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Grand jury investigators are 'dead serious' about revealing sexual abuse cover-ups among Jehovah's Witnesses

David Gambacorta, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA -- Brian Chase listened carefully from his Tucson, Ariz., home last July as an investigator from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office introduced himself over the phone.

After some idle chitchat, the investigator asked: Was Chase familiar with the office's 2018 grand jury report, which showed that priests had sexually abused thousands of children at six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania?

"Just what was in the papers," Chase responded, "and what I saw on Facebook."

The investigator explained that the AG's office was now working on a similar state inquiry, this time focused on the Jehovah's Witnesses. But the agency was unsure of the scope of sexual abuse within the often-misunderstood religion, which was founded in Pittsburgh in the 1870s.

Chase, 52, had been raised a Jehovah's Witness in Corry, a small town in Erie County. In the 1980s, when he was a teenager, Chase said he was drugged and raped by a man who belonged to his congregation. Decades would pass before Chase understood that their stories were common within Witness communities across the country, but rarely reported to police.

"The scope," Chase told the AG's office official, "is pretty big."

 

The existence of a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into the Witnesses's handling of child sex abuse cases -- the first of its kind in the country -- was only disclosed a week ago, in a story by USA Today, which was met with a no comment from Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

But The Inquirer this week interviewed five ex-Witnesses who have already testified for the grand jury, including Chase, and their recollections paint a portrait of an investigation focused on shattering the wall of silence that has long surrounded the religion's reclusive leaders, and unearthing secretly-maintained records about suspected pedophiles.

Investigators have traveled to several states as part of the grand jury probe, and recorded testimony from former elders -- the Witnesses's equivalent of parish priests -- as well as abuse survivors.

"I can tell you firsthand, I've been up to the grand jury a couple of times now, and I'm testifying next week," said Jeffrey Fritz, a Philadelphia attorney who represents Chase and his wife, as well as several other ex-Witnesses.

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