Women 'mistreated' by secretive ministry

Sydney Morning Herald/March 17, 2008

Young women suffering mental illness were treated with Bible studies and exorcisms as part of a secretive ministry linked to Gloria Jean's Coffees and the Hillsong Church, a media report says.

Troubled young women signed over months of their lives to Mercy Ministries, which offered them little or no medical or psychiatric care, the Sydney Morning Herald investigation found.

Three former ministry residents have blown the whistle on the program, claiming they were independent young women when they entered, but came out broken and suicidal, believing - as ministry staff had told them - that they were possessed by demons and that Satan controlled them.

These women have since been forced to undergo years of intense psychological and psychiatric care to overcome their treatment at the ministry.

Membership at the ministry required residents to sign over any Centrelink benefits, and it's believed the group also received a carers payment to look after the women, the Herald reported on Monday.

The Mercy Ministries website says the group takes in women aged 16 to 28 and offers them support from "psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, (and) career counsellors".

However, the three residents speaking out about the ministry say no professional medical services were provided, and instead the program focuses on prayer, Christian counselling and expelling demons from in and around the young women.

"Mercy Ministries staff address the issues that the residents face from a holistic client-focused approach; physical, mental, emotional. The program is voluntary and all aspects are explained comprehensibly to the residents and no force is used," ministry executive manager of programs Judy Watson told the Herald.

Mercy Ministries, sponsored by Gloria Jean's and supported by the Hillsong Foundation, say they have a 90 per cent success rate from their programs.

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