Charges against cult blamed on ex-members
By Walter Schwarz
Religious Affairs Correspondent.
British members of the Family (formerly known as the Children of God) yesterday blamed disgruntled ex-disciples for accusations of kidnapping and child abuse which led to the arrest in Argentina of 30 adult members and the removal of up to 300 children.
The children, some of whom are thought to be British, were taken from 10 houses in Buenos Aires and placed in orphanages. Police said the 30 adults faced charges of racketeering, kidnapping and violation of children's rights.
Prosecutors said that some of the children showed signs of sexual abuse and some reports said they had been involved in satanic rituals. The children reportedly come from Britain, the United States, Canada, France, Brazil and other Latin American countries, as well as Argentina.
The Children of God cult was founded in 1968 in the US by David Berg, a former pastor known as Father or Mo, now aged 74 and said to be living in Japan.
The Family in Britain described the allegations as slanderous and outrageous. "We know there is a small group of disgruntled ex-members who have been networking their information with the anti-cult movements worldwide, whom we feel have formed a conspiracy to attack our church."
Last June more than 50 sect members were arrested and 140 children questioned in raids across France, following reports of brainwashing and sexual abuse. But no charges were preferred and all the children were returned to their homes in the Family.
No charges were made after similar arrests in Spain in 1990, or in Australia last year when 120 children were seized by social services, only to be sent home amid criticism of the authorities for hasty action.
The Family is a Christian fundamentalist sect devoted to evangelism. In early years Mr Berg encouraged women members to seduce potential converts in a practice known as "flirty fishing", but this was banned in 1978.
A spokesman for Inform, the London cult-watching group funded by the Home Office, said: "The allegations in Argentina sound highly suspicious, especially when they include talk of satanic abuse."