Confusion as Climbié church cleared over exorcisms

Tash Shifrin/May 9, 2003

A religious charity cited in the Victoria Climbié murder inquiry has been cleared by an official investigation of potentially misleading the public by offering exorcism services and cures for cancer.

The charity commission today said that it found no evidence that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) claimed to be able to heal individuals or purge them of demons.

Despite the charity regulator's ruling the churches' website was today advertising "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon-possession" - an apparent reference to exorcism.

The commission investigated the church under its remit to protect the integrity of charities, in particular concerns that the charities' reputation might be adversely affected by any misleading claims that individuals could cure cancer, and perform miracles or exorcisms.

The commission inquiry was sparked by press interest in the UCKG, where Victoria was taken for exorcism by her great-aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, in February 2000. Kouao was found guilty of her murder in January 2001.

The commission's investigation report, published today, said Victoria did not attend the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God regularly, but visited three times in the period immediately before her death.

It added: "The seriousness of her condition was not fully realised or reported to the relevant authorities. Those representatives of the charity who saw her initially offered her spiritual help in prayer. However, on the last occasion when she attended, her aunt was advised to take her to a doctor."

The report says investigating officers "did not find any evidence that UCKG or those representing it . . . were claiming to be able to perform miracles, heal those suffering from ailments or exorcise individuals who are allegedly possessed by demons." And they noted "a statement to the effect that UCKG does not perform miracles on its publicity material."

The investigators concluded that no further action was necessary in relation to allegations that the UCKG claimed to be able to perform miracles, "as these were unsubstantiated."

But "life-changing meetings" advertised on the charity's website yesterday included "spiritual release" gatherings on Fridays, described as "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon-possession, nightmares, curses, envy, bad luck, all spiritual problems."

And on Tuesdays "miracle healing" is listed with the comment: "If you are sick, in pain, have an incurable disease, doctors cannot help, etc 'I am the Lord that healeth thee'."

A spokesperson for the commission said: "The charity, we recognise, offers prayer to help people overcome their illnesses. They don't actually claim to be able to cure cancer or ailments or do exorcisms."

But the commission has told the church - which has many child members and a facility for children of parents attending services - that it must introduce a formal child protection policy.

The investigators also looked at the relationship between UCKG and its sister churches in Brazil and Portugal, to which it has donated £900,000 and £1.36m respectively, and at payments made to two of the charity's three trustees in their capacity as pastors.

The report says the charity's trustees provided receipts and other documentation to show the fund sent to Brazil had been used to further its stated objects, although some documentation "predated the date of the donation". Documentation was also provided to support the donation of money in Portugal.

The trustees who were also being paid as pastors resigned as trustees at the charity's 2002 AGM, on the commission's advice, the report said.

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