly viscious outburst from a 'loving shepherd' to the effect that we had become inactive and his 'loving counsel' to my wife that did she remember there were still meetings for the house-to-house ministry every day, we decided to move to another congregation. Within a few short weeks of our arrival there, it turned out that the presiding overseer, an ex Bethelite and charismatic convention speaker had been grooming a young pioneer 'sister' since she was thirteen years old. He knew the system, too, and only engaged in sexual activity after she was age sixteen and then with no intercourse (shades of Bill Clinton).
We stopped trying after that. If what happened to us had been an unusual somewhat 'off' situation we could have coped. If the congregation had treated us as victims instead of troublemakers, it would have helped. More and more people began coming to us with similar stories. They were Jehovah's Witnesses, still in 'the truth.' One particularly heart-breaking experience concerned a 'sister' whose father had been buried with full witness honors, yet he had abused her and her sister for years. Their mother, of course, was a dignified and honored older member of the congregation, so the girls had never told her the truth about their father (who had been appointed by Holy Spirit, of course).
Work gave us the opportunity to move again and, although we attended our new congregation, we deliberately remained aloof, attending meetings sporadically and very rarely going out in the house-to-house ministry. It seems our reputation went before us, because we were treated very warily by the elders. Theresa had been emotionally damaged by her experience, as had our granddaughters, so we always tried to support them as much as we could. The hope that perhaps we might save them, that maybe Jehovah would indeed sort it out, stubbornness and maybe a little bit of pride meant that we marginally participated in congregation meetings.
Then we received a phone call from our presiding overseer early one morning. Our lovely girl had found a new man in her life. He might not have been our first choice, but he was hers and he is hard working, does not drink or smoke (neither do I now, if you are wondering!) and they seem very happy together. This elder informed us that Theresa would be a Jehovah's Witness until nine o'clock that night and after that “...you know the implications.” We knew the implications all right. If we continued to have contact with and support for our daughter and our grandchildren, we would be disfellowshipped and ostracized. That was the last straw.
To my surprise it turned out that Sophia had been thinking the same as me for a long time, but she thought I was the committed one. At first we asked them just to leave us alone, but we realized after a while that this gave them a measure of control over us, so we decided to disassociate ourselves and make a clean break. This means that we are shunned, of course, but I, for one, can live with that just to be rid of the organization.
Over the last twelve months, we have individually closely examined what the Watchtower Society really is and are pleased to be free. Where are you spiritually when you leave such a controlling religious organization? The answer is very confused. Is there a God? Does he have a purpose? Is there a future after death? These are the obvious questions. I'm certain my lovely wife will have some answers. Sophia has mercifully recovered most of her health and more importantly, since we have left the Watchtower organization, she has reinforced her natural instincts and inclinations to love people for what they are as individuals. That's why she will be such an asset to Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses, as a recovery volunteer.
As for me, I'm back where I started. Maybe I never truly left. I still have a vague belief in a Creator, and if so, surely he must have a purpose. I now distrust all forms of religious organizations. I am not sure about the bible any more, because it has been twisted and used to cause so many wars and so many horrors that surely it can't be the word of God, can it? What about the Koran and the other 'holy' writings? I don't know and in some ways, I do not want to know. Maybe Karl Marx was right when he condemned religion as “the opiate of the masses." I am resolved to live the rest of my days under the very simple guideline of the golden rule and try and treat others as I would like to be treated myself. I do not look back with regret on my time as a witness any more than I regret losing two businesses and two homes in the past. These things happened and I can never change them. What will happen will happen. As long as I do my best and live by my conscience, I can face the future with a positive attitude. “All you need is Love.”
Salvatore Cuore Impavido
If you have managed to get this far, you will remember that I once toyed with the idea of writing a letter to produce at some future time when the Watchtower Society changed its mind yet again. I did not do it then, but I am going to do it now. It has been interesting to note how the Society has had to react to the internet. At one time they could get away with sweeping statements about their past, but now the full information and publications are available at a click. Charles Taze Russell is a great example. It does no good for the Watchtower Society to state, "Yes, he made a few mistakes but he was right about the fundamentals," as the society has always been wont to do. Now anyone can easily access his totally crackpot ideas. Hence, his dismissal and relegation to the role of a John the Baptizer. Do not underestimate the Society. Now that Russell is shown as no longer inspired by Holy Spirit, then his pronouncements weren't either. Could this be a way of solving their most pressing problem with their beliefs about 1914? I can see it now. "New light!" Since Russell was not inspired, then 1914 was incorrect. The new correct date for the end of the time of the gentiles should be.... hmmm .... let us think of a date. I know! 1975! That's a good one, too. Does this ring a few bells? Maybe we were not so wrong after all, and that has moved the time of 'this generation' forward another sixty years. Let's see what happens.
NOTE: If you are a former or Ex-Jehovah's Witness, who would like to have your case reviewed legally, concerning you or your child having been molested/raped and receiving no assistance from anyone in the Watchtower Society, you can contact William H. Bowen, the founder of silentlambs.org. For confidential contact info, check with Admin. in "The Truth Behind Jehovah's Witnesses" group on Facebook.