virus: The dangers of religion

Wade T. Smith (
Wed, 28 Aug 1996 13:14:20 -0400

How often has this scene been played out before? Under what flags and

And here it is, in my back yard....


Baptism case is referred to DA: DSS says probe of Woburn church being expanded

By Gloria Negri, Globe Staff, 08/27/96

The state Department of Social Services has determined that an 8-year-old was
emotionally harmed last month when he was allegedly brought to a Woburn church
for baptism under false pretenses and it has referred the case to the district
attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

The DSS said it has widened its probe into the activities of Anchor Baptist
church members and their pastor, Rev. Chris Pledger, after receiving
additional reports yesterday that nine more children were abused.

The children, both girls and boys, range in age from 6 to 16, the DSS said.

Rev. Pledger could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Speaking about the 8-year-old Cambridge boy, DSS spokesman Robert Hutchinson
said yesterday, ``Clinically, there were enough grounds that the child was in
an emotionally neglectful situation.''

Hutchinson would not elaborate on the investigation of the Cambridge abuse
allegation, except to say it concerned, ``one instance for one child.''

The caretakers for the child at the time of the alleged neglect were church
members, DSS sources said.

The boy's therapist reported suspicions of child abuse, sources said.

Jill Reilly, spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office, said
yesterday the office would continue to review reports from police departments
and parents in Woburn, Stoneham and Cambridge alleging that the Anchor Church
on July 18 lured children from housing projects and from other neighborhoods
onto buses with promises of basketball, games, pizza and a treasure hunt.

Instead, they took the children to the church to baptize them, officials say.

Once inside, according to DSS sources, the children were asked to change into
robes for the ceremony in which each child was dunked in a small pool or tub
of water.

Anchor Baptist Church is an independent fundamentalist church.

Officer Paul Lucero of the Woburn Police Department said allegations against
the church were ``still under investigation.''

Yesterday, outraged parents such as Frank Tortorella of Woburn continued to
speak out.

Tortorella said his 16-year-old son and his friends were among the youngsters
invited to the church for sports and food, only to be subjected to a two-hour
church service and asked to be baptized.

Tortorella said his son was jogging with friends near the church when they
were handed fliers telling of a basketball shoot around and food after
services at the church.

Tortorella said his son brought the flier home for his parents to read and
that a neighbor drove them to the church. ``The minister came out and told us
the kids would be done by 10 that night.''

Tortorella said a neighbor went to the church about 8:30 that evening and
``found the church empty with the pastor just leaving. He told her the kids
had gone to play basketball at a gym in Chelsea. That's where they took

``The kids were told they were going to be baptized,'' Tortorella said. ``My
son told them [church members] he already was baptized. The kids who didn't
want to be baptized stayed in the main church and the other kids were taken
downstairs to change. The kids were told to undress and put on robes. Some
kept their trousers on, other kids were totally naked under the robes.''

He said the next day, a representative of the church called and, when his
daughter answered, asked for his son. ``They asked him if he was ready to be
baptized. Then, they asked his sister the same thing.''

He reported the incident to police. ``Religion is a private thing and should
be kept at home,'' he said.

This story ran on page b1 of the Boston Globe on 08/27/96.

Wade T. Smith | 'There ain't nuthin' you | shouldn't do to a god.'
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