‘Cult not church,’ lawyer claims
Lurid allegations of sexual misconduct at a Greater Toronto Area church have sent shock waves across the Pacific Ocean.
Television news crews from South Korea’s two largest networks — MBC and SBS —filed breathless reports in the spring about the myriad of charges and countercharges of sexual misconduct involving parishioners and leaders at the house of worship, which cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban.
Now, the church’s founder, former Orangeville grocer Jae-Kap (Joe) Song, 55, faces charges in Canada of inappropriately touching a female parishioner.
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On March 19, three former members of his congregation appeared in an Ontario Court of Justice courtroom at Finch Ave. W., while three others from the church had left for South Korea before they could be charged. Another two former members of the church would be charged later in the day. Together, they would face some 100 alleged offences, including threatening death, administering drugs for sex, gang sexual assault and making child pornography. The judge invoked a publication ban on identifying the church and the alleged victims.
Jacqueline An, a Toronto lawyer representing one of the accused, refuses to call Song a “pastor” or “reverend,” saying instead that he was the leader of a cult with branches in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area – RNB] and South Korea.
“It’s a cult, not a church,” An said.
Part of the reason the turmoil at the church is huge news back in South Korean is that most of the accused and alleged victims are from that country, living in the GTA on student visas.
Song’s legal woes increased this month, when three former members of his congregation — who are facing criminal charges in Canada — successfully pressed authorities in South Korea to lay charges against Song.
The South Korean charges against him are for mischief, threatening, forcible confinement and defamation of character.
None of the allegations has been proven in court and legal proceedings in Canada and South Korea are still in the early, pre-trial stages.
The church wasn’t widely known in the local Korean community until three years ago, when Song and parishioners showed up at a community road race, dressed in matching pastel uniforms, with the girls in soft pink and the boys in white and baby blue.
Former church members describe Song as an excellent orator and something of a prophet, who some believed had the power to read minds and predict the future. Some church members were greatly impressed when he was able to pick the first and third-place finishers in a local half-marathon.
An, who represents defendant Sang Cheol Lee, 37, of Toronto, accused Song of terrorizing dissidents in his church by persuading female parishioners to make false allegations against them.
Others say the pastor often appeared to have sex and not religion on his mind.
An noted that about 40 of the 50 parishioners at his church were female, mostly South Koreans on student visas between the ages of 16 and 32.
Many of the congregation were in Canada studying theology and traditional Chinese healing.
The lurid sex allegations had the effect of driving almost all of the men out of the tiny church.
On Feb. 21, according to former parishioners, Song gathered together eight or nine male parishioners at an apartment unit in Orangeville. The gathering included the six men who would later be charged with sexual assault.
According to the former parishioners, Song told the assembled men: “Gang sex has happened in our church, brothers and sisters. Among you are guys who did gang sex to sisters.”
According to some men at the meeting, the accused men were stunned and denied the accusation, volunteering to take DNA tests to prove they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Song sloughed off their offer of DNA testing, then went forward to police with his gang rape accusation, some of the accused men said.
Nowadays, the pastor and accused members of his flock are all out on bail, awaiting court dates.
Meanwhile, Song’s church has dwindled to just a dozen members, less than a quarter of its size before Valentine’s Day while An said the South Korean branch of the church has withered.