Erica Garza Rodriguez claims to have been molested most of her childhood by Manuel Beliz of the Othello, Washington congregation. The molesting apparently stopped when she moved with her family to Sacremento, California. Sometime after the move, when she was about 16 years old in 1996, she finally told her mother about Beliz. It was at that time reported to the elders in their congregation in California who then reported it to the Othello elders. As for Beliz, he was reported to the police and found guilty in 1998 but appealed. After receiving a new trial, he was again eventually found guilty in 2001 and sentenced to over 11 years in prison. In 2002 Garza Rodriguez filed suit against Beliz, the Othello Washington Spanish Congregation, and the Watchtower Society. An interview with Garza aired on Dateline May 28, 2002. Did the Watchtower Society try to cover over the abuse? And did the Watchtower's child abuse policy work in this case? An examination of the Dateline interview, as well as other comments, and the result of the court judgment will help us to see the truth of the matter.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the Dateline interview with John Larson reporting:
"(Voiceover) Erica Garza expected her molester would, at the very least, be disfellowshipped. But after five months of waiting for the church in Othello to act, she got angry and did the unthinkable.
Ms. E. GARZA: So I called my elders and I said, `Look, I'm taking it to the police.'
LARSON: What did they say?
Ms. E. GARZA: `Don't. Or else.'
LARSON: Or else what?
Ms. E. GARZA: That's what I said. I said, `Or else what?' And he said, `Just don't.' I said, `What? I'll be disfellowshipped if I take it to the police? Is that what's going to happen to me?' And he said, `Yes. You will be disfellowshipped.' And I was just, like, `What? You're going to disfellowship me for being raped, yet they guy who raped me is still a Jehovah's Witness?' And they said, `Don't. Don't take it to the police. You will be condemned by God.'
LARSON: (Voiceover) It was October 1996, and Erica says she finally decided whatever the penalty, she had to go to the police. Following an investigation, Manuel Beliz was charged with molestation and rape.
And the church? Erica says her California Kingdom Hall not only shunned her, but shunned her family as well.
(Erica; Beliz; Kingdom Hall)
LARSON: What happened?
Mr. GARZA (Erica's father): Was removed as an elder.
LARSON: So they kicked you out.
Mr. GARZA: Yes, they did.
LARSON: (Voiceover) Erica felt abused, abandoned by her church and alone."
Now take a look at an excerpt from this U.S. Newswire Press Release dated January 22, 2002:
"After hearing Rodriguez' allegations, the Othello congregation protected Beliz as an elder within the church and shunned her family, Rodriguez said."
From these quotes you will most likely conclude that Erica Garza Rodriguez and her father were disfellowshipped and shunned for reporting Beliz to the police and that nothing at all was done to Beliz by the congregation. Can you believe that Jehovah's Witnesses would do this? And can you believe that the Watchtower Society would stand by and allow such an injustice to take place?
Well, don't believe it. Because that is not the truth. The reports are misleading. The truth is that neither Erica Garza nor her father were disfellowshipped and have not been disfellowshipped to date. At the site called Topix, Erica Garza posting as Angel admits, "Nobody in my family was ever df'ed not my dad or mom." And the truth is that Manuel Beliz was removed as an elder and was in fact disfellowshipped. Yes, his name was announced from the platform at the Kingdom Hall and he was the one shunned by the congregations and by the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. There was no Watchtower or congregation sanctioned shunning of Erica Garza and family. If individuals chose not to associate with her or her family that was a personal decision not involving the Watchtower Society.
Even the Dateline piece later admits that Beliz was indeed disfellowshipped. But it is most interesting to note the way Larson of Dateline attempts to minimize the disfellowshipping by stating: "Even though Beliz had apparently confessed his crimes before church elders, it appeared to make little difference. He was expelled from the church, but only temporarily. Elders allowed him to rejoin the church before the trial."
We have to wonder how is it that it made little difference and yet he was disfellowshipped. And we have to wonder about the phrase 'only temporarily'. As opposed to what? Permanently being disfellowshipped! Permanently disfellowshipping someone would certainly be disregarding the Bible's admonition and the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus Christ himself highlighted and personified by his death. And as for confessing his crimes we have no way of knowing what he confessed to the elders. The Dateline piece makes it sound as if he confessed to the elders to molesting Erica Garza every week for almost 10 years and the elders 'only temporarily' disfellowshipped him. Even Garza admits: "Manuel never confessed to all he did, he tried to minimize it to the police and who knows what he told the elders."
All we can be certain of is that he confessed enough to be disfellowshipped and he confessed enough to the police, along with Garza's testimony, to be found guilty in a court of law. It is doubtful that the trial brought any new evidence and thus the elders had no choice but to render decisions based on what was proven as factual. Nonetheless, whether Beliz confessed all he did or not, he was indeed disfellowshipped. Contrary to the way Dateline reports it, it did make a difference. Does this sound like impartial reporting of the facts or an attempt to twist the facts to fit the agenda?
But lets assume for the sake of argument that Garza is telling the truth and that an elder or elders told her she would be disfellowshipped if she reported the abuse to the police. And yet Jehovah's Witnesses child abuse policy states: "the victim may wish to report the matter to the authorities, and it is his or her absolute right to do so." Therefore if any elder told her otherwise he was disregarding the policy of Jehovah's Witnesses. Even so, the policy still worked. How so? Because even if we assume that the elders gave her wrong information in conflict with the stated policy, the Watchtower Society did not allow that threat to be implemented. The facts show that to be the case because Erica Garza was not disfellowshipped. And Manuel Beliz was disfellowshipped and shunned. It shows us that the Watchtower policy was indeed followed unlike the claims often made by opposers and apostates.
In reading reports and comments by others you may have noticed that there have been other outrageous claims made. Lets examine some of those claims.
"When the man that molested Erica was found to be guilty, and the judge pronounced sentence on him, all the Jehovah’s Witnesses there rose up and threatened to murder Erica"
Untrue. All of Jehovah's Witnesses did not rise up and threaten Erica. It was Beliz's daughter who was Garza's former friend, and perhaps one other person, that became angry and threatened her. Such unchristian conduct was and is not approved of by the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses. This has absolutely nothing to do with her case against the Watchtower Society.
The whole congregation showed up to support Beliz.
Untrue again. Some Jehovah's Witnesses testified as character witnesses for Beliz, most of whom were his family members. As Erica Garza Rodriguez herself states, "he does have a big family and there were alot of family members there..." But whether his family members were Jehovah's Witnesses are not is immaterial. The Watchtower Society did not round up brothers as chararcter witnesses for him. There was absolutely no Watchtower mandate that Jehovah's Witnesses should testify in behalf of Beliz. Any decision made by anyone to testify in his behalf was a personal decision and had nothing to do with the Watchtower Society. Since it was a personal decision, the Watchtower Society had no right getting involved with what anyone would decide in this regard.
An attorney from the Watchtower represented Beliz in the criminal case.
Not so. The Watchtower Society does not send attorneys to represent anyone in criminal cases nor do they use their funds to pay for the attorneys of ones accused of crimes such as child abuse. It is only in lawsuits against the Watchtower Society or the congregation that their attorneys are used. Even Garza admits at Topix, "There were no JW attorneys at the criminal trial. When I was in the process of suing the Watchtower, elders were depositioned and I was there for two of those depositions, the one for Milton Melendez and the one for Carlos Chicas and at both those depositions there was an attorney from the society representing them."
Garza also makes the claim that she was molested by an elder in Sacremento named Valenzuela. Again calling herself Angel, she gives reasons why he was not prosecuted by the authorities at Topix stating: "Valenzuela never got prosecuted because the elders here didn't do what was mandatory, California is a mandated reporting state and they never did report it." Is it really true that the elders ignored the mandatory reporting law and Valenzuela was never reported to the authorities? Was Valenzuela reported to the police or not?
Notice these further statments by Garza Rodriguez at Topix: "My best friend is a cop and we were talking and he said, "this hurts me to tell you this but I have to.. if you don't file a report against Manuel, he will do it again to somebody else, can you live with that?" I couldn't live knowing I could have stopped him and didn't... so he helped me out by setting it all up and having a female officer come to my house and take my statement and it went from there. I couldn't deal with Manuel and Valenzuela so I chose not to go after Valenz criminally, although now I wish I would have, (he was removed as and Elder and df'ed for a short while)."
Did you see the problem with her statements? A poster at Topix saw the discrepancy. He stated concerning the reporting of Valenzuela: "But you did, didn't you? You said you spoke to a friend who was a police officer and he filed the report. I don't understand why he wouldn't have gone after the local guy too simply because CA is so big on going after anyone who is accused of abuse."
She then denies reporting Valenzuela but in her denial she actually again admits it: "I never reported him, I reported Manuel not Valenz. I regret it!! I just wanted to put Manuel away I felt (at the time) what he did to me was far worse then what Valenz did. Although abuse is abuse is abuse. My friend set up the meeting with the officer, and I did the report alone with her. I had said I would go after Valenz after the Manuel trial but was to sick of it by the time it was over. He respected that I did not want to go through two cases at once I was to overwhelmed with The Washington case as it was but he even says now that he should have pushed me to do it anyway."
So while Erica Garza maintains that the elders did not report Valenzuela to the police and thus he was not prosecuted, she admits to telling her best friend who just happens to be a cop about the molesting by Valenzuela. It is unclear from her statement if she also reported it to the female police officer, nonetheless, she definitely reported it to her friend the policeman. Thus Valenzuela was indeed reported by Garza herself.
So consider this. If you were an elder in the congregation and you knew that the accuser had talked to the police specifically for the purpose of reporting being molested, then you would have to assume that she told about who she was molested by. Then why would it then be necessary for the elders to again report the alleged abuse since it had already been reported by the accuser herself?
The truth of the matter is that Valenzuela was not prosecuted because she did not want him prosecuted and his friend the policemen failed to follow the mandatory reporting law according to her statements. Yet, despite these reasons why he was not prosecuted, she attempts to lay blame only at the feet of the elders and states: "Valenzuela never got prosecuted because the elders here didn't do what was mandatory, California is a mandated reporting state and they never did report it."
And you may be surprised to learn that California did not have a mandatory reporting law for ministers at that time. But her friend who apparently did not report it to his superiors was definitely under the mandatory reporting law being a law enforcement officer. Why didn't she say,"Valenzuela never got prosecuted because my friend the policeman didn't do what was mandatory, California is a mandated reporting state and he never did report it." Or why didn't she say,"Valenzuela never got prosecuted because I didn't want to prosecute him at the time." Why does she claim that the elders are the reason why he was not prosecuted when it is she herself that did not want to prosecute him and it is her police friend who failed to follow the law on mandatory reporting if he did not report it?
The reasons are obvious. It would appear that she has an agenda of making the elders look bad by only blaming them. She did not want to prosecute Valenzuela but still its not her fault. Her police friend who failed to follow the law is a true friend for respecting her decision not to prosecute. But as for those pedophile loving elders, they are 'negligent' for failing to report. Her failure at showing honesty in this regard and the fact that she was not disfellowshipped for reporting the abuse certainly cast doubt on the believableness of her claim that the elders told her she would be disfellowshipped if she reported the abuse.
It is understandable then why the Watchtower Society denies the account as told by Garza. The LOUISVILLE-COURIER (Kentucky) Newspaper on Wednesday, May 8, 2002 reports:
"One suit filed in January by Erica Rodriguez, who said she was repeatedly abused by a church member years ago, claims an elder at her former congregation in Washington state threatened her with excommunication if she reported her abuser to police. A Watchtower statement denies this, saying that there are no sanctions against anyone who chooses to go to police, and that church elders and Watchtower did not know of the abuse until years after it had occurred." This statement surely has the ring of truth because we certainly know for a fact that she was not disfellowshipped for reporting the abuse and we certainly know for a fact that the elders did not know about the molesting until years after it had occurred.
As for the lawsuit against the Watchtower Society which did not even involve Valenzuela, ask yourself, how could they possibly be negligent or libel in the case of Beliz. The elders and the Watchtower Society did not find out about the molesting until long after it had stopped. Beliz was then disfellowshipped, not Garza. They certainly did not leave him in position of responsibility so he could molest again nor have they given him responsibilities since then. No one has claimed that they were abused by him because the elders or the Society failed to handle the situation. And he will never be a servant in the congregation again, ever. When looking at the true facts of the case, how could Erica Garza Rodriguez possibly win her case against the Watchtower Society? She couldn't.
Oh, by the way, on September 17, 2003, the case was dismissed. Bill Bowen at his Silentlambs site comments, "...there might be a chance of appeal but that has yet to be determined." Do you really think that any lawyer would touch this case with a 10 foot pole when there is little hope, if any, of winning a judgment? Highly unlikely. This is just another example of how apostates and opposers exaggerate to make the case against the Watchtower Society look overwhelming, but when examining the true facts of the case, there is nothing there to support their claims.
Chapter Twenty-four: Who Has a Better Policy?