Family Ties

Ex-members of a cult that once advocated sex between adults and children want the group's leaders exposed and punished

Although Berg died in Portugal in 1994, the Family still receives his prophecies. They've also received prophecies from Jesus, Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe and -- until someone told them that he was still alive -- Art Linkletter, according to www.xfamily.org. According to documents posted on the Web site, Zerby is still in charge, although she is not mentioned in current Family literature. In 1997, she moved to Seattle and was there long enough to change her name to Katherine Rianna Smith, and then disappeared. (Even before Berg's death, many key members legally changed their names.) Her present location is the Family's well-guarded secret.

Family officials deny the accusations of systematic abuse. They point out that none of the alleged perpetrators was ever charged with such crimes. Family spokesperson Claire Borowik says the Family is a persecuted minority religion that has been unfairly hounded by unsubstantiated allegations. Moreover, she says, the media never pays attention to the group's extensive charity work.

"It would behoove you in the interest of fairness and accuracy to make note of the important fact that approximately half the young people born into the Family continue to be members and tell a very different story than that being aired by a handful of former members," Borowik e-mailed from the Family's Washington, D.C., office.

David Berg's sexual obsessions became Family 
doctrine.
www.xfamily.org
David Berg's sexual obsessions became Family doctrine.
Berg's daughter, Faith Berg Fischer, was a longtime 
Family leader.
www.xfamily.org
Berg's daughter, Faith Berg Fischer, was a longtime Family leader.

Houston attorney Valorie Davenport agrees. Davenport serves on the board of a Family-operated company that distributes books and videos, but she says she's strictly a Family advocate and not a member. (Her brother Jeff Wells is a first-generation member.)

In an e-mail to the Press, Davenport wrote, "Every society has their share of crimes and it is not cause for an indictment of all of that [society's] members. I know that today and for at least a decade, the family has made sex between an adult and minor an excommunicable offense."

According to the xfamily Web site, internal documents show that leader Karen Zerby never believed that pedophilia was wrong to begin with. Seven years after the Family adopted its anti-child-abuse policy, the ex-family members' Web site claimed Zerby issued the following statement:

"I'm sorry that we couldn't come out a little more forthrightly in the Child Abuse statement, bringing out the point that all sex between adults and minors is not bad, sinful, harmful or abusive. However, the problem was that we didn't know how much we could say without putting The Family at legal risk."


But Borowik and Davenport miss the point: Ex-members are not accusing the Family of ongoing violence toward children. They are accusing the Family of keeping child sexual abusers in positions of authority.

Earlier this year, a former first-generation member in San Diego organized an effort to launch an FBI investigation into the allegations. Ex-members across the country say they have submitted affidavits and Family publications. A spokesperson for the FBI's San Diego branch said the bureau was conducting a "preliminary inquiry." Many ex-members are not optimistic, saying the investigation has hit a dead end because of expired statutes of limitation, as well as jurisdiction (many, if not most, of the alleged crimes occurred outside the United States).

Berg's writings are still doctrine, even the ones that were ordered BAR ("burn after reading"). The most notorious of these involve his granddaughter, known in the group as Mene. She was the daughter of Berg's son Aaron, who either jumped or fell off a cliff in Switzerland in 1973, when he was 26.

When Berg tired of diddling his daughter, he moved on to his 11-year-old granddaughter, Mene. Or at least he tried to. In 1983, Berg requested that Mene be sent from the Family's Music with Meaning compound to his home in the Philippines.

In the aforementioned 1995 British custody case, Mene told the judge about her experience with Berg. The judge recounted Mene's story in his ruling:

"I find that Berg and Maria came down to [Mene's] bedroom and whilst Maria and Sarah were talking, Berg got into her bed in their presence and fondled her. This happened on a number of occasions. She was called to his quarters. He was invariably impotent and they did not have sexual intercourse though he once tried to penetrate her, so there is no evidence of incest strictly defined. He did rupture her hymen with his finger. They had oral sex. That was oral sex by him on her, not so far as she could recollect by her on him. At one point they went through a mock celebration of marriage. [Zerby] was fully aware of what was happening."

By the time Mene was 14, her complaints about the molestation had upset Berg, who decided she had to be punished. Berg's official explanation for the punishment was that Mene suffered from an inflated sense of self, brought on by the devil. According to ex-members, one of her "exorcisms" was transcribed for a Mo letter called "The Last State? The Dangers of Demonism." Ex-members claim the letter was one of the most important and widely spread dispatches from Berg. If Family children didn't know the cost of questioning this way of life before, they would now. The 19-page transcript was first revealed in the course of the British custody case, and contains an account of Berg's beating of Mene. According to the transcript, current Family leaders Karen Zerby and Peter Amsterdam were complicit in the event.

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