HELENA, Mont. — The Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church’s national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict.
A judge must review the penalty, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ national organization — Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York — plans to appeal.
Still, the 21-year-old woman’s lawyers say Wednesday’s verdict sends a message to the church to report child abuse to outside authorities.
The Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses responded to the verdict with an unsigned statement.
‘‘Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. Watchtower is pursuing appellate review,’’ it said.
The Montana case is one of dozens that have been filed nationwide over the past decade alleging Jehovah’s Witnesses mismanaged or covered up the sexual abuse of children.