Children returned to faith-healing grandparents in custody battle

The custody battle involves three daughters

KOIN CBS News 6, Oregon/July 3, 2020

By Dan Tilkin

Oregon City, Oregon — There is a new development in an unusual child custody case where a local mother has been fighting to get her children back from her own parents. The parents are members of the Followers of Christ Faith Healing Church in Oregon City. On Thursday, a Clackamas County judge ordered deputies to make sure the mother turned over her three daughters.

Katie Duncan stood with her lawyer, Hank Pailet, outside the Clackamas County Courthouse where cameras weren’t allowed inside. They were fighting Katie’s parents, who were asking a judge to enforce their custody rights after Katie’s three daughters had visitation with their mother.

“These children are going to be traumatized,” said Pailet. “The girls have made a decision on their own to go to [their] mother’s because of conflict in the grandparents’ home. Mother complied and took the children because they refused to go. The Kelleys filed this, which will require the sheriff going to my client’s home and forcibly remove those children.”

The Kelleys are Katie’s parents, who raised her in the Followers of Christ Faith Healing Church. She was married at the age of 17. When she and her young husband filed for divorce, the troubled couple signed over custody of their kids. Katie has been fighting to get her kids back, saying that her parents’ “intention was to take our children from us so that they could ensure the children remained in the church.”

The Kelleys’ lawyer said they’ve been negotiating a possible return of the kids to Katie, but warned about breaking the custody order.

“The Kelleys certainly don’t enjoy the idea of the police going to their daughter’s house,” said Alec Laidlaw, the attorney for the Kelleys. “Despite all the acrimony, it’s still their daughter.”

In the courtroom, the judge said she had no choice but to enforce the Kelleys’ custody rights unless Katie’s lawyer could argue they were in immediate danger.

Hours later, Clackamas County deputies talked her daughters through tears into going back to their grandparents.

“Can I walk over to the car with you and have you get in and talk to them? Do you want to try that?” asked a deputy during the transition.

So far in the custody case, court records show that judges haven’t considered the Followers of Christ’s history. At the church cemetery, you will see the graves of children who weren’t taken to doctors. Five couples have been prosecuted.

“I don’t speak for the Kelleys’ church. I speak for the Kelleys as far as this case goes,” said Laidlaw. “I’m in no position to talk about or defend or justify or not justify anything having to do with their religious leanings.”

Katie’s fight isn’t over.

In January, a judge decided she has the right to argue that her constitutional parenting rights were violated in the original order that gave custody to her parents. But, there’s frustration that the hearing hasn’t been scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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