MONTREAL - Three children removed from a cult's headquarters in Quebec this week have been returned to their parents at the religious group's Apostles of Infinite Love monastery.
The children -- three sisters aged 15, 16, and 17 -- expressed a desire to return home and the judge found no reason to block their request.
The Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force, raided the monastery in St-Jovite, Que., Wednesday in a plan to arrest four cult members, but the members were not at the monastery after local media reported leaked details of the raid.
Canada-wide warrants have been issued for the four, including the group's leader, Jean-Gaston Tremblay, who was called Pope Gregory XVII by the group's members. They are charged with physical and sexual abuse dating from 1966 to 1985.
Youth-protection workers are trying to gain the trust of the rest of the children removed from the cult, so they can determine whether they have cause to keep the children in protective custody.
A Quebec Court judge gave the youth workers five days to evaluate the cases of 17 of the 20 children, aged 4 to 14, who they removed after the raid.
All 20 children are in good health, and none have recounted stories of abuse, as have been reported by adult, former-cult members.
Francis Gagnon, a spokesman for Quebec's youth-protection authorities, said the social workers have only a short time to learn about the children's lives inside the cult.
A lawyer for the youth protection authorities, Josee Mayo, said they will have to establish to a judge's satisfaction that the 17 children will be at risk if they are returned to the cult. The fact that four of the group's leaders are facing charges for past child abuse is "an element" that could show the monastery is not an appropriate place for children, even though the charges of abuse are not proven.
On Thursday, youth protection authorities asked the U.S. and Belgian embassies for help in tracking down the parents of 10 of the children; Nine are believed to be American and one is thought to be Belgian. None of the parents of the 10 are living with the cult in St-Jovite.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy said they had yet to establish that the children are U.S. citizens.
One cult expert said members in other countries send their children to St-Jovite, using it as a sort of religious boarding school.