Toronto Star: Sect members deny abuse stories

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Sect members deny abuse stories

Family's free-love ways of '60s misinterpreted, Metro man says

Toronto Star/1993-09-07

by John Ducanson

Metro members of a religious sect under investigation for child sex abuse in Argentina say they are being unjustly crucified for their beliefs.

"We are a community of people who go out each day and talk to people about Jesus," said Dan Fisher, 41, one of 40 members who live in a 11-bedroom home in Toronto rented by the religious sect called The Family.

"Our enemies have cooked up these allegations . It's a form of religious persecution," Fisher said in an interview yesterday.

Members of the sect say the group's beginnings out of a free-love philosophy have been misinterpreted, creating the present-day controversy and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

"It's got nothing to do with sex," said Joy Streams, 37, a mother of seven who joined The Family 12 years ago while travelling in India.

"If there's even a hint of child abuse you're automatically ex-communicated," she said.

Former members have described The Family as an off- shoot of a '60s sex-for-salvation cult called the Children of God and have charged some branches of the sect force female members into prostitution.

Streams and other Metro sect members are angry over the latest round of sex abuse allegations against fellow "missionaries." They are simply practising and preaching their own unique Christian philosophy, she said.

Child abuse, the Metro group insists, isn't part of the religious sect's teachings.

In its own literature, The Family is described as a "fellowship of independent Christian communities" - one dedicated to working together in co-operative communities and "giving our children the best upbringing and education."

They don't subscribe to mainline Christian beliefs about pre-marital sex and believe "loving heterosexual relations between consenting adults is not a sin in the eyes of God."

Fisher said the Metro branch - like its counterpart in Argentina - has its roots in the hippie movement of the '60s, a following that was referred to by the media back then as "The Children of God" cult.

The group was later dissolved by its leader, who was called Father David, when reports of abuse by some officials in the group surfaced, according to the group's own literature.

Out of the ashes of the Children of God came a new following that today is known simply as The Family or the Family of Love, Fisher said.

The group, while acknowledging its sexual beliefs are controversial, says in its literature that "we do not promote nor condone any behavior that is unloving or perverted, let alone illegal."

Fisher blamed cult awareness groups and disgruntled former members of the sect for spreading hysteria and lies about the religious organization, leading to the sex scandal in Argentina.

Last week, authorities in Buenos Aires arrested Canadian Susan Claire Borowick, 33, and a Spanish man who, they say, are leaders of the Family of Love.

Borowick was detained following a series of raids on nearly a dozen Buenos Aires homes. More than 200 men, women and children were originally rounded up.

Borowick and another Canadian, Jesse Jude Mara, 21, are among the 17 people still in custody.

More than 140 children, including Borowick's 12-year-old son, Esteban, are undergoing tests at a state institution to determine whether they were physically or sexually abused.

Fisher said those under arrest in Argentina are being held "incommunicado," so members here have to rely on news accounts for updates.

He said his members kept in touch with their South American counterparts by telephone and letters, adding he doesn't know the two Canadians under arrest.

Fisher said he doesn't believe the allegations, or reports that Argentinian police have seized pornographic material.

Authorities in France and Australia have levelled similar charges, he said.

"In all the cases in which the authorities have made allegations, not one charge has been proven, or a child found to have been abused," he said.

Fisher and Streams, who share an 11-bedroom, seven-bathroom home with 40 Metro chapter members of The Family, said they have nothing to hide.

"In all the years I've been here, I've never seen anything like what they (the authorities) are claiming," said Streams.

Fisher said the children, including his own five, are confused and upset by what they've heard through the media the past few days.

Streams and Fisher described the communal home as a loving, sharing place where children are taught a normal school curriculum by other members.

Streams said many of the children eagerly participate in charitable causes, such as singing at retirement homes, children's shelters and detention centres. "They just love it.'

But the fallout from the allegations in South America has Metro members worried they will come under scrutiny by authorities here.