Sect leader to face 12 child sex counts

The Age, Australia/September 23, 2013

By Chris Johnston

A former leader of a secretive Victorian sect will face 12 child sex charges in a Gippsland court next month.

Chris Chandler, 56, of French Island, a former senior member of the shadowy Bible sect known as Friends and Workers or the Two by Twos, is charged with unlawful indecent assaults, indecent assaults and gross indecency on three young female victims.

The charges date back to the 1970s. Chandler was not a member of the sect then but joined only three years later.

A Fairfax Media investigation has established senior members of the sect knew of the allegations yet promoted him, in 1991, to the senior position of ''worker'', or minister - meaning he was travelling throughout Victoria and Tasmania and staying in family homes as a ''missionary''. ''He was around lots of children from that point on,'' a former sect member says.

From 1991 until 2004 Chandler was in Wodonga, Shepparton, Launceston and rural Tasmania. Sources have confirmed that he later positioned himself within the sect as a counsellor and contact for victims of child sexual abuse.

Chandler, a self-employed ecologist who recently returned from several years as a ''Christian teacher and counsellor'' in Uruguay and Brazil, according to his LinkedIn profile, resigned from the sect last year. Yet he was still able to attend an overnight sect convention where children were present at Speed, near Mildura, and continues to attend sect meetings at Crib Point near Hastings, sources say.

A submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups - by an organisation called Wings, an online group of former Friends and Workers sect members - says the sect is ''haphazard'' in dealing with sexual abuse allegations and ''the main focus has been on protecting the reputation of the Workers and not on helping victims''.

The sect has 2000 Victorian members and an estimated 200,000 worldwide. It is an offshoot of the Cooneyites. The Irish founder of the Cooneyites was the Protestant evangelist Edward Cooney, who moved to Mildura and died there in 1960 - hence Victoria's strong membership.

The sect was linked to the suicides of Narelle and Stephen Henderson, aged 14 and 12, of Pheasant Creek near Kinglake, in 1994. It holds five conventions a year at Speed, Colac, Drouin and at Thoona near Benalla.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos