The Family Vindicated by French Court - "Catastrophe" for the Anti-Cult Movement ADFI and the Governmental "Mission to Fight Cults"

The French press (see David Dufresne, "Six ans après les Enfants de Dieu héritent d'un non-lieu", Libération , 15 January 1999) is now commenting the decision rendered by the Justice Court of Aix-en-Provence on January 11, 1999 on a criminal case against 22 members or former members of The Family (formerly The Children of God), accused of a variety of sexual abuses allegedly committed against their own children. There were no reasons for the defendants for being optimistic, considering that the French Minister of Justice has just sent to all courts a circular letter urging them to cooperate in the anti-cult struggle with both the newly instituted (and aptly named) governmental Mission to Fight Cults and with anti-cult movements such as ADFI. The latter was the main instigator of the Aix-en-Provence case against The Family and was admitted as a party against the defendants in the trial. Aix-en-Provence is also the very home base of Dr Jean-Marie Abgrall, one of the most extreme French anti-cultists and member of the governmental Mission. The 1996 French parliamentary report on cults (p. 79) took for granted that in The Family kids were routinely "prostituted", and this has been repeated time and again by key members of the Mission.

The Aix-en-Provence case was started in 1993. According to J. Gordon Melton, "raids by the French police on their homes in Lyon and Marseilles in 1993 were possibly the most terrifying experienced by The Family [in its history]. Over 200 officers brandishing axes and automatic weapons entered the homes at dawn on June 9, 1993. 50 adults and 90 children were taken into custody. They handcuffed parents and dragged them down staircases and across a gravel driveway in full view of their children. A 15-year-old girl was handcuffed for four hours clad only in her underwear. Over the next two days Family members were subjected to intense interrogation during which time the police chief bluntly informed them that he hoped to destroy the “Children of God,” to see to it that they lost their children, and to imprison them. Meanwhile, the young people were taken to dungeon-like detention centers, given little food, and grilled mercilessly (though the words were wasted on many who did not understand French). In this case authorities were responding to charges leveled by the primary French anti-cult organization, the Association for the Defense of the Family and Individual (ADFI). For several years ADFI had accused the Family of child abuse, prostitution, and various other unlawful activities. The authorities worked with ADFI (a government supported agency) and the court appointed an ADFI-connected psychiatrist to interview the children. In spite of being isolated from their parents and the pressure placed upon them, the children denied that any abuse was occurring in their life. " (J. Gordon Melton, Dai Bambini di Dio a The Family, Leumann [Torino]: Elle Di Ci, 1997, p. 54).

Six years after the raids, the Justice Court of Aix-en-Provence has vindicated The Family. All defendants have been found not guilty and acquitted. The decision is a major embarrassment for ADFI and the French anti-cult milieu. ADFI lawyer Jean-Michel Pesenti criticized the court and ADFI called the decision "a catastrophe". Ms Jacqueline Burguière, president of ADFI-Provence, noted the contrast between the decision and the circular letter of the Minister of Justice. "The decision is good news - commented Dr Massimo Introvigne, managing director of CESNUR -. It shows that French judges are jealous of their independence and are not prepared to follow blindly orders from the government. Basically, the decision embarrass ADFI and the governmental Mission to Fight Cults (whose key members have always taken for granted that The Family was guilty). We hear criticism of the decision, but we do not hear apologies for the unnecessary suffering caused to adults, teenagers and children in the brutal 1993 raids. The court vindicates scholars such as Dr Melton and myself who have always argued that abuse of children, while very real and in fact occurring in a period of the Children of God's history, was later taken care of and largely eradicated by the leadership, well before the raids occurred. This, of course, does not mean that The Family's current ideas on sexuality may be regarded as acceptable by mainline Christianity. They are still very different. And in no way should abuses that occurred in the past be condoned, nor similar abuses be tolerated should they happen again in this or in other movements. But scholars who accepted that child abuse and illegal sexual activities were a problem of the past, not the present of The Family, rather than being naive, reached in fact the same conclusions now shared by courts in France (as it happened earlier in Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and other countries)."

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