Dateline NBC: Losing Faith

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Losing Faith

Children of members of religious groups formed in the '60s and '70s discuss their lives

Dateline NBC/2004-07-16

Following is a transcript of the video shown on the right.
Download: Video iconDateline NBC: Losing Faith(16:26, 41.7MB)2004-07-16

Announcer: Here now, is Stone Phillips.

STONE PHILLIPS: Good evening. Faith can be a powerful and positive influence in one's life. But it can also be misplaced as you are about to see in our two stories tonight. We start a generation ago when young people were experimenting with non-traditional lifestyles and religions. In some cases the faithful turn their lives over to groups who controlled not just what they believed, but also who they married and how they raised their children. Now, years later, those children, as angry young adults, are speaking out about their shattered lives, lost faith, and what a long, strange trip it has been. Here's Keith Morrison.

Mr. BEN BRESSACK: (Voiceover) Every day of my life, I wake up with fear. Every day.

(Candle; photo of boy)

KEITH MORRISON reporting: (Voiceover) Ben Bressack still doesn't know if he's running away from the fear or toward it.

(Excerpt of people dancing and singing; Ben Bressack; people dancing)

Ms. DONNA COLLINS: (Voiceover) I wanted a normal life more than anything. That's all I ever thought about.

(Large crowd of church members, worshipping; Unification Church posters; Sun Myung Moon)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna Collins, once semi-divine, never learned how to be a regular human being.

(Photos of Donna Collins as a child)

Julia: (Voiceover) I wanted to live in a normal family. And I guess everyone thinks their parents are a bit strange, but mine really were.

(People worshipping; people singing and clapping; photo of Collins)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And Julia M. People are stunned to hear what she watched her own parents do, what she did, for God.

All three were products of a tumultuous time. When did it start, 1967, when things turned upside down, when all the old answers were suddenly deemed wrong? Turmoil. Many young people flirted with new ideas, with drugs and rebellion. But some went another extreme. New religions sprouted up that promised to throw the whole world away, build a new world or a new family.

(Woman singing; candle; group of people walking and singing; Julia M.; newspaper articles; crowd sitting in field and woman dancing; poster; "peace" on umbrella; street sign; man taking pills; people dancing and singing; Vietnam protestors; people at sit-in; military personnel controlling crowd; group of crowd-enforcement police officers; officers pushing man; crowd; police and crowd; Hare Krishna members walking and singing; crowd singing; people praying)

Mr. DON LATTIN: What if it's about family as about religion and God?

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Don Lattin has spent 25 years covering cults and new religious groups for the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as a DATELINE consultant for this report.

(Don Lattin working)

Mr. LATTIN: It is about family and this search for an alternative family. I mean, you've got to remember that what else was happening in the '60s was divorce. I mean that's when divorce rates skyrocketed.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) As if in answer to that, these new religions experimented with new ways to live, new kinds of families. But along the way they had children, a whole generation who had no choice but to live through it all and pay the price. It turns out that what seemed gentle and harmless to many at the time often was not. For many children it was bizarre, painful, and a story still untold. Because rarely has anyone asked in the years since, whatever happened to them? Those children? Through Ben, Donna and Julia, we'll try to do that tonight.

(Various crowds of people; child in wagon; women and children; little girl; candles; split screen showing Ben, Collins and Julia)

MORRISON: The stories you will see during this hour are, in some moments, rather grim. We don't mean to tell you that life was harsh for all the children raised in these religion groups. For some, the experience was positive. Still, based on research, academic studies and dozens of interviews conducted over two careers with people born into several new religious groups, the stories you're about to see do reflect the experiences of many young people who were volunteered by their parents into a grand experiment from which they are still recovering.

Julia: Having this very weird, strange childhood is--that's sort of the fact of my life, and I have to deal with it.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) First, Julia.


Unidentified Man #1: Power to the Lord!

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) Power to the Lord!

Man #1: For Jesus!

MORRISON: (Voiceover) She was born in 1974, into a religious group called the "Children of God," or "The Family." It was part of what the media then dubbed "Jesus freaks." This 1972 NBC documentary profiled the family as a group of born-again hippies.

(Crowd shouting; excerpts from documentary of crowd, singing, clapping and praying)

Unidentified Man #2: Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Julia's parents are still members of the Family and would not speak to us, but she told us her father came from a troubled home in Boston and fled to Canada looking for something better. He found it there, he thought, in the Family, and recruited the woman who would be Julia's mother. The group they belonged to believed salvation was to be found in sex, that the best way to spread God's love was by making love. Members followed the writings of California preacher David Berg--Moses David or Father David he called himself.

Members lived together and shared one another sexually. Then David Berg created "flirty fishing"--females join escort services and used sex as a lure to get their male clients to join the group, and Julia was one of the children who watched it all.

(Julia; body of water; photo of group of people; excerpt from documentary of crowd; pamphlet; pictures in pamphlet; pamphlets; photo of David Berg; documentary excerpt of crowd meeting together; pamphlets; photo of Family members; brochure; photo of Julia)

MORRISON: Did that hurt you at the time?

Julia: I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. I mean, I'd read the materials and I didn't see how what they were doing was wrong. I didn't know that this was something that wasn't considered OK in society to do.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Father David banned birth control, and soon this sexually active group had a child care crisis. Berg stopped education for girls at sixth grade to take care of the children. Childhood ended quickly in another way, too. By the early '80s, Berg decided followers should start having sex at age 12.

(Documentary excerpt of children in cribs; woman holding baby; women and children; photo on pamphlet cover)

Professor JAMES CHANCELLOR: They identified age 12 as the age of becoming an adult.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Religion Professor James Chancellor has interviewed more than 600 long-time members of the Family for a book about the group. Family leaders would not speak to DATELINE directly, but they recommended Professor Chancellor as someone who was fair. Yet even he says the group's sexual practices grew extreme.

(James Chancellor and reporter; book cover; documentary excerpt of crowd meeting singing; pamphlet photo)

Prof. CHANCELLOR: Across the world, in some communities--not in every community, but in some communities--sexual contact and sexual relations between young teen-agers, even down to age 12, and adults, was practiced.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) By this time Julia had been separated from her parents and from her 10 half brothers and sisters. With their sexual practices getting unwanted notice in the West, the group--now about 10,000 strong--began moving to places like the Philippines and India. It was there that Julia says she was first abused.

(Photo of children; photos of Julia; pamphlets; view through window of bus)

Julia: They'd send me off with two adult members from the group. And we'd all sleep in one big bed together. And then I would just kind of block it all out and pretend this was happening to somebody else. You know, this wasn't happening to me.

MORRISON: How old were you?

Julia: I was 11 that time.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Often Julia refused, and she was not alone. Though the Family had spent years reinventing the idea of family, of sexuality, the leaders found themselves dealing with children who, as they got older, discovered that these new ideas were deeply upsetting.

(Photo of Julia; documentary excerpt of women cooking in kitchen; women serving food to people eating; pamphlet cover; pamphlet)

Prof. CHANCELLOR: It created great stresses and difficulties in the lives of the children as they were growing up. It really exposed the sort of ultimate weaknesses that can occur within a community without strong nuclear family bonds.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The group's reaction was to crack down. Thirteen-year-old Julia and other rebellious teens were separated from their parents and sent to something like a boot camp in the Philippine jungle in an area like this.

(View through windshield of truck full of people driving on dirt road; dirt road and countryside)

Prof. CHANCELLOR: They were disciplined with extra labor--young people, 12, 13, 14 years old, required to work hard labor, digging ditches, cleaning grass between cobble stones in a courtyard.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Julia spent years at the camp. But her breaking point came when she turned 19 and was put in charge of punishing others. She refused, was told to leave. But how would Julia survive on her own? She would have to use skills she learned inside the family. Alone and overwhelmed.

(Photo of Julia and child; Philippine countryside; photo of Julia; truck driving on dirt road; city at night; woman in high-heeled shoes; photo of Julia)

Announcer: Alone and overwhelmed...

Julia: I'd never taken a bus, you know, or used a vending machine.

(Voiceover) I didn't know how to adjust. How do I even interact with people in the real world?

(Businesses and people in city at night)

Announcer: ...when Losing Faith continues.

Later, the domestic diva is sentenced to do time.

Ms. MARTHA STEWART: Today is a shameful day.

Announcer: What does Martha Stewart face now? We'll have the latest.


Announcer: We now continue with Losing Faith on DATELINE with Stone Phillips.

Man #1: Power to the Lord!

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) Power to the Lord!

Man #1: For Jesus!

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Julia M., at age 19, had been kicked out of her religious group, the Family. It was the only life she'd ever known. What would she do now? How would she make it? She was sent to her grandparents in Canada, but they were too ill to care for her. Soon--it was now the mid-'90s--she wound up on her own in Toronto without any idea how to live.

(Documentary excerpt of crowd meeting together; photo of Julia; Canadian countryside; city streets at night)

Julia: I didn't know how to adjust. How do I even interact with people in the real world? You know, I've never taken a bus, you know, or used a vending machine.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Reporter Don Lattin says that reaction is common among young people who leave some of these new religions.

(Lattin working at computer)

Mr. LATTIN: Because they weren't being educated, they were being indoctrinated, and there's a big difference. So, that works as long as you stay in the group. But when--when you leave--when--when you leave the group, you leave the--the--the, you know, church school or Ashram school or whatever, it's hard to catch up.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So, within a few months of leaving the Family--scared overwhelmed, alone--Julia attempted suicide by overdosing and pills and alcohol. Somehow she woke up in a hospital alive.

(Photo of Julia; pills; empty hospital room; emergency light flashing)

Julia: And I realized, you know, without money I'm completely vulnerable here. I'm not going to get anywhere. I ha--I will do--and I decided I'm going to do whatever it takes, nobody's going to rescue me, nobody's going to come out and--nobody really cares.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) To survive she turned to the only thing she knew: sex. Like the mother she watched as a child, Julia M. joined an escort service, became a call-girl. She was part of the Madam X crew, a "submissive female" named Jewels.

(City street at night; boots on woman; photo of Julia in lingerie; text from brochure)

Julia: It was really hard. It was really difficult.

MORRISON: Was it humiliating?

Julia: It was. Extremely humiliating. I mean, you're standing, you know, at 7 AM, looking exhausted in a hotel lobby while, you know, people with real lives walk by, and they all know what you're doing there. And it's, yeah, it was pretty humiliating.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When she was with her clients, Julia says, she coped much as she did during her sexual encounters inside the Family.

(Prostitute on street; photo of Julia)

Julia: I guess what I did is--is what I had done in the group right when things like that happened. I just pretended, you know, I was somewhere else. I'd just go somewhere else in my head. I didn't actually have to be there.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But then, more than a year into this life, Julia began hearing from her half brothers and sisters still inside the Children of God. They wanted to get out, too, and needed Julia's help. And after all, she was family. Professor Chancellor says at that time a lot of teens were starting to leave the group.

(Adult club; city street at night; photo of Julia; bus; person entering adult club)

Prof. CHANCELLOR: Most of the young people who were involved in this were part of the first wave of children born into the movement.

MORRISON: Bore the brunt of the experimentation.

Prof. CHANCELLOR: They bore the brunt of the experimentation. And as far as I can determine, the vast majority of those young people left the movement when they could.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But how could Julia help her brothers and sisters find a real life when she was a stripper and a call-girl, a prostitute? So she made herself a promise.

(Ally in city at night; photo of Julia; neon sign of nude woman)

Julia: (Voiceover) I'm going to give it a year. I'm going to really try to get out of this cycle, change my life.

(Feet of prostitute)

Julia: If it doesn't work, if I don't feel better after the year, then I'm going to end it. You know, there's no point.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) A year to make a dramatic change in her life or end it all. A real deadline. We'll tell you what happened to Julia in that year, and what's become of the Family.

But next, what happens when your religion declares you blessed beyond sin? Donna Collins discovered that being marked for greatness in her church might not be such a privilege after all.

(City street at night; photo of Julia; documentary excerpt of Family crowd, singing; Sun Myung Moon; photo of Collins as a child; Collins looking through photo album; Moon; people worshipping)


Announcer: We return to Losing Faith, on DATELINE with Stone Phillips.

Ms. COLLINS: I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was doing missions, and--I mean, even at seven years old I--I can remember thinking, constantly, about being a righteous person.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna Collins grew up in the Unification Church. As you may have guessed from what she just said, she was something special among church members. Donna was, according to supreme leader Sun Myung Moon, a blessed child something like a little Buddha. Her story is sometimes hard to believe, even for her.

Just about anyone who lived in the US during the '70s and '80s is familiar with the Unification Church and its South Korean leader, Reverend Moon.

(Child photos of Collins; photos of Collins and Sun Young Moon; photo of Collins as a child; candles; excerpt of Moon leading service)

Mr. LATTIN: Moon's vision is to bring together all the Christians and religions of the world. It sounds like a great thing. You know, unification, that's the Unification Church.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But most of the attention Moon and his church received was for their investments--the Washington Times, for example, is owned by Moon--and for their recruitment techniques--back in the '70s, a mixture of parade and patriotism, along with charges of brainwashing by angry families of Moon's troops.

(Moon leading service; newspaper; people marching in parade; people singing "God Bless America" in parade; man handing out flyers; man speaking to Moon)

Unidentified Man #3: The parents and people of this country are going to wake up, and guys like you won't get away with it forever, I'll you that right now.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But most famous were the Moon-arranged mass marriages like this one at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1982. This is how Donna Collins' parents got married. They're no longer part of the church, but would not speak to us for this report.

Donna tells us the story how one morning in Oregon her mother, caught up in the social tumult of the '60s, left her first husband and children and joined up with Moon in search of a better family, which Moon provided by selecting Donna's father. When Donna was born in 1970, the church was still small, and she was the very first Western child to come from a Moon-arranged marriage.

(Excerpts from mass marriage ceremony; Collins; sunset; Moon leading service; excerpts from mass marriage ceremony; photos of Collins as a child)

Ms. COLLINS: It was in the theology, it was the expectation, that all children born from Moon's blessed marriages would be perfect in front of the eyes of God and different and set apart from other children.

MORRISON: And you're the first of them.

Ms. COLLINS: Yeah. So...

MORRISON: What a position to be in.

Ms. COLLINS: Yeah. It was--it was strange.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) She was five whether they took her away from her parents--then living in London--to be trained at a church school in the English countryside. Here, she says, followers did not expect little Donna to ever cry or be unhappy because she was a blessed child. Even at that age, she says, they saw her as a font of wisdom about everything, including some very intimate subjects.

(Photos of Collins as a child)

Ms. COLLINS: People who are very weird, who would tell me about their sexual problems, their marital lives, go to...

MORRISON: Why go to you? You're a little girl?

Ms. COLLINS: Because I was blessed special and might have some big opinion. I was pretty good at talking the church rhetoric even as a little kid.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And other than missing her parents, she says, it was a pretty good life. Many people looked after her. She often attracted the benevolent attention of Reverend Moon himself, who took a special interest in this first blessed child. She appeared at rallies with him in Washington. She made the cover of the church's monthly magazine. And then everything changed.

(Photo of Collins as a child; photo of Moon and Collins; photo of Collins in crowd; artist's sketch of Collins)

MORRISON: When she was 11, Moon sent Donna to Korea to study with other blessed children, but now she was 5500 miles away from her own parents who, by then, had been sent to live in Europe. She became anorexic from the stress, she says, and she got appendicitis. She was sent home to recover, but a few months later, she says, Moon met with her father and demanded that she be returned to Korea, and her father agreed.

Ms. COLLINS: And that was kind of the beginning of my disillusionment. Although I didn't know it then, I'd started to become just a little bit more angry and started to feel like, `No one can protect me, and my parents can't protect me.'

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Experts say this feeling of abandonment is common in children from some new religions of that era which often separated them from their parents. Donna would see her mother and father at all for nearly five years. Now in Korea, again, she says her disillusionment continued to grow when she saw up close how poor church members struggled and how wealthy Moon and his family had become.

(Candle; photo of children wearing robes; Korean dance; Moon)

Ms. COLLINS: You could see that members who were poor, stayed poor, lived in houses or rooms with five or six children and cleaned Moon's million-dollar home.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna said she confronted moon about what she saw and asked once more to go live with her parents. His reply according to Donna: The real problem was her love for her father.

(Mansion and estate; photo of woman placing necklace of flowers on Moon; photo of Moon)

Ms. COLLINS: He said, `You are very close to him, aren't you?' He said, `That's not good for you. You need to forget that.' He said, `I am your father now. I am your leader.'

MORRISON: (Voiceover) To Donna the new family structure her parents craved when joining the church years ago now seemed to be backfiring on their own daughter. Nonetheless she kept protesting. After five years in Korea, Donna--then 16--was suddenly allowed to return to her parents. It was the mid-1980s. Donna's mother and father were now in New York, working to build up the church there. Donna says Moon thought she could help. Instead, she threw herself into American life and pop culture. She began to drift away from the church.

(Excerpts of Moon leading mass marriage ceremony; Korean building; photo of Collins; pedestrians in city; New York buildings; photo of Collins)

Ms. COLLINS: I went through agonizing teen-age years of feeling like God--you know, if I left God was going to totally abandon me as a person and I would be fallen and evil and satanic.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) She was consumed by guilt for failing as a blessed child, for not wanting to follow Moon anymore. Family and friends vowed to cut her off. At age 20, Donna tried to kill herself.

(Photos of Collins)

Ms. COLLINS: I started to feel that I was really trapped, because I couldn't follow him, but I didn't want to lose my friends and family, so I was suicidal and becoming, you know, depressed. A lot.

MORRISON: What were you going to do?

Ms. COLLINS: I did take a load of pills and poisoned my system with, like, loads and load of alcohol on top of that. My friend found me at school.

MORRISON: If your friend hadn't found you wouldn't be here today.

Ms. COLLINS: I probably wouldn't, no.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) With that Donna said she decided to break off from the church. Many other young followers had begun to do the same thing.

(Candles; photo of people)

MORRISON: Despite our several requests, church leaders have not given us anyone to speak to on camera, but over the phone they've told us that the church was, quote, "over-zealous" in the way it treated that first generation of children and that, indeed, many of them have left.

(Voiceover) After Donna left the church, she did a scary thing. She fell in love and told her boyfriend about her past.

(Photo of Collins and man)

MORRISON: How did he react when you told him?

Ms. COLLINS: He actually said, `Wow, that is really heavy. I think I'm going to need a pint.' That's what he said.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But the strangest part was yet to come. They got married and wanted children, but how do you raise a family when you've rarely had parents in your life? How do you cope with every day living when you've been raised as a blessed child? As we will see, it would not be easy.

Nor was it easy for Ben Bressack in another religious group. It was known as one of the gentlest faiths of the '60s. But for Ben, the reality was far different.

(Wedding photos of Collins and family members; photo of Collins as a child; Ben; video excerpt of women wearing scarves and dancing; photo of woman and child)

Mr. BRESSACK: These people were so mean. I mean, they would kick you, punch you, hit you with whatever was available to them.

Announcer: The agonizing story of a son's anger and a mother's guilt...

Ms. POLLEN BRESSACK: He's my child, and I put him in danger.

Announcer: ...when Losing Faith continues.


Announcer: Losing Faith continues.

Mr. BRESSACK: Personally, I think that children should be protected and should be taught how to survive.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Ben Bressack says as a child he learned just the opposite, growing up in what appeared to be one of the gentlest alternative religions of the '60s and '70s: the Hare Krishnas. The Krishnas were then--and still are certainly visible, chanting on street corners with their distinctive shaved heads and saffron robes. The group is an offshoot of Hinduism from India, and what is called Krishna consciousness was brought to the US in the mid-'60s. Leaders set up a temple in the counter-culture capital, which was San Francisco's Haight Ashbury.

(Photo of Ben as a boy; statue; video excerpts of various Hare Krishna groups walking down city sidewalk and singing; statues; street signs; crowd in San Francisco)

Mr. LATTIN: It was the whole hippie scene. It was the, you know, the summer of love. It was living in the street, living in the park and the--the Hare Krishnas were--were a part of that.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In 1969 a young woman arrived in Haight Ashbury to escape what she saw as her stifling middle-class family life back East. She noticed the Krishnas on a street corner.

(People crossing street; photo of Pollen; Krishnas chanting)

Ms. BRESSACK: I saw the devotees chanting and I was very attracted. I went to the temple and they offered, you know, free lunches, and I took the lunches. And about three or four months I decided that this was the--my path to God, and I joined.

MORRISON: How old were you?

Ms. BRESSACK: Mom: Twenty-four.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Pollen was a single mother. When she joined them she brought along her 10-month old son, Ben. They lived together for a couple of years at a Krishna commune in Berkeley. But according to Don Lattin, back then children were not part of the group's plan. Leaders even had a special expression for mothers.

(Photos of Pollen and Ben; photos of children; Krishna group; Krishna women and babies)

Mr. LATTIN: It was `dump the load and hit the road.' You had the baby, `Don't worry about the baby, we'll take care of the baby, you go back out and--and proselytize, and spread Krishna consciousness and raise money and sell flowers,' or whatever they were doing.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So when Ben was about three, Pollen said she was told to give him over to one of the new Krishna boarding school being opened--this one in Dallas.

(Photo of Ben as a child; photo of Dallas Krishna school)

MORRISON: Tell me about at that moment. For--for a mother I can't imagine.

Ms. BRESSACK: Oh, for--I--I felt like I was giving my child to God. That's--that was what was in my mind at the time.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Ben said that was far from his reality at school.

(Photo of Ben as a child)

Mr. BRESSACK: There was a--a window where some guy was--it's like a second story window, and he was, like, holding me out of it and hitting me with a stick, like, you know, a couple stories off the ground. So that's what I remember of--of three years old.

MORRISON: You don't remember your mother hugging you or...

Mr. BRESSACK: I have not one memory of--of--of a hug from my mom at a--at a young--at a childhood age at all.

MORRISON: When ben was 10 the church sent him to a boarding school near a Krishna temple in India, 8,000 miles away from his family. There, he says, in a school with about 200 Western children, disease was rampant, food was scarce, and the physical abuse from which he long suffered became sexual abuse.

Mr. BRESSACK: I was abused hundreds and hundreds ti--I couldn't count how many times I was sexually abused because there was...

MORRISON: People touching you, that...

Mr. BRESSACK: My one monitor, he was in charge of me. He would make me like--he treated me as if I was his girlfriend, I mean, you know. I'd--I had to do whatever he wanted.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And he suffered through it alone, with no parent to turn to. During his four years in India, his mother came to visit once when he was 12. Finally, Ben, thought, this visit was his chance to break free. He says he told mother about the abuse. But school leaders then called him a liar and demon. He was sure his mother would defend him.

(Photo of Ben as a child; Indian city; photo of Ben as a child; photo of Pollen)

MORRISON: And your mother didn't?

Mr. BRESSACK: She let it go. She walked away from me. I mean, she was so...


Mr. BRESSACK: ...afraid, so bedazzled by this--the religion or whatever it is that she chose to ignore what I said and walked away from me.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Pollen Bressack says the whole time was very confusing for her. Her entire life was dependent upon the Krishnas, and she just wasn't strong enough then to help her son.

(Photo of Pollen; Krishna members dancing; photo of Pollen and Ben)

Ms. BRESSACK: I know he said he was unhappy and I wanted to bring him back and I was too...

MORRISON: Why didn't you?

Ms. BRESSACK: Because they convinced me that he was just home sick and it was better for him to be there.

MORRISON: How difficult would it have been for you to confront the people who had him there and say, `No, I'm taking him home? Don't care what you say.'

Ms. BRESSACK: I po--couldn't possibly have done it. I mean, because of who I am and my nature, if I had been the strong person I am now, I would have brought him home at that point, definitely. If I had been the strong person I am now I wouldn't have sent him in the first place. But at the time I didn't have the strength of character to--to stop it.

Mr. BRESSACK: At that point, you know, I--I realized I didn't have a mother, either, you know? I mean, even though I never had had her, I thought for a couple minutes there that I--that I was--I had something.

Mr. ANUTTAMA DASA: Well, we know, unfortunately, in the '70s and 1960s, too many of our children actually were abused in some of the schools that were established.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Anuttama Dasa is communications director for the Krishnas organization in America. He insists spiritual leaders had no idea what was happening in those schools. They've all since been shut down, and the Krishnas now admit the whole idea of boarding schools was a mistake.

(Anuttama Dasa talking to reporter; Krishna group dancing in temple)

Mr. DASA: Religious organizations, and boarding schools in particular, are very vulnerable for people to take advantage of and to abuse children. There's just--there's access to kids, and the parents, by nature, are far away. So, it makes them very, very vulnerable.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Dasa says the scandals inside the Catholic Church show that that era back in the '60s and '70s was a troubling time in general for religions and sex abuse.


Mr. DASA: Abuse was rampant in our society, and people just didn't know it even existed or could exist. They didn't know what to look for.

MORRISON: Ben Bressack, damaged, he says, by physical and sexual abuse, was finished with the Hare Krishnas. But, on his own at age 16, he was lost. He became homeless for a time. He became a drug addict. He began to search for the kind of family his mother had tossed away. He found his grandparents and lived with them for three years until they died.

(Voiceover) Ben reached out for family in a different way: he got married, had a son of his own. But the past is hard to escape, and Ben was confused by the real world he now lived in. His marriage didn't last.

(Photo of Ben and baby)

Mr. BRESSACK: Each day I was trying to live my life to the best of my knowledge, to the best of my ability, and I didn't...

MORRISON: Didn't know how.

Mr. BRESSACK: ...didn't know the information that I know today.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Now the only family he had left to turn to was his mother. But he was angry with her.

(Photos of Pollen and Ben)

Mr. BRESSACK: She is my biological mother. But, as far as me being accepting of her and her accepting of me, it's really not the case.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) While she was angry at the Krishnas, and guilt-ridden over what she let happen to her son.

(Wind vane on top of building; photo of Ben)

Ms. BRESSACK: I am ultimately responsible. I mean, I will--I'll take that responsibility. I mean, he was under my watch, he's my child, and I put him in danger.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Which makes where they are today and what they're doing very surprising indeed.

(Ben working; Pollen praying)

Announcer: Struggling to find their way in the world. How will their stories end? Losing Faith will continue in a moment.


Announcer: Losing Faith continues on DATELINE with Stone Phillips.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) It was the age of Aquarius. The world would be remade, new gods worshipped, a different kind of family created. But more than 30 years later many of those most affected by these grand notions find themselves desperately reaching for the very thing their parents long ago discarded: a normal life.

(Hippies dancing in field; protestors waving signs; various groups of hippies; painted Volkswagon van; protestors' signs; candles; woman singing; protestors; Krishna woman)

Mr. LATTIN: What makes a religion a religion is--is legs, is staying power. And so, a big test of all new religious movements is what happens to the next generation?

MORRISON: In our report we've met three of that next generation, born into the new religious movements of the '60s and '70s. Julia Julia of the Family, Donna Collins of the Reverend Moon's Unification Church, and Ben Bressack of the Hare Krishnas. And like many in their generation, they have left those religions and are struggling to find their way in the world, and their own kind of family.

Julia: I was almost killed a couple times. And it was just--I mean that was one reason why I just thought, `I have to get out of this.'

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Julia Julia left the Family and their extreme sexual practices only to wind up as a call-girl in and a stripper. She gave herself a year to quit the sex business, a year to help some of her brothers and sisters leave the family, too. If she couldn't do it, she vowed to end her life. Julia kept working as a call-girl to pay the rent. But during the day she took computer courses, and slowly began to live in the real world.

(Julia; neon sign of nude woman; feet of prostitute; city street at night; photo of Julia; Family members dancing; person typing; photo of Julia)

Julia: It was so scary. I have to say, that was almost the scariest thing, because I felt like everybody can look at me and know that I don't belong here, you know? I don't really among in this world.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But built, by bit, she found she did. Julia left the sex business before her year was up and worked her way up to run the computer system at a major hospital; all the while she helped her siblings make their transition to the real world. Her mother and father are still inside the Family, and Julia--now 30--doesn't speak to them often. Her brothers and sisters have become the real family she always wanted.

Are they OK?

(Photo of Julia; city street; person typing at computer; Julia)

Julia: We all have our ups and downs but we're very, very close, actually, because there are so many few people in the world who actually understand, you know, where we're coming from.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) As for the religion called the Family, after losing so many members, it changed, too. Professor James Chancellor has studied the group.


Prof. CHANCELLOR: They realized the full impact of what had happened. They--I guess in--in religious language, they repented.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In the mid-'90s the group banned adult sex with minors, and some other sexual practices. In fact, Chancellor says, young people still inside the group, now having their own children, are forming traditional nuclear families.

(Pamphlets; Chancellor talking to reporter)

Prof. CHANCELLOR: I've heard it explicitly stated numerous times, `My child is not going to be raised the way I was raised. They're going to know who their father is. They're going to be with that father. He's going to be their for them. We are going to have a family.'

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Founder David Berg died in 199r. The Family is not very visible in the US anymore. Most of its 10,000 current members live in third world countries where they still recruit, but also run health and education programs for the poor.

(Photos of Berg; computer screen showing Web pages)

Ms. COLLINS: I think the one thing that has been a bit hard has been leading a normal life.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna Collins, the blessed child from the Unification Church, is still married with two children, a boy and a girl. It's the perfect family she always wanted. But it's not easy.

(Photo of Collins as a child; Collins with her children)

Ms. COLLINS: I sometimes struggle with the nuclear family thing, though, because I never had that. So, like, I've had to learn how to cook or do things that I just find difficult, because I never lived like that.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna, now 35, said she sometimes gets severe anxiety attacks just trying to cope with an average day. She's been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, stress she believes comes from her years with the Unification Church.

(Collins with child in kitchen)

Ms. COLLINS: I thought I was getting out scot-free completely, and then the pressure of, you know, finances and children and managing a life, you know, started to--to bring up some very old issues for me.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Donna's parents, among the very first Westerners to join the church, have also left. They and Donna have become close.

(Collins family in kitchen)

MORRISON: Church leaders admit they've had trouble keeping the younger members. And in fact, they've established a special ministry for it. There are still those mass marriages, and the Reverend Moon still arranges each and every one. Core US membership is now about 5,000 people, with several thousand more keeping a looser affiliation.

Mr. BRESSACK: At least as far as trying to bring a family closer together, I think that we're on the right path.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And Bressack, who left the Hare Krishnas after years of abuse, tried to build his own family. His grandparents died, a marriage failed. Today Ben, now a carpenter, lives in the tiny town of Alachua northern Florida. Surprising, perhaps, because over the past decade, Alachua has become the American center for the Hare Krishnas. Their businesses line Alachua's small Main Street, and this impressive Krishna temple lies just outside of town. Despite his harsh childhood, Ben, now 36, says he moved to Alachua to reconnect with his family live. His mother, Pollen, and his stepfather live here. She is still a believer, though more skeptical than she was. And even with his anger and her guilt, mother and son are trying to build a relationship that they have never really had.

(Ben working; Alachua; Krishna temple; Ben; Pollen praying; Ben)

Mr. BRESSACK: It really boiled down to the fact that I wanted some type of family. They are the only family that I have. I mean, I'd...

MORRISON: `Make the best of them. That's all you got.'

Mr. BRESSACK: That's--it's the only family that I have.

Mr. BRESSACK: It's almost like he's keeping you at arm's length, but he doesn't want to get too far away.

Ms. BRESSACK: Oh, no. He wants to be close to me. I mean, that's what I am saying. It will happen because we both have the desire. We're just going to have to go at it slowly and gently.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The Krishnas say they're moving in a new direction, too. They have settled down in many ways. Believers don't beg on the streets. Life is more family centered. Children go to regular day schools, not boarding schools, and live with their parents. The group, now with about 10,000 followers and 25 temples throughout the US, also hired outside investigators to look into abuse charges.

(Worshippers dancing in temple)

Mr. LATTIN: Some of their own internal investigations which they published are the most damning. So in some ways they were more up front about some of their problems with abuse than the Roman Catholic Church was.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The Hare Krishnas set up a fund for those abused. There are counseling centers. But the church is also being sued by 94 victims, including Ben Bressack. He says he wants to make sure the Krishnas never abuse children again.

The new religions spawned a generation ago have gone through a painful maturing process. Some have disbanded, others try to hold on and keep members in the fold. The three groups are smaller today. They tried to remake the concept of family and, in many cases, brought pain to the children born into those experiments. But eventually they discovered, like the people we met tonight, that when children come along, theology sometimes just gets in the way. For children, the needs are simpler.

(Krishna temple; statues; Bressack; candles; Family members singing; candles; excerpt of Moon and mass wedding ceremony; candles; photo of Julia; candles; photo of Collins; candles; photo of Ben)

Mr. BRESSACK: They should be taught security, they should be given love, they should be given hugs so they know how to give hugs.

MORRISON: And they need love.

Mr. BRESSACK: And they need lots of love, lots of hugs and anything that--that means love. Anything.

PHILLIPS: Lawsuits filed against the Krishnas by Ben Bressack and other alleged victims of abuse are slowly working their way through state courts. The Krishnas have filed for bankruptcy protection, and in a statement they say the suits, if successful, threaten to shut down an entire religion. Krishna leaders say that all believers should not be punished for, quote, "the deeds of individual deviants."

Announcer: Coming up on DATELINE Friday, she knew John F. Kennedy Jr. the way few others did.

Unidentified Woman: He was so cute.

Announcer: Now, on the fifth anniversary of his death, the woman who helped raise him, his governess, is speaking out for the first time, sharing never-before-seen photos and a look back at what might have been.

Woman: They wanted a bigger apartment. I thought, that's good because they probably want a family.

Announcer: A DATELINE exclusive.

Announcer: Coming up next, a preacher sets out to help those who can't help themselves, till the government and others accuse him of fleecing his flock.

Mr. BRUCE HAWTHORN: The devil doesn't want what I'm doing. That's why I'm being fought so hard.

Announcer: Did the devil make them do it? When Losing Faith continues.

And later, Martha Stewart speaks out after her sentencing.

Ms. STEWART: I am not afraid. I'm not afraid whatsoever.

Announcer: What's next for the grand dame of gracious living?