140 children are taken from cult
Independent On Sunday/1992-05-17
From Robert Milliken in Sydney
Welfare officials in Australia are questioning more than 140 children seized by police in dawn raids on houses occupied by a cult which calls itself the Children of God.
In an extensive police operation, the children - aged between three and 14 - were taken from six houses in two states after complaints about the practices of the cult, which is based in California and has 12,000 members in 70 countries, including Britain.
The raids happened simultaneously in Victoria and New South Wales. In Victoria, 70 children were taken from two houses, one in the suburbs of Melbourne and the other in a country town. They were discovered in rooms infested with rats and flies, living on grime-soaked floors and eating rotting food.
Welfare lawyers told a Melbourne magistrate of the stench of faeces in the house, and of teenagers sleeping in the same bedrooms as married couples and sometimes in the same bed.
They said there were grave fears for the children's psychological well-being. The magistrate ruled that most of the children must remain in custody until a new hearing is arranged tomorrow. Another 72 children were taken into custody in New South Wales after raids on four houses in Sydney.
The Children of God sprang from the hippie culture of the Sixties. Its founder, David Berg - also known as David Moses - encouraged "shared" sexual relationships, including polygamy, child sex and group sex. He was once quoted as saying: "I preach sex, girls and boys - hallelujah!"
The cult reached Australia in the Seventies and recently changed its name to the Family of Love.
Chris Murphy, a lawyer representing the parents of the children in the Sydney raids, said yesterday that the raids were a "ghastly misjudgment" and "smack of Fascist lunacy". He said some parents were former members of Children of God, but all now lived in Christian communities not associated with the sect.