31 Oct 2008

Exorcism! Driving Out the Nonsense

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Joe Nickell to Appear on CNN on the topic of Exorcism

CSI's senior research fellow Joe Nickell will take part in a discussion about the practice of exorcisms this afternoon (Friday, October 31) at 2:45 pm (EST) on CNN's Newsroom. Hosted by Kyra Phillips, other guests include Rev. Bob Larson and Pastor Roger Miller. Well-known exorcist and founding pastor of Spiritual Freedom Church, Bob Larson debuted his new "reality" TV series THE REAL EXORCIST last night on the Sci Fi. Channel. Joe Nickell will provide a hard-nosed dose of science and skepticism to the subject of exorcism in general and Bob Larson in particular on today's CNN Newsroom.

Joe Nickell's article (2001):

"Exorcism! Driving Out the Nonsense"

Belief in demonic possession is getting a new propaganda boost. Not only has the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist been re-released, but the "true story" that inspired it is chronicled in a reissued book and a made-for-TV movie, both titled Possessed (Allen 2000). However, a year-long investigation by a Maryland writer (Opsasnik 2000), together with my own analysis of events chronicled in the exorcising priest's diary, belie the claim that a teenage boy was possessed by Satan in 1949.

Psychology Versus Possession

Belief in spirit possession flourishes in times and places where there is ignorance about mental states. Citing biblical examples, the medieval Church taught that demons were able to take control of an individual, and by the sixteenth century demonic behavior had become relatively stereotypical. It manifested itself by convulsions, prodigious strength, insensitivity to pain, temporary blindness or deafness, clairvoyance, and other abnormal characteristics. Some early notions of possession may have been fomented by three brain disorders: epilepsy, migraine, and Tourette's syndrome (Beyerstein 1988). Psychiatric historians have long attributed demonic manifestations to such aberrant mental conditions as schizophrenia and hysteria, noting that-as mental illness began to be recognized as such after the seventeenth century-there was a consequent decline in demonic superstitions (Baker 1992, 192). In 1999 the Vatican did update its 1614 guidelines for expelling demons, urging exorcists to avoid mistaking psychiatric illness for possession ("Vatican" 1999).

In many cases, however, supposed demonic possession can be a learned role that fulfills certain important functions for those claiming it. In his book Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within, psychologist Robert A. Baker (1992) notes that possession was sometimes feigned by nuns to act out sexual frustrations, protest restrictions, escape unpleasant duties, attract attention and sympathy, and fulfill other useful functions.

Many devout claimants of stigmata, inedia, and other powers, have also exhibited alleged demonic possession. For example, at Loudon, France, a prioress, Sister Jeanne des Anges (1602-1665), was part of a contagious outbreak of writhing, convulsing nuns. Jeanne herself exhibited stigmatic designs and lettering on her skin. A bloody cross "appeared" on her forehead, and the names of Jesus, Mary, and others were found on her hand-always clustered on her left hand, just as expected if a right-handed person were marking them. She went on tour as a "walking relic" and was exhibited in Paris to credulous thousands. There were a few skeptics, but Cardinal Richelieu rejected having Jeanne tested by having her hand enclosed in a sealed glove. He felt that would amount to testing God (Nickell 1998, 230-231). Interestingly enough, while I was researching and writing this article I was called to southern Ontario on a case of dubious possession that also involved stigmata.

Possession can be childishly simple to fake. For example, an exorcism broadcast by ABC's 20/20 in 1991 featured a sixteen-year-old girl who, her family claimed, was possessed by ten separate demonic entities. However, to skeptics her alleged possession seemed to be indistinguishable from poor acting. She even stole glances at the camera before affecting convulsions and other "demonic" behavior (Nickell 1998).

Of course a person with a strong impulse to feign diabolic possession may indeed be mentally disturbed. Although the teenager in the 20/20 episode reportedly improved after the exorcism, it was also pointed out that she continued "on medication" ("Exorcism" 1991). To add to the complexity, the revised Vatican guidelines also urge, appropriately, against believing a person is possessed who is merely "the victim of one's own imagination" ("Vatican" 1999).

With less modern enlightenment, however, the guidelines also reflect Pope John Paul II's efforts to convince doubters that the devil actually exists. In various homilies John Paul has denounced Satan as a "cosmic liar and murderer." A Vatican official who presented the revised rite stated, "The existence of the devil isn't an opinion, something to take or leave as you wish. Anyone who says he doesn't exist wouldn't have the fullness of the Catholic faith" ("Vatican" 1999).

Unchallenged by the new exorcism guidelines is the acceptance of such alleged signs of possession as demonstrating supernormal physical force and speaking in unknown tongues. In the case broadcast by 20/20, the teenage girl did exhibit "tongues" (known as glossolalia [Nickell 1998, 103-109]), but it was unimpressive; she merely chanted: "Sanka dali. Booga, booga." She did struggle against the restraining clerics, one of whom claimed that, had she not been held down, she would have been levitating! At that point a group of magicians, psychologists, and other skeptics with whom I was watching the video gleefully encouraged, "Let her go! Let her go!" (Nickell 1995)

"True Story"

Demonstrating prodigious strength, speaking in an unknown language, and exhibiting other allegedly diabolical feats supposedly characterize the "true story" behind The Exorcist. The 1973 horror movie-starring Linda Blair as the devil-plagued victim-was based on the 1971 bestselling novel of that title by William Peter Blatty. The movie, reports one writer, "somehow reached deep into the subconscious and stirred up nameless fears." Some moviegoers vomited or fainted, while others left trembling, and there were "so many outbreaks of hysteria that, at some theaters, nurses and ambulances were on call." Indeed, "Many sought therapy to rid themselves of fears they could not explain. Psychiatrists were writing about cases of 'cinematic neurosis'" (Allen 2000, viii-ix).

Blatty had heard about the exorcism performed in 1949 and, almost two decades later, had written to the exorcist to inquire about it. However the priest, Father William S. Bowdern, declined to assist Blatty because he had been directed by the archbishop to keep it secret. He did tell Blatty-then a student at Washington's Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution-about the diary an assisting priest had kept of the disturbing events (Allen 2000, ix-x).

The diary-written by Father Raymond J. Bishop-consisted of an original 26-page, single-spaced typescript and three carbon copies, one of which was eventually provided to Thomas B. Allen, author of Possessed, and included as an appendix to the 2000 edition of the book. The copy came from Father Walter Halloran, who had also assisted with the exorcism. Halloran verified the authenticity of the diary and stated that it had been read and approved by Bowdern (Allen 2000, 243, 301).

The diary opens with a "Background of the Case." The boy, an only child identified as "R," was born in 1935 and raised an Evangelical Lutheran like his mother; his father was baptized a Catholic but had had "no instruction or practice" in the faith. The family's Cottage City, Maryland, home included the maternal grandmother who had been a "practicing Catholic until the age of fourteen years" (Bishop 1949, 245).

On January 15, 1949, R and his grandmother heard odd "dripping" and scratching noises in her bedroom, where a picture of Jesus shook "as if the wall back of it had been bumped." The effects lasted ten days but were attributed to a rodent. Then R began to say he could hear the scratching when others could not. Soon a noise as of "squeaking shoes"-or, one wonders, could it have been bedsprings?-became audible and "was heard only at night when the boy went to bed." On the sixth evening the scratching noise resumed, and R's mother and grandmother lay with him on his bed, whereupon they "heard something coming toward them similar to the rhythm of marching feet and the beat of drums." The sound seemed to "travel the length of the mattress and back again" repeatedly (Bishop 1949, 246). Was R tapping his toes against the bed's footboard?

Poltergeists and Ouija Spirits

At this point the case was exhibiting features often attributed to a poltergeist (or "noisy spirit"). Poltergeist phenomena typically involve disturbances-noises, movement of objects, or, rarely, serious effects like outbreaks of fire-typically centering around a disturbed person, usually a child. Believers often attribute the occurrences to "psychokinetic energy" or other mystical force imagined to be produced from the repressed hostilities of the pubescent child. Skeptics can agree with all but the mystical part, observing that one does not explain an unknown by invoking another. Skeptics have a simpler explanation, attributing the effects to the cunning tricks of a naughty youth or occasionally a disturbed adult. When such cases have been properly investigated-by magicians and detectives using hidden cameras, lie detectors, tracer powders (dusted on objects likely to be involved), and other techniques-they usually turn out to be the pranks of young or immature mischief-makers.

Consider some of the "other manifestations" associated with R in the early part of the case, as recorded in the diary:

An orange and a pear flew across the entire room where R was standing. The kitchen table was upset without any movement on the part of R. Milk and food were thrown off the table and stove. The bread-board was thrown on to the floor. Outside the kitchen a coat on its hanger flew across the room; a comb flew violently through the air and extinguished blessed candles; a Bible was thrown directly at the feet of R, but did not injure him in any way. While the family was visiting a friend in Boonesboro, Maryland, the rocker in which R was seated spun completely around through no effort on the part of the boy. R's desk at school moved about on the floor similar to the plate on a Ouija board. R did not continue his attendance out of embarrassment [Bishop 1949, 248].

It is well to consider here the sage advice of the late investigator and magician Milbourne Christopher not to accept statements of what actually happened from the suspected "poltergeist." Regarding one such case Christopher (1970, 149-160) pointed out that all that was necessary to see the events not as paranormal occurrences but as deliberate deceptions was to "suppose that what the boy said was not true, that he was in one room when he said he was in another in some instances. Also let us suppose that what people thought they saw and what actually happened were not precisely the same." Experience shows that even "reliable witnesses" are capable of being deceived. As one confessed "poltergeist"-an eleven-year-old girl-observed: "I didn't throw all those things. People just imagined some of them" (Christopher 1970, 149). In the case of R, we must realize that the previously described events (the flying fruit, etc.) were not witnessed by Father Bishop, who reported them in his diary as background to the case, and so were necessarily second-hand or worse.

It was indeed trickery that was behind the poltergeist-like disturbances of 1848 that launched modern spiritualism. As the Fox Sisters confessed decades later, their pretended spirit contact began as the pranks of "very mischievous children" who, Margaret Fox explained, began their shenanigans "to terrify our dear mother, who was a very good woman and very easily frightened" and who "did not suspect us of being capable of a trick because we were so young." The schoolgirls threw slippers at a disliked brother-in-law, shook the dinner table, and produced noises by bumping the floor with an apple on a string and by knocking on the bedstead (Nickell 1995).

The Fox Sisters were followed in 1854 by the Davenport Brothers, schoolboys Ira and William, who were the focus of cutlery that danced about the family's kitchen table, and other odd events. Ira sometimes claimed that, when alone, spirits had whisked him to distant spots. Soon the boys advanced to spirit-rapped messages, "trance" writing and speaking, and other "spirit manifestations." In his old age, Ira confessed to magician/paranormal investigator Harry Houdini that the brothers' spirit communication-which launched and maintained their careers as two of the world's best-known spiritualistic mediums-had all been produced by trickery. Indeed, they had been caught in deceptions many times (Nickell 1999).

The Foxes and Davenports are not isolated examples. It should therefore not be surprising to learn that the case of R, which began as a seeming poltergeist outbreak, soon advanced to one of alleged spirit communication, before finally escalating to one of supposed diabolic possession.

R had been close to an aunt, who often visited from St. Louis. A devoted Spiritualist, she introduced R to the Ouija board. With their fingers on the planchette, they saw it move about the board's array of printed letters, numbers, and the words yes and no to spell out messages-she told him-from spirits of the dead. (Actually, as skeptics know, the planchette is moved not by spirits but by the sitters' involuntary-or voluntary!-muscular control [Nickell 1995, 58].) She also told R and his mother how, "lacking a Ouija board, spirits could try to get through to this world by rapping on walls" (Allen 2000, 2).

R had played with the Ouija board by himself. Then began the outbreak of noises, and eleven days later he was devastated by his aunt's death in St. Louis. He returned to the Ouija board, spending hours at the practice and "almost certainly" used it to try to reach his beloved aunt (Allen 2000, 2-6). As R, his mother, and grandmother lay in R's bed and listened to the drumming sound, his mother asked aloud whether this was the aunt's spirit. If so, she added, "Knock three times" (thus adopting a practice of the Fox Sisters). Thereupon, the diary records that the three felt "waves of air" striking them and heard distinct knocks followed by "claw scratchings on the mattress."


Then, for approximately four continuous nights, markings appeared on the teenager's body, after which the clawlike scratches took the form of printed words. Whenever the scratching noise was ignored the mattress began to shake, at times violently, and at one time the coverlet was pulled loose (Bishop 1949, 246-247).

R's parents were becoming frantic. They had watched their son become unruly, even threatening to run away, and he seemed to be "on the verge of violence" (Allen 2000, 57). They sought help from a physician, who merely found the boy "somewhat high-strung," then from a psychologist, whose opinions went unrecorded. A psychiatrist found R to be "normal," but "declared that he did not believe the phenomena." A Spiritualist and two Lutheran ministers were consulted (Bishop 1949, 248). One of the latter eventually advised the parents, "You have to see a Catholic priest. The Catholics know about things like this" (Allen 2000, 24).

A young priest was called in, but the boy's condition was worsening and R was admitted to a Jesuit hospital, some time between February 27 and March 6. The priest, Father E. Albert Hughes, prepared for an exorcism as seeming poltergeist and demonic outbreaks intensified. Reportedly, the nuns "couldn't keep the bed still," scratches appeared on R's chest, and he began to curse in "a strange language." A later source said it was Aramaic, but a still later "well-documented record" failed to mention "any such language competence" (Allen 2000, 36). The attempted exorcism reportedly ended abruptly when the boy, who had slipped a hand free and worked loose a piece of bedspring, slashed Hughes's arm from the shoulder to the wrist, a wound requiring over a hundred stitches (Allen 2000, 37).

One investigator, however, doubts whether this attack-or even this first exorcism-ever occurred, having searched in vain for corroborative evidence (Opsasnik 2000). In any event the parents considered making a temporary move to St. Louis, where relatives lived. When this possibility was discussed the word "Louis" appeared across R's ribs; when the question arose as to when, "Saturday" was seen plainly on his hip; and when the duration was considered, "3 weeks" appeared on his chest. The possibility that R was producing the markings was dismissed on the grounds that his mother "was keeping him under close supervision," but they might have been done previously and only revealed as appropriate, or he might have produced them as he feigned being "doubled up" and screaming in pain.

According to the diary, "The markings could not have been done by the boy for the added reason that on one occasion there was writing on his back" (Bishop 1949, 247). Such na•ve thinking is the reason "poltergeists" are able to thrive. A determined youth, probably even without a wall mirror, could easily have managed such a feat-if it actually occurred. Although the scratched messages proliferated, they never again appeared on a difficult-to-reach portion of the boy's anatomy.

In St. Louis, there were more poltergeist-type effects, whereupon Father Bishop (the diarist) was drawn to the case. Bishop left a bottle of holy water in R's bedroom but later-while the boy claimed to have been dozing-it went sailing across the room. On another occasion R's parents found the way into his room blocked by a fifty-pound bookcase. A stool "fell over." Initially, Bishop and another priest, Father William Bowdern, believed R could have deliberately produced all of the phenomena that had thus far occurred in St. Louis, recognizing that stories of alleged incidents in Maryland were, while interesting, hearsay (Allen 2000, 61-76).

Eventually Bowdern changed his view and was instructed by Archbishop Joseph Ritter to perform an exorcism on the boy. Bowdern was accompanied by Father Bishop and Walter Halloran (mentioned earlier as providing a copy of the diary to author Allen), who was then a Jesuit student. Bowdern began the ritual of exorcism in R's room. Scratches began to appear on the boy's body, including the word "HELL" on his chest "in such a way that R could look down upon his chest and read the letters plainly." A "picture of the devil" also appeared on the boy's leg. "Evidently the exorcism prayers had stirred up the devil," the diary states, because, after a period of sleep R "began sparring" and "punching the pillow with more than ordinary force" (Bishop 1949, 255-257).

Soon Bowdern "believed deep in his soul that he was in combat with Satan" (Allen 2000, 117). R thrashed wildly; he spat in the faces of the priests and even his mother; he contorted and lashed out; he urinated. Reports the diary:

From 12:00 midnight on, it was necessary to hold R during his fights with the spirit. Two men were necessary to pin him down to the bed. R shouted threats of violence at them, but vulgar language was not used. R spit [sic] at his opponents many times. He used a strong arm whenever he could free himself, and his blows were beyond the ordinary strength of the boy [Bishop 1949, 258].

The exorcism continued on and off for days. At times R screamed "in diabolical, high-pitched voice"; he swung his fists, once breaking Halloran's nose; he sat up and sang (for example the "Blue Danube," "Old Rugged Cross," and "Swanee"); he cried; he spat; he cursed his father; he mimed masturbation; he bit his caretakers. On March 18, there seemed a crisis: as if attempting to vomit, R said, "He's going, he's going . . ." and "There he goes." He went limp and seemed back to normal. He said he had had a vision of a figure in a black robe and cowl walking away in a black cloud (Bishop 1949, 257-262).

However, after the priests left R claimed there were odd feelings in his stomach and cried out, "He's coming back! He's coming back!" Soon the tantrums and routine of exorcism continued. R seemed even more violent, hurling vulgarities, and he had spells of Satan-dictated writing and speech, for example: "In 10 days I will give a sign on his chest[;] he will have to have it covered to show my power." R also wrote, "Dead bishop" (Bishop 1949, 262-269). Subsequently on April 1, between disturbances, the youth was baptized in the rectory.

During all this time the markings - the random scratches and words - continued to appear on R's body. When there was talk of his going to school there, the boy grimaced and opened his shirt to reveal the scratched words, "No school" (Allen 2000, 46), a seemingly childish concern for truly diabolic forces. (The diary mentions only that "No" appeared on the boy's wrists.)

Reportedly, on one occasion R was observed using one of his fingernails (which were quite long) to scratch the words "HELL" and "CHRIST" on his chest. It is unclear whether or not he realized he was being observed at the time. Earlier, the priests reportedly "saw a new scratch slowly moving down his leg" (Allen 2000, 180). This sounds mysterious until we consider that the boy could have made a quick scratch just before the priests looked-which they did because he suddenly "yelped"-and what they observed was merely the aftereffect of the scratch, the skin's developing response to the superficial injury. (I have produced just such an effect on myself experimentally, observed by SI's Ben Radford.)

On April 4, the family decided to return to their Maryland home due to the father's need to work and also to relieve the strain on the Missouri relatives. But after five days R was sent back to St. Louis and admitted to a hospital run by an order of monks. He was put in a security room which had bars on its single window and straps on the bed. During the days the teenager studied the catechism and was taken on outings, but at night the "possession" continued. There were failed attempts to give him Holy Communion, "the devil" at one point saying (according to the diary), that he would not permit it (Bishop 1949, 282).

On April 18, R again announced "He's gone!" This time, he said, he had a vision of "a very beautiful man wearing a white robe and holding a fiery sword." With it the figure (presumably Jesus) drove the devil into a pit. There were no further episodes and Father Bishop (1949, 291) recorded that on August 19, 1951, R and his parents visited the Brothers who had cared for him. "R, now 16, is a fine young man," he wrote. "His father and mother also became Catholic, having received their first Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1950."


Was R possessed? Or did superstition mask a troubled youth's problems and invite elaborate role-playing? Interestingly, Archbishop Ritter appointed a Jesuit philosophy professor to investigate the matter. According to a reportedly informed source, the investigator concluded that R "was not the victim of diabolical possession" (Allen 2000, 234). Without wishing to make a categorical judgment, Halloran states that R did not exhibit prodigious strength, showing nothing more than what could be summoned by an agitated teenager. As to speaking in Latin, Halloran thought that was nothing more than the boy's having heard repetitious Latin phrases from the exorcising priest. (Or one occasion "the devil reportedly spoke school kids' 'pig Latin'"!)

Nothing that was reliably reported in the case was beyond the abilities of a teenager to produce. The tantrums, "trances," moved furniture, hurled objects, automatic writing, superficial scratches, and other phenomena were just the kinds of things someone of R's age could accomplish, just as others have done before and since. Indeed, the elements of "poltergeist phenomena," "spirit communication," and "demonic possession"-taken both separately and, especially, together, as one progressed to the other-suggest nothing so much as role-playing involving trickery. So does the stereotypical storybook portrayal of "the devil" throughout.

Writer Mark Opsasnik (2000) investigated the case, tracing the family's home to Cottage City, Maryland (not Mount Rainier as once thought), and talked to R's neighbors and childhood friends. The boy had been a very clever trickster, who had pulled pranks to frighten his mother and to fool children in the neighborhood. "There was no possession," Opsasnik told the Washington Post. "The kid was just a prankster" (Saulny 2000).

Of course, the fact that the boy wanted to engage in such extreme antics over a period of three months does suggest he was emotionally disturbed. Teenagers typically have problems, and R seemed to have trouble adjusting-to school, his sexual awareness, and other concerns. To an extent, of course, he was challenging authority as part of his self-development, and he was no doubt enjoying the attention. But there is simply no credible evidence to suggest the boy was possessed by demons or evil spirits.

A Catholic scholar, the Rev. Richard McBrien, who formerly chaired Notre Dame's theology department, states that he is "exceedingly skeptical" of all alleged possession cases. He told the Philadelphia Daily News (which also interviewed me for a critical look at the subject), "Whenever I see reports of exorcisms, I never believe them." He has concluded that ". . . in olden times, long before there was a discipline known as psychiatry and long before medical advances . . . what caused possession was really forms of mental or physical illness (Adamson 2000). Elsewhere McBrien (1991) has said that the practice of exorcism-and by inference a belief in demon possession-"holds the faith up to ridicule." Let us hope that the enlightened view, rather than the occult one, prevails.


  • Adamson, April. 2000. Ancient rite generates modern-day skepticism, Philadelphia Daily News, October 3. 
  • Allen, Thomas B. 2000. Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse.com. 
  • Baker, Robert A. 1992. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. 
  • Beyerstein, Barry L. 1988. Neuropathology and the legacy of spiritual possession. Skeptical Inquirer 12.3 (Spring): 248-262. 
  • Bishop, Raymond J. 1949. Typescript diary of an exorcism, April 25 (reprinted in Allen 2000, 245-291). 
  • Christopher, Milbourne. 1970. ESP, Seers & Psychics. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. 
  • "The Exorcism." 1991. ABC network's 20/20, April 5. 
  • McBrien, Richard. 1991. Interview on ABC's Nightline, April 5. 
  • Nickell, Joe. 1995. Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus books, 79-82, 119-120. 
  • ---. 1998. Looking for a Miracle. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. 
  • ---. 1999. The Davenport Brothers. Skeptical Inquirer 23:4 (July/August): 14-17. 
  • Opsasnik, Mark. 2000. The haunted boy, Strange Magazine 20 (serialized on www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html). 
  • Saulny, Susan. 1999. Historian exorcises Mount Rainier's past. Washington Post, March 24. 
  • Vatican updates its rules on exorcism of demons. 1999. The Arizona Daily Star, January 27. 

Joe Nickell is CSICOP's Senior Research Fellow and author of numerous investigative books.

This article was found at:



Catholic Church downplays talk of the devil in public but maintains international network of exorcists

Couple Says Meade Ministries Tore Their Family Apart

First Coast News - Florida
October 30, 2008

LAKE CITY, FL -- Every picture is a reminder of its own precious moment. You can find hundreds of photos in Roger and Vonda Peterson's home.
The high school sweethearts, now married for 49 years, had three girls. First came Linda, then Vicki and Sondra.
Years later, a boy named Michael became part of the picture.
The last family photo of the Petersons was taken in July, 1985.
On the outside, the family appears to be strong. But behind the smiles, the foundation is cracking. Over time, it shattered.
23 years later, the Peterson family is still torn apart.
"Nothing," said Vonda Peterson. "No pictures, no nothing."
"We could see our grandkids on the street and probably wouldn't know them. We don't have a clue what they look like, the same with our daughters."
Those three daughters, inseparable as kids, are still close but they've cut off all contact with their parents and brother.
The Petersons say their daughters are trapped in a web of lies and deceit in Lake City, behind the walls of a church and religion called The End Times, or Meade Ministries.
But that web began to spin in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
It all started in the 1970s when a man by the name of Charles Meade preached to a small group of young men and women in Sioux Falls.
Vicki Peterson worked as a babysitter for one of the group members.
"We didn't know anything about them either until our kids started telling us about it, never heard a word about them," says Roger Peterson.
Their daughter Vicki started to go to the church. Her sisters would soon follow.
"Thought going to a bible study, man we thought this is great. They're not getting in trouble so we thought really nothing of it."
Months later, the girls would marry men who were part of the endtimers.
The group believes Meade is a prophet and they are the only ones who will survive the wrath of God in the end times.
The Petersons say they went with their daughters to the church for about a year.
"They thought we were gonna become a member of the group, but we started to ask too many questions, and they just shunned us."
The Petersons say they got suspicious when Meade told them they had to get rid of their tv, radio and magazines because they are evil.
After the Petersons spoke up, their daughters started to distance themselves.
In the 1980s, Meade moved his group more than 1,450 miles away from Sioux Falls to Lake City. One at a time, the Petersons' daughters would follow.
"It's like Meade come in and stole them from us, the way I kind of look at it. Meade stole them away from us...their childhood and our grandkids. If he was truly a man of God, I wouldn't think he would do things like that," says Roger Peterson.
A religion which claims to be based on the Bible, but Ephesians 6:2, commanding that you "honor your father and mother," does not mean much if you don't believe in Meade.
The Petersons never got to say goodbye to their daughters. They moved without telling them.
"We thought we knew something was going on, so we thought we'll try calling Sondra and maybe we can talk them out of it, make them think about it. We tried calling and nobody ever answered the phone. So, we thought we'll try again tomorrow night. So, we tried the next night and the phone had been disconnected so evidently they had gone," Vonda says as she fights back tears.
It's been 20 years since the Petersons have seen their three daughters or their twelve grandkids.

"You can't call them because they moved, and they don't have a phone number. You can't write them because they all have post office box numbers, and we had to find those somehow."
Roger and Vonda have tried countless times to reach them by mail, letters have come back.
They've tried to reach them by phone. "They all have answering machines on, or if they do pick up the phone as soon as they hear my voice, they hang up."
They've also tried to reach them in person. The Petersons have gone to Lake City three different times to talk to them.
The last time was in 1995. "When we rang the doorbell, she opened the door and you ought to have seen the look on her face. I think she expected to see someone else. She tried to slam the door, and I held the door open and she (Vonda) put her foot in the door, and we tried to talk to Linda."
Vonda says, "It was our daughter, but you looked in her eyes and it wasn't her and she was screaming what are you doing here get out of here."
The Petersons went to their other daughters' homes too. One time they say they were followed by a man who was an endtimer.
Vonda says she could only look inside her daughters' windows, "We hollered, knocked on the door, called their name, said love you and miss you." But no one would answer the door.
Vonda has kept a notebook full of thoughts and experiences throughout the years. The notes detail trips to Lake City trying to save their daughters. She doesn't read the journal too often.

"I put it on the back burner you know so to speak, because if I'm going to let it upset me then I think Meade is controlling my life too and that's one thing he's not going to do," says Vonda.
All they want to know is if their children and grandchildren are alive and well.
"We have heard we've got seven great grandchildren, but we don't know for sure. We have no idea when they were born or what year or month or anything."
The First Coast News I-team tracked down two of the Petersons' daughters. We stopped at the home of Vicki and Pat Sparks first.
Vicki refused to answer the door. She told us she would not talk to us and for us to leave her property immediately.
We then went to Linda's home, which was around the corner. The large home is surrounded by a gate and no one would come out and talk with us.
"We have changed our wills and everything. They are not included in anything because we know where it will go if it goes down there."
There are dozens of other parents in Sioux Falls who are in the same boat. They chose not to talk to us.
The group tries to find out what they can about their kids in a number of cult forums on the internet.
"I think for some of them, the hurt is too much. They don't want to, they kind of want to forget about it and stuff. For me, yeah it hurts like heck. It hurts a lot, but I ain't gonna quit, I ain't gonna let Meade have his way," says Vonda once again fighting back tears.
Each day, they struggle to hold on to the memories of what their family once was. An old photograph sparks a precious moment.
"Every once in a while, I get them out and look through them. I feel like I have to. I feel sometimes I'm afraid there's been no contact for so long I'll forget about them, forget what they looked like when they were younger. It's kind of a way of contact somehow."
The one thing the Petersons say they do have is hope. "I've had a dream sometimes about that...one of the kids is back here. It's just a dream, but it's there," says Roger.
That dream, they say they will never let go. "I'll never give up hope. Keep hoping all the time, what else do we have left...hope and prayer that's it."

Watch First Coast News Monday at 11pm for a look at where End Time Ministries got its start.
First Coast News will take you to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the place where the group first met. We will also show you where members were recruited to join the group.
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Priest faces rape charges

The Berkshire Eagle - Massachusetts
October 31, 2008

By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD — District Attorney David F. Capeless announced yesterday that his office will prosecute a former Roman Catholic priest accused of raping two children in the Berkshires in the 1980s.
Gary Mercure, who avoided prosecution after coming under fire in the Albany, N.Y., clergy abuse scandal, now faces sexual assault charges in the Berkshires, where two men in their early 30s claim the priest forcibly raped them in 1986 and 1989. The circumstances surrounding the alleged incidents were unclear.
Mercure, 60, was indicted this month by a Berkshire grand jury on four felony counts, including three counts of rape of a child with force — a crime punishable by possible life imprisonment — and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
He is scheduled to be arraigned in Berkshire Superior Court on Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.
Albany Roman Catholic Diocese officials permanently removed Mercure as a diocesan priest in August. According to the Associated Press, the officials cited "reasonable grounds" to support an allegation of abuse involving "misconduct with a minor" at an Albany parish in the mid-1980s.
Frederick A. Lantz, a spokesman for Capeless, declined to comment on the rape cases, which involve incidents that allegedly occurred in Great Barrington and Monterey between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 1986, and a New Ashford incident in February 1989.
Both alleged victims are from the Albany area, according to Mark Lyman, director of the (Albany) Capital Region Chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national support group for clergy abuse victims.
"We are pleased to see that the victims have someone who is not partisan and who has decided to pursue justice for them," Lyman said of Capeless. "We're very pleased."
More than a dozen men who live in the 14-county Albany diocese have reported being victimized by Mercure, according to Lyman, a Troy, N.Y., native who was abused by a priest when he was a teenager.
Under New York law, a person who was raped or molested as a child can report that crime for up to 7 years after reaching the age of 18, Lyman said. However, he added, because victims are often reluctant to report the abuse, few priests implicated in the ongoing U.S. Catholic clergy abuse scandal have been charged with offenses.
Lyman said law enforcement officials in New York contacted investigators in Massachusetts, where the statute of limitations for such cases is longer than it is in New York. Lyman helped facilitate the Massachusetts State Police investigation by putting troopers in touch with Mercure's alleged Berkshire victims, he said.
Window for justice
Under Massachusetts law, rape cases must be brought within 15 years of the incident being reported to law enforcement or, in the case of a child, 15 years of the accuser's 16th birthday, whichever comes first.
"Once the window closes, there's no way for a victim to obtain justice," Lyman said.
But what most irks him, he said, is the Catholic church's seeming ability to shelter priests who, under different circumstances, would be treated as common criminals.
"If this were a cop or anyone else, he'd be stripped of his badge and gun and put on desk duty," Lyman said. "Those people would be fired from their jobs and ostracized."
'It's still going on'
In the case of Mercure, the Albany diocese defrocked him, meaning he was stripped of his parish duties, including his ability to publicly celebrate Mass or perform other church sacraments dressed as a priest. But Mercure was not excommunicated from the church, said Lyman, which, for a lay person, is equivalent to being fired from a job and losing all benefits associated with that job.
"The scary thing is that the cover-up is still going on," Lyman said, despite the glare of the media, which has made the scandal a high-profile issue for much of this decade.
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Marianists settle sex abuse suits for $4 million

Express News - San Antonio
October 30, 2008

By Abe Levy and Todd Bensman | Express-News

Almost two dozen men who implicated a former Catholic clergyman from San Antonio in sexual-abuse lawsuits will split $4 million under a settlement announced Thursday in Pueblo, Colo.

The lawsuits claimed San Antonio resident William Mueller, 70, under the guise of doing psychological experiments, used ether on students at an all-boys Catholic high school to render them unconscious before fondling or sexually molesting them.

“Horrific things were happening to boys put into a Catholic school by their families, which is disgusting,” said Jeff Herman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “To me, (the settlement) is validation of wrongdoing, and that the writing was on the wall.”

Mueller was a Marianist brother when he taught music and religion at Roncalli High School in Pueblo from 1966 to ’71. It wasn’t until 2005 that former students began coming forward with similar stories about him. They sued the Pueblo diocese and the Marianists, which staffed the school.

After teaching band in Colorado, Mueller in 1971 came to San Antonio, where he worked for a decade at Central Catholic High School under the auspices of the Marianist order. He then worked at schools in St. Louis, where the Marianists last year agreed to pay $160,000 to settle a lawsuit over a similar sex-abuse complaint — involving an attempt to use ether to knock the victim out.

The Colorado and Missouri lawsuits contend the Marianist order knew of the abuse and failed to intervene, a charge that the order’s officials deny. The settlement of the Colorado suits did not require the Marianists to acknowledge fault.

Although no lawsuits have been filed in San Antonio, plaintiff’s lawyers say five alleged victims here have hired them, claiming the same method of sexual abuse.

In the wake of the Colorado lawsuits, as many as 30 people from San Antonio answered a letter from Central Catholic in 2005 that asked alumni to report any abuse by Mueller. School officials said some former students recounted that Mueller tied them up and blindfolded them as part of psychological experiments, but none alleged sexual abuse. All of the local alleged victims came forward beyond the date they could sue in Texas, and none have come forward publicly.

In contrast, the lawsuits in Colorado were possible because that state threw out its statute of limitations on such claims. But according to lawyers familiar with clergy abuse litigation in Texas, the prospect of a judge removing the legal barrier here is slim.

“My belief is that San Antonio is so heavily Catholic that it would be very difficult to get over the statute of limitations defense,” said Robert Scamardo, a Houston-based plaintiff’s attorney who has brought many clergy abuse lawsuits. “This is happening all over the country, but I don’t believe San Antonio judges would do this.”

The Marianists issued a statement Thursday on behalf of Brother Stephen Glodek, head of the order, wishing the settlement brings the plaintiffs “closer to peace of heart and healing.”

Asked whether the order was aware of any Texas victims, a spokeswoman for Glodek answered no. She did, however, say that Glodek had received a number of phone calls about Mueller from Texans, but refused to elaborate.

On Thursday, Mueller was found living at a West Side home with his older brother.

Dressed in a T-shirt and light brown pants, he refused to respond to questions about the settlement and accusations of sex abuse by saying, “I can’t. Please don’t bother me. It’s hard enough.”

Mueller is considered one of the more harmful sexual predators in the Catholic Church because he’s not been put behind bars, according to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic leaders. Two SNAP members protested with signs Thursday afternoon in front of Central Catholic.

“Just in terms of sheer numbers, he’s among the most prolific, with victims in three states,” said David Clohessy, the group’s president. “Who knows the final count?”

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30 Oct 2008

Worship and Sin: an exploration of religion-related crime in the U.S. [book review]

State University of New York - Oswego

Cardinal Sins

Professor's book looks at religion's role in crime
Karel Kurst-SwangerSensitive to an emerging social issue five years ago, Dr. Karel Kurst-Swanger of SUNY Oswego’s public justice faculty thought of developing a course. Looking for a textbook on the issue—religion and crime—she found none existed. So she wrote it.
“Worship and Sin” was published earlier this year by Peter Lang Publishers and is the text for the course Kurst-Swanger is teaching this fall for the first time, PBJ 454: “Religion, Crime, and Justice.”
“This important work fills a void in the criminological literature and is sure to become the definitive book on the topic,” wrote the late Albert R. Roberts, a leading authority on criminology and a former professor of criminal justice and social work at Rutgers University.
The author of an earlier book published by Oxford University Press, Kurst-Swanger found herself searching for a publisher for this book, she said, because of its potential for controversy.
“It’s a book about crime rather than a book about religion,” she said, but it is groundbreaking in that it looks at religion’s role in perpetrating or at least opening a door to criminal conduct rather than deterring it.
Crime in her book is violation of American law, and religion encompasses the diversity of faith traditions in this country, both mainstream and fringe.
Kurst-Swanger said she began mulling the idea for the book after working with Oswego colleague Margaret Ryniker on a chapter on religion-related crime for a 2003 book edited by Roberts, “Critical Issues in Crime and Justice.” The two came up with a descriptive framework to explore the issue in a comprehensive way.
“Worship and Sin” organizes religion-related crime in three categories: crimes that result from a particular religious custom, practice or belief; crimes that stem from tensions between a religious person or group and the broader secular community; and abuse of religious authority.

This framework encompasses crimes ranging from violent attacks to tax fraud, including, for example, polygamy, arson at a church or mosque, use of illegal drugs in ceremonies, sexual abuse by clergy, harassment and murder of abortion providers or other demonized individuals, visa fraud by religious workers and misappropriation of church funds.
“My goal was to have this be comprehensive and to look at it from a number of different perspectives,” the author said. Because crime records and statistics rarely take religion into account, she added, “I had to really dig deep to find what I was looking for.”
“Worship and Sin” sells for $34.95 in paperback. Libraries at colleges and universities across the country have purchased the book, Kurst-Swanger said, noting that religious-affiliated colleges as well as Ivy League schools and law schools are among institutions that have it in their libraries. SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library owns a copy.
- END -
CONTACT: Dr. Karel Kurst-Swanger, 312-3413
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Not Without My Sister [book review]

Seven Magazine - UK October 30, 2008

book review by Miranda Marcus

In the late 1960s, hippie-dom took control of the world with its message of flower-power, peace and love. The Christian angle, the ‘Jesus Movement’, soon broke down into various groups, such as The Children of God. Founded in California and lead by their now deceased prophet David Berg, it quickly earned its reputation as a cult. Now called the International Family, it is a global religious movement that boasts full-time and fellow members at just over 11,200 in over 100 countries (around 4,000 adult full-time members and 4,000 children).
Based on a message of salvation, apocolipticism and ‘spiritual revolution’, and organised into communes of up to 200 people, their basic belief structure relies on the premise that it is every Christian’s duty to try and convert the world armed with the ‘spiritual weapons’ such as spirit channelling – using the aid of ‘helpers’ which consist of the dead, demons, and even mythical figures such as Aphrodite – ‘Keys of the Kingdom’ which not only power spiritual spacecraft, but also turn into spiritual swords, from the Gospel of Matthew: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (16:19). And last but not least, we have ‘Jesus Loving’.

The latter weapon concedes that all followers of Christ are his brides and therefore should fulfill all the roles of a wife, showing him their love and adoration through sexual acts. Homosexuality being banned, men are encouraged to envisage themselves as women during intercourse, therefore denying homosexual relationships with Jesus. Jesus Loving also lead to a method called flirty fishing, which uses the sexual appeal of the female members to generate funds and recruits: essentially religious evangelic prostitution.

Central to their beliefs is the ‘law of love’, which claims that providing one’s actions are motivated by unselfish, sacrificial love, and are not intentionally hurtful, the said act it is in accordance with scripture and therefore God’s law. Underage sexual activities were encouraged, and it was only in 1986 that sex between minors and adults was forbidden. Adult members may have sex with other adult members of the opposite sex, and are encouraged to do so, regardless of marital status, as a way to foster unity and combat loneliness of those ‘in need’. This is commonly called ‘sharing’ or ‘sacrificial sex’. However, numerous former members have alleged being coerced to ‘share’, and were cast as selfish or unloving when they did not comply. The cult received considerable media attention following allegations of incest and child sex abuse supposedly encouraged by David Berg.

Liberal sexual attitudes are stereotypically seen as a defining feature of hippie culture, free love for all, but the recently published Not Without My Sister (Harpercollins, 2008), gives the harrowing accounts of three sisters growing up in this cult. This book contains the memories and explicit insights of Kristina and Celeste Jones and Juliana Buhring on their ‘journey to freedom’ from the clutches of the organisation which, in their own words “practised physical and mental abuse, thought control, pornography, prostitution and sexual exploitation of children”, starting with background on Berg and his beliefs, and then on to how their parents became involved, severing their ties with all family and the trappings of their previous lives.

The British-born sisters give their respective stories, detailing the mental, physical and sexual abuse carried out upon them, ranging from accounts of three and four year olds being put together for ‘gypsy naps’ where they would be clothed in transparent scarves, paired up and encouraged to behave sexually to a soundtrack of a the story of Abraham and his gypsies, to witnessing from ages as early as five, their father and others making ‘love-videos’ involving speaking in tongues, masturbation, and strip dancing, along with penetrative sex. These tapes would be circulated to all the communes; not as porn, but as ‘glorifying God’s creation’. Aside from sexual abuse, there are recollections of the sound-proofed ‘spanking room’ where children were given ‘Lashings of Love’ until they stopped begging for mercy, and being used as ‘sexual bait’ on the end of The Family’s ever-dangling financial lines, seducing rich businessmen into large donations.

Kristina left at the age of 12, rescued by her mother, and Juliana shortly after, while Celeste, the eldest, took the longest to extricate herself, only when she herself became a mother. Each sister describes post-Family life and adjusting to the outside world, with complete ignorance of the systems of western society, having no proof of existence other than a passport, no formal education and completely different social boundaries. The book also details their reactions and emotions – extreme insomnia, anorexia and depression.

The authors state that the purpose of their memoirs is to raise awareness and garner support for those whose lives have been affected and damaged by the secrecy and mass manipulation of cults. Ex-Family members have established a website in support of those who have left – MovingOn.org. As of 1990, the International Family has been deemed a legally safe environment for children, and all the official policies which regard child abuse have been withdrawn. However, they have admitted to a certain amount of abuse between 1976-1978, whilst those who claim any further abuse are deemed mentally unstable by the organization.

Not Without My Sister is essentially the crystalline capturing of three women’s mass emotional trauma. It could be written off as typical American hyperbole but that is just what it is; the affect of David Berg’s magnification that extended to all areas of the sisters’ life, and stands as a testament and warning against it.

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Links to news and blog articles concerning The Family International, formerly known as the Children of God.   

For insider information on The Family International from former members visit these two websites:





Secret letter claims Family International leader caused deadliest air crash in history

Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?

Family International a.k.a. Children of God: Once dismissed as 'sex cult,' tiny church launches image makeover

Denied an education in The Family International abuse survivor explains how she wrote her first novel

Novelist describes how she survived childhood of abuse and neglect growing up in The Family International, aka, Children of God

Author's debut novel draws on personal experiences growing up in abusive Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International

UK survivor confirms mother's fears about abusive cult The Family International that tried to recruit her teen daughter

Folie a deux: the insane prophets of the Seventh-day Adventists and The Family International

Greek Orthodox church settles Dallas lawsuit alleging sex abuse by longtime priest

The Dallas Morning News - October 29, 2008

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

A lawsuit alleging child sex abuse by Nicholas Katinas, former pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in North Dallas, is headed for an out-of-court settlement.

“An agreement in principle has been reached,” said Tahira Khan Merritt, lawyer for five plaintiffs, including former altar boys, who claimed they were abused by Mr. Katinas in the early years of his long tenure at Holy Trinity. “It’s subject to court approval.” 

Ms. Merritt said she and lawyers for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America agreed to keep confidential the amount of the settlement. The settlement must be approved by State District Judge Karen Johnson. 

Mr. Katinas was pastor of Holy Trinity, a key institution of the Dallas Greek community, for 28 years. Soon after his retirement in 2006, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America officials suspended him from working as a priest, even on a fill-in basis. 

Later, a GOAA official came to Holy Trinity and acknowledged serious misconduct by Mr. Katinas.
He has since been defrocked and is reportedly living in Greece. 

“The victims feel like they’ve done as much as they can to bring public exposure to Katinas’ abuses,” Ms. Merritt said. “Without the lawsuit being filed and public exposure to these issues, in my opinion, Katinas would not have been defrocked.” 

Mr. Katinas and the GOAA still face a more recently filed lawsuit filed in Chicago, alleging abuse by him while he worked for a church in the suburbs there.

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29 Oct 2008

Convicted Catholic priest faces indefinite custody

The Northwestern - Wisconsin
October 26, 2008

Winnebago County jury to decide fate

by Jennifer K. Woldt • of The Northwestern

A Winnebago County jury will decide next month whether a Catholic priest who sexually assaulted two boys in the 1980s meets the criteria to be classified as a sexually violent person and remain in custody indefinitely.

Father Norbert Maday, 70, the former associate pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge parish in Chicago Ridge, Ill., was convicted of sexually assaulting two altar boys while on a church outing to The Place 2B in 1986. Maday was sentenced to 20 years in prison on two second-degree sexual assault convictions in 1994.

Prosecutors filed a petition to classify Maday as a sexually violent person on Oct. 6, 2007, less than one month before Maday was scheduled to be released from Stanley Correctional Institution.

"He was evaluated by an expert and deemed to meet the criteria for a sexually violent person," said special prosecutor Kevin Greene, who is an assistant district attorney with the Brown County District Attorney's Office. "They must have a mental disorder that predisposes them to acts of sexual violence and they have to be more likely than not to reoffend in the future."

A psychologist performed a psychological evaluation on Maday in September 2007 and determined Maday suffered from several mental disorders, including pedophilia, paraphila and a personality disorder with antisocial and narcissistic features. The evaluation also determined Maday was sexually attracted to adolescent males. These mental disorders "form the underpinnings for his sexual assault in the past and would be predisposing factors in future assaults," according to the petition filed in Winnebago County Circuit Court.

Pedophilia is a disorder where a person has fantasies, urges or behaviors that involve sexual activity with a pre-pubescent child and paraphilia is an impulse disorder that is characterized by recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors, often involving unusual objects, activities or situations that are not considered sexually arousing to others, according to WebMD.

The diagnosed disorders also cause Maday "serious difficulty" in controlling his behavior, the petition states.

Because Maday declined to be interviewed for the psychological evaluation, the psychologist based his diagnosis on the pre-sentence report prepared in 1994 and institutional social service files complied by the Department of Corrections, the petition states.

A jury is expected to hear expert testimony during the three-day trial that is scheduled to begin Nov. 17. Greene said it is not unusual for these types of cases to go before juries and he said he has asked for a large jury pool to be brought in because of the attention the case has garnered.

If a jury determines Maday should be classified as a sexually violent person, he will be committed to the custody of the state for control, care and treatment in an institution until he is no longer a sexually violent person, according to state statutes.

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28 Oct 2008

Lost Boys shelter undergoing shake-up

The Salt Lake Tribune - October 28, 2008

by Brooke Adams

For more than a year, New Frontiers for Families operated the House Just Off Bluff in St. George without a business license or proper zoning as it housed teenagers who have left a polygamous community at the Utah-Arizona state line.
Now, a shake-up - including the termination of the home's director -- is underway to bring it in line with its original mandate and city rules.
New Frontiers opened the home last summer after receiving a state grant to create a drop-in center for youth from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As approved by the state Department of Community and Culture, the non-profit was to help youth connect with services, such as counseling, schooling and medical care.
But instead, youth were allowed to live at the home, which had no licensed clinical staff, nor the proper permits.
Tracy Johnson, executive director of New Frontiers, said nine boys now living at the home will be relocated to host families or other settings and the house will be converted to a drop-in center. Last week, it obtained a business license for that use.
A licensed clinical social worker will be hired to run the center, with oversight from New Frontier's board of directors. The program will focus on helping youth get services and offering life skills training, she said.
"They've made a lot of the changes that were brought up as problematic," said Jonathan Hardy, director of state community services in the Department of Community and Culture.
The department provided an initial $95,000 grant to get the program launched in a home donated by a local benefactor concerned about the so-called "Lost Boys." This year it received a second state grant of $106,000, and the department asked the Five County Association of Governments to oversee the program, just as problems with its operation came to light.
Earlier this month, the association gave New Frontiers 10 days to correct the problems or lose state funding. In addition to the city licensing issues, concerns were raised about the backgrounds of those working with the youth.
Among them: Michelle Benward, who oversaw the program for New Frontiers under the title "clinical director." Its grant application said Benward had a Level II school counselor certificate from the Utah State Office of Education.
But The Salt Lake Tribune has learned Benward had a Level I certification that expired in 2006 and has not been renewed. She is not listed as having any other professional license in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Professional Licensing.
Johnson said Benward was terminated last Wednesday but declined any additional comment.
The Family Support Center, a Salt Lake City non-profit, has offered to provide temporary assistance to New Frontiers, said Bonnie Peters, executive director.
Peters said if New Frontiers is unable to meet the state's requirements, her agency would consider submitting a proposal to take over the program. The center now oversees the Safety Net Committee, which provides services to polygamous communities and facilitates communication with government agencies.
"If they can get [the house] together, with the appropriate support and back-up for the children, then we are happy to support them," Peters said. "If they can't, our intent is to make sure the boys have an appropriate place to go, a legitimate drop-in center with the support they need to become self-sufficient."
The program must include oversight for the youth and respect for their parents' rights, she said. "Family relationships are not going to be thrown out the window just because they are polygamists," she said.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said Monday he was encouraged by the partnership formed to get the program back on track. The office has backed numerous initiatives to help the Lost Boys.
"The bottom line is to figure out a way to help these young men get schooling and have a good life," said Murphy. "They are impressive young men, hard workers, they're smart. I hope things will only get better for them and the people of St. George will recognize there is a need and will pitch in to fill in the gaps."
New Frontiers' annual report said it provided services to 114 teenagers and young adults.
The youth say they left or were asked to leave their families because of delinquent behavior or disagreement with the sect's stringent religious standards. Johnson said the majority of the boys living in the home are working to complete a GED or their high school degrees.
"We've given them a lot of options and they want to stay together if possible," Johnson said. "That is going to be the hardest part right there."

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Jury finds cult leader guilty in child sexual assault trial

Reporter-News, Abilene
October 28, 2008

House of Yahweh member faces life in prison

by Reporter-News Staff Report

A 42nd District Court jury returned a guilty verdict against Yedidiyah Hawkins on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child Monday.

The sentence, to be set by Judge John Weeks, is expected within 45 days. The charge, a first-degree felony, can range from five years to life in prison.

The jury deliberated 2½ hours before returning a verdict. Hawkins, a leader of the House of Yahweh compound in Callahan County, showed little reaction to the verdict.

The courtroom, which seats 48, contained approximately 75 spectators much of the day, including when the verdict was announced. Many were representatives of Bikers Against Child Abuse, a support group for sexually abused children and their families.

The girl, 11 at the time of the assault, testified Friday that her stepfather, Hawkins, 40, used a vaginal speculum -- a medical instrument used by gynecologists -- to perform an examination on her. Though the victim was identified in court proceedings, it is the policy of the Reporter-News not to name victims of sexual assault.

The assault occurred in the home of Rachel Hawkins, who at the time was a member of the House of Yahweh. Rachel Hawkins had gone shopping in Dallas for the weekend, the girl said.

Prosecutor Shane Deel said during his opening statement that Yedidiyah Hawkins knew that the home of Rachel Hawkins, who has since left the sect, would be empty for the weekend.

Several defense witnesses testified that the girl who brought the accusations previously had admitted to them that the allegations were untrue.

Rebekah Hawkins, 16, Batashua Hawkins, 15, and Erica Hawkins, 16, all associated with the House of Yahweh, testified Monday morning in the trial at the Taylor County Courthouse.

Rebekah Hawkins said she had heard the accuser speak of abuse for at least five years. However, when Rebekah challenged her, she "almost always said it wasn't true," Rebekah Hawkins testified.

Batashua Hawkins said the girl told her Yedidiyah Hawkins was "putting things inside me." Batashua further testified that the girl didn't mention it again and that it didn't seem to bother her. The girl had said she hated her dad (Yedidiyah Hawkins) because he wouldn't let her do things. When asked if the girl could be called rebellious, Batashua chuckled and said, "Yes."

Erica Hawkins said she and the accuser were "really close" until about a year ago. She then presented an emotional plea of Yedidiyah Hawkins' innocence.

"She (the accuser) told me she was lying," she said. "He's innocent, and he's spent a year in jail."

All three mentioned spending time in a pink trailer or building at the Yahweh complex near Clyde. Attorneys painted a picture of the trailer being used as a punishment for running away or other offenses. Erica remembered spending a night there, but not as punishment.

"It was like a slumber party; we weren't being punished," she said.

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Illinois: Ex-Priest Guilty of Sex Abuse

The New York Times - October 24, 2008


A once prominent Jesuit priest was convicted in federal court in Chicago of engaging in sexual activity with a teenage boy who accompanied him on religious trips to Europe and Minnesota in 2000 and 2001.

Prosecutors described the priest, Donald J. McGuire, 78, who was defrocked in February, as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who used his position to gain the trust of families and then sexually abused boys under the guise of teaching them lessons and making them more spiritually pure. The victim said Mr. McGuire started abusing him in 1999 at age 13. Mr. McGuire, who taught at Loyola Academy in suburban Chicago and then traveled the world directing such retreats for laypeople and members of Mother Teresa’s religious order, said he would appeal.

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Three British evangelicals cast blame on each other in trials over child abuse at Albanian orphanage

The Guardian - UK October 27, 2008

Ten boys aged four to 13 testify against Britons

by Paul Lewis in Tirana

The orphanage, a large brick house in Tirana's old quarter, promised shelter to the city's abandoned street children, who came barefoot and clutching siblings in search of a place to rebuild their lives.

For five years, dozens of boy and girls passed through the gates of 32 Dervish Hekali Street, run by British missionaries in Albania's capital.

But what should have been a sanctuary for vulnerable boys and girls became the site of one of eastern Europe's most shocking child sex abuse scandals. Three evangelical Britons, including the director of the orphanage, David Brown, have been accused of abusing children in their care.

The trials of Brown, 57, and two helpers at his shelter - Dino Christodoulou, 45, a social therapy nurse from Blackburn in Lancashire, and Robin Arnold, 56, a salesman from Cromer in Norfolk - have barely been reported outside Albania.

But disturbing testimony from children delivered by video link to a small Tirana court will have far-reaching repercussions for child protection mechanisms between the UK and other countries.

Who knew what about the abuse, how and when, are questions that have yet to be fully answered. The men themselves, in interviews with the Guardian inside their prison, did not deny that the abuse took place; instead they blamed each other for acts that have horrified Albania.

But there are some facts about the story that has been unfolding in district court one that nobody disputes.

It was in early 2000 that Brown, a charity worker from Edinburgh, travelled to Albania to help refugees who had crossed the border, fleeing the conflict in Kosovo. He encountered neglected Gypsy children begging on the streets and supported them with food and money.

The following year, with support from churches in Albania and the UK, he set about opening an orphanage which, claiming to be receiving instructions from God, Brown named His Children.

Missionaries affiliated with churches as far away as Oklahoma travelled to Tirana to care for the children and give Bible lessons. Brown became a well-known figure in Tirana; a tall man with a thick, white beard, he was often seen scouring the city's streets for children in need.

"He bought me biscuits, a coke and gave me 500 lek [£3.20]," said one of Brown's first recruits to the orphanage, Nazmi Tatushi, now 21. "I had no shoes. No haircut. Stinking."

One of four young men who live in an apartment paid for by Brown, and have testified in his favour in court, Tatushi added: "David said to me: my son, why don't you come to my house? He was a good man for the street kids in Albania. Only ever did we see love in that house."

That, according to the testimony of other children, would soon change. By 2004 Brown, who worked with children for 35 years in Scotland, had developed a tense relationship with Albanian social workers, who complained his home lacked the facilities for 40 children and babies.

By his own admission he failed to check the backgrounds of all the missionary volunteers who were given unsupervised access to children. He also allowed two young boys into his bed when they complained of nightmares, something he later described as "naive".

When, in October that year, children began to speak about being sexually abused at the home, Brown, who was at first not named by the children as a perpetrator, devised a plan with the help of a close-knit group of evangelical Christians to keep the complaints secret from the Albanian authorities.

Brown said he concealed the sexual abuse suffered by children at his orphanage from the Albanian authorities because he feared they would close the shelter, and now regretted doing so.

Christodoulou and Arnold were banned from the orphanage after Brown said children had identified them as abusers. Eighteen months later, in May 2006, the scandal made headline news across the country after Albanian police and social services raided the orphanage and arrested Brown following a tip-off about allegations of sexual abuse.

Ten boys, aged between four and 13, eventually told police they had been sexually abused by one or more of the three Britons, who have been charged with "homosexual relations with minors". Christodoulou and Arnold were extradited to Albania in May. In some cases the children claimed to have been bound to a balcony, gagged and raped.

Defence lawyers claim the children are unreliable witnesses who have been "manipulated" by the prosecution.

Although their trial is continuing, the men, who if found guilty could face up to 20 years in jail, spoke to the Guardian in Prison 302, a drab ex-communist jail.

Through iron bars, Brown accused Christodoulou and Arnold of abusing boys behind his back. "They were wolves in sheep's clothing.

"I came to Albania because I wanted to help the Albanian children. Everything that I set out to do has been violated. I was these children's father."

A verdict in Brown's trial, which rests on accusations from two boys, is expected this week. Lawyers believe the outcome may determine the fate of Christodoulou and Arnold. Their trial - which is separate from Brown's - began last month.

Christodoulou faces the most serious allegations - eight boys say he sexually abused them. But, smiling, Christodoulou dismissed the accusations against him as "absurd". "I suspect [abuse] did happen at the home," he said. "I have been stitched up to take the blame for what the others have done. The children have been manipulated to say these things."

Arnold also denied abusing children at the orphanage, but admitted he had twice been convicted of indecently assaulting teenage boys in the UK. He said it was "obvious" abuse was rife at the home.

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Indonesian child-abuse police to investigate wealthy Muslim cleric

Argentina News.net - October 28, 2008

The Indonesian Child Protection Commission is planning to report to the police a rich Muslim cleric in Semarang, Central Java, who married a 12-year-old girl.

He is being accused of having illegal sex with a minor.

The commission's fact-finding team sent a team to Semarang at the weekend and found that cleric Pujiono Cahyo Widianto, 43, owner and head of an Islamic boarding school, had married and possibly slept with the 12-year-old girl.

According to the girl's parents and some witnesses, the marriage between Pujiono and the girl is valid according to religion, but it is not registered with the state.

The girl was apparently selected through a contest involving Puji's first wife and followers as a panel of judges.

Puji married the girl after she beat her competitors.

The girl’s parents admitted they had married her to Pujiono because of their financial difficulties.

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