Christian and Katja Gutierrez’s apartment is decked out for Christmas: the tree, the lights, the figurines on the mantle, all set up in full-blown holiday mode.
Christmas ended months ago, but the young Calgary couple can’t bring themselves to take the decorations down just yet. And it’s because they’ve only celebrated four Christmases in their entire lives.
The same goes for birthdays, Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving. In fact, pretty much every holiday is a new experience.
Until four years ago, Christian and Katja were Jehovah’s Witnesses — a Christian sect with a very strict set of rules to live by — including not celebrating holidays.
Leaving the religious organization has had devastating consequences on Christian and Katja. They are being shunned by almost every family member and friend they ever had.
The Christmas tree is an act of defiance against an organization that they say stole so much of their lives. So, too, is the fact that they have invited a W5 team into their home to share publicly what happened to them in their childhood.
One of the biggest sins in the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witness organization is to speak out against the religion. And yet Katja and Christian are doing that and more.
Both sat in front of our cameras and shared haunting details of their sexual abuse, including allegations that the elders in their religion protected the men who harmed them.
Christian is the representative plaintiff in a $66-million class action lawsuit that has been filed against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada. It’s on behalf of him and other child sex abuse survivors, who accuse the sect of shielding sexual predators from justice.
The lawsuit, which has yet to be certified by the court, is just the latest in what has become increasing international pressure on the religious sect to change doctrine that critics say protects pedophiles.
It’s called the Two Witness Rule. Citing scripture, the Jehovah’s Witnesses require that there be at least two witnesses to acts of child sex abuse before any discipline can be taken against alleged molesters, unless there is a confession.
Through an investigation that spans from Canada, the U.S., England and Australia, W5 exposes how the organization discouraged sexual assault allegations from being reported to police.
We also reveal that the Jehovah’s Witnesses keep a secret database, documenting every single allegation of sexual abuse against members that has ever been made.
The $66-million class action lawsuit filed in Canada will seek to make that database public, setting the stage for what could be the first detailed look at just how the organization deals with accused predators in Canada.
Kathleen Hallisey, a London based lawyer, who was the first in the UK to take on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and win an historic sexual abuse case told W5, “If you have a policy that requires a second witness to child abuse, it means that virtually every allegation is going to go no further. And that puts the child at risk. And it protects the abuser.”
Hallisey goes on to say, “I would describe it as a scandal. And a global cover-up. And a protection of abusers.”
With his wife by his side, Christian Gutierrez speaks in a soft voice. “I want justice. I want this to stop. I want this to end now. I would like the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] to change their policy. It’s just a simple policy.”