The church that 'drives evil from the possessed'

The Independent/January 13, 2001
By Mary Braid

At times, evidence in the trial of Marie Therese Kouao and Carl Manning seemed to have come straight from the film The Exorcist. One pastor from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), in north London, said eight-year-Anna was "possessed" and ran down the aisle during a service, screaming: "Prayer doesn't help". Manning told the Old Bailey that Kouao had coached Anna to make the run.

Another pastor, Alvero Lima, 21, told the Old Bailey that Anna had said a snake came to her in her dreams and told her to wet and soil herself and injure her own body. "She named this snake," he said. "She said it was Satan." Anna also said she hated him because he was going to pray for her. Mr Lima admitted he thought the child, subjected to months of brutal abuse by Kouao and Manning, was "possessed". He offered to drive the Devil out at one of the UCKG's weekly Friday "deliverance" services, where the church offers strong prayer to "destroy witchcraft, devil possession, bad luck, bad dreams and spiritual problems."

Mr Lima claimed he had driven out evil before. He just could not remember how many times, he told the court. He said he felt no responsibility for Anna's death. Manning's defence barrister, Nigel Rumfitt, questioned another pastor, Pat Mensah, from the Joy Baptist Church in Harlesden, north-west London, about her response when Kouao told her Anna's "witchcraft" made her wet herself.

"This was London 1999 and a woman was talking about a child behaving like this because of witchcraft," he said. "Why didn't you say that is ridiculous, see a doctor?" Ms Mensah said she did not believe it was nonsense. She told the unstable, violent Kouao to pray, and believe in God, and eventually recommended she attend the UCKG.

Ms Mensah was one of the last outsiders to see Anna alive. When she visited her at Manning's flat in Tottenham, north London, she had not seen Anna for months. By then the child was being beaten every day, and tied up naked in a bin bag in a metal bath. Ms Mensah says she noticed that Anna did not smile in the way she used to, but was "hostile and unfriendly."

At Kouao's invitation, members of the UCKG prayed round Anna's hospital bed, as she lay dying. Church members had also fasted and prayed for Anna in the week leading up to the exorcism, which was due the day she died. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is controversial in its home country, Brazil, where it has millions of followers. Its founder, self-proclaimed "Bishop" Edir Macedo, was briefly jailed in 1992 on charges of fraud and illicit enrichment.

In 1995, Brazil's attorney general, Geraldo Brindeiro, ordered an investigation of the church and Mr Macedo, for alleged tax fraud, extortion and links with Colombia's cocaine barons. Mr Macedo's former deputy, Carlos Magno, had also made a videotape of Mr Macedo and other pastors mocking their congregations as suckers and making obscene gestures.

More than £1.3m a day is believed to pour into the coffers of the church, founded in 1977, and in more than 30 countries. It has extensive media, business, banking and sporting interests and is often spoken of as a business empire, rather than a religious organisation.

Mr Macedo is believed to live mostly in America. The church focuses heavily on healing and exorcism, and has gathered a large following since setting up in Britain. Its main church was in the Rainbow theatre, a former rock venue in north London, which the church bought for £2.35m in 1995. That year, the Advertising Standards Authority criticised it for advertising its services as combatant against demonic possession.

In a magazine advertisement, the church had claimed that headaches, depression, insomnia, back luck and disease were caused by demons. The ASA decided such claims could exploit "vulnerable people."

Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, says he has had complaints about the way the church operates. "It is a group about which we remain very concerned," he said.

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