Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Business Post reports on “Galway man on a mission to expose the Jehovahs’ deepest secrets”


Journalist Barry J Whyte reported on Sunday the 7th of May 2023 on the work of a campaigner in Ireland who is exposing details of abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Barry J Whyte has worked with Dialogue Ireland for previous stories. Dialogue Ireland was not involved in this recent story, but we share it as it is of interest to those in Ireland. Whyte has covered the JW’s many times before, as well as Scientology and he has also dabbled in Tony Quinn.

Big Read: The Galway man on a mission to expose the Jehovahs’ deepest secrets“, Business Post, 7th May 2023

Facing the threat of eternal damnation and hellfire as well as lawsuits, two ordinary men took up a crusade to expose the deepest secrets of this powerful organisation.

The Interrogation

In September 2001, Jason Wynne found himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the library of his local Kingdom Hall, staring into the faces of four serious and sombre men: the elders of his congregation.

Together they formed a judicial committee, and they were there that night to interrogate Wynne because he had committed one of the most serious sins a Jehovah’s Witness could commit: an act of fornication.

According to Wynne they peppered him with questions designed to determine just how seriously he had sinned.

“What led up to the event?”

“What did you do?”

“Where were your hands?”

“Where were hers?”

“What was she doing?”

“How far did you put your penis in?”

“Was there foreplay?”

“Was there anal sex?”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses religion demands chastity, purity and innocence until its members are ready to get married. Anything else can lead to expulsion from the religion, a process known as disfellowshipping.

Wynne had been expelled before, briefly and temporarily, and he had found it almost unbearably difficult. Unlike most religions, expulsion requires you to be shunned by your family and friends. Because Witnesses tend not to associate with non-Witnesses, it can leave the victim isolated.

Moreover, Witnesses believe fervently that the end of the world is coming and that on the day of Armageddon, all apostates will be consumed by God’s rage and obliterated. Throughout his first expulsion, Wynne had been plagued by fear that the end of the world would arrive and, being outside the flock, he would join the damned.

More than just four men in uncomfortable chairs, Wynne believed he was facing the threat of eternal damnation and hellfire if he answered the questions incorrectly, or showed insufficient repentance.

Somehow, through all of that interrogation, he noticed the notebooks. Why, he wondered, did they need them? What were they for? Who were they for? Where would the notes be stored? And why would the notes of a small disciplinary matter in a small parish in a small country be recorded at all?

The thought never left him. And even after they came to their determination and called him back in to deliver the news that would change the course of his life, the memory of those notebooks would stay with him. How many other investigations were recorded in this way? Where were they stored? And what else did they record?

Finding the answer to that question would take him on a 20-year journey which would see him lose his family and his faith, but find a crusade to expose the secrets of his religion. It would also put him on a collision course with the Watch Tower, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ equivalent of the Vatican, over its handling of child sexual abuse.

Jason Wynne: campaign to reveal secrets of the Jehovah’s Witness group.

A Trove of Documents

In March of this year, I visited Wynne’s home in Galway where he lives with his wife Marlen and his children.

Wynne, a mild-mannered, self-effacing, bespectacled father of two, works in new product development for a medical device multinational. Like many middle-aged professionals, he has set up a home office in a shed at the bottom of his garden.

Inside that shed, at the end of a winding flagstone path, is a hodgepodge of the accoutrements of work and family life — a guitar and a keyboard on opposite sides of the shed, shelves groaning with books, and elaborate Lego sets he builds with his children.

Look closer, however, and there’s evidence of his unusual hobby. On one side of the room there are several computer stacks, all connected, whirring away quietly in the background, while the bookshelves, at a second glance, are stuffed with books about religion, theology and apostasy.

It is from this unassuming headquarters that Wynne helps to lead a group of fellow apostates — people who were expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses — in a campaign to reveal the organisation’s deepest secrets.

It is not too far to suggest that Wynne and his fellow apostates, in particular an American man called Mark O’Donnell, are the source of a large proportion of what we know about the Jehovah’s Witnesses – and in particular, how they handle allegations of child sex abuse.

Wynne’s hard drives, he told me, contain five terabytes of data, a volume of material so large it can be hard to quantify.

“One terabyte is about a thousand movies. But we’re talking about documents, so it’s about a hundred thousand documents. File sizes are all variable, but it averages out at about a hundred thousand files per terabyte,” he tells Business Post Magazine. “I would say I have about a million files.”

From that database Wynne has distributed to lawyers and prosecutors some key documents related to shocking abuses within the religion. In Ireland, for example, he has helped to identify the case of one man — whom we cannot name for legal reasons — who a number of years ago admitted abusing a family member.

As previously reported, those documents show that instead of reporting that case to the police, local elders instead reprimanded the Witnesses who did report it. They were deleted – in the religion’s own terminology – for “lacking soundness of mind” and “being disloyal”.

Wynne’s reach is not limited to Ireland. Over the last seven years, Wynne and O’Donnell have dealt with lawyers and prosecutors in Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan. It’s been a long personal journey to get to this point, however, and for many years after he was finally disfellowshipped he remained a staunch defender of the faith.

Waking up

Wynne was terrified of Armageddon arriving while he was still disfellowshipped. “I was full sure I was going to die,” he says.

“I kept telling myself, ‘God knows my heart and he’ll know that I apologised and I confessed and I knew it was wrong. So he’ll know my heart’,” when the final fire and fury of the end of the world arrived.

By this time he had met his wife, Marlen. Early in their relationship he brought her to a meeting. Marlen was unsettled by what she saw. Having grown up in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, she knew a system of authoritarian control when she saw one.

“I grew up in a communist state, so when I walked into one of those meetings to me it was very clear it was already a dogmatic, very closed scenario, without even understanding what they were talking about,” she says.

Even so, it took Jason a while to come to his final awakening. The moment he credits came in June 2014 when his brother Keif invited him for a drink in a bar called Whiskey Joe’s in Loughrea.

Keif had been raised as a Witness but had lost faith in his teenage years and he enjoyed a good deal more clarity in his thinking. He suggested that Wynne go to his computer and Google the term “Beth Sarim”.

Wynne found that Beth Sarim is the name of a ten-bedroom mansion in San Diego, which was built by Joseph Rutherford, the second president of the Watch Tower, as home for the resurrected biblical prophets like Abraham and Moses after Armageddon. When the end of the world didn’t arrive, Rutherford chose to live there in some luxury as each subsequent prophesied date for the end of the world passed by.

That in turn led Wynne to a book called Crisis of Conscience, an exposé written by a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses governing body called Raymond Franz. The book revealed some of the secret internal workings of the church, particularly how they investigated and rooted out apostates and unbelievers, and how they recorded their investigations.

That’s when he remembered the notebooks. Ten years after he had been expelled, he realised that the notes his elders had taken at his disfellowshipping were not aide-memoires but legal documents compiled on behalf of the lawyers in the church’s headquarters. This wasn’t just “rogue elders making bad decisions”, as he had previously thought. “The elders were following a book of instructions — and following it to the letter. And the letter tells them that I had to be disfellowshipped.”

He may have been disfellowshipped, but he was not alone.

Mark O’Donnell

Five thousand miles away in Baltimore, Maryland, Mark O’Donnell was going through his own journey of drifting away from the faith. O’Donnell had been born into a Jehovah’s Witness family and had been a steadfast believer as a child.

His drift from the faith was incremental, with nagging doubts slowly growing like cracks in the foundation of a house. Over time he began to question, tentatively, such core beliefs as the religion’s ban on blood transfusions, which began to look cruel and wanton to him.

“And by the way, Armageddon never happened. It was supposed to happen in 1975 when I was, like, eight years old,” he says, referring to a major doctrine of the faith: the church’s many predictions of the end of the world.

He had more serious concerns, too. A conscientious young man, he had once warned his local elders about a man he suspected of behaving inappropriately around young girls. Instead of being commended for speaking up, he was chastised. This may have been an early warning of how the religion handled accusations of child abuse, even if O’Donnell was too young to recognise it as such. Many years later, the man he had complained about was sued by several women from the congregation, and he would settle the case out of court.

It all combined to convince O’Donnell that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the possessors of ‘The Truth’. They did not have a patent on morality: there were plenty of sinners in the church, many of whom were protected; and there were plenty of good and decent people outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

He was PIMO, in Jehovah’s Witnesses terminology: physically in, but mentally out. It’s a state that can take a severe emotional toll, forcing a Witness to stay inside the religion and police themselves for any sign they might betray their doubts and be expelled from their church, their families and their communities.

That tension bubbled away inside O’Donnell for years, until eventually he just blurted it out to his wife, Kimmy, saying, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

Such a revelation would ordinarily tear a Jehovah’s Witness couple apart. But Kimmy had been abused as a child and was perhaps more open to what Mark was saying than others. After many miles of walking and talking over several months, they hashed out their fears and concerns and secrets. They were on their way to becoming ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Searching for Answers

In order to help him to process his confused roil of anger, and the new information about the global corporate structure of the Watch Tower, Wynne set up a blog in 2014.

Called, it started out in rather unstructured fashion, from prosaic posts that reflected his growing knowledge of the history of the religion to entries such as ‘12 Ways To Avoid JWs’, which reflected his undigested anger at the way he was being treated.

In Baltimore, O’Donnell had set up his own website and was searching for his own answers on the various message boards populated by Witnesses, some of whom had been expelled and some who were PIMO.

Through those message boards, like-minded individuals shared experiences and, crucially, documents. At least initially, those documents seemed relatively innocuous, such as copies of out-of-print issues of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines — two of the critical vehicles through which the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation conveys its teachings to the flock.

O’Donnell and Wynne, publishing under pseudonyms, fell into a regular correspondence, comparing notes and trading material. They realised that the magazines occasionally contained references to what elders and ordinary Witnesses should do in the event that they came across instances of child abuse. Not only did the magazines show the rules, but they showed the evolution of the rules.

The two men realised that the out-of-circulation versions of those magazines had value to non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2015, for example, Wynne received an email from the UK Charities Commission, which at the time was investigating child protection issues within a number of religious organisations.

The commission had come across his website and wanted to know if he had a particular issue of a magazine that contained an article that dealt with child sexual abuse.

The commission would go on to conclude, aided in part by Wynne’s supply of the magazines, that one particular congregation in Manchester had not adequately dealt with allegations of child abuse — allegations that had subsequently led to an elder being convicted of two counts of indecent assault.

The database of documents came in just as useful to the Australian Royal Commission in 2015, which was looking at child sex abuse within religious organisations, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The hearings were streamed live and Witnesses and apostates worldwide watched them obsessively.

A member of the Watch Tower governing body, Geoffrey Jackson, happened to be in Australia at the time, but the Watch Tower had been resisting having him give testimony because it said he had no role in decision-making or policymaking.

This was simply not true and O’Donnell knew it. More importantly, he could prove it by reference to the religion’s own branch organisation manual and several other key documents.

O’Donnell sent a digital copy of the documents to the Royal Commission, which knocked down any obstacle to Jackson giving his testimony. In his testimony he gave an insight into how the Watch Tower governing body made its decisions, and separately admitted that child abuse was “something we’ve had to deal with” and that its policies had had to be changed in the past because they “weren’tperfect”. It was the first – and certainly the most high profile – recorded admission by a governing body member.

Later that year, Wynne and O’Donnell would meet in Galway for the first time. They had dinner, toured the countryside, and discussed their respective stories. When they parted, Wynne gave O’Donnell a small USB stick. It had a capacity of 128 gigabytes and contained all their files and documents collected to date.

That was about to grow substantially.

Atlantis and Judas

In 2016, they were sent a document called ‘The Megafile’. It was a gigantic PDF containing hundreds of letters and documents from the early 1900s to the modern day.

It had been compiled by one elderly apostate who, in the style of many within the religion, goes only by the name of Atlantis. Atlantis’s twin brother had died in 1979, and had asked him to make one promise: to expose the religion’s sins.

From his position as an assistant to a circuit overseer — a kind of bishop of the Jehovah’s Witnesses — Atlantis had access to a swathe of documents that showed the internal workings of the church’s leadership.

Through the 1970s and 1980s he would grab what documents he could, stuff them inside his shirt, and race to the public library to copy them. There were letters showing all kinds of wrongdoing, including extensive evidence of child molestation.

Wynne spent months pulling the file apart, extracting confidential documents and posting them to his blog.

These were precisely the kind of documents that the Watch Tower did not want to make public. Indeed, in one lawsuit in the US around that time, the Watch Tower paid a $4,000-a-day fine in defiance of a court order to hand over documents in a sexual abuse case. The total value of the fines rose to $2 million before, in February 2018, the church finally settled the case out of court.

What the Watch Tower didn’t know was that during the summer of 2017, a young Jehovah’s Witness in Massachusetts — who, like Atlantis, goes by an assumed name: Judas — was in the midst of a kind of crime spree with his girlfriend, who goes by the name Jezebel.

They were clambering into Kingdom Halls all around the north-east of the US with a specific goal in mind. It wasn’t to get money or to vandalise the place, but to acquire evidence.

Judas and Jezebel had obtained a small lock-picking kit and used it to unlock filing cabinets in the hall, where they found the documents they needed — the ones that showed serious instances of child sexual abuse and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ failure to properly act upon them. Having glued the files sealed again, they slipped out unnoticed.

Those documents, along with those from Atlantis’s Megafile, soon found their way on to AvoidJW. The website, which had once had a few hundred hits a day, suddenly surged to thousands.

That’s when the Watch Tower began to fight back.


In 2018, the Watch Tower’s legal department took their first shot at Wynne: a demand to take down his website because of alleged copyright violations. The letter threatened him with “monetary damages and compensation to the fullest extent of the law” through a New York court.

The demand did not, perhaps surprisingly, relate to secret internal documents, but to magazines and videos he had published online.

The legal threat caught Wynne off guard. In order to satisfy the demand, Wynne shut down two of the websites he controlled – but it was clear that he and his fellow apostates needed help. That help came in the form of two former Mormons, Ryan McKnight and Ethan Dodge.

McKnight and Dodge ran a website called Mormon Leaks, which they had set up to force the Mormon church to be more transparent in its finances, its corporate policies, and its handling of sexual abuse allegations.

By the time they met Wynne and O’Donnell, they had published some significant stories.

In 2018, for example, they revealed that the church had a nearly $33 billion share portfolio, split between 13 different corporate vehicles, that had never before been disclosed. That revelation would lead to a fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US stock market regulator for having “obscured the church’s portfolio”.

Together, they decided to create a new entity, FaithLeaks, built around a non-profit newsroom that would investigate and interrogate such leaked documents from a variety of churches. McKnight and Dodge would run the operation and Wynne would sit on the advisory board.

Their first story was based on a trove of documents taken from a Kingdom Hall by Judas and Jezebel.

The story revealed that an elder in one American congregation had been accused of abusing his daughters.

In 1999, the documents — which this publication has seen — showed that his fellow elders had interrogated the man and found that his daughters’ claims had been credible, and how the Watch Tower had failed to report it.

The documents were published by FaithLeaks and stories were published by bigger publications like Gizmodo, a technology and science website, and organisations like the US-based Centre for Investigative Journalism.

The Watch Tower responded promptly. In May 2020, it filed suit against FaithLeaks. It was, again, a copyright claim, related to FaithLeaks’ publication of a number of videos the Watch Tower had made.

For McKnight and Dodge, the intention was clear. They claimed that the effort to “effectively censor this content is clear cut” and was an “abusive assault” on the First Amendment right to report matters of public interest under the guise of a copyright claim.

But they struggled to raise the funds, and by July 2020 they had to give in. In a post on their website, they wrote, “It is with great difficulty that we announce that our fundraising efforts have come up short and we were forced to settle the suit.”

They were forced to remove the Watch Tower’s videos from their site, give an undertaking to never again publish such material, and pay a total of $15,000 in damages.

They described the result as “absolutely agonising”, adding that the journey had been “been emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing on us, as it goes against our core values”.

They insisted that they still believed they had not violated the copyright — claiming a fair-use defence — but, having failed to raise the legal fees, they had “no choice but to settle”.

For Wynne, it was another frustrating setback. “The collapse of FaithLeaks was unnecessary. I firmly believe that if they had the economic support of ex-JWs, they could have gone to court and won,” he says.

For O’Donnell — who had never fully supported the publishing of the videos — the case was a reminder of the legal power of the Watch Tower.

“We are always in fear of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation coming after us.”

Business Post Magazine contacted the Watch Tower a number of times over to the last two weeks for a response to the allegations laid out in this story. No reply was forthcoming prior to publication. However, the church previously told this publication that “all allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated” and that “any suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child abuse is absolutely false”.

The fight continues

For Marlen Wynne, the last few years have been difficult: not just Jason’s awakening from the religion, but the time he’s spent working on the website – and, of course, the legal threats.

“It’s gotten better lately. In the first few years it was a lot more intense, and I think we did have arguments,” she says.

“We were at points where . . . ‘are you ever going to leave behind fully?’ For his own health and well-being and mental health, would there ever be a point where he says, ‘Okay, that’s it’?”

The legal threats were “only slightly worrying”, and she saw them more as the Watch Tower showing its strength. If anything it reinforced in her mind the importance of the work that he was doing.

It seems unlikely that the fight will be over anytime soon. Sitting out in their back garden is a vast archive of documents, of which only the surface has been truly scratched.

Next month, O’Donnell will attend the trial of a man whose crimes first saw light under Judas’s torch. He’s also following very closely a Pennsylvania investigation into nine men accused of child sexual abuse, which has been described as one of the most comprehensive yet in the US.

The two men continue to gather and disseminate the documents they can find. Even so, it’s clear that the job can be overwhelming. It’s simply not possible for any one human to have looked through all those files, Wynne says, so he has to prioritise.

Is it likely that his archive contains material that could yet prove hugely important to victims, investigators or prosecutors somewhere in the world? Wynne pauses.

He is not given to overstatement, and this is simply an unquantifiable question. “Possibly,” he answers, slowly.

I rephrase the question: The possibility of enormous amounts of heretofore untapped information is huge, is it not?

“Yeah,” he says, sighing slightly, as if I’d reminded him of the size of the mountain he has yet to climb.

Further reading:

“Tell No One.” The particular dynamics of sex abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Dialogue Ireland, 1 May 2019
JW special Convention Special Report July 16, 2017 in the The Sunday Business Post by Barry Whyte“. – Dialogue Ireland, 19th May 2017

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