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Church leaders concealed sexual abuse of young children, lawsuits allege


Two churches with Congregations across Southern California have covered up sexual abuse of children as young as 3 and financially exploited church members, according to multiple federal lawsuits filed since December.

Sixteen accusers allege that leaders within the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) and the International Christian Church (ICC) knew their members had sexually assaulted adults and children, but instead of alerting authorities, often “actively hidden“to the abuse”prevent discovery by child protection and police.”

Kids Kingdom, ICOC’s children’s ministry, “served as a demented playground for sexual abuse”, load the costumes. The allegations span 25 years, from 1987 Unpleasant 2012, and some of the alleged abusers remain active church leaders, according to the lawsuits and church websites.

Of the 16 plaintiffs who filed a sexual assault lawsuit, 10 said at least some of their alleged abuse took place in Los Angeles.

The ICOC, a worldwide network of non-denominational Protestant churches co-founded in 1979 by evangelist Kip McKean, according to the church website.

In 2006, after resigning from the ICOC, McKean started the ICC, which has congregations in Southern California from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Both churches are decentralized networks of non-denominational Christian congregations, and in the Los Angeles area, most congregations do not own their own meetinghouses, said five former ICOC and ICC members in the Los Angeles area. Instead, congregations often meet for services in hotel conference rooms or similar locations.

The lawsuits accuse McKean of urging members to remain silent about the alleged crimes, tell them, “We cannot report these abuses because it would harm our church, God’s modern movement.”

One person who are ICOC leaders allegedly allowed to continue preying on children, David Saracino, is a now convicted pedophile. In the 1990s, Saracino was an ICOC member in Los Angeles and worked at the Kids Kingdom.

In the lawsuits, four women allege that Saracino sexually assaulted them when they were between the ages of 3 and 9.

Plaintiff Ashley Ruiz says in court papers that when she was about 5 years old, Saracino would take her out of school and force her to watch pornography, then perform oral sex on her. Plaintiff Darleen Diaz claims that Saracino would invite her and her sister, along with other girls, to swim in his house, which he shared with other ICOC members, and then caress them.

Darlene Diaz’s sister, Bernice Perez, claims in a lawsuit that their mother reported it to the police – but church leaders had already “tipped off” Saracino and he fled. Saracino’s alleged abuses in the lawsuits took place in the 1990s.

Saracino, who was eventually featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” would go years without arrest after these alleged incidents. “Did ICOC assist in his arrest or warn their municipalities,” the indictment reads to claim“David Saracino could not have continued to abuse children.”

Saracino, who is serving time in a Louisiana prison, was not immediately available for comment. His former lawyer said she could not comment because she is not familiar with these new allegations.

In addition to Saracino, seven other former members of ICC or ICOC churches across the country were eventually arrested or convicted on charges of child pornography and other sexual misconduct involving children. according to one of the lawsuits. Two of them taught or led children’s ministry, the lawsuit alleges.

The Los Angeles ICOC said in a rack that it was unable to comment on specific allegations because of the lawsuits, but noted that many of these are “related to issues in other states and organizations.” Still, the church is “appalled” by the allegations, the statement said, adding that “we will not tolerate any form of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct or sexual coercion, and we will fully cooperate with authorities in any investigation of this type.” of behaviour.”

In addition, the LA ICOC church leadership said in a January letter to its staff and members that while she shares “common roots” with McKean, she has no affiliation with him or the ICC.

Jason Dimitry, chief evangelist with the City of Angels ICC, declined to comment. “There comes a time when we need to respond and clearly communicate what we stand for as an organization,” he said, “but right now I wouldn’t give that answer.”

A lawyer for McKean, who is named as a defendant, said in an email that the allegations in the lawsuits appear to stem from “times, events and circumstances unrelated to Dr. McKean or the ICC churches” and that “We are working to investigate the basis of the claims and determine the appropriate legal response.

The Times sent a detailed list of the allegations in this article to McKean’s lawyer, who declined to comment.

The court cases and The Times’ interviews with five accusers and three former church leaders describe how the ICOC and ICC isolated members from the outside world at the time. “systematically indoctrinated” to make them believe that the churches and their leaders are the only true Christian authority. Parishioners were taught to protect the reputation of the church, lawsuits sayAnd dissenters were avoided.

In both churches, leaders set dates and approved marriages between members, according to the lawsuits. Some members said they had been asked to leave their jobs to take on positions within the Church or move to serve in different branches of the Church. In one case, a plaintiff said ICOC leaders demanded she move 27 times in 17 years.

The ICOC imposed recruitment quota and forced members to give up a minimum of 10% of their gross income, the lawsuits to claimand the Church also required a separate contribution twice a year for missionary trips that amounted to 40 times the usual tithing amount.

Leaders sometimes demanded to see members’ paychecks and sit on members’ porches until they came home to collect their tithes before Sunday night was over. to claim. The lawsuits too claim that McKean asked ICC members to turn over their COVID-19 relief money to the church.

“The pressure to meet the strict requirements of the Church was a source of anxiety and depression for many members. So much so that several ex-members committed suicide,” the lawsuit reads participation.

Previous media reports have brought national attention to ICOC’s high-pressure tactics. The lawsuits reference televised revelations from “20/20 with Barbara Walters,” “Inside Edition,” Fox News, the BBC and MTV, which detailed the church’s aggressive recruitment of university students, and Rolling Stone reported on the first of recent lawsuits.

In 1994, when dozens of US colleges banned the group from their campuses, an Associated Press article quoted some members as defending the church, while former members accused the church of manipulating students into joining and then cutting them off from their families .

In one of the current lawsuits, Christy Miller, identified in court documents as Jane Roe 2, claims she was “brainwashed into believing she would be convicted if she did not forgive her alleged abuser,” former ICOC leader Joe Garmon Sr.

The prosecution claims she was ordered to go to Garmon’s house to make amends, a visit that led her to “sick in her stomach.” Garmon is the leader of the Thomasville, Ga., and Tallahassee, Fla., ICC, according to the church website. When reached by phone, Garmon declined to comment and hung up. The Thomasville Tallahassee ICC did not respond to emails requesting comment.

The Times generally does not name victims or alleged victims in cases of sexual misconduct without their consent. Plaintiffs Ruiz, Diaz, Perez and Miller all agreed to be named.

In another lawsuit, plaintiffs and sisters Jane Roe 1 and Jane Roe 2 allege that the leader of their church, San Antonio ICOC, lied about reporting their alleged abuse to child protection services, when other leaders instructed the sisters to do so to forgive their alleged abusers, Nancy and Marty Wilkinson, siblings who were children of church leaders.

Jane Roe 2 claims in the lawsuit that Nancy Wilkinson would rape her with foreign objects when she was 7 years old. Jane Roe 2 too claims that Wilkinson would lock her in a closet and force her to watch Wilkinson molest Jane Roe 1, who was chronically ill with cystic fibrosis.

Marty Wilkinson does molest and grope the sisters throughout their teenage years, the suit says. According to the court casetoday, Marty Wilkinson is in charge of all ICOC campus ministries in the United States, while Nancy Wilkinson worked in the children’s ministries of ICOC over the years.

When reached by phone, Marty Wilkinson declined to comment. Asked how reporters could reach his sister Nancy, Marty Wilkinson texted back, “All my relatives have no comment.” San Antonio’s ICOC did not respond to an email and voice message asking for comment.

Of the lawsuits filed so far against the ICOC and the ICC, 13 plaintiffs were minors and three were adults at the time of their alleged abuse.

This article was reported and edited in conjunction with USC’s investigative journalism program. Reporters can be contacted at nyeung@usc.edu and moskow@usc.edu.

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