Sydney Morning Herald/1992-05-21
By COL ALLISON
The judiciary rejected calls yesterday to appoint three magistrates to speed the custody case involving "The Family" religious sect, and resolve the fate of the 65 seized children detained by the Department of Community Services.
Also rejected were pleas by lawyers for the Christian fundamentalist groups to allow a five-year-old boy with cerebral palsy to be reunited with his parents after suffering a major seizure.
The boy was rushed to Westmead Hospital while in departmental care yesterday morning.
A similar plea by the mother of a nine-year-old deaf boy - who told Cobham Children's Court her son was "distressed, very distressed and wants to come home" - was refused by the magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth.
Mr Forsyth, who has told the court he is a grandfather attuned to children's needs and problems, said that after discussions with the Attorney-General and Chief Children's Magistrate, it was decided that he alone would officiate.
"I believe we're now proceeding towards setting a hearing date," he said. "Unless something unusual crops up, the (children's custody) orders I have made stand until the case is finalised."
Mr Robert Cavanagh, a barrister for one family sect group whose large houses on hectares in The Hills district were raided by police and Community Service officials last Friday, said: "We're embarking here on some form of royal commission into religious cults."
When formally applying for the immediate release of the hospitalised five-year-old into his parents' care, Mr Cavanagh said: "The convulsions are a clear indication of the stress inflicted on the child by the department looking after him ... the parents are certainly incredibly stressed."
But Mr Forsyth said he had seen the boy during a visit to the detention facility on Tuesday and "he was walking around under the constant supervision of two people ... the department has acted properly and the child is now in the best location possible".
Outside the court, the boy's grandmother, a nurse and midwife who said she was a practising Catholic and not part of the sect, opened an interview with the media by saying: "I'm extremely angry that my grandchild (one of seven in custody) is being held against all the basic human rights. That child has the mental age of a one-year-old ... I'm appalled. I feel this is a form of religious persecution. Historically speaking, a gentleman named Hitler did something similar ..."
In a statement of facts before the court, the department alleges the children seized in the dawn raids were taken for their own protection against physical abuse and sexual intimidation that included "the observation of sexual intercourse between adults, both their parents and others in their presence, that they themselves will be allowed and encouraged to engage in sexual behaviour, including sexual intercourse with other members of their households, both other young people and adult members."
So far no evidence has been produced.
The statement alleges that former members of the Children of God, which subsequently became The Family of Love - to which some of the families admit belonging before breaking away - were the basis of information prompting the raids six days ago.
The statement says "large quantities" of literature from the Children of God cult were found during the Friday raids. The literature details the structure of the cult, its organisation and practices.
These allegedly include: "Physical punishment of children by beating; the involvement of older female members of the organisation in prostitution; the separation of children from their parents for long periods; and isolation of the children from the wider community including a refusal to allow them to attend schools."
The statement claims children are brainwashed by the "organisation of programmed behaviour and set of answers in response to any questions by authorities in relation to their welfare or the practices and beliefs of the organisation".
The statement further claims that the NSW police had received allegations from Victoria that a young child with cerebral palsy was allegedly tied up to a bed and gagged.
It concludes: "This child is believed to have moved to Sydney recently and is possibly the child mentioned."
The magistrate, who admitted to being "a little overpowered by the immensity of the documents", went on "a view" of the sect houses yesterday to appraise himself of "the living arrangements".
The hearing continues today.