Two sisters are suing the national organization of the Jehovah's Witnesses over a policy they claim shields child molesters. The suit, filed in New Hampshire, also sparks concerns that other religious groups might face similar legal action.

The women have charged three entities—their stepfather, their former Jehovah's Witness congregation in Wilton, New Hampshire, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (wbts), the group's international headquarters in Brooklyn, New York—with failing to report sexual-abuse incidents to proper authorities. New Hampshire requires that all cases of suspected child abuse be reported to law enforcement.

In a settled criminal case, Heather Berry, now 19, and her stepsister Holly Berry, now 22, accused their father, Paul Berry, of continual sexual and physical abuse during their childhood. The suit says that when the girls' mother, Sarah Poisson, reported the situation to three elders, they told her to "pray more about the situation" and "be a better wife."

Paul Berry was convicted last year of 17 counts of aggravated sexual assault against Holly, between the years she was 4 and 10. Berry received a sentence of 56 to 112 years in prison. Charges related to any abuse against Heather from age 3 to age 6 were dropped.

In the pending civil suit, filed in August, the Berry sisters now seek unspecified financial compensation and changes in wbts operating procedures. The suit, says Poisson, concerns a Jehovah's Witness policy that instructs members to keep suspicions of abuse within the church. In recent years, several former Witnesses have brought criminal suits against elders or members for failing to act on abuse charges.

"This case is about the shared responsibility of the Watchtower organization," ...

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