In a dirt-floored, back-alley church, 8-year-old Bobby and his 6-year-old brother Henock were made to kneel before a pastor wearing a white, flowing robe adorned with pictures of Jesus.
Looming over the boys, Pastor Moise Tshombe went into a trance, during which he claimed the Holy Spirit took over and the voice of God spoke through him. “I see that witchcraft is in these two,” Tshombe said. “The threats inside of them are very strong.”
These young brothers were the latest victims in an epidemic of accusations of child witchcraft here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is raging in the name of Jesus. It continues seemingly unabated despite flags raised by organizations such as the United Nations, Save the Children and Human Rights Watch.
Bobby and Henock were brought to this pastor by their stepmother, who said she believes her stepsons are witches and claimed the boys were stealing their stepsister’s blood and using it to fly at night. Pointing to Henock, whose left arm is covered in bandages, she said that, in the “spirit world,” he is an elderly man who injured himself while trying to kill his father. The boys’ father was not present; he was out of town on work and apparently unaware of the ceremony.
In a small, squeaky voice, Bobby said that family members had told him he and his brother were infected with witchcraft after eating bread and green beans their older brother gave them.
Tshombe’s denunciation appeared to have traumatized the boys, who were barely responsive.
Their fear was not unwarranted; the fate of children accused of witchcraft in the Congo is often nothing short of horrific, critics say.
ABC News’ “Nightline” gained exclusive access to four churches, where we saw scores of children — including toddlers — who were denounced as witches. The accusers were powerful and often politically connected pastors, who some say get paid to perform so-called “deliverance ceremonies,” or exorcisms, which can be unimaginably brutal.
Arnold Mushiete, a social worker for “Our House,” a small, Catholic organization funded entirely by donations, which helps children accused of witchcraft, was our guide into this frightening world. He said a new breed of Christian pastors are manipulating the faith.
“Our work is to repair what they have destroyed,” he said, “and to give another image of Jesus, not one who tortures children.”
Unwanted Children Accused of Witchcraft, Abandoned
Accusing children of witchcraft is a relatively new phenomenon in the Congo. Experts say it’s the result of a toxic combination of causes, including decades of war, an economy in collapse, and a new breed of Christian pastors who profit by telling impoverished parents that all of their problems — economic, medical and emotional — are caused by the family’s weakest members.
Unwanted children are often accused of witchcraft as a pretense for abandoning them. Save the Children estimates 70 percent of the estimated 15,000 street children in the capital city of Kinshasa have been accused of witchcraft.
Why would a parent ever believe their child is a witch? Mushiete says in a culture where death and divorce have destroyed families, parents are easy prey for greedy, ruthless pastors.
On our tour of Christian churches in Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa, we saw Pastor Ngoma Madilu Orlain accuse two sisters, Sarah, 13, and Lufuakenda, 9, of being witches — with their father, Albert Kanza, looking on.
As the terrified sisters begin to cry, their father remains silent.
“I believe she is a witch,” Kanza told ABC News. He told us that he trusts the pastor and that in his mind, there can be no other explanation for his money and health problems.
Pastors Perform Gruesome Exorcism to Cast Out Demons
Once a child is accused of witchcraft, the next step is often exorcism — a casting out of demons. The ritual can be tantamount to torture. We watched as Tshombe poured hot candle wax on the stomach of a clearly emaciated, 11-year-old girl named Noella.
Kneeling in front of a wooden cross, the pastor and his aides held the girl down as the pastor pretended to pull demonic flesh out of her. Noella was screaming in pain.
It appeared to be a cheap, cruel magic trick, but the crowd, including the girl’s mother, appeared to believe.
“It had to happen this way because the child is accused of witchcraft,” she told ABC News.
Exorcisms Scar Children for Life
The ceremony does not come cheap. Tshombe was charging $50 — an exorbitant cost in a country where the average annual salary is $100.
He insisted to us that Jesus Christ would approve of his actions.
“I don’t do it for money. I do this because the Holy Spirit gave me the gift to cure,” he told ABC News. “If I were a liar, you wouldn’t see so many people here. That proves that I am not a charlatan.”
As cruel as Tshombe is with the children in his church, exorcisms can purportedly be exponentially worse. There are reports of children being beaten, burned, starved and even murdered — sometimes by members of their own family.
When we find Orlain forcing a little girl to expel evil spirits through an enema, involving a potion made by boiling a supposedly magical wood, he, like Tshombe, is unapologetic.
“Christ chased away evil spirits. That’s what we today would call witchcraft,” Orlain said.
Even after a child endures an exorcism, the ordeal is often far from over. Many are said to be permanently tainted in the eyes of their family that they’re kicked out of the house.
Life for girls accused of witchcraft is especially horrific. Critics say they are often raped, abused and forced into prostitution.
Many of these girls now have children of their own. We saw them leaving the babies on the side of the road to sleep at night while they went off to turn tricks.
Government Fails to Take Action Against Abuse
While there are dozens of organizations working to help kids accused of witchcraft, many activists complain that the Congolese government is not doing enough to address the problem.
ABC News took our evidence directly to a senior government official, Theodore Luleka Mwanalwamba, who heads a special commission to protect children, including those accused of witchcraft in the Congo. He said it’s illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft — unless you have proof.
The government official explained that witchcraft is part of the country’s traditional belief system. He says it’s possible for a child to be a witch, “if a child has big eyes, black eyes or a bulging tummy.”
While the government does not condone physical abuse of children, he told ABC News that the effort to protect children from mistreatment by pastors is problematic since “important people” attend some of the churches in question.
Happy Endings Rare for Accused Child Witches
Because of people like Mushiete, there are sometimes happy endings for accused child witches.
Mushiete has adopted two brothers, Reuben and Joseph, who were kicked out of their homes after they were accused of being witches. They now live with Mushiete, his wife and their two biological sons.
Reuben, 13, told ABC News how he was whipped and beaten by his old family.
When we asked if he was still angry, he cried and said, “No, because my father, Arnold, told me not to be. It’s the past. It’s over.”
A blogger critical of First Baptist Church Pastor Mac Brunson wants to know why his Web site was investigated by a police detective who is also a member of the ministerâ€™s security detail.
Thomas A. Rich also wants the Jacksonville Sheriffâ€™s Office to explain what suspected crimes led Detective Robert Hinson to open the probe into his once-anonymous Web site.
Rich also wants to know why Hinson revealed his name to the church despite finding no wrongdoing. Hinson obtained a subpoena from the State Attorneyâ€™s Office requiring Google Inc. to reveal the author of the blog.
Richâ€™s unmasking led to an eventual trespass warning banning the longtime member and his wife from First Baptist, despite the fact that Brunson and a top church administrator conceded the blog never threatened violence.
Rich said he mailed a complaint against Hinson to the Sheriffâ€™s Office on Tuesday. It had not been received as of Wednesday afternoon.
The intelligence detectiveÂ opened the criminal investigation Sept. 29Â into the identity and â€œpossible criminal overtonesâ€ of the blog, fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com.
The Sheriffâ€™s Office and church officials defended the complaint and investigation into Richâ€™s blog, which Hinson concluded Nov. 13.
Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said Hinsonâ€™s role posed no conflict of interest because his duties include handling possible threats against the cityâ€™s large religious institutions.
Rich said he was never contacted by Hinson. He learned of the investigation well after the church notified him Nov. 28 he had been identified as the blogâ€™s author.
Two additional bloggers investigated by Hinson said they were also not contacted. They learned of the probe in middle or late March. Their blogs do not focus on First Baptist.
Mackesy said the three bloggers didnâ€™t need to be contacted because Hinson uncovered nothing criminal.
â€œThe detective hasnâ€™t done anything wrong,â€ he said.
It was also proper for Hinson to provide First Baptistâ€™s leadership with Richâ€™s identity despite finding no criminal evidence, Mackesy said, so it could take whatever internal action it felt necessary for its own safety.
â€œIâ€™d be disappointed in the detective if [he] didnâ€™t do it,â€ he said.
The Rev. John Blount,Â executive pastor of administration, said he contacted Hinson directly regarding increased â€œvitriolâ€ on the blog about the same time mail was stolen from the Brunson home and someone was surreptitiously photographing Brunsonâ€™s wife. Also, someone had contacted vendors lined up for the churchâ€™s annual pastorsâ€™ conference and made critical remarks about Brunson to them, Blount said.
â€œWe became concerned enough to ask law enforcement, ‘Is there the ability to find out where this is coming from?â€™Â â€ Blount said.
Police reports were not filed about the mail and photos, Blount said. The Sept. 29 police report launching the investigation quotes Blount telling police only about â€œan ongoing Internet incident that has possible criminal overtones.â€
At no time was the blogger accused of being behind the other incidents, Blount said.
Rich said he never stole mail, photographed Brunsonâ€™s wife or contacted vendors. Rich said he wonders if those issues were raised simply to obtain a subpoena to uncover the identity of a blogger critical of Brunson.
That was not the case, Blount said. In an age of church shootings and other violence, he said, they simply wanted to determine if any of the events were related.
Brunson said police have interviewed him about the photos and stolen mail. He refused to elaborate.
Rich said he launched his blog in August 2007 â€” more than a year after Brunson became the pastor â€” because he was alarmed by what he described as Brunsonâ€™s â€œabusive preaching,â€Â Â especially during fund-raising campaigns.
The blog has included criticisms of Brunsonâ€™s $300,000 salary, his plan to open a church school, his construction of a â€œlavishâ€ office suite, accepting a $307,000 land gift from church members for his home and putting his wife on the payroll.
Brunson declined to discuss his home and salary but maintained he is one of the lowest-paid mega-church pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention. He said people are welcome to criticize his preaching style and ministry goals, including the school, but usually do so openly, not anonymously.
Richâ€™s letter from the church cited his anonymity and sharp criticism as â€œa violation of Scriptureâ€ and church bylaws. He said the trespass warning came after he refused to appear before a discipline committee without a representative.
But Brunson said Richâ€™s persistent criticism over nearly two years indicates the writer has an â€œobsessive compulsive problemâ€ and is â€œnot very stable at all,â€ Brunson said.
â€œWhat youâ€™re dealing with is a sociopath,â€ Brunson said.
â€œThe imbalance is him refusing to address the concerns of his congregation,â€ Rich said of Brunsonâ€™s comments. Rich said his blog gets about 1,000Â hits a day and that he regularly hears from people who agree with his criticisms but are afraid to come forward.
â€œHeâ€™s been trying to convince his administration that I am some kind of a nut,â€ he said. â€œI am not a nut â€¦ and the things I have raised on the blog are valid concerns.â€
Blount said he had no idea why Hinson looked into two other blogs, tiffanycroft.blogspot.comÂ and newbbcopenforum.blogspot.com.
Mackesy would say only that Hinson was obligated to look at those blogs if he felt it could help the initial investigation.
Jacksonville resident Tiffany Croft said the aim of her blog is to be an online source of information about the accusations against the Rev. Darrell Gilyard,Â the former Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist ChurchÂ pastor accused of sexual misconduct. Gilyard regularly preached at First Baptist in the early 1990s.
Croft said she also plans to file a complaint against Hinson demanding to know why her blog â€” which has never been anonymous â€” was the target of a subpoena to Google.
The Times-Union doesnâ€™t know the identity of the third blogger, critical of Bellevue Baptist ChurchÂ in Memphis.
The subpoena requests that Hinson submitted to the State Attorneyâ€™s Office may have listed the criminal activity the detective wanted to investigate, but those documents were destroyed after 90 days, according to the policy at the time, said Assistant State Attorney Stephen Siegel , who signed the subpoena. The actual subpoenas do not cite a reason for the request.
Rich said he will hire an attorney if necessary to get more information from the church and Sheriffâ€™s Office and to clear his name.
â€œItâ€™s hardball,â€ Rich said of the churchâ€™s tactics in uncovering his identity. â€œItâ€™s hardball religion, is what it is.â€
MONTREAL – A self-described pastor who hoped his “marriage” to a 10-year-old girl he took to bed would convince a judge to acquit him on a sexual assault charge was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday.
Daniel Cormier, who was convicted last October following a lengthy trial, has a maximum of 49 months left behind bars because of time already served.
“I would say that there’s no remorse,” Crown prosecutor Anne-Andree Charette said outside the courtroom. “He just tried to find justifications.”
The Crown wanted the maximum prison term of 10 years, while a lawyer Cormier hired for sentencing arguments recommended between 30 months and four years behind bars, given Canadian jurisprudence..
The 57-year-old head of the now defunct Church of Downtown Montreal, who also once ran for mayor, has maintained he is not a pedophile and that he did nothing wrong as the pair were married during a ceremony at his obscure evangelical church in 1999.
Court heard he was lovestruck for the youngster.
During the trial, Quebec court Judge Sylvie Durand announced she would not hear testimony supporting his marriage defence.
The victim, who is now 19, testified she was too young to grasp the idea of marriage. She denied ever entering a union with him, but said she remembered the sexual abuse in vivid detail.
During the proceedings, court heard that Cormier’s church catered to the marginalized. Starting in 1993, he took the girl’s mother, a recovering junkie and prostitute, and her two daughters under his wing.
Relatives described Cormier as a father figure to the girls who were often invited to stay with him or go on vacation with him and other church members.
It was during such holidays that fellow parishioners became suspicious of Cormier’s relationship with the victim.
He was arrested in 2003 after a social worker notified police but the case progressed slowly through the courts as numerous motions were filed by both the Crown and Cormier, who represented himself at the trial.
When it came time for the victim to testify, she agreed to do so only via video link from an adjacent room and Cormier was barred from cross-examining her or her mother.
He declined to submit to the court an approved list of questions and rested his case without calling further witnesses or taking the stand himself.
At the time of his conviction, two additional charges of sexual touching and invitation to touching were dropped.
Cormier is currently on trial in another case involving a 16-year-old girl and could face additional jail time if convicted.
The alleged crimes, which Cormier denies committing, also date back to his time as a pastor.
AN AUSTRALIAN pastor who inspired hundreds of thousands of people with his fight against terminal cancer has admitted he faked his illness to hide an addiction to porn.
Police are now investigating disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci over the collection of public donations to his cancer cause.
The alarm is understood to have been raised by the Hillsong Church in Sydney which revealed the pastor’s hoax in an email.
His deception was so great his wife quit work to care for him, he forced himseld to vomit regularly at night and even lost his hair to fool his family and the public about the extent of his illness.
Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church, had earlier this year released a hit song, The Healer, which debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts and was featured on Sydney Hillsong church’s latest album.
It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Guglielmucci – more than 300,000 people have watched one performance on YouTube.
In a frank TV interview, Guglielmucci explained fabricating a terminal cancer battle to hide his 16-year obsession with pornography.
This story is totally amazing, like how often do you hear religious people saying they’re going to take over a mult-billion dollar software company in order to put an end to gay rights? I think we can officially put to rest the question “does religion cause stupidity?”.
A black conservative Christian pastor of an evangelical megachurch has vowed to take over Microsoft by packing it with new shareholders who will vote against the company’s policy of championing gay rights.
The Reverend Ken Hutcherson, a former Dallas Cowboys linebacker, heads the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, home of Microsoft.
He told Microsoft executives at a shareholders’ meeting last week that he would be their “worst nightmare” if they continued to defy him.
Antioch Bible Church attracts around 3,500 worshippers for its services and Mr Hutcherson is a powerful figure in the Christian conservative movement.
His church, which emphasises racial diversity and a strict moral code, grew from a bible study class for just 15 people in 1984.
An advocate of a “biblical stance” against divorce and homosexuality, Mr Hutcherson, 55, is asking millions of evangelical activists, as well as Orthodox Jewish and other allies, to buy up Microsoft shares and demand a return to traditional values.
Microsoft, he declares, will be just the first company targeted in an escalation of the culture wars between evangelicals and corporate America.
“There are 256 Fortune 500 companies alone pouring millions upon millions of dollars into pushing the homosexual agenda,” he told The Daily Telegraph.