Cult provided sex services to strangers
Hamilton Spectator/1993-09-10, p. B6
by Kate Barlow
The Toronto branch of the Family of Love says Argentine allegations of sodomy and child abuse are false.
But spokeswoman Joy Streams admitted women members of the religious cult have in the past provided sexual services to outsiders.
"But not for prostitution. That was not part of it at all," Ms Streams, 37, said during a telephone interview in which she refuted allegations of kidnapping, physical and sexual abuse of children, incest and prostitution.
Former Burlington resident Susan Claire Borowick, 33, is among 18 members of the cult's Argentine branch facing charges. They were arrested last week after raids on the Family's Buenos Aires-area homes.
Ms Borowick is accused of being a leader of the cult. Her 12-year-old son, Esteaban, is believed to be among the 140 children taken into care after the raids.
The Family is an offshoot of the California-based Children of God.
Ms Streams said she believes that many rumors about the cult stem from "witnessing," the practice of providing sex to outsiders. But she said it was confined to a handful of women members in the early 1980s and "was banned years ago."
Ms Streams said she has never seen child abuse in the 17 years she had been a member. The Family claims a membership of 9,000 worldwide, including 6,000 children.
"We're not guilty of any of those things they accuse us of. We're basic fundamentalist Christians, nothing more," she said.
Ms Streams said she has never met cult leader David Berg, but has heard of Clara, as Susan Borowick is known within the sect, and Edward Priebe, a former member who claims he witnessed child abuse.
Eleven adults, including four married couples, plus 29 children live in the branch's large downtown Toronto home.
Police and immigration officials visited the Toronto group yesterday. Ms Streams said the immigration official checked that those members who are not Canadians had their papers in order.
The police came in response to a previous offer by the cult to volunteer in community projects, she said. Members regularly sing in senior citizens' homes and shelters. Police toured the home, including childrens' quarters. Ms Streams said she was told they would be contacted if help was needed.
John Francis, international spokesman for the Family, said yesterday that "disgruntled" ex-members such as Mr. Priebe of Chilliwack, B.C., are conducting a personal vendetta.
More than 140 children were taken from members' custody in Australia last year, but legal action was stayed. Police in Spain also seized several children, but cult members were later aquitted of abuse. Drug charges in Argentina were dismissed in 1989.