The Children of God/The Family Court Cases in Argentina: A Documentary History
Overview and Main Court Decisions
Since 1987, Family communities have been the subject of 11 investigations in Argentina. Nine of these resulted in court proceedings being instituted against Family members. In all these cases, Family members were acquitted of any wrongdoing.
As of October 1993, Argentine authorities have medically examined over 230 children of Family members. Some of these children were subjected to repeated painful physical examinations by doctors intent on finding evidence of abuse. The children were found to be in good mental and physical health, and displayed no evidence of any physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
On October 7th, 1989, two Family communities were raided by scores of heavily armed police. Thirteen adult Family members were arrested and held for 2 weeks while eighteen children were placed in state custody. The charges laid following this raid formed the basis for three separate court actions. The first case involved drug charges. The police alleged that a small quantity of cocaine was found on the property. Judge Leonidas Moldes of the San Isidro Court in Buenos Aires dismissed the drug charges on January 1lth, 1990.
The second case involved the welfare of the children that the social services had apprehended. On December 19th, 1989, the children were returned to the custody of their parents by Judge Eleonora Mercedes Fernandez de Zingoni of the San Isidro Court.
The third case involved accusations of child abuse. On May 23, 1990, Judge Alejandro de Korvez of the San Isidro Court dismissed these charges.
Despite these judgements of three well-known magistrates in Buenos Aires, the original federal case filed for drug charges was re-opened, leading to the highly-publicized raids conducted against five communities in Buenos Aires on September 1st, 1993. New charges were added: promotion and facilitation of the prostitution of minors and corruption of minors, involuntary servitude, confinement and concealment of persons, racial and religious discrimination and illicit association. Under these charges, 21 adult Family members were imprisoned for 103 days and 130 minors were placed under the custody of state institutions.
On December 13th, 1993, the Federal Appeal's Court ruled to dismiss the charges and the preventative prison measures taken, as well as considering that the former Judge (Roberto Marquevich) was abusing jurisdictional authority in intervening in a case outside his jurisdiction. The resolution also points out the large number of irregularities in these proceedings.
The children were returned to the custody of their parents and required to undergo a new series of psychological tests, since the original testing was adamantly disqualified due to the negative, prejudicial conditions under which they had been carried out. The results of these new evaluations were all satisfactory as to the mental and emotional stability of the children and the Court has waived any further state or judicial intervention of the children.
The District Attorney's office promptly lodged two appeals before the Supreme Court: One affirming that Judge Marquevich does have jurisdictional authority in this case and another appealing all points of the Appeal's Court resolution. These appeals were overturned by the Supreme Court on June 29th, 1995.
During the 1993 proceedings, many lawyers, judges and presidents of bar associations raised their voices in protest against the arbitrary actions of the federal judge investigating The Family, Judge Roberto Marquevich. This received media attention in Argentina, and the action was explained in a Buenos Aires newspaper, Pagina 12, as follows on October 8th, 1993:
"A FAMILY IMPEACHMENT
50 Lawyers against Judge Roberto Marquevich
Fifty attorneys requested the impeachment of Marquevich on charges of improper performance of duties, abuse of authority and false imprisonment in the case against The Family. Case P 244 was filed in the House of Representatives (Cmara de Diputados) at 8:00 a.m. Signed by fifty lawyers of the Federal Capital, the document requests that Federal Judge of San Isidro Roberto Marquevich be impeached. The request was filed on grounds of "improper performance of duties," and "possible criminal offenses of abuse of authority and false imprisonment" in the case conducted against The Family (formerly Children of God). In the meantime, the [Argentine] Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights (MEDH) denounced actions ordered by Marquevich against the cult which constitute "flagrant violations of human rights."
Amongst those that signed the petition of [Marquevich's] impeachment and removal were jurists, penologists, former examining magistrates and former members of BAR associations, such as Marcos Azerrad, Juan Prado, Elas Salazar, Edgardo Morn, Isaac Damsky, Leticia Apfelbaum, Carlos Perrota, Carlos Jacobone, Luis Dimar, Hugo Malamud and Carlos Sequeiros. The petition for impeachment will enter the Impeachment Commission of the House of Representatives on Monday or Tuesday next week.
In the document issued by MEDH, the co-presidents, Bishop Federico Pagura and Pastor Rodolfo Reinich, and the Secretary, Priest Joaqun Carregal, state that Marquevich "has acted with disqualifying prejudice, trying to base the sanction on weak or twisted evidence," that such evidence "consists mainly of testimonies of former members of the group and of documents which the group itself states belong to a stage of the past which was abandoned or which are subject to various interpretations. The homes where members of the group lived were raided in an unjustified spectacular manner," said MEDH, "violating their privacy and intimidating them unnecessarily, especially the children." The movement condemned "the degrading violence" of the gynecological examinations done on the children, and expressed its concern that "minority groups with a religious identity are being persecuted."
Although Judge Marquevich was not removed from office, he was subjected to hearings which is a very unusual occurrence in the Argentine justice system. Complaints of malfeasance in high profile cases continue to surface regularly.
Following are excerpts of the 1989 Court resolutions referred to above, as well as the 1993 Appeals Court resolution (headings editorial), and excerpts from the local press.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (Nov. 1989 - May 1990)
MINORS COURT RESOLUTION:
Province of Buenos Aims, Case No. 17142, Minors Court No. 1 presided by Dra. Eleonora Mercedes Fernandez, December 19th, 1989.
That the undersigned having analyzed the different elements gathered in these proceedings, on each one of the cases in particular (social-environmental reports, statements rendered by their relatives, the personal contact which the undersigned has had with each one of the children) as well as the release due to the lack of legal grounds against their parents and/or persons responsible for the minors.., in accordance to my sincere belief, I am convinced that the minors are living in an adequate environment for their physical and moral development, and therefore the necessary condition in order that this Court may intervene do not exist, according to what is stipulated in article 10, clause 2a of Provincial Law number 10067.
To not take any disposition regarding the minors [names those involved]..."
BUENOS AIRES FEDERAL COURT RESOLUTION:
San Isidro, January llth, 1990. Resolution of Case No. 81/89, as to infractions of law 23.737 and article 125 of the Penal Code, as well as to determine if this Court is within its jurisdiction to continue with this case. (The case was initiated under Judge Piotti, the final ruling was dictated by Judge Leonidas Moldes)
"In the totality of the above mentioned statements, the accused pointed out that the presumed seized drugs were not found in the interior of the dwelling, as well as that the group rejected the accusation that they used and consumed the same.
Investigating more deeply into the basic question which is the motive of this resolution, I must conclude that there exists a lack of elements of accusation against the defendants.
The absolute negative I referred to in the previous paragraphs on the part of the accused in their statements according to the interrogatories, was corroborated by the statements rendered by the witnesses in these proceedings (Juan Bautista Testa and Guillermo Alberto Bustos)... I possess no element whatsoever which might permit to impute to any of the thirteen defendants the possession of the seized drug.., from the simple reading of the bibliographic material seized, it cannot be deduced that the group and the members of the same propose the use of drugs, but instead all the contrary.
THEREFORE I RESOLVE:
1. To provisionally and totally dismiss the present case...
2. Declare the lack of jurisdictional authority of this Court to follow up the case of corruption foreseen in article 125 of the Penal Code
BUENOS AIRES PENAL COURT RESOLUTION:
The Justice Department of the Province of Buenos Aires, San Isidro, May 23rd, 1990
Objective: To arrive at a decision on trial number 34,269 Ruling: Dr. Alejandro de Korvez, Criminal Court Judge
This case came before me due to the self-declared lack of jurisdiction put forward by the substitute Federal Judge of San Isidro, whereby this Criminal Court then continued the process concerning the offense of corruption which is made punishable by article 125 of the Penal Code.
"Regarding the offense of corruption which is the matter at hand, all of the accused are unanimous in denying the commission of the alleged act, expressing that the group they belong to has religious purposes and denying that they practice any aberrant sexual acts or actions which affect the chastity of the minors.
They assert that, to the contrary, the minor members of the group live and have contact with their parents, brothers and relatives in a normal fashion and are educated both within the community and in public schools.
...copies of the medico-psychological tests conducted on the minors by the Minors' Court physician conclude that nothing irregular, either physical or psychical was found... Documents 315/316 include technical reports made at the properties occupied by the accused and the minor children, which conclude that the environment in which they live is normal and positive. Other exhibits cover declarations made by the parents and relatives of the children in question and nowhere is there any evidence that said children have been victims of any kind of harmful attitudes by the accused.
Also document 64 of the file includes evidence signed by the participating Minors Court Judge, Mrs. Eleonora Fernandez, gathered during her personal investigation at the home of the minors, which concludes that the children do not manifest any type of difficulties.
Document 77/79 includes a complete socio-environmental report carried out at the house on 1444 Valle Grande Street in Florida by the Social Services representative of the Minors Court, whose results also favor the situation in which the minor children live.
As a companion document, the participating Minors Judge, in a written decision, resolved not to hold in custody the minor children in question, basing her decision on her sincere conviction that the minor children live in an environment fit for their moral and physical development...
On the basis of the foregoing and after analyzing the evidence gathered so far in the proceedings, it is my belief that the criminal responsibility of the accused has not been conclusively established.
This is so, taking into account that among the plentiful collection of exhibits and documents (for example: testimonies, socio-environmental reports, medico-psychological tests of the minor children; Minors Court analysis and analysis of the written and audiovisual material seized) nothing could be found to undermine the strength of the declarations of the accused, who categorically denied having committed the offense...
Consequently I HOLD: To temporarily dismiss the case of corruption
BUENOS AIRES APPEALS COURT RULING, DECEMBER 1993
JUDICIARY OF THE NATION - FOR OFFICIAL USE
San Martn, December 13, 1993 - Case 81/89 "CAVAZZA, Juan C. and others, on Inf. Art.125, 139, 140, 142, Par.l, 142 bis, 210, 293 of the Code of Proceedings and art.3 of Law 23,592" - Federal Court of San Isidro 1 - Sec.2 - Office II, Reg. 443.
The Court was called to intervene in order to resolve the present case 81/89 ... in view of the appeal recourse filed by the prosecuted ... against the testimonies ... by which it was decided to decree the prosecution and preventive custody of Juan Carlos Cavazza, [names of 20 other defendants] ... as they were considered authors "prima facie" of the offenses of corruption of minors, servitude, illegitimate deprivation of freedom, withholding and concealing persons, illicit association and violation of the law prohibiting racial and religious discrimination, ... and of Robert Elderich Robb and Kay Susanne Rambur, as they are considered the "prima facie" authors of the offenses of modifying the civil status of a 10-year-old minor, and the ideological forgery of documents, together with the above-mentioned crimes.
Irregularities in the Proceedings
It is important to point out that the efficiency of the investigation has been greatly damaged by the irregularities committed, thus affecting the possibilities of properly and conclusively discerning the judicial objectivity of the accusation....
Irrelevance of Video Material Submitted by Third Parties as Evidence
A considerable amount of the ideological and printed material as well as video tapes-which at present comprise the main volume of documentation which is supposedly the evidence to support the charges-was filed in the proceedings by third parties (...[Richard] Dupuy, [Miriam] Padilla, [Abigail] Berry and [Edward] Priebe...) as if belonging to the group and being currently used by the same therefore having only relative value as circumstantial evidence, considering [their] origin.
Perhaps the greatest case in point against the indictment proceedings lies in the questioning of whether or not the seized elements are indeed as decisively implicating as they are claimed to be.... Three hundred videocassettes on the same subject were seized ... but without proof that these elements had been put into envelopes or sealed in order to preserve their identity.
On the other hand, the report about the discovery of 300 video cassettes in the "La Herencia" house ... does not coincide with the 251 video cassettes submitted.... In like manner, the seizure deed issued ... states that 16 videos were seized, while according to the witness Ren Mendoza, only 12 of them were exhibited.
Not only this, but the credibility that may be attributed to this series of affirmations [regarding the material seized] is low, as they were copied one from the other, ... described with the precision and unanimity of a computer programme rather than with that of a human memory.
None [erotic videos] were found during the raids....
Compulsory Blood Tests Illegal
The investigation carried out by [Judge Marquevich] as regards the Robb-Rambur family is inexplicable and acquires singular gravity, because, where no crime was committed, the Judge used compulsory means to determine whether or not the five children of the spouses were in fact children of this father, or rather the fruit of adulterous relations of the wife. This intromission into the private life of persons, to the point of using state coercion in order to investigate actions which, at the most, constitute merely criticizable moral behavior, borders on abuse of authority not to mention ignorance of clear legal regulations.
Therefore, it is evident that an illegal investigation violating the clear rules of public order has been initiated, which itself has influenced the legal structure of the family outside of jurisdictional authority. As this constitutes a very serious breach of procedure, violating the principle of legality (art. 18 of the National Constitution), all the proceedings will be declared officially null and void. Consequently ... the offenses of alteration of the civil status of a ten-year-old minor together with ideological falsifying of a public document must be revoked.
September 1st Raids and Comments by Judge Marquevich Were Irresponsible
What first calls the attention of the Court, after having studied all the details of the writs of the proceedings which initiated with an unusual nocturnal operation carried out on September 1st, 1993, was the unnecessarily ostentatious character of the same.... It is also disturbing to note the absolute lack of discretion employed during the police operation, as it was carried out without the indispensable reserve which should govern the entrance into private property where there is a large number of children (Law 20,056), taking into account the wide journalistic coverage from the moment of entrance into the homes, which irreparably affected the legally protected environment. Also disturbing is the distortion of information detected in the comments of undeniable ideological content, or pre-judgments regarding the procedural destiny of the prosecuted attributed to the Judge and the District Attorney of the case.
Accused Deprived of Legitimate Right of Defense
The defense was faced with the insurmountable barrier of unnecessary secret proceedings and the participation of experts for the defense was not facilitated when the minors lodged at official institutes were examined.... Furthermore, any other psycho-diagnostic evaluation not carried out by an expert and his/her team belonging to the Board of Minors and Families was excluded....
Not even the arrested were able to have access to [the supposedly seized documents] that they might be able to properly answer questions....
This manner of proceeding represents an arbitrary use of penal power, by removing the case from the framework of rationality inherent in the fundamental right of the defense to a proper trial....
This panorama ... puts in evidence an anachronistic continuation of the most severe inquisitive system, one in which people were summoned only to confess their sins, being considered "witches" or "heretics".
Continuity of Movement Leadership Irrelevant
The incredulous observation which the District Attorney invokes is that the survival of the same leader at the pinnacle of the triumvirate is proof of the continuity of the doctrine and practices of "The Children of God International" by its successor, "The Family," and the adherence of its present members to the initial postulates of that association. This constitutes a totally groundless argument in a world displaying even more spectacular mutations....
Term "Sect" [Cult] Improper and Pejorative
Moreover ... we do not think it is wise for us to also use the improper and pejorative terms "sect" or "pseudo-religious group" used in the Court writs, which also pervade the statements of the prosecution's witnesses, the many reports of police intelligence foundations and experts that were contracted to give professional advice based on their knowledge of this type of association. Therefore, the use of the first term in this ruling will only have the semantic range of identifying a "group of persons who follow a doctrine different to that accepted by the founding Church of a religion" (Quillet, year 1964, Vol.8, page 9).
The Law Judges Deeds, Not Moral Philosophy
-Majority Opinion of Society Often Prejudiced
We do not hesitate in stating that we do not agree with many of the basic criterion adopted by the defendants.... However, we understand that it is not the role of the magistrates to enlarge the judicial basis of their decisions with ideological judgments ... that we may avoid the risk of becoming autocrats attempting to impose our own idea of what is a correct, ethical or beneficial life-style on our fellow citizens.
Furthermore ... the opinion of the majority as to what is morally correct or not, is not necessarily right; many times it is the product of prejudices or obscure ideas, and even when this is not the case, the majority of the population has no right to establish how others must live. After all, ... at a certain point in the history of mankind it was thought, for example, that the dissection of corpses with didactic or research purposes was a great sin, but then it became a normal and indispensable procedure for the sake of scientific progress; or, to speak in favor of the heliocentric theory, accepted at that time, was to ignore the teachings of the "Divine Aristotle", for which Galileo was imprisoned in 1633.
By adopting intolerant attitudes based exclusively on ethical perfectionism, we allow penal punishment to enter the realm of individual privacy and open the door to a subtle form of authoritarianism; especially when freedom of belief and the liberty to express that belief are restricted.
By no means can a judge meddle in the evaluation of that which is thought to be correct morally, politically and/or religiously, nor interfere in its verbal propagation....
Our function is to penalize through objective observation the specific juridical offense committed, and not offenses which could be anticipated because "the dangerous nature of the eventual perpetrator generates the expectation of its imminent commitment," very similar to the "culpability based on life-style" premise of the Nazi era.
Members of The Family Have Freedom of Choice
All [members]-prisoners and freed-, have been tested, yet no physician has questioned their capacity to understand reality or to make their own decisions and act according to their own will. They are members of a religious group, with no juridical evidence indicating they are a coercive association. It is expedient to stress that none of the members had previous penal records, although they have been occasionally accused-together with other followers-of identical allegations to those brought up in this case, in which insufficient evidence was found to convict any of them. They have a very particular belief based on a free interpretation of Biblical texts including the subject of sex, according to which adult married couples have no strict obligation of fidelity. It can also be a means to attract followers, which some time ago may have been used as an auxiliary method of evangelization ... [however] in the proceedings there is no evidence at all of any contribution obtained through the exercise of so-called holy prostitution.
Allegations of Continuing Practice of "Flirty Fishing" Disproved
A detailed examination of all of the literature referring to [Flirty Fishing and Family sexual beliefs] ... constitutes nothing more than a dialectic exercise leading nowhere from a juridical-criminal point of view, not having properly concluded through their evaluations that the greater part of the interpretations, comments and counsel in the literature was written more than fifteen years ago. This last aspect of the matter makes absolute sense when considering the doctrinal and procedural modifications which could have been introduced over such a long period of time....
Another remarkable development is that after three months of having the phone lines of their multiple residences tapped ... it was not possible to seriously associate any part of the conversations recorded with the exercise of the mentioned prostitution, nor were detected any possible rendezvous, encounters or invitations for the actual practice of the same. Moreover, after one whole year of vigilance where the movement of persons to and from their homes was monitored, no signs of such activities were discovered which could have given rise to indecent relations.
Therefore, the act of possessing those posters, letters, cassettes, videos and books as well as the reading, exhibition, debate, study and spreading of the same does not in itself lead to even the minimal practice of the promotion and facilitation of prostitution under factual and objective circumstances.... Therefore, it is our present decision to revoke the respective writ on pages 1979/1987 regarding the offense considered.
Possession of Literature Not a Crime
Regarding the supposed corruption of one hundred and fifty-seven minors lodged in institutes, which is assumed to be the result of the practice of "Flirty Fishing", would promote the absolutely subjective point of view that the possession of a book, a letter or a video is enough evidence to suppose that the holder adheres to the contents of the same and puts them into practice.
Teenage Girls in The Family Less Sexually Active than in Society at Large
Furthermore, if we analyze the statistical data of the 30 young women, aged 12 to 21 years old, we discover the significant fact that 25 of them still have their hymen intact, ... leaving the prosecution's thesis devoid of any basis. It is confirmed that "FFing" is a "ministry" in absolute decline and definitively abandoned....
The above-mentioned statistics [show] a smaller proportion of deflowered [Family] women than that found in any other social group of the same age.
No Proof of Sexual Abuse
It is useful to remember that from the total amount of 156 minors lodged at the homes of the group (71 males and 85 females), only in the case of 9 of them it was initially stated that they showed signs of supposed abuses of a sexual nature. Nevertheless, the medical examinations did not even ratify this presumption as is evidenced from the examinations where the results were absolutely negative regarding this subject....
At any rate, it is necessary to point out that the presence of the torn hymen ... is not sufficient to ascertain the concrete occurrence of the charge of the abuses claimed, especially considering these same young girls themselves stated that they in no way suffered abuse [as] "...hymen tears and damages may be the result of causes other than intercourse" (see [Legal Medicine and Toxicology], by Dr. J.A. Gisbert Calabiug, 4th Edition, Salvat, Barcelona, pages 448/9).
Psychological Tests Nullified, Non-Scientific and Prejudiced
Moreover, [concerning] the corresponding psychological studies which were opportunely performed on the minors ... only a very small number of children of the total amount of 156 already mentioned would appear to have psycho-pathological symptoms which could seriously be considered as conflicts or difficulties of a sexual kind.... This type of conflict can be expected from a person who is passing through a period at an age in which the formation of his psycho-feelings are still moving toward consolidation.
The right to defense was unnecessarily limited clearly leaving out the experts they invited, after ignoring the team of specialized psychiatrists and psychologists of the Forensic Physicians Corps, which normally is summoned by the National Courts, and which deprived the Court of valuable material for analysis....
If we could summarize our impressions in only a few lines regarding those results, we would speculate that each [psychological and medical] report was evaluated and processed through the introduction of a "danger index" based on the publications seized as well as the criminal personality attributed to the parents and tutors of the infants.... This resulted in obvious mistakes in the studies, displaying prejudiced tendencies in the interpretation of the observed data. The results also reflected a lack of consistency and a lack of scientific precision.... They basically do not take into consideration the effects which naturally must have resulted from their confinement, the compulsive separation from their natural habitat, the sudden cohabitation with strangers, the feeling of suffering the injustice of having many of their parents arrested and prevented from seeing them for a time, and finally, the closure of the homes where they resided before the beginning of these proceedings....
In our country, taking the generally accepted estimates into consideration, around 30% of the population suffer from evident psycho-pathological problems.
New Psychological Tests Ordered--Results Positive
Furthermore, the testing carried out under severe tension and forced coexistence with other human groups [in the institutions] induces the appearance of many "false positives", i.e. the observation of presumed abnormalities of a psychopathological type which would not appear under normal conditions.... We consider it unthinkable that the experts could obtain their categorical diagnostic conclusions merely basing themselves on these tests.... Therefore, we feel it may be needful to repeat the studies after a prudent period of time and the minors return to their normal habitat and way of life. (N.B.: New court-ordered psychological and medical tests were performed on the children after their release. These tests showed no sign of physical or psychological abnormalities in any of the children.)
Belief in the "Endtime" not a Psychopathological Condition
The same is true in many diagnoses ... where they speak about the "end of the world sensation", which is not necessarily the manifestation of a psychopathological symptom if the minors express their beliefs as a non-critical assumption of the same apocalyptic prophecy contained in the "Mo Letters". Regarding these [diagnostic] mistakes, one of the world's greatest authorities on this subject points out the following: "Interpretative analogies and the direct transposition of psychoanalytical concepts are the greatest dangers which the beginner should avoid. An overly simple rationalization may lead to the formulation of interpretations with the goal of 'proving pre-conceived impressions'" (E. Hammer, "Graphic Projective Tests", Paids, page 388).
Initial Psychological Results Contradicted by Subsequent Independent Evaluations
We esteem it reasonable to consider the [psychological] evaluation[s] to be quite dubious as a valid basis to be acknowledged as decisive proof.... Moreso considering that [in] a totally different report by Dr. (Mrs.) Diana Goldberg ... the above-mentioned expert arrived at conclusions absolutely different from those of the official team regarding the same minors ("in general the children were spontaneous, warm, intelligent, natural, agreeable ... opposite signs to those evidenced in abused children...").
Disgruntled Ex-Members' Accounts Non-Credible, Exaggerated, and Disproved
It now remains for us to evaluate the testimonies given by the ex-members of the sect. To be truthful, very little evidence has been gathered from them to support the charges maintained in the case with respect to the crime of corruption. This could be due to the fact that they were brought by people who have never had direct contact with the communities where the supposedly abused children, named in the legal proceedings lived, as is the case with the foreigners Richard Dupuy, Miriam Faith Padilla, and Edward Priebe. Or because when they relate the supposed promiscuous sexual relations between adults and minors over a 10-year period, their very general descriptions in which they do not personify the presumed victims nor specify the abusers are incompatible with the results of the medical reports, which detected an insignificant proportion of minors presenting characteristics which could possibly be attributed to corruptive behavior. Or lastly, because their own declarations reveal an apparent eagerness to exaggerate vague memories of past events, to the point of having resorted to accounts which have been proven beyond doubt to be false and have therefore significantly weakened their declarations in terms of their credibility.
The testimony of Abigail Julia Berry is especially full of such flaws. In this same case, she previously made statements which were totally contrary to what she affirms today. Her declarations were also discredited by specific references made in regard to her psychopathic misconduct and proclivity to lie which are contained in sworn affidavits made by her brother and her mother.... Lastly, parts of Berry's very declarations totally contradict what one can accurately deduce from reality.
We also studied her account of the neglect which she suffered due to a serious infection she contracted because of the alleged opposition on the part of the sect to seek medical treatment and administer medicine.... However ... the timely request of Miss Berry's medical records from Cetrngolo Hospital, where she was attended, revealed that her sinister story did not concur with the absence of sickness that all of the medical examinations recorded on pages 1378/1575 indicate; also the accusation of multiple deaths caused by a lack of medical care is absurd....
And finally, nothing remotely resembling the affirmed presence of armed guards and dogs guarding the properties of the group--to prevent members from escaping--was found by the officials who conducted the raids on the group's houses [as claimed by Berry]. Nor were any basements or underground passages found, through which--according to Berry--group members would escape should they notice the police had arrived.
Defendants' Claims Backed by Medical Reports
The case of the accusers is further discredited by the militant way in which they have adopted a position which is diametrically opposed to that of their opponents, the accused, whose protests of innocence should not have gone unnoticed in the written legal proceedings where they were allotted a mere two lines.
The declarations made [by the defendants] are very much corroborated by the results of the medical reports and were backed up en masse by the declarations made by the adults not involved with the charges being studied ... as well as by those of the minors who denied having been sexually abused and having engaged in "FFing," a ministry which the majority of them said they knew nothing about.
Not the "Slightest Shred of Evidence" of Child Abuse
There has not been the slightest shred of evidence to prove that any of the corruptive acts described above have actually occurred to any of the minors named in the proceedings. For this reason, the decision being appealed should also be revoked as regards the matter in question.
Ex-Members' Claim of Forced Servitude Not Credible
We do not deem it useful to refer to the testimonies of the former members who claim they were reduced to servitude and forced to perform other kinds of specific duties. The reason is because they do so with examples which remove all seriousness from the enormity of the offense they claim to have suffered. To reply that "... her job in the kitchen meant cooking for 100 to 150 children and that she was assisted in this task by other thirteen- and fourteen-year-old adolescents" ... seems more like the distribution of responsibilities among people who live communally and lack domestic help, or making use of work as practical training for children.... And furthermore, it is impossible to infer this abuse from the objective assignment of chores posted on a bulletin board in the [Family] home that was located in Pilar....
Accusations of Malnutrition and Deprival of Sleep Discredited by Medical Reports
We must also consider the subjects of malnutrition and deprival of sleep ... being matters which give rise to the groundless conclusions of the technical advisers. Regarding the first report ("low protein food") ... observations are exclusively based on inferences regarding the menu of one of the homes prepared on August 31, 1993.... It seems inappropriate, but very convenient, to evaluate the nutritional status of a group of people merely based on the observation of two meals instead of directly studying their living conditions.... It is also important to study the reports of the different physicians who examined the minors and ascertained that they are in good clinical-physical and nutritional condition.
The same criterion has to be applied to the assertion regarding the short time they are allowed to sleep.... This is also contradicted by the material referred to in "Home Requirements," which recommends "9 hours of nocturnal sleep for JETTs [pre-pubic minors] ... and 8 hours for teenagers," besides "a one hour nap or resting in silence."
Allegations of Squalid Living Conditions Contradicted by the Facts
Furthermore the severity with which one expert described the "conditions of the habitat" found at the country residence of the [Family] locality in Pilar ... with 5,000 square meters of park area with trees, stable and horses, swimming pool and solarium ... is surprising, after which she concludes: "... producing totally or in part, life styles which are considered high-risk, that is, communities on or below the poverty level. Such communities are classified 'BNN', that is "basic needs non-satisfied." However, it is more than sufficient to look at the pictures showing the chalets and their surroundings ... to notice that those who live there are much better off than a great sector of the country's population.
Nor does her personal observation that: "The bedrooms were full of children who sleep in triple bunk beds, half-dressed with daytime clothes, covered with blankets, without sheets and laying on pillows without pillow cases, ... the amount of children per bedroom varying between sixteen and twenty" ... coincide with the image obtained by police personnel of the above-mentioned Technical Investigation Service ... as the photographs ... show bedrooms with a maximum of 6 to 9 beds, and these with their corresponding sheets and blankets.
Children Have a Fundamental Right to Education at Home
Finally, it is true that "school age children study within the community and pass the primary grades by taking equivalency examinations...." [However] both the Interamerican Convention of Human Rights as well as the International Treaty of Civil and Political Rights acknowledge the right of the parents to give their children religious and moral education according to their own convictions (art. 12.4 and 18.4 respectively); and that finally, art. 265 of the Civil Code stipulates that parents have the right and the obligation of educating their children "according to their condition and finances," this being one of the basic aspects of paternal authority.
U.S. Supreme Court on Religious Freedom
To summarize our opinion on this point, it may be useful to quote some paragraphs from the Supreme Court of the United States verdict pronounced in favor of the religious group known as the "Amish" with regards to a similar conflict when their members "rejected established churches and wanted to return to the simple life of Christianity, not considering material success as important, rejecting any competitive spirit and trying to isolate themselves from the modern world.... This principle of not taking part in the world and its values is the center of their faith.... This case cannot be decided on the basis of the argument that compulsory school attendance until the age of 16 must be applied in a like manner for all citizens.... It cannot be assumed that today's majority is 'right' and the Amish and other similar communities are 'wrong'; a given life style may be original or even erratic, but as long as it does not interfere with the rights and interests of third parties, it cannot be condemned only based on the fact that it is different.... It is clear that such intromission on the part of the State in family decisions within the religious education area would produce serious questioning regarding freedom of religion...." (Wisconsin vs. Yoder.)
The above stated undoubtedly leads us to maintain that the full exercise of freedom of conscience, upon which the rights of parents and custodians are based, in order that "their children or wards receive religious or moral education in accordance with their own convictions" (art. 13.3 of the International Treaty of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), cannot be separated from the civil regime regulating the acknowledgment of parental authority.... The exception to this would be in the case of a frontal and evident commission of a crime, which the Court has not noticed in the present case so far in investigation.
Charge of Slavery and Servitude Struck Down
Therefore, we would like to point out once more that within the framework of these proceedings no commission of an act of slavery on the part of any person in any of its forms has been proven. ... Therefore, it is appropriate to revoke the preventative measure ... regarding the offense considered in this writ and related to the accused.
Charge of Abduction or Concealment of Persons Struck Down
Absolutely no evidence has been produced in this case to verify the concealment or abduction of any person, this accusation amounts to a normative qualification and consequently the already questioned preventive custody order should be revoked.
Accusation of Deprivation of Freedom Disproved
All that now remains is the very general mention made by the Judge pertaining to the "... continued state of deprivation of freedom to which the victims are subjected" ... as well as his subsequent conclusion based on "... the testimonies given by the former members of the group."
Once again, we do not find in these declarations any conclusive reference.... In [ex-member] Dupuy's case ... he himself stated "the persons working within the sect do so freely." ... And regarding [ex-member] Miss Berry's sole account of a pre-established defense system, which is nonexistent, once again, we can only attribute this to her fantastic imagination.
In fact, within the norms which regulate the operation of the group, there is none that prevent any adult from making his/her own decision to abandon the dwellings, nor relinquish his/her membership in the movement....
"Brainwashing" Theory Unacceptable
Perhaps something that has not been expressed but which has been intimated in the preventative custody decree ... is a sort of "psychological conditioning" which is mentioned by the Hon. District Attorney in specific reference to what various ex-members call "brainwashing" ... a technique which they claimed they had been the victims of. In fact, it does not seem quite logical to assert that through non-violent means ... it is possible to apply various techniques ... and succeed in doing so in the sense that the person changes his/her way of thinking and feeling. This is what happens in these fictional accounts, the magical contents of which amuse us as would a story describing automatons directed by remote control. ...This theory is not backed up by the scientific community and nowadays is considered as a metaphor to disqualify religious movements considered deviant (see Alejandro Frigerio, "Present Perspectives on Conversion, Deconversion and Brainwashing in New Religious Movements", Centro Editor - 1993).
What is of great significance here is that [Judge Marquevich's] own conclusion constitutes a judicial absurdity of unacceptable consequences because, if [the brainwashing theory is] accepted, it would lead to the inconsistency of having to declare innocent, in order to cover the crime, anyone acting in a manipulative manner, in spite of the fact that at the time of the crime he/she was capable of understanding the injustice of his/her actions, but he/she nevertheless knowingly proceeded without any real verifiable external inducement. In fact, this is what is insinuated by those who passed through the process of "deconversion" and now denounce the atrocities committed by the groups they once belonged to.
No one ... may authorize another person to assume the responsibility for his/her decisions and thus transfer the undesirable consequences of his/her own actions to another person. If [the "brainwashed"] viewpoint is accepted, the very fundamentals of a free society would break down.
...The fact is that any member of the sect, even after aligning his/her ideology to the image and likeness of the prevailing doctrine within the microclimate which he adopted as a life style, he/she has the absolute freedom to make the most expedient decision, either to remain or to leave whenever he/she wants, just as he/she joined because of a decision based on his/her own beliefs and ideals.
To claim that proselytism ... has become ideological subversion; that the initial persuading of someone to an exotic way of life, which is protected by the right to religious freedom, has become brainwashing; that missionaries have become subversive agents; that houses of spiritual retreat or monastic seclusion have become prisons; and finally, that mystical adherence to religious devotion has become psychopathic behavior, will undoubtedly bring us back to the time when society was authoritarian and repressed free thinking, limiting and castrating the freely chosen life style of each individual, simply because he/she preferred one over the other.
In view of all of the above, the order of temporary imprisonment whereby the prosecuted are still in bonds is hereby revoked....
Allegations of Racial Discrimination Unfounded
Regarding the evidence specifically related to the accusation that the defendants belong to an organization based on racial superiority or professing a religion for the purpose of promoting discrimination or inciting hatred of persons according to their condition, it is very important to note the unanimous denial of the prosecuted when questioned if amongst them there exists any kind of discrimination towards the Jewish religion or black race, or towards any other group. Some of them even clarified that in their communities "...no discrimination exists, neither toward those who are within 'The Family' nor toward those who are without"; ... "that this community is precisely a classic example of multiracial communal living, since people of different countries and races live under the same roof"; "...that every person, without prejudice of his/her nationality or colour is a human being deserving full respect...."
Wherefore, it is clear that none of the accused, -either through their personal behavior or the mere fact of belonging to an organization which does not base its activities on the promotion of racist ideas-have infringed in any way the anti-discriminatory law, therefore the asseveration writ issued in these proceedings will also be revoked.
No Evidence of "Illicit Association": No Crime Committed by Any Family Member
Illicit association can only be proven by the confession of the criminals themselves or by serious suspicions based on the nature and number of crimes which are consequently committed in fulfillment of the criminal agreement.... Based on this, there must be an observation of their modus operandi ... as well as specifying the crimes themselves [which] establish the existence of such an association. ... [However,] according to the findings of the investigation carried out so far, no valid evidence exists to verify that the members of the group have committed any crime.... The truth is that it would be quite astonishing that an association of the above-mentioned nature could survive, all the while planning the committing of criminal acts over a period of fifteen or even twenty years ... and, after having existed for such a long time, it has not been possible to prove any sort of illegal action.
1. Based on the above precedent and according to that explicitly outlined in each one of the respective clauses, the preventive measures taken by [Judge Marquevich] ... will be revoked in all the issues submitted to appeal.
2. On the other hand, not having any grounds at present to maintain the personal restrictions imposed therein, the liberty of all of the accused is declared, without dismissing the continuation of the proceedings (art. 6 of the Code of Procedure in Penal Matters).
3. As a natural consequence of the above-mentioned ... the restitution of the properties not yet released is ordered in regards to the properties located at [addresses of Family homes]....
4. It shall likewise be stipulated that the minors who are still lodged in official or private institutes due to the present proceedings will be transferred to their respective houses....
(Signature and seal:) HORACIO ENRIQUE PRACK - Federal Judge
(Signature and seal:) ALBERTO MANSUR - Federal Judge
(Signature and seal:) DANIEL MARIO RUDI, Federal Judge--dissident vote
"The Abused Children: The Children of God, after the Appeals Court Verdict "
by Hector Ruiz Nuez ("Humor", January 5, 1993)
(Translated from Spanish)
The children of the community known as The Family witnessed the raids of their houses and the arrest of their parents. They also had to go through repeated medical exams of their intimate parts and their studies were interrupted for more than 100 days while they remained confined in institutes. They were "under state protection", if you will pardon the expression.
Stupidity has a Price: In this Case, One Million Dollars
Any highly trained group of professionals--who are not previously conditioned by prejudice nor ideology--would include the children of the community known as The Family amongst the most privileged class of the young population of Argentina. They would probably be amongst the top 2-3% in terms of best behaved, best educated, best nourished, and most loved. Can anyone explain then, why the state periodically checks on them, evaluates them, closes them up in institutes, and spends enormous sums of money in the process The only explanation is intolerance and stupidity.
No official figure has been calculated to cover the direct and indirect costs run up by the Social Services during the nearly four months that they held the 137 Family minors under state custody. A conservative estimate would be around US$1 million.
With this same $1 million, the government could have made a $500 monthly allotment to 100 poverty-stricken families--the parents of street children--for almost two years. But they decided to invest it in religious persecution instead.
And what's even worse is that the unscrupulous intervention of Judge Roberto Marquevich and his henchmen became a traumatic experience that the 137 children will never forget. Ever since this episode in their lives, many of the children suffer anguish and other psychological problems which will probably last for years.
Do Argentines really look after, respect, and care for other children who are not their own After this dreadful incident, one can only suspect that these children were the victims of false sentimentality, or demagoguery, plain and simple, especially on the part of certain judges and authorities.
Victims of Slander
The reputation and career of Atilio Alvarez, the national director of Social Services, is impeccable. In circles of childcare experts, he is respected as someone who knows his stuff. However, in the case of The Family, he didn't dare take a clear position. A man of his experience should have immediately recognized that these children were not abused, nor uncared for. In an interview done at the beginning of December with Esteban Mirol of Radio Splendid, Alvarez said, "It is not my place to give an opinion regarding the judicial side of the case. I concern myself with the children, because, as far as I can see it, they are always the victims. If they weren't victims of sexual abuse, then they were victims of slander."
A strange declaration on the part of Atilio Alvarez. So the children of The Family were victims of slander . . . At any rate, their parents have certainly been the victims of slander. They were victims of the brutal acts of the government.
The children of the community known as The Family must be the most studied minors in the world. They have become--through the pressure of persecution--a type of laboratory guinea-pig. Doctors in Spain, Venezuela, Argentina, France, the United States, Mexico and other countries have done detailed examinations of the intimate parts of these young people only to discover amazing results: the highest percentage of virgins [of any group] in society today. Psychologists have also done their part, and have had to admit that Family children are alert, extroverted, and normal, within the imprecise parameters of this field.
The San Martin Appeals Court, which revoked the decree to confine the children in institutes ordered by Judge Roberto Marquevich, allowed the children to return to their homes with their parents, and asked the provincial social services to periodically supervise them. The spirit of the appeals court judges, which is clearly depicted in their resolution, makes it clear that the children should not have to go through a second experience of being understate custody. However, some provincial authorities seem to like playing the role of laboratory scientists, using these children as part of an experiment. Haven't they already been through enough?
The Testimony of Pascuala J., 11 Years Old
"During the first medical exam, I told the doctors that I was chilled & that I had a cold. They told me: 'There is no heating here, but we have to go ahead and examine you anyway.'
"They told me to take off my clothes and stand on a table. They checked every part of me and then told me to lay down. When they checked my vagina, it really hurt so I started to cry. The nurse then forcefully held me down on the table. When they finished, they told me I'd been abused (sexually).
"That same day I had a second examination. The doctor told me to strip. I asked him if the other men present could leave as there were five of them. He told me they were all doctors. As they checked me, they made comments that there were signs of abuse, so they called another seven doctors to examine me. They shined very strong lights on me and for ten minutes they talked among themselves about me. I asked them all the time if I could put on some clothes and they told me no. They finally finished their examinations.
"They woke me up very early to do a third medical examination at the courthouse. They told me that this time I would be examined by new doctors, but as soon as I arrived at the examination room, I realized they were the same ones. I asked them if they wouldn't mind leaving the room while I undressed, but they answered me roughly: `Get on with it. Hurry up.'
"They started to examine me and my Aunt Maria, who accompanied me, told them that it was hurting me. They answered her back: `Shut up. We have to do this examination.' It hurt me terribly. It seemed like they were literally tearing me. The woman had gloves on, but the men didn't, and were touching me with their bare hands. They were trying to find proof of abuse, but they didn't find anything. Then they put on very bright lights and some kind of microscope next to my bottom to see it better."
In the report by the forensic doctors on Pascuala J. of September 2, it states: "Hymen torn". The doctor who signed [the medical report] for the same minor on September 14 stated: "The entirety of the hymen membrane is intact, on every side." In other words, all the examinations this poor girl went through merely confirmed the fact that her hymen was intact.
Pascuala J. was a happy, outgoing girl. The medical tests put a damper on her natural spontaneity. Just the thought of having a doctor give her another examination causes fear and anxiety. Her mother says that it's still difficult for Pascuala to sleep at night.
Probably the forensic doctors are not the guilty ones, although it does occur to me to ask if these doctors should have been involved, as they are more accustomed to working with corpses than with children who would have been much more capably handled by pediatricians.
The Testimony of Ava Martin
"I was pregnant when my house was raided by order of Judge Marquevich. During my stay at the social service institute, Dr. Carlos Tisera twice did pre-natal checks on me. Both times he said I needed to have a sonogram (sound spectrograph) done. [The institute authorities refused this request.] My baby was born dead on November 11th with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck."
The Testimony of Kay Robb, Mother of 7 Children
"My house was raided at 3 a.m. on September 1st. I was taken to prison and my children to institutes. While detained, I was able to have my children visit and I was able to observe that my 6-year-old daughter had closed herself off in a fantasy world and my 8-year-old boy was getting more and more aggressive. All of my children were very traumatized.
"I always taught my children to love and take care of their pet animals. Among the pets at home were a dog, three cats, a kitten, a parakeet, and a few fish. Becky, my 10-year-old daughter and I had taken great pains to care for a white cat that had been injured until it got better. One day when my children came to my prison for a visit, they told me how horrified they were to find out that all their pets were closed up in the house while we were gone and had died from lack of food and attention.
"I always accompanied my children to the doctor any time they needed a check-up, and I taught them to trust the doctor. While they were detained in institutes, all my children were roughly examined by more than six doctors, men and women. They were forced to submit despite their screams of terror. Can I expect them to recover their confidence in those who exercise this profession"
"The Same Old Suspicions"
by Lisandro Orlov, Pastor of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Argentina
("Pagina 12", September 5, 1993)
(Translated from Spanish)
The early Christians were accused by the people of their time of conducting secret and clandestine meetings in which they had orgies, perpetrated abhorrent acts like abusing children and offering them up in sacrifices. Later, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, in the birth of the first waves of anti-Semitism, Christians claimed that children were being kidnapped, sexually abused and finally sacrificed. Time and again throughout Church history, these accusations have been leveled against those who dare to dissent and challenge the orthodox doctrines of their time. Today it is The Children of God's [The Family's] turn, and there is a striking similarity of both the arguments and the methods employed. Every group that differs from the mainstream in their alternative values and life-style generates similar reactions, which should be studied by psychiatry rather than theology.
Given their tendency to secrecy, their non-conformism to the social norm and mainstream ways of life, the [Family] raise whimsical, and mostly unfounded suspicions in those who feel that their religious or ideological framework is being threatened. People who reject systems and values, question them and cast doubt upon their validity . . . become dangerous for the powers that be.
Strangely enough, the [Family] issue appears on the scene at a time when [the Argentine] Congress is debating a so-called law of religious freedom, which in reality has no other purpose than that of establishing regulations on and ultimately limiting the freedoms it claims to defend. The precedent of this law is the so-called Register of Cults, born of the integrated marriage of Church and State during the first Peronist government, which at the time was deeply rejected by the historical Evangelical churches, because of its inquisitorial and repressive nature. This Register of Cults was very convenient for the Roman Catholic Church, which was bent on trying to curb the advance of the Protestant groups. The present wave of new religious movements of diverse origin has become the most recent concern of the official Church, and this [proposed] law seeks to tame the established churches while hindering the presence of new religious movements through the dangerous manipulation of subjective criticism by government authorities. The problem lies in the definition of the term "cult"; that is, if such a term can be defined. A cult will always be "the others", those who act, think and live by different standards than those accepted by mainstream groups. Defining the term "cult" is no small task. Even the Catholic bishops who met in October last year in Santo Domingo had a hard time coming to an agreement on the issue. For them, "fundamentalist cults are those religious groups that insist that only faith in Jesus Christ saves, and that the only foundation of faith is Holy Scripture, interpreted in a fundamentalist context and therefore excluding the Church, and that preach a soon-coming end of the world and judgement." Such a description applies to the Apostle Paul and all the early Christian communities, as well as many Christian churches with which the Vatican maintains an open dialogue.
We cannot be so naive as to not relate the one issue to the other. The hysteria created by the persecution of the members of the [Family] may well set the necessary climate for paving the way for an unjustified law to be passed. The [Argentine] National Constitution is sufficient guarantee for religious freedom to be fully and unrestrictedly exercised, and if a certain group, through its practices commits a crime, criminal law provides enough resources to punish such acts. Freedom of conscience and religion are values and principles which were established prior to the nation itself.
Before lifting an accusing finger and rending our garments about what is happening on the other side of the street, it behooves us to seriously consider what is happening in our own house. "Brainwashing" is not employed only by a certain religious movement or group. If we condemn others for certain practices that we consider offensive to human dignity, we must do likewise when they are perpetrated within our own institutions.
Our concern about groups that manipulate the will and lives of human beings will only have credibility when it is absolute and transcends ideological barriers. If we want peace, prior to any other consideration, we must respect and take all necessary steps to ensure that the conscience and human value of each individual is respected.
"Second Class Citizens"
by Alejandro Frigerio ("El Clarin", September 9, 1993)
(Translation from Spanish)
When the increase in the number of religious groups in Argentina becomes a social problem for some sectors of society, that of "the invasion of the sects", and it is portrayed as such within some circles, it would seem fitting to give a brief report of the scientific findings we have made on the subject. To interpret the growth of non-traditional religious groups as a social threat, stigmatizes and practically makes second class citizens of several thousand Argentines who have decided to become Evangelicals, Spiritists, or Mormons. The proliferation of descriptions and explanations of the phenomenon which are not based on scientific studies--and which, in fact, usually contradict them--are disturbing, especially when, as presented by some, these assessments give a very generalized impression of these groups. What is even more disturbing is the fact that these interpretations appear as the main principles of some bills introduced into Congress which seek to control religious freedom.
First of all it must be stressed that, contrary to what is generally stated, there are not four or five thousand "sects" in the country. As the officials of the Register of Cults have often pointed out, there are thousands of religious associations which belong to a mere twenty or thirty different religions. Furthermore there is no reference made to "sects" within scientific publications because that word is vague, it has a stigmatizing tone to it. The term "sects" suggests a model of how these groups' beliefs and practices, which does not correspond with our academic findings on the subject. The already voluminous quantity of studies on new religious movements which have been published in scientific magazines show that the nature of the religious groups, branded as "sects" in different countries, varies considerably. Some groups are considered a problem in some countries whilst in others they are not, depending, in general, on how they have developed numerically, how old they are, the strength of their opponents and the particular scandals which have been raised about them in each society.
One of the common aspects of the controversy in different countries is how the new groups recruit new members. The "brainwashing" model, which is the one usually cited to explain how the so called "sects" recruit new members, has not been accepted by the scientific community.
Alejandro Frigerio has a B.A. in sociology, is a doctor of anthropology (University of California, Los Angeles), and is a research scholar for CONICET
"Religious Freedom in Danger: Case of Children of God Creates Atmosphere"
by Hector Ruiz Nuez ("Humor", September 1993)
(Translated from Spanish)
From Piotti to Marquevich--Judges or Crusaders?
There has existed in Argentina a spirit of justice which was established in the Constitution in 1853. One of the basic guarantees of the judicial process is the impartiality and neutrality of the judge in each case. Have the judges in the case of the COG [The Family] been impartial and neutral? Without a doubt, no!
In October, 1989, Federal Judge Alberto Piotti called for a spectacular raid against two homes of The Family. Piotti forced an unsubstantiated judicial process, wielding a campaign in search of drugs (searching for drugs in a religious community where it is known that practices of the group specifically forbid the use of drugs). At the time of the raid the media (newspapers, television and magazines) had been informed and were present at the initial police raids. The case terminated when three judges intervened after the spectacular armed confusion originally ordered by Judge Piotti. Today Piotti declares his war against the COG [The Family] from Congress. Is Piotti a neutral judge as defined in our Constitution?
On Thursday, August 27, 1992, a group of police stormed the chalet of The Family in Rosario. Judge Liliana Puccio ordered the detention of the adults residing in the home, and that the children be subjected to examination, making charges of corruption of minors and sexual abuse against the children. It is surprising to note that such an operation was orchestrated by this judge who presides in a misdemeanor court which has no jurisdiction over such matters. The case terminated with a minor sentence for not sending the children to an authorized school, which was appealed. Did Liliana Puccio act as a neutral judge as defined in our Constitution?
In this latest case, is Federal Judge Marquevich maintaining an objective stance as our Constitution guarantees?
1) He allowed the press to be tipped off."
2) He permitted the press to enter the sleeping quarters of the children, assuming them to be victims, turning on the lights and taking photographs of their bedroom in violation of law #20,056.
3) The judge has made several statements such as, No one living in this community is normal." Such statements constitute a case of clear-cut prejudice. Is Roberto Marquevich acting as a neutral judge?
In former cases involving the COG [The Family], genuinely neutral judges have, until now, absolved them of all charges. But we cannot classify Piotti, Puccio or Marquevich as neutral and objective, in light of how they have conducted themselves as if on a religious and moral crusade, proceeding with such prejudgment.
When people can be judged by such magistrates who consider them guilty before having a fair trial, this reiterates the danger imposed upon our guarantee of religious freedom and rights to a fair trial in Argentina. Once again, if the members of The Family are guilty of crimes according to the penal code, then they would be judged accordingly. If not, then why don't we let them live at peace?
There has never been such a judicial process in this country that has separated 150 children from their parents, as Marquevich has done. To the contrary, tradition has maintained that magistrates maintain the family group for as long as possible. When a Spanish judge acted in a similar case two years ago, also against the COG [The Family], the appeals court judges returned the children to their parents, stating their error: Police forcibly separated children, mainly foreigners with little knowledge of Spanish, from their parents, putting them in institutions, subjecting them to psychological tests (in a foreign language)--studying them for prolonged time periods (two times)--tests which were undertaken more to justify the actions of the courts rather than to prove abnormalities in the children which did not exist."
Sect of Perverts of Virtuous?
On the 9th of September, Judge Marquevich put out a 17-page resolution of charges--mostly criticisms of the 18 detained. In his resolution, he does not state any concrete facts or exactly what they are being charged with. There are two more details that deserve comment:
1) Judge Marquevich is a federal judge, and none of the offenses he accuses them of (corruption of minors, holding minors against their will, false imprisonment and discrimination) come under his jurisdiction.
2) The forensic doctors who examined the children found out of 138 minors, 8 girls (4 of which were between the ages of 17 and 20 years old) that did not have their hymens intact (diagnosed antigua data", meaning the hymen was torn at least 20 days prior to the examination. In other words, there is no way to determine if this took place years earlier or only three weeks ago). Also, an anal abnormality was found in one boy. It is interesting to explain that when the doctors reported antigua data", people get the impression that this happened during early childhood. In fact, it means only that it is more than 20 days old. The judge determined this to mean that the children had been cruelly abused, even though the forensic doctors did not confirm that to be the case. It is not necessary to be a doctor--any rational, informed person knows that a torn hymen can be the result of an accident or number of other causes, not only sexual excess. In addition to these 9 supposedly suspect" minors, there are other statistics. Out of 80 boys examined from the group, only 1 shows signs of what could be" homosexual tendencies. Out of the 40 girls tested, only 4 who were adolescents were not virgins. It is a serious thing to note what the judge has submitted these minors to such tests. If Judge Marquevich were to test 40 girls [of corresponding age] from any ordinary school, what percentage would he find to be virgins?
Constitutional Rights in Danger
We hope that the case of The Family ends up in the hands of unbiased and neutral judges--as our Constitution guarantees--for them to determine whether there are grounds for charges or not. But there has been a growing atmosphere which is impairing religious freedom here, creating a social climate against New Religious Movements and permitting new legislation to be introduced which is against the Constitution.
On the 10th of May, Alberto Piotti presented a new law which states: ...prohibiting religious activity other than that of the Roman Catholic Church, if not registered in the Ministry of Cults within the Ministry of Foreign Relations."
This obligatory registration is a clear act against the executive power in article 14 of the National Constitution, which states that citizens have the right to express freely their religious beliefs. While opposing parties deceive themselves and delude society by maintaining that the intent of the Menem administration is to reform the Constitution, the real danger is that the first chapter of the Constitution--which cites declarations, rights and guarantees--is brought under direct attack. Can a Constitution that includes the best liberal philosophy, transform into totalitarianism? This project of Piotti is a concrete example of restricting Constitutional rights and religious freedom.
Mystery of the Times and Recollection
Converted stereotypes: The ex-members of these religious groups convert into the best detractors. In the case of The Family, a young North American named Abigail Julia Berry, a former member of The Family who escaped" in 1989, has become Judge Marquevich's star witness. However, there is a curious basic ingredient in the declarations of the ex-members of The Family. They stand charged with crimes themselves.
Abigail, who is now claiming she was violated in the group, in 1989 stood before Judge Piotti declaring that she had never been the object of sexual abuse. Circumstances surrounding the two Argentine ex-members are the same.
Oscar Lause stated in El Clarin (2/9/93) that sexual abuse exists in the group, and corruption of minors." One year ago he affirmed that the group does not allow sex with minors (Pagina/12, 9/9/92).
Pablo Romonone says today that he knows 12-year-old girls that have had sexual relations with older men (Gente 9/9/93), yet 10 months ago he affirmed that no sexual abuse exists with minors (Humor, #331, November, 1992).
These must be miracles of memory.--Like good wine, they get better with age.
"Marquevich Questioned by Lawyers"
("Diario Popular", September 25, 1993)
(Translated from Spanish.)
The Buenos Aires Bar Association asked the Minister of Justice, Jorge Maiorano, to investigate how responsible Federal Judge Robert Marquevich is for the inhumane conditions that members of The Family have had to bear since being detained.
Head of the Bar Association, Carlos Cichellos, responded to claims presented to the Appeals Court of San Martin by lawyer Marcos Azerrad, who reported that his client, [59-year-old] defendant Sara Martinez Galan, was held for 48 hours in a prison cell not much more than four square meters with eight other people.
Cichellos informed the press yesterday that he has requested the Minister of Justice to investigate Marquevich, to find if he is responsible for the inhumane conditions that the detained are living in, alluding to a possible judicial process to prosecute the judge.
The Bar Association extended the request to the presidents of the Congress, the Law School of San Isidro, and an official of the Commission of Human Rights and Guarantees of the Senate, Mario Losada, who are responsible to give an answer to all society why this has occurred," said Cichello.
We are not debating the problems of the Children of God here, we are debating about the human dignity of those under arrest," he explained, adding that Marquevich as judge in this case should know where the detained are being held and in what conditions they are living in.
He also indicated that the defense lawyers of the other members of the sect being held are analyzing the possibility of requesting prosecution of the magistrate, as they are enraged with the conditions of the detained.
Azerrad announced that the prison cell where his defendant was being held did not have hygienic conditions, lacking light and air, there were no windows or bathroom, and when the detained asked to attend to their physical necessities, the security guards waited long periods of time before opening the doors.
"Children of God vs. Human Justice
by Juan Carlos Muiz ("Humor", January 5, 1994)
(Translated from Spanish)
What had to happen, did happen. Exactly as we had anticipated in this very same column four months ago (as well as Hector Ruiz Nuez did in his column), the highly publicized police operation against the Children of God [The Family] sect ended with the accused being freed, as no wrongdoing on their part could be proved.
Of course, the accused don't exactly feel like they've just been to a party. For months, they were separated from their children, unable to work and, to top it off, their houses were ransacked.
Who, after all is said and done, is going to pay for these damages? Will [The Family] receive compensation or should they just forget the whole thing ever happened?
Possibly they will file lawsuits to try for some compensation. But anyone of good faith, who knows how the machine works, knows perfectly well that they won't be receiving anything. And if they do, it will be too little and too late.
This sect, reviled by fast-tongued judges as well as second rate journalists, in the final analysis committed a mortal sin: they tried to steal clients from the Holy Catholic Church.
And, in Argentina, you don't get away with this type of feat without paying a high price.
Then, our President [Menem] talks boastfully about "rights of state" and "unrestricted freedoms".
But we are talking about people who have been mistreated, humiliated, and persecuted. Their most fundamental rights have been violated: They have not been allowed to choose the way in which they wish to raise and educate their own children.
Our public servants, so ineffective when it comes to protecting us against authoritarianism, unemployment, diseases, and other afflictions, show themselves to be implacable when it comes to people who dare depart from the sacrosanct canons of the [Catholic] Church.
It is our wish that the present situation of [The Family] be as highly publicized as it was during the time of the arbitrary decision to imprison them. We would like to see the newspapers and magazines investigate and publish how much these people's lives have been damaged by not allowing them to work during all this time.
We would also like to see the very same teams of professionals who took so much time to study the psychological profile of the supposedly abused children to now do an equally intense study to prove the damages which resulted from being separated from their parents for such a long period of time.
Nonetheless, you and I know that none of this will happen. Because in this "paradise of democracy" the authorities will do as they please in this case, as they do in many others. To sum it up, everything is free for them.
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