Back in February I wrote a piece on the Commonwealth Covenant Church, once New Zealand's largest British Israelite sect. Today it's in the news again, despite being relegated to history for many years.
"Two former church members, one of whom was sexually abused as a girl, say the organisation they grew up in was a "cult" in which multiple abuses were carried out.
"Sophia and her cousin Anna believe the old Commonwealth Covenant Church was as much a cult as any higher-profile religious group such as the Gloriavale community on the West Coast.
"Now 36, Sophia – not her real name – says when she first raised sexual abuse allegations in the 1990s, she and her mother were bullied into leaving the church.
"Sophia and Anna spent much of their youth in the CCC, based in urban centres, including Lower Hutt.
"Jonathan John Edward Belcher, now living in Masterton, was jailed for the offending against Sophia.
"This week, he said he had served his time, and was a changed man after undertaking a programme for sex offenders while in prison.
"Though a jury found Belcher guilty, and the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, he still accused Sophia of lying.
"She believes he is not remorseful, and wants nothing to do with him.
"The detective who investigated the case, Miles Horsnell, said Sophia's case was one of the most disturbing he worked on."
"Sophia said the secrecy and patriarchal nature of the CCC was a factor in Belcher's abuse, which began when she was 4...
"And when she raised allegations years later, she said the church dealt with those claims internally, rather than going to police."
"The church in the 1980s and 90s was a cloistered, sexist institution, she said.
"We had really strict rules. Boys and girls weren't allowed to associate. We weren't allowed to cut our hair. No makeup.
"Women were taught to be subservient ... your place was to have babies."
"Sophia and Anna were both certain other CCC children were abused. Anna said some were removed from their parents at times "and sent to other people in the church environment, which was very damaging".
"Both women wanted others to come forward, but acknowledged how difficult it was to do so.
"Anna said the church had a deeply paranoid world view, and members who left had difficulty adjusting to society. "We were completely paranoid of outsiders ... We didn't tell the authorities anything."
"Church leader Stanley Watkins ruled with an iron fist, members were micro-managed, the fear of hell put into them constantly, and during this time a child she knew was taken away from his parents, Anna said.
'"It's really hard for me to talk about ... I know some of [Watkins' relatives] and I don't believe they're bad people."'
"After Watkins' death, the church underwent reforms in the mid-90s, the old power structure was disestablished, and some genuine changes made as the new Hope Centre was established, she said."
The full article is available here.
Im Anna, that was me and a cousin who did this article
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