Claire Ashman escaped the ‘Order of St Charbel’ doomsday cult after almost a decade

Nine News, Australia/July 25, 2018

For almost a decade, Claire Ashman lived by the whim of a man who called himself “Little Pebble”, believed in a global doomsday cult and claimed he could speak to God and the Virgin Mary.

After joining the Order of St Charbel, Ms Ashman, 48, said that she was forced to join the religious order, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, attend prayers three times a day and live under strict rules.

It was concern for the safety of her eight young children that eventually saw her flee from the secretive cult, led by convicted rapist William Kamm on the NSW south coast.

But after breaking away from the restrictive religious group in 2006, Ms Ashman had no idea how to exist, she revealed this morning on the Today Show.

“It kind of smacked me in the face, it was really hard for me,” she said.

“I didn’t know who Claire was. There was Claire as the person and then mum. I still had all of these kids and went on to be a solo mum for eight years. Trying to bring up those kids correctly and then trying to find out who I was, was always a real balancing act.

“Ultimately, my kids and I caught up together on fashion and movies and music and world events and everything else in between. It was a long journey and I’ve grown a lot.”

She also said that she had grown up in an insular religious sect before marrying young to a man who believed in end-of-world theories and moved with her into Kamm’s cult, which was even more restrictive.

“The sect was a breakaway from the Catholic Church… We were dressed basically like Amish people and for my particular family, we were home-schooled - we didn’t have any television or outside media,” she said.

“It was very awkward for us, it was very difficult to make any friendships because we were so different.

“We didn’t know anything that was going on in the outside world and had been taught that the outside world needed converting.”

She told the Today Show that it was only when she challenged Kamm on his leadership within the cult that he organised for her to be evicted from the insular community.

“I ended up by challenging Kamm’s authority by a series of letter in regards to him ordaining married men as priests and bishops, because that was against the rules of the Catholic church,” she said.

“He didn’t like that at all. 

“Because he was paying the mortgage on the house that we were in, he funnelled that money into his court case, thereby getting rid of a problem – that was me, and we got evicted by the local sheriff.”

One year after she left the cult, Kamm was found guilty and imprisoned over the sexual and indecent assault of a 15-year-old.

And while she said she is grateful for her regional upbringing, Ms Ashman has now relocated to Brisbane, remarried and shares her story for other people who live in or have escaped from the hundreds of cults that still exist around Australia.

“I share my story to be able to help other women, and men too, who are either trapped in these groups… because they have no one to hold their hand and hold their heart,” she said.

“I had no one to hold my hand and hold my heart when I was walking through this journey, I went through it the hard way, the long way, and I’ve come out the other side.

“I’ve had women contact me from all around the world thanking me for being an inspiration and for speaking out.”

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