Church said it would pray for girl's 'spiritual problem'

The Guardian/January 13, 2001
By Jeevan Vasagar

Marie Therese Kouao, who clutched a Bible as she was taken from the dock to begin her prison sentence, appeared to believe that Anna was possessed by evil spirits.

This belief, which served as an excuse for the girl's brutalised condition, was allowed to flourish by a series of evangelical churches Anna was taken to by her abuser. Anna was made to repeat the story that she was possessed by demons and that Satan was making her injure herself.

The church that played a crucial role in this was the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a global Christian sect which tells its followers that diseases are caused by demons.

The sect, which last year bought the London-based Liberty Radio from Mohamed Al Fayed, is surrounded by controversy; its Brazilian founder is at the centre of corruption allegations. Founded by shop assistant Edir Macedo in 1977, the Protestant evangelical movement has grown to acquire millions of followers. It claims 4,500 regular members in Britain and has established a headquarters at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, north London. A week before her death last February Anna was brought to the theatre where the church advertises a "deliverance service" offering exorcism for those troubled by spirits.

Anna's frail body was completely covered in black clothing and she interrupted the service to say she was possessed. Kouao told the assistant pastor, Alvero Lima, 21, that witchcraft had followed Anna from Ivory Coast. Mr Lima told Kouao the girl had a "spiritual problem" and said he would fast for her. They should return for a Friday service, the pastor said, at which they would try to cast out the evil spirits. But the day before the service Kouao drove Anna, who was barely conscious, to the church. Mr Lima realised Anna was ill and advised Kouao to take her to hospital. She died the next day.

Kouao told doctors that when she had called the church earlier she was told Anna had a "bad spirit" and she should leave her alone. She had lost faith in modern medicine and had taken Anna to a church to rid her of "itchiness" through prayer.

A spokeswoman for the Universal Church said that medical studies had acknowledged the positive effects of prayer on health.

The Evangelical Alliance described Anna's death as tragic and warned churches to take great care in dealing with people who believe they are possessed.

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