Sex Abuse Charges Disputed
By Joe Maxwell
Members of the Family, an aberrant sect formerly known as the Children of God, are returning to newly created communes in the United States where they are waging an all-out effort to make converts and shape a new image for themselves. They even sang last Christmas at the White House.
But recently, most of their efforts have been spent countering damaging new allegations against them.
Argentine judge Roberto Marquevich, who ordered September 1 raids on five Buenos Aires communes, said 9 of the 137 children seized show signs of being subjected to "cruel and atrocious maltreatment." He said a 14-year-old boy had an anal lesion, and eight girls showed signs of torn hymens.
Family spokesman John Francis says the judge is wrong and misinformed. "These reports of sexual wounds on our young children are detestable lies," counters Francis. In addition, Chile's Consul General Fernando Bachelet Martinez reportedly visited with Family children of Chilean nationality taken in the Argentine raids and said, "We verified beyond any doubt that the children were in a good physical and psychological state of health."
The group was formed during the hippie movement in the 1960s by David Berg, who eventually taught group members that sex between consenting members outside of marriage is good.
Similar government-initiated raids have occurred at Family communes in France, Australia, Spain, and Brazil in recent years; but no convictions have resulted. Francis says the raids are the result of false information provided to foreign officials by the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).
"In every case where the authorities have responded, we have been found innocent of any criminal wrongdping," says Francis. Priscilla Coates, head of CAN-Los Angeles, says her group is not leading any organized effort against the Family, that the Family remains aberrant in its sexual practices, and that she has no physical evidence of current child abuse.
Much of the controversy apparently revolves around videotapes government authorities have viewed, showing young children in the Family dancing naked. The tapes were stolen from a Family commune a year ago in Manila by two former members, Ed Priebe and Daniel Welsh (CT, Dec. 14, 1992, p.42). Francis says Priebe and other detractors "know our group formally forbids any kind of child abuse."
The Family also is touting separate investigations by a psychologist and two sociologists from universities in Michigan and Texas that claim charges are unfounded.
According to Francis, new communes recently have formed in Washington, D.C., Houston, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Boston. All this points to a group that has fine-tuned its message upon its return to the United States, using well-produced music videos, musicals, and posters. Their new tactics have been very successful, leading one choral group to a White House performance for George Bush last year.