Alleged cult molester surrenders

One of two young men wanted by police for allegedly molesting a young boy while living with an Eastside group known to many as a cult has surrendered to authorities.

Justin Kirkland, 20, a member of the Tridentine Latin Rite Church, was being held Tuesday night held in lieu of $75,000 bail after being booked at the King County Jail in Seattle on Monday morning, nearly a year after he was charged with two counts of first-degree rape of a child.

Police are still looking for Michael W. Muratore, 21, a third member of the church who was charged Nov. 18 with first-degree child molestation for crimes against the same victim.

The mother of the now-13-year-old boy, whom Kirkland and two other young men are accused of molesting over three years beginning when the boy was 8, said she believes recent media converage about the church pressured its leaders to send Kirkland to authorities. She is not being named to protect the privacy of her son.

“I was expecting it to happen,” said the woman, who along with her son was a member of the group she calls a cult for more than three years. “Shuckardt doesn’t like that kind of pressure.”

She was referring to the group’s founder, Francis Konrad Shuckardt, a charismatic leader who considers himself to be the true pope, according to members of the group.

Shuckardt was one of the original defectors of the Catholic Church, following changes in the Vatican enacted in the mid-1960s. The vocal traditionalist was ousted from his congregation and spent decades cultivating a following throughout the Northwest.

Members of his church have described a harsh life with hours of prayer each day. Women and girls must cover their heads and wear long skirts. There have been reports of malnutrition and severe punishment, such as shaving the heads of girls and forcing some to kneel during meals.

Former members say the church uses fear to discourage its young followers from running away.

The group is not connected to recognized Catholic groups that practice Tridentine Mass or other sects that broke away from the Catholic Church following global revisions in the way Catholics worship with the Second Vatican Council — or Vatican II — in 1965. The changes were intended to broaden the church’s reach and appeal.

Police have found no sign of Shuckardt since 2002, leading them to believe he’s most likely dead or gravely ill.

But the mother at the heart of this case said she believes he is alive and well.

“I don’t believe he’s dead,” she said. “I saw him last in 2003. I know he’s alive.”

Also charged in December 2004 was 20-year-old Steve A. Belzak, who was arrested, booked and released as a juvenile. Belzak pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of child molestation.

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His sentencing in juvenile court has been continued to Dec. 19. Prosecutors say they’ll recommend a judge send Belzak to intensive sexual deviancy treatment before determining how much time he should serve.

Kirkland is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday.

According to charging papers, the victim’s mother went to Bellevue police in April 2004 after her son told her he had been molested while living at the Tridentine Latin Rite Church home in Sammamish.

Since he was 2, the boy was raised by the men who lived at the house. His mother spent those years living with her daughters and other female members of the church at a home in Bellevue. It wasn’t until she left the church last year that she learned of her son’s abuse, she said.

It took her three years to muster the courage to leave, she said.

“It was fear, fear of hell. That was constantly preached into us,” she said. “And it was fear for my children.”

In May 2004, her son told detectives and prosecutors that Muratore was the first to touch him when he was 7 or 8. Three weeks later, he said, Belzak touched him and made him take his clothes off while other boys were sleeping in the room. He said Kirkland later began molesting him as well. The abuse went on until he was 11.

The boy’s mother said she believes Muratore also will turn himself in soon because of the media attention on the group.

“My hope is that somehow the members will catch wind of this stuff and start thinking,” she said. “Hopefully it will put a damper on the abuse of children.”

Police say there are no allegations of organized or ritual abuse in the group, and the acts didn’t occur under the direction of any of the group’s leaders.

But the mother said she believes such allegations have yet to emerge only because of the fear among the group’s members. She said she explained her concerns Monday to a reporter for the NBC-TV news show Dateline.

“I believe (Belzak, Kirkland and Muratore) were abused by leaders of the church,” she said. “Children are being abused not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
King County Journal, USA
Nov. 30, 2005
Noel S. Brady, Journal Reporter

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 30, 2005.
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