Hosanna Church rites described as cultlike

The Advocate, Louisiana/August 29, 2008

Amite, Louisiana - The Hosanna Church child-rape trial defendant is the former leader of a Christian cult with congregants who veered from mainstream charismatic teachings by focusing on prophetically inspired public confessions and by vomiting in order to cast out demons of sin, three defense witnesses testified Thursday.

Their testimony in the trial of Louis D. Lamonica offered insight into the decline of Hosanna Church from the spiritual center built by Lamonica's father into a cult that witnesses said had lost touch with reality.

Lamonica's attorney, Michael Thiel, has maintained that his client falsely confessed to child rape because he was being controlled by a woman claiming to have prophetic visions. The state's case, presented by Assistant District Attorney Don Wall, includes accusations that children were molested as part of satanic cult rituals.

Lamonica, 49, of Hammond, faces four counts of aggravated rape of his two sons when they were age 11 or younger. He is the second of seven church members indicted in 2005 for their roles in an alleged child-sex ring to be tried in the 21st Judicial District Court.

Two young woman, Karen Bushey and Desireé Louque, testified Thursday that their membership in the Hosanna youth group was solely about worshipping God. They testified they never saw any satanic symbols or rituals at the church.

Even though they had been named as participants by some of the suspects and Lamonica's sons, both women said they never had sex with Lamonica or other church members.

Instead, they described what they referred to as a Christian cult.

Once Lois Mowbray became Hosanna's associate pastor, sermons ended and Sunday worship services varied from praising God for many hours to altar calls where Mowbray claimed God had told her of a sin that a congregant had to confess publicly, Bushey and Louque said.

"People would go up, start kneeling at the front praying," Bushey, 24, of Tickfaw, testified. "The worship team would crowd around them and pray over them. This would make them start to throw up."

Mowbray, 56, formerly of Ponchatoula, had been arrested by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office in May 2005 and booked with being an accessory after the fact to rape and failure to report a felony. She was never charged with the crimes by the District Attorney's Office or a parish grand jury.

Toward the end of the church's existence, strangers seeking to drop in on services were turned away at the doors, the women said. In fact, they, too, had no contact with others outside the church.

Bushey moved out of her parents' home and into the residence of the youth pastor after her parents had an argument with Lamonica and told her to leave the church or get out of their home.

Six months later, Bushey said, she contacted her sister in order to visit her on her birthday. Before she knew it, Bushey said, she was dropped off at a park where her mother picked her up.

No one at the church talked to her again, she testified.

Louque's break with the church came after she told her boyfriend, Christopher Labat, that she was tired of Labat's practice of confessing every aspect of their personal relationship to Mowbray.

Labat, 27, of Hammond, is the former Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's deputy who faces child-rape charges in this case.

Six months later, Louque, 23, of Hammond, said she hung out with Labat for a couple of hours. The next day, Labat, after confessing his visit to Mowbray, arrived at her place of employment and pulled her aside, she testified.

Labat then cut off the head of a rubber snake and handed the head to her, Louque tearfully related.

"He told me it was me," Louque said.

Harvest Family Church Senior Pastor Bray Sibley testified he was concerned when Lamonica decided to become pastor of his late father's church after Hosanna Church began to decline under the senior Lamonica's successors.

Sibley leads a nondenominational church along Interstate 12 in Hammond with more than 3,000 members.

However, Sibley once ran a ministry near Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond that was a "seed" planted from Hosanna's congregation and later became the Harvest Family Church. Previously, Sibley had been a youth pastor at Hosanna under Lamonica's father.

Lamonica had participated in a church praise band but had no pastoral experience, Sibley testified. But Lamonica had a "fever dream" in which his dead father asked him to finish his work, Sibley said.

"I know it was frustrating to him watching his father's church disappear," Sibley said. "I knew he felt an obligation with this dream he had."

At some point, the founding families left and Hosanna no longer was part of the Assemblies of God affiliation, two moves that worried Sibley because it reduced the accountability of the church leadership, Sibley testified.

The lack of the authority of the others and the accountability created an environment where a person with spiritual gifts could misuse them to control others, Sibley said.

"You need a church with accountability," Sibley said. "You can't have people become hyper spiritualized because they lose touch with reality."

The trial is scheduled to resume today in state District Judge Zoey Waguespack's courtroom.

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