Families: Religious Group Uses Cult-Like Methods

Parents Say Group Turns Family Members Into Strangers

BOSTON — A religious group with roots in Needham, Mass., is raising concern among some families who believe the order uses cult-like methods.

Over the last few months, NewsCenter 5 has heard from a number of former members and families of members who say the Order of Christ Sophia strips people of their past and turns them into strangers.

NewsCenter 5’s Liz Brunner reported that the order is small but has centers in nine cities.

They call themselves a mystical Christian order, devoted to meditation and prayer. But former member Nancy Wainer said that the order of Christ Sophia is a dangerous cult that breaks up families.

“They use deception, mind control, hypnosis, all kinds of devious tactics to get you to follow them blindly. It continued to get more uncomfortable,” Wainer said.

By the time Wainer left the group, her adult daughter was already immersed in it. Like all order members, Andrea was given a new name: Michelle. She moved to Oakland, Calif., where the group’s leader and self-ordained cleric, the Rev. Peter Bowes, runs a center.

“They’ve taught my daughter that I’m a terrible person. My daughter doesn’t have any memories anymore of the loving relationship we have,” Wainer said.

Andrea no longer talks to her mother and barely talks to her father.

“There are times I can talk to Andrea, but then Michelle takes over, and when she is in control, she is in control,” Andrea’s father, Paul Cohen, said.

Her mother said it’s the result of relentless mind control the order calls “spiritual guidance’.

“She was instructed to take everything, every article of clothing, every stuffed animal, every memento. You’d walk into her room and it’s like a ghost place where no one lived there named Andrea,” Wainer said.

Steve Holcumb told the same story. His daughter, Jennifer, is known in the order as Joelle.

“Important things to her that I’ve discovered in the garbage and that we’ve managed to save for the day when hopefully she’s out of this. How is it that this transformation could be occurring with someone who has been so loving and caring and now isn’t?” Holcumb said.

Jennifer has cut off her parents and many friends, including her best friend, whose wedding she refused to attend.

“The change is so negative, so destructive and so un-Christian. that it is absolutely shattering,” Holcumb said.

But, one couple said that they freely devoted themselves to the order, and it’s graced their lives. “I feel balanced, centered and feel my life has a purpose,” the Rev. John Tomasic said.

NewsCenter 5 interviewed the co-founder of the order, Mother Claire Watts, during a recent visit to Boston.

“The things they call brainwashing is visualizing yourself in a bubble of light, letting go of negative energy. I feel sorry for their sons and daughters who parents get on TV to say how stupid they are,” Watts said.

“The path she is now taking is not a path that she is taking by herself,” Holcumb said.

A few years ago, Bowes was forced to surrender his license to practice psychology in Wisconsin, after three patients filed complaints that Bowes used his position to recruit them into the Order.

Nancy Wainer said that she first got involved in the group when Watts trained her to be a midwife. Wainer said that some mothers of the babies Watts delivered were recruited.

“She’s Mother Claire Watts, self appointed Mother Claire Watts, and I feel betrayed. I look back and realize I recruited for them. I actually recruited for them,” Wainer said. “I don’t really care what they think anymore. We love our daughter. We love our daughter.”

“They have got what we now don’t have. I’ll always love her, and I think about her every day,” Holcumb said.

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June 28, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday June 29, 2004.
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