Dec 23, 2007

48 Legionaries of Christ Ordained

12 New Priests From U.S. 

December 23, 2007

ROME, DEC. 23, 2007 ( Forty-eight religious from the Legion of Christ were ordained to the priesthood Saturday in Rome.

Archbishop Luigi de Magistris, retired pro-major penitentiary, celebrated Saturday's ordination Mass in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

In addition to 12 new priests from the United States, the Legion of Christ's first priests from Singapore and El Salvador were also ordained. The group also included 19 from Mexico, eight from Spain, four from Brazil, and one each from Chile, France and Germany.

A delegation came from Ivory Coast, the first African country where the Regnum Christi Movement is present. Regnum Christi is the lay apostolic movement associated with the Legionaries of Christ.

Deacon Rafael Lara, father of one of the new priests, Father Paul Lara, read the Gospel. Six months ago in the United States, father and son were ordained to the diaconate together -- the father as a permanent deacon.

In his homily, Archbishop de Magistris, 81, spoke from his long experience as a priest: "Always be ministers of the truth; to be a priest of Christ is to be a priest of the Church, with the Church, and for the Church. As ministers of forgiveness, never say ‘no' to someone who asks you for the sacrament of confession. Celebrate the Eucharist as if it were the first and the last time of your life."

He cited a text from a letter of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel: "Unite yourself to Mary and your priesthood will never be without fruit."

Dec 11, 2007

Author speaks about her 'Shattered Dreams' as a polygamist's wife

Brooke Adams
Salt Lake Tribune

December 11, 2007

When Irene Spencer became a plural wife she married for God, not love.

Born into a family that had embraced polygamy for four generations, Spencer believed plural marriage was necessary for her to get to heaven.

In 1953, at age 16, she became the second wife of her brother-in-law, Verlan LeBaron. For Spencer, the years that followed were a constant search for validation.

She suffered a nervous breakdown, contemplated suicide and planned to leave her 28-year marriage when fate intervened: LeBaron was killed in a car accident.

Spencer, 70, chronicles her experience as a plural wife in "Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife" (Center Street, $24.99). She will speak about her life in polygamy tonight at Salt Lake City's Main Library.

Through marriage, Spencer joined a family that would launch an infamous sect, the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times. Based in Mexico, it is most notable for the murderous rampage set off by LeBaron's brother Ervil in the 1970s.

But Spencer said her husband, who led the sect from 1972 until his death in 1981, was a kind man who adored his 58 children.

She does not fault him for her dissatisfaction with the polygamous life, a perspective that sets her apart from other ex-plural wives who've authored books about their experiences.

"Verlan was a very good man," she said. "The publishers wanted to make him out a dog, but he was one of the kindest, nicest, understanding [men]. He was a victim in the same way I was a victim."

The polygamous lifestyle itself was the problem, incapable of delivering the promised fulfillment, she maintains.

Plural memoirs.
Books by ex-plural wives practically make up their own genre. The form began with Ann Eliza Young's "Wife No. 19: The Story of a life in Bondage," an expose of her short, unhappy marriage to LDS Prophet Brigham Young.

It entered the modern era with publication in 1975 of "Polygamist's Wife" by Melissa Merrill, the pseudonym of a woman whose marriage collapsed after her husband took three other wives.

More recent additions include "The Sixth of Seventh Wives" by Mary Mackert and "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop, both former members of the sect now led by Warren S. Jeffs. Mackert is featured in the documentary, "Damned to Heaven."

The interest in such stories appears strong; both Spencer's and Jessop's book appeared briefly on The New York Times' bestsellers list.

Just one book has offered a positive take on polygamy among fundamentalist Mormons, "Voices in Harmony." The compilation of comments from 100 plural wives was put together by proponents Anne Wilde, Mary Batchelor and Marianne Watson.

Spencer and Jessop "both have fascinating stories. They are very sad stories," said Wilde, who has read both books. "They have their experience, they have a right to write about it and my heart goes out to them."

But the books may leave readers with the impression that all fundamentalist Mormon women are suppressed emotionally and spiritually, Wilde said. "That is not the case across the board," she said.

One family's history.

Spencer is the second of LeBaron's former wives to pen a memoir. Susan Ray Schmidt, wife No. 6, published "His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy" in 2006. LeBaron also wrote briefly about his family in "The LeBaron Story," published the year he died.

Read together, the books offer a unique look at different perspectives of a single polygamous marriage.

Spencer's book is the best, and a better read than most in the genre, which have common themes of jealousy, emotional neglect and women overwhelmed by too many children.

Spencer spent her married years in Mexico, giving birth to 13 children while trying to make the best of a life of abject poverty.

The addition of each new wife brought heartbreak and exacerbated Spencer's emotional, and sexual, frustration.

"I used to tell him not to get more than seven wives because I wanted to see him at least once a week," she said.

"Living 'the law' was like torture to me," Spencer writes. "It went beyond self-sacrifice to the point of totally rejecting self."

Spencer was shocked and threatened when LeBaron took Schmidt, who was 15 at the time, as a wife.

But she participated in the ceremony anyway. By then, LeBaron was the sect's president and Spencer felt compelled to keep up a happy facade.

"It was our survival." LeBaron eventually had 10 wives; Spencer participated in four of those ceremonies, placing each new wife's hand in that of their husband.

"I did it without flinching or crying because everybody was watching you," she said. "You just smother everything you feel.

"Every woman who says they love it - I used to parrot the same things and say it was wonderful, grand, because it was expected of us and it was our survival," Spencer said. "If you didn't believe it and gave it up, you were damned."

So she suffered along, her unmet emotional, physical and psychological needs deepening. Spencer said LeBaron confided he felt overwhelmed, too, but felt "he had to do it for God."

After LeBaron's death, Spencer became a born-again Christian; she married Hector Spencer 19 years ago, finally finding the love and devotion she craved.

Lingering guilt about her years as a plural wife is due to this: Three of her children are in polygamous marriages. "I look forward to the day when they will all be out it," she said.

Spencer wrote a draft of the book 20 years ago, intending it to be an historical account for posterity. When a church group gave it a thumbs up, Spencer and a daughter began searching for a publisher.

She received 25 rejections before her manuscript was accepted by an agent who sold it to Center Street, which focuses on books that provide "wholesome entertainment, helpful encouragement and traditional values."
That, Spencer hopes, is exactly what people find in her memoir.

"I want people to know how [you] can be brainwashed and made to follow someone else's script," she said. "I feel like you can walk away from any situation you were in and become better or bitter. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons."

Brooke Adams can be reached at 801-257-8724 or

Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times (Ervil LeBaron)

Nov 16, 2007

Attorney Argues For Rastafarian Client

Karen Florin
The Day (CT)

November 16, 2007

Judge Doesn't Buy That Marijuana Is A 'God-Given Right'

Defense attorney Ronald F. Stevens' presentation in New London Superior Court Thursday could have been called “Marijuana 101.”

His client, 42-year-old Vernon Smith of Norwich, had pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to sell after police found him with more than 20 pounds of the drug earlier this year.

As a Rastafarian who believes that selling, trading and possessing marijuana is “a God-given right,” Smith had asked his lawyer to argue his point of view in an attempt to reduce the state's recommended sentence of seven years in prison, suspended after 30 months served and three years probation.

Smith, a father of seven from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, is a “Mr. Mom” who takes care of the kids while his wife works and supplements his income by selling marijuana, Stevens said. He does not sell to children, the attorney said.

This was Smith's third conviction, and it was his second time in front of Judge Susan B. Handy. Stevens acknowledged the judge had to follow the law, but said he had to advocate for his client.

“Mr. Smith firmly believes in his heart of hearts and in his religious and cultural convictions that marijuana is part of his human rights,” Stevens said. “He wants to fight the good fight for the legalization of marijuana.”

Stevens said he listened to audio tapes, watched television specials and read up on the history of marijuana and the Rastafarian religion. Marijuana was legal until the 1930s, he said. He referenced Supreme Court decisions involving Rastafarians and their use of marijuana. He recited a poem on his client's behalf and quoted from a Biblical passage about “the herb of life.” He said Rastafarians consider marijuana or “ganja” to be “wisdom weed.”

After referencing the Prohibition period, when alcohol was illegal but marijuana was not, Stevens said that in his practice, “I see more problems with alcohol than I've seen with marijuana, frankly.”

Stevens said his client's beliefs had made him the victim of a violent crime. Two men, whose cases are pending in the same New London court, had entered Smith's home in May while his parents were visiting from St. Croix and held guns to their heads. While police were investigating, Smith admitted he had marijuana in the home. Police recovered four ounces, and were holding a warrant for his arrest when he was pulled over and found with 20 pounds of the drug.

Smith, who wore a white robe and a tri-colored headwrap to his court appearances, said he has always tried to set a good example for his people and has followed the Ten Commandments. He does not consider himself a criminal.

“I know that the law is such in this country, but I feel one day the law will change, especially with people who indulge in marijuana and are not violent,” he said. He knows many people who use marijuana to relax and meditate, he said.

Knowing Stevens was about to make the argument, prosecutor John P. Gravalec-Pannone had said that the proper place for it would be the legislature. He also said that in his experience, the dealing of marijuana and the potency of it when mixed with other substances has led to violent crimes, including murder.

“The law is the law,” Pannone said.

Handy said she had respect for Smith's religion, but that he could not use it to hide his criminal behavior. She did not reduce his sentence. She said that as long as marijuana is illegal, possessing, using and selling it is criminal.

“That home invasion was because of what you do, which is criminal activity,” she said. “You, sir, put your children, your wife and your visiting parents at risk because you sell drugs.”

Nov 1, 2007

MOVE's Guinness record riles survivor

Michael Klein
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 1, 2007

MOVE's Ramona Africa is fuming at the new Guinness Book of Records. Under a list of "modern mass suicides" assembled by the London-based Cult Information Centre, the 2008 edition identifies "The Move" while citing the deaths of 11 members in May 1985.

"Suicide?" asks Africa, the sole adult survivor of the May 13, 1985, inferno started by a bomb dropped by the city. The fire also leveled a block of Osage Avenue in West Philly.

Africa points out that the city paid millions to the so-called back-to-nature group to settle civil suits. "Why would they settle if it was mass suicide?" she says.

She also bristles at the "cult" tag.

The Cult Information Centre and Guinness have not responded to my requests for comment. Africa said she reached the center and received an "arrogant and uncooperative" response. "The point is," she said, "if they are an information center, how can they do that without even talking to anybody in the organization?"

Topping the Guinness list were the 924 members of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (Uganda, 2000). "The Move" falls between Heaven's Gate (39 dead in California in 1997) and the Symbionese Liberation Army (six dead in 1974).

Oct 24, 2007

AT&T told to pay 2 Jehovah's Witnesses

Dallas Morning News

October 24, 2007

From Wire Reports

AT&T Inc. must pay $756,000 to two former technicians who were denied time off to attend a Jehovah's Witness meeting, a federal jury in Arkansas decided.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued AT&T last year, claiming the San Antonio-based company denied Glenn Owen and Jose Gonzalez a "reasonable accommodation" of their religious beliefs when it fired them after they asked to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention in Little Rock, Ark.

The two men had "sincerely held religious beliefs" and had attended the convention previously, according to the EEOC complaint.

The verdict, delivered Oct. 19, was entered Monday, according to the court docket.

"We respectfully disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal," said AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk. 

Oct 11, 2007

Aum bankruptcy to wrap up in March

Japan Times

October 11, 2007

Kyodo News Service


The bankruptcy proceedings for doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo are now scheduled to conclude in March, which will allow the bankruptcy administrator to find ways to compensate victims of Aum's deadly crimes.

At the 15th meeting of victims' representatives and other creditors held Wednesday at the Tokyo District Court, bankruptcy administrator Saburo Abe proposed closing the procedures on March 31, a dozen years after the cult was declared insolvent in 1996.

Abe and the victims plan to urge the government and Diet members to establish a special law obliging the government to shoulder compensation payments on behalf of Aum, which has renamed itself Aleph, and collect debts from the group.

Presiding Judge Kenji Nishi decided to hold the final creditors' meeting on March 26.

"We doubt that we can collect the debts from the group simply through the bankruptcy procedures, because the pain felt by the victims has already reached its limit," Abe said. "I am confident that our proposal was approved by the court and we will continue supporting the victims until they are provided with redress."

In Wednesday's meeting, Abe presented the conditions for closing the proceedings, under which a fund to support Aum's victims, set up in June 2006, will take over the cult's claimable assets. The victims will receive another round of payments before mid-March.

According to Abe, Aum is roughly ¥5.1 billion in debt, and about ¥3.8 billion of that should be used as compensation.

But the victims have so far received only 34 percent of that amount, or ¥1.3 billion, in the past three rounds of payments. The next payment is expected to boost their take to around 37 percent or 38 percent.

Aum was founded by Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. Twelve people died in the group's 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system. Another gassing in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, killed seven people.

Asahara and several other cultists have been sentenced to hang for those attacks and other murders linked to Aum. 

Oct 4, 2007

Naked Men: The ManKind Project and Michael Scinto

Chris Vogel
Houston Press
October 4, 2007

The organization was supposed to make him a better man. Instead, his parents say, it made him a dead one.

"The ManKind Project offers trainings which support men in developing lives of integrity, accountability and connection to feeling." — From The ManKind Project Web site

"They had three naked men bring out two chickens that they hit with a ­hammer." — Michael Scinto in a letter to a ­Madison County sheriff's deputy.

Michael Scinto was literally scared to death.

On an isolated 11-acre compound down a winding, country dirt road 110 miles north of Houston, Scinto watched as the leader of the men's group instructed him and nearly 40 other strangers in the room. Put one foot on the carpet. Make sure to keep that foot on the carpet at all times. The leader then began grilling them about who makes them mad.

"They provoked the men into a rage," wrote Scinto in a letter to the Madison County Sheriff's Office. "They were telling 1 man fuck you, you are ­worthless.'"

Scinto felt nauseous and told a staff member he needed to leave.

When Scinto had arrived the day before, men dressed in dark clothes, faces painted black, stripped him and his fellow initiates of their keys, wallets, cell phones and watches. Now, wanting to go home, Scinto demanded his keys and his wallet back. Not that keys would help at this point anyway. After all, he didn't have his truck with him; Scinto had been driven up Interstate 45 from Houston, through the rural town of Madisonville and over to the training compound located on the grassy ranchlands of North Zulch. All the men were carpooled because they were told there was not enough space for everyone to park.

Outside and away from the other men now, the group leader sat next to Scinto.

"He told me that if I left," wrote Scinto, "I would be causing harm to the other participants. I told him that I did not care. I told him to get my stuff so that I could leave. He said that if I left they would kill...(I was) convinced that if I ran they would catch me. At this point I feared for my life."

Scinto initially agreed to sign up and pay the $650 for The ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure several weeks earlier after hearing about it from his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Kim Sawyer. Like everyone else who attended, Scinto was not told what the weekend would specifically entail. He signed several confidentiality contracts and liability waivers and filled out a medical questionnaire, but was promised all activities were voluntary and he could leave at any time. Plus, of course, he trusted his sponsor. Sawyer, a business coach who counsels corporate clients on how to run more effective businesses, had been Scinto's sponsor for about eight months. Sawyer joined The ManKind Project more than a decade earlier and sold the idea to Scinto, telling him it would be the best thing he could do for himself.

"So many of the character defects that eat you [sic] lunch can be replaced by strengths and skills and understandings you'll discover from this training. It will be the best Return on Investment you ever got," Sawyer wrote to Scinto in an e-mail before the initiation.

As Scinto became increasingly distraught at the retreat, staff members fetched Sawyer, who later told police that Scinto was crying and explained that he had unearthed a traumatic childhood memory. Sawyer told Scinto that leaving would be difficult and that it would be best if he expressed his thoughts and worries openly with the group.

Scinto had to make a choice: stay and continue with the program, or try to walk away alone along the poorly marked country roads, lost and terrified someone was close behind, hunting him down.

Scinto stayed.

In a letter to the sheriff's office, he detailed some of the rituals and activities he witnessed:

• Blindfolded walking tours in the nude;
• People blowing sage smoke in his face while 50 or so naked men danced around candles;
• Men sitting naked in a circle discussing their sexual histories while passing a wooden dildo called "The Cock";
• Naked men beating cooked chickens with a hammer.

At the end of the third and final day of the retreat, the leaders and staff members herded the initiates into the main room.

"They threatened us with imprisonment," wrote Scinto. "They said that if we were married to tell the wives we loved them. They told us not to discuss any of the process that we went through. Then they let us leave."

Fifteen days later, on July 25, 2005, Scinto's father and sister found him dead, rotting in his apartment from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.

His family did not understand. So they began investigating.

What they discovered was that the international men's organization with thousands of vocal loyalists claiming life-altering training also had an underworld of critics with bone-chilling tales of physical and psychological abuse.

Becky Arnett, his sister, took off from work and was able to access the group's internal Web site using her brother's password. She got a copy of the organization's local membership roster, which includes prominent doctors, lawyers and businessmen, as well as therapists and addiction ­specialists.

Some of the more surprising names included El Lago Mayor Brad Emel; Houston Ballet Foundation Director of Marketing and Communication Andrew Edmonson; artist Brooke Stroud of the Menil Collection; Marty Kelly of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; and University of Houston Chair of Anthropology Norris Lang.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's name was also on the list. When contacted by the Press, he declined to comment.

Of course, merely being listed is no indication of what exactly anyone who went to the retreat did. For instance, one of the people who talked with the Press said he didn't engage in the nudity.

The Scintos came to believe that the group seemed to target vulnerable members of 12-step recovery groups and that its leaders appeared to practice psychology without a state license.

They were especially upset to find the names of several Roman Catholic priests on the roster and contacted the ­Galveston-Houston Archdiocese with this ­information.

Now, two years later, Scinto's parents, Kathy and Ralph, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Harris County against The ManKind Project Houston and Charles Kimberly Sawyer in an effort to uncover and expose once and for all what happened to their son, and why.

It almost sounds like the lead-in to an old joke: What do you get when you cross an ex-marine, a therapist and a business ­consultant?

Answer: The ManKind Project.

In January 1985, the three founding members of The ManKind Project, Rich Tosi, Bill Kauth and Ron Hering, took 18 men out on what was then called the "Wildman Weekend," in Haimowoods, Wisconsin. They conducted three more such weekends that year, initiating a total of 72 men.

Today, the retreats are called The New Warrior Training Adventure, and, according to the organization, more than 30,000 men across the globe have attended some 800-plus initiation weekends. The ManKind Project has 42 centers throughout the United States, Canada, England, Germany, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. None, however, are as active as the one in Houston. The local center's Web site boasts it has held the greatest total number of trainings anywhere, initiating more than 4,000 men since 1991 at an average of 350 a year. The Houston center is known simply as "The Weekend Machine."

The ManKind Project describes its training as "a traditional masculine initiation, but geared toward the modern-day man." Its stated mission is "to assist men in reclaiming the sacred masculine for our time through initiation, training and action in the world."

If this all sounds a bit New Age, there's a reason. The organization sprang out of the so-called "mythopoetic men's movement" that is in part derived from the work of famed psychologist Carl Jung, who studied the psyche by exploring dreams and myths, and the poet Robert Bly, whose best-selling book Iron John: A Book About Men offers a romantic view of masculinity. The overall aim is to empower men to regain their masculinity by looking at the male situation through myths and poetry. The avowed goal is to create caring and trusting relationships between men and to help men overcome their emotional wounds.

Many who join The ManKind Project say they feel the program is the most rewarding experience of their lives.

"It was a very positive experience for me," says Edmonson. "It really helped me to move forward in several areas of my life."

"I consider it more of a way of life than a membership," says George Chambers, a fourth-grade teacher at Houston's Pine Shadows Elementary School.

Artist Brooke Stroud no longer is a member and did not participate in some of the naked rituals during the initiation, but praises the organization.

"I guess I did the fraternity thing in college and did not want to go that route again," he says, "but overall, it's a good group and was a very positive experience."

Neither Kim Sawyer nor ManKind Project Houston's executive director, Scott Cole, returned phone calls requesting comment for this story. However, Les Sinclair, spokesman for the national parent nonprofit The ManKind Project, did.

"This is the best thing on the planet," he says from his home in Las Vegas. "The initiation is a real wake-up to life. We teach men to be accountable for the choices they make or the actions they don't take. We look at the emotional wounds that have taken a man's power away...He may have low self-esteem, he may feel like he doesn't measure up to other men, he's afraid of men or he's afraid of women, or he's afraid of life in general. We look at what was that key emotional wound that took his power away and set up some form of psychodrama for him to overcome. It is a very powerful process."

The procedures and protocols em­ployed at each of the organization's centers are carefully constructed and controlled, says Sinclair. And though each center is its own entity, filing its own nonprofit tax return, they all administer the same routine.

"The only difference between a training in France and in Houston," says Sinclair, "is that the training in France would be in French."

As for the nudity that takes place during the course of the retreat, Sinclair says, "It's getting real with our bodies and being men. It's of course nonsexual or anything like that. It's getting men to get beyond their shame of their bodies, like, there's nothing wrong with your body."

As for the chicken bashing, Sinclair says he cannot say what happened on Scinto's retreat because he wasn't there. However, he says that it might have been to "have a bit of levity. In the past they have brought out cooked chickens to sort of ritualize the feast" that the men have on Sunday to conclude the weekend.

It costs $650 to attend the initiation weekend, and then an additional $190 to attend eight weekly Integration Group meetings where men discuss how to incorporate the organization's philosophies into their everyday lives. Suggested activities to do during the Integration Group meetings include shaving another man's face, kidnapping a member of another Integration Group, and changing clothes with another man. Additionally, members can choose to pay hundreds of dollars more to work as staff members during retreats and to take advanced training courses, so they can rise within the organization's ranks and one day lead an initiation weekend. Members also pay yearly dues and are encouraged to make donations.

A 2005 tax return filed by the Houston center, also known as Men In Mission, shows the nonprofit group collected more than $242,000 in contributions and more than $300,000 in revenue, primarily derived from men paying to attend the retreat weekends.

The organization maintains its nonprofit tax status by asserting it provides educational services. However, critics say this claim is a sham. If the organization said it was doing therapy, it could jeopardize its special tax status.

"What it boils down to," says Rick Ross, head of the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, which studies cults, groups and movements, "is that they are doing group therapy, although they won't admit to that, and they are not qualified to do group therapy. They are not licensed and they are not accountable."

Norris Lang, who chairs the anthropology department at the University of Houston and is a former therapist, agrees. He took part in an initiation retreat in 1997 and then attended several Integration Group meetings before deciding to leave the organization.

"Some of the exercises that they had us engage in," he says, "were fairly traumatic and normally, as a psychotherapist, I would have only engaged in some of those the security of a hospital or psychiatric facility. If you get somebody to get in touch with their feelings from, say, 30 years ago, a time when they were abused as children, that can be fairly dangerous territory for an unprofessional. It's kind of group therapy without any professionals involved."

Sinclair insists the training is not ­therapy.

"It's therapeutic," he says, "in that it's healing, and we have a lot of therapists who come, but we don't do therapy. What we do have is a very powerful process that men get involved in and they start to peel away, like an onion, and break down their armor or shield to get down to their core and who they are. We confront men to wake up and to stop with the BS, to stop telling lies and tell the truth and trust one another."

Although members claim they don't do therapy, The ManKind Project has been recognized by the American Psychological Association, which bestowed an award on Christopher Burke for his 2004 dissertation that looks at the impact The ManKind Project has had on men.

Ross says The ManKind Project appears to use coercive mind-control tactics. These include limiting participants' sleep and diet, cutting them off from the outside world, forcing members to keep secrets, and using intimidation.

Critics such as Ross have additional concerns as well, including the targeting of 12-step communities and what they say is an inadequate vetting system to determine who can and cannot withstand the stresses of the program.

"What they have is one size fits all," says Ross, "and that's the problem. So, the net result is you get people with issues and troubles, and the pressures of the program can crack them and cause them to have emotional distress. And that's why they have waivers you have to sign. They don't require waivers because everything is fine; they want them because everything has not always been fine and they don't want the legal liability. The bottom line is, I wouldn't recommend MKP to anyone under any circumstances."

Several years ago, "Bob" — who does not want his real name used because he says he fears retaliation — began hearing whispers about The ManKind Project in the hallways outside his 12-step group meeting room. Men were huddled in the corner, he says, quietly discussing the program. Soon, Bob noticed more and more members of his group began attending the "Warrior" weekends.

"They don't recruit in the classic sense," says Bob. "It's more subtle. They don't push it, but they reintroduce it to you every time they talk to you and suggest that you might want to try it. Members tell you it helped them clear up things from their past and allowed them to trust other men. And that's the hook. "

After researching the program on the Internet, Bob decided it wasn't for him. But that didn't mean he was free and clear of the group.

Bob was friends with a man attending his 12-step group who he considered extremely fragile. Members of The ManKind Project began "honing in" on him, says Bob, and he warned the man not to attend, fearing he might suffer psychological damage from the stressful program. When members of The ManKind Project learned of Bob's warning, they became angry.

"They went after me in subtle ways," says Bob. "People started gossiping about me in a negative way behind my back, and it became very uncomfortable to attend my (12-step) meetings. I had to change meetings, but even that wasn't very effective because members are in all the meetings. It's scary because they know all your secrets, and physical and emotional retaliation or blackmail is possible. It's like a virus here in Houston."

There are no rules regulating what members of Alcoholics Anonymous can or cannot discuss once they are outside of the meeting room, says the public information coordinator of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York City. Furthermore, there are no written rules prohibiting a sponsor from trying to get their sponsee to join an outside organization.

However, doing so "doesn't seem to be in the spirit of AA," says the public information coordinator. "Though people have outside interests, they are usually careful not to bring them into their AA relationships. We could certainly see how people might find it problematic, though, and a new person in AA who is enthusiastically approached by someone about another organization may not know it has nothing to do with AA."

"Mary," another person who says she doesn't want her name used because she is afraid of retaliation, has watched both her husband and her son get sucked into The ManKind Project through their 12-step groups. In both cases, their sponsors pressured them to attend, she says.

"They start out with a lie," she says, "because they tell you that you have to carpool because there's not enough parking. Well, it's way out in the country and they have acres of land, so there's plenty of parking. I think they say that so it makes it much harder to leave. And then I saw the covenant that they faxed for my husband to sign saying he will never discuss anything that happens with anyone ever. And I felt, why? What's going on here that needs to be a secret?"

Les Sinclair says the secrecy is for the men's benefit.

"We ask men not to reveal the process because it would be like going to a movie where you hear what the story is about and what the ending is," he says. "We don't want anything revealed because each man's journey is different and every man should have the opportunity to have their own experience."

All weekend long while her husband was at the retreat, Mary was worried. At that point, she did not know initiates are stripped of all their possessions, including cell phones, and was expecting a call. Finally late Sunday night, her husband returned.

"He said that there were some good things," recalls Mary, "but he did not care for the intimidation, especially while you check in. He said they're screaming at you, their faces are painted black, and if you arrive five minutes early or five minutes late, they humiliate you even more."

During the weekend, men are subjected to mandatory cold showers in the morning, about four hours of sleep at night and very little food. Mary's husband did not eat Friday night. On Saturday he was fed small amounts of trail mix and fruit. "They also ate something called 'chicken broth,'" says Mary, "but it was just clear broth with nothing in it. And he only got a tiny cap's worth."

According to the 1998 protocol manual obtained by the Press, leaders are told the exact language they are to use when talking to initiates, right down to when they are supposed to pause in the middle of a sentence. When greeting a new member, the staff is told to "get in his face, hard and clear," and to "hold it for 15 to 30 seconds." Some training centers use buckets instead of toilets, which have "more therapeutic value in terms of dealing with shame." Activities include feelings exercises where the men are encouraged to growl and shove each other's shoulders. "Cock Talk" is when the men put on their "dancing clothes," meaning get naked, and pass around an erect phallus made of wood. Whoever holds the penis gets to share his sexual past or issues. The "Chicken Carving" is a ritual involving a cooked chicken. According to the 1998 protocol handbook, the ritual "has gotten distorted into a sophomoric, semi-sadistic, 'let's get 'em' sort of energy so frequently that some centers have dropped it."

At one point, says Mary, her husband and the other men were blindfolded and marched into a large room, where they were told to take off their clothes. Drums were beating in the background, and when the men were told to remove their blindfolds, "he saw 50 or 60 naked men dancing on a stage in a circle," she says. "They call this 'The Dance,' and my husband said they started playing rock and roll music and some of the men were just dancing like they were obsessed."

This moment, however, paled in comparison to how uncomfortable Mary's husband felt the following day.

"They were all in the sweat lodge on Sunday," she says, "which he actually enjoyed. It was the first moment he had to relax in days after going through such a high-drama weekend where they pound you to reveal your deep, dark stuff. So, everyone was sitting Indian-style in a big circle in the lodge when the man leading the group said, 'If you wish, you may reach over and grab your brother's dick. If your brother doesn't want your hand there, he can remove it.' Well, my husband told me he just froze. And from that point on, he just wanted out."

When asked about the incident that Mary says happened to her husband in the sweat lodge, spokesman Les Sinclair says, "That would never ever happen on a weekend. I can swear on my mother's grave that that would never happen. That's a vindictive comment and whoever told it to you has an agenda. We are very respectful of men and there's none of that sort of juvenile stuff. It would not be tolerated."

Mary says even though her husband didn't want anything further to do with the group, it wasn't that easy to get away. The following week, she says they received "umpteen phone calls asking if he'd signed up for the Integration Group meetings. He kept telling them 'No.' It's been a few years now since my husband attended the weekend, but we still get several e-mails a week, every week, asking for money, either for donations or to attend another training. It never ends."

It truly did not end for Mary, because her son's 12-step sponsor was in the process of pressuring him to attend an initiation weekend, just like the one that had so disturbed his father.

Three years ago, Mary's then-17-year-old son got involved with drugs. And like so many people, he went to rehab and entered a 12-step program.

"My son has always had severe emotional problems," Mary says, "and they just kept hammering him at AA to go do the weekend. They told him, 'You won't need meds, you won't need psychologists, you won't need anything else.'"

Less than a year ago, Mary's son attended the weekend and is honoring the confidentiality agreement down to the letter, refusing to discuss it with even his mother or father. He has completed the first eight weeks of Integration Group meetings and plans to remain an active member.

As far as Mary is concerned, her son's experience represents all that she sees is wrong with the organization: a poor vetting system and unlicensed men staffing the weekend retreat.

"Let me tell you," she says. "When you talk about unstable, you're talking about my poor son. If they had truly interviewed him and looked at the list of meds he takes, which he did include on the medical questionnaire they make you fill out, which is one of the ways they say they screen, they shouldn't have allowed him to participate. They should have looked at his medical history and said, 'This kid has a lot of problems and there is no way we can know how he is going to react to the stuff we do.' They say they screen the men, but I don't think they screen them at all. I think if they have the money, they let them come."

What's more, she says, is that they are practicing unlicensed therapy.

"They are getting deep into people's personal issues," she says. "I mean, my son is in his early 20s, takes all sorts of medications and now that he's finished with the Integration Groups, he could staff a weekend and work it. He's supposed to help someone and is supposed to know when to stop and start and how far to push a man? It's ridiculous and it's really scary."

Since her son became involved with The ManKind Project, Mary has not seen any real change in him. At least no positive change. Her son is more secretive now and spends much of his time with older men — many members are over 40 — which makes Mary uncomfortable.

"Believe me," says Mary," I'd kiss these guys if they could perform a miracle with my son. When he decided to go do the weekend, I was scared to death. But I was relieved when he came home, because the fact that he didn't come back and commit suicide means they didn't do him any serious harm."

It was about 5 o'clock on a Monday night when Ralph Scinto received a phone call from his son Michael's employer saying Michael had not shown up for work that day. Immediately, Ralph began to panic.

He knew his son had gone to The ManKind Project retreat two weeks earlier and returned terrified. Michael had told him about the threats, and that he'd fired his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Kim Sawyer. Michael also told his father he'd consulted an attorney to get a restraining order against Sawyer, who he said had been hounding him with phone calls ever since the retreat.

Ralph called his daughter, Becky, and told her he was going to drive over to Michael's apartment in Webster to check on him. Becky said she wanted to go too, and drove over to her dad's house.

Half an hour later, they pulled up next to Michael Scinto's building. Ralph and Becky rushed over to the apartment's front door and began banging on it. When Ralph turned the knob, the door opened.

Ralph Scinto started screaming.

The police arrived shortly after and were hit by the unmistakable stench of decay as soon as they entered the apartment. Blood was everywhere, on the ceiling and on the floor. And there was Michael Scinto, sprawled out on the carpet, a shotgun laying beside him.

Weeks after finding her brother, Becky took several months off from work. A friend had moved Michael's computer from his apartment and gave it to Becky because he could not crack the password. Becky figured it out, and it was then, almost a month after her brother's death, that she first discovered the letter Michael had written to the Madison County sheriff's office.

Becky launched into a two-month research binge. She went on the Internet, reading and printing out countless articles about The ManKind Project. She found chat rooms where people were talking about their negative experiences with the group and where to find crucial insider documents. Becky tracked down every lead. She used Michael's password to get into the restricted members-only section of The ManKind Project Houston's Web site and downloaded internal papers, including the full membership roster. She did not know it at the time, but she was compiling most of the material that would later be the backbone of the family's ­lawsuit.

"Thank God Michael wrote the letter and thank God we found it," says Becky.

Family members describe Michael as quiet, calm and shy. He was "the type of guy who always left a few dollars more than he needed to as a tip at a restaurant," says his mother Kathy. Michael was not seeing a therapist, and as far she knows, had never tried to harm himself before.

"He was always the strength in our family," remembers Kathy.

Even so, in the years leading up to Michael's suicide, the 29-year-old plumber had been struggling with cocaine and alcohol. As far as his family knew, he had been clean for almost a year and a half up until the week of his death and was putting his life back together after a rocky 2004 during which Michael had bought a boat and a townhouse, only to have the bank foreclose because he was spending money on partying instead of making payments.

"He had psychological problems like anyone has who goes to AA," says Ralph. "He was drinking and drugging. He'd earn $5,000 and spend $10,000."

By the early part of 2005, it looked as though Michael had turned a corner. He was well into the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and had registered his new plumbing company with the Better Business Bureau, bought a new company truck, started a Web site, and had company pens and T-shirts printed up. Michael was forced to rent a less expensive apartment in Webster, but the upshot was it was closer to the Pearland Regional Airport, where Michael indulged his true passion in life, flying.

"He loved flying planes on the weekends," says Kathy, "and he was so optimistic, trying so hard to get his business going. But after the MKP weekend, it was all over. Something had changed."

Two days after Scinto returned from the retreat, he sought psychiatric help at Ben Taub Hospital, complaining of nightmares and painful memories since attending a men's workshop. According to the hospital report released by his family to the Press, Scinto began feeling better soon after checking in. The doctor wrote that Scinto claimed to have been sober for 16 months, but that he requested a tranquilizer. The doctor then scribbled the phrase "drug seeking" at the bottom of the report.

The Harris County Medical Examiner conducted Michael Scinto's autopsy, and concluded that his thoracic blood-alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit to drive, and that he had used cocaine within an hour of his death. Kathy says that her son only began drinking again one week after returning from the retreat.

Three days after Michael Scinto left the hospital, he dated his letter to the Madison County Sheriff's Office attempting to file a complaint about The ManKind Project retreat. He sent the letter, in which he detailed the weekend, including allegations of kidnapping, to former Deputy Larry Adams. But the deputy never filed a complaint. According to a Webster police report, Adams said he reviewed Scinto's letter as well as The ManKind Project contracts he signed. A portion of the contract stipulated that Scinto agreed to remain on the retreat's grounds the entire weekend. The sheriff's office decided that the matter was best suited for a civil court and not a criminal investigation.

Houston contract attorney Dayle Pugh says this decision might have been an error.

"Even if you've contractually agreed to stay," he says, "you can leave any time you damn well please. And if they don't let you go, it really is kidnapping."

Marc Young, attorney for The ManKind Project Houston and Sawyer, says the kidnapping allegation has no merit.

"I really do feel sorry for Michael's parents having to go through this," he says. "Michael had a troubled adult life and obviously he was seeking some answers that he didn't find. But I think the evidence is going to show that at the time, (Michael) requested to stay and that he fully participated when he wanted to and when he didn't, he didn't."

Still, Kathy Scinto believes the last words of her son, penned in the letter to Adams.

"It breaks our heart," she says, "to know that Michael tried so hard to get help and everybody turned him away."

The last time Kathy ever saw her son was two days after he had secretly sent the letter to the sheriff's office. It was also eight days before she would learn of his death. Scinto was supposed to serve as best man at his brother's wedding in two weeks, and went to meet his mother at a Schlotzsky's for lunch to discuss the upcoming event.

But that Sunday, she says, "Michael told me something he had never told me before. He said he thought he was sexually abused by several boys when he was about six years old."

Kathy Scinto had been in the dark about this, but apparently Sawyer was not. According to the police report, Sawyer said that during the retreat Scinto told him about the abuse. It was then that Sawyer told Scinto it would be best to share his recently unearthed memory with the group. Sawyer also told Scinto there was a licensed psychologist on hand that could help him if he wished. Sawyer told police that Scinto made the decision then to remain at the retreat.

But Ralph Scinto doesn't buy any of that.

"Michael felt anxiety after being forced to give over some deep secret in front of all those men," he says. "He couldn't handle it, or thought he shouldn't have told all those strangers. He was embarrassed and ashamed to divulge his secret. It made him feel bad, and he left there feeling even worse about himself."

It is not easy getting people who have attended The ManKind Project initiation weekend to talk about it. The Press contacted dozens of men who said they could not discuss it because of the confidentiality agreement they signed, or because they were scared of retaliation.

Real estate developer David Ward is an exception, perhaps because he views the retreat in a positive light.

"It's a chance for a man to walk through his life and see some of the places that he's stuck," he says. "I don't know if I would have done it the way they did, but the concept and their goal, I believe, is a good and important one."

Ward is no longer an active member. He moved from Houston to Sealy and says it's too far a drive to remain in the group. Ward attended the same weekend as Scinto in July 2005, but doesn't remember him. But like Scinto, Ward knew very little about what he was getting himself into beforehand.

"I was told about it by a friend and thought it would be a men's retreat with challenging events," he says. "The reality was different than I thought."

Ward is careful to walk a fine line in describing the weekend.

"I believe that they are digging deep to try to get emotion from people," he says. "And sometimes you have to do that to get someone to unearth things that are down deep. So I understand the reasoning. There may be a way to process this over several weekends as opposed to the way they do it all at once...without demanding the right response and saying, 'We're not going to stop until you get to the other side of this.' It is easy to be skeptical, but I understand what they are trying to do and where they are trying to go. But they really don't want you to reveal too much about what happened."

Brad Emel, mayor of El Lago, says he attended one of the retreats several years ago, but decided not to stick with the organization.

"It's cool, you know, I enjoyed it," he says. However, "I felt like I just didn't need the type of reinforcement they offer."

When asked why, Emel said, "Because my life's not that fucked up. I've got a pretty good deal going."

When asked specifically about the nudity and rituals, Emel denied knowing anything about it and then said, "I don't know that I'm really that comfortable talking about that."

Cult tracker Ross and an anonymous man who attended the training years ago set up chat rooms for men and their families who feel victimized by the ManKind ­organization.

Ross began his ManKind Project thread in November 2005, and the anonymous man, who calls himself Warrior X, began his on Yahoo in August 2004. At one point, The ManKind Project's entire protocol manual (running more than 100 pages) was posted on Ross's site. Ross says he doesn't know who put it there. Soon after, the organization's attorneys contacted Ross demanding that he remove the copyrighted information. Ross complied, but was allowed to keep portions of the manual on his site under the fair-use laws, he says.

"I became outraged when I found out what MKP really did to me at the NWTA [New Warrior Training Adventure] and the I-groups," writes Warrior X. "I got even more pissed off when they used their standard lines 'you could have always said no' or 'you could have left at any time' to cover their asses. A man without adequate sleep and food doesn't have the strength to resist MKP, and that's exactly what they want. I was outraged that MKP performed Jungian and gestalt psychological processes on me without telling me ahead of time by unlicensed individuals. And most of all, I was outraged for the hurt that MKP caused me. They did psychological processes on me that unlocked a Pandora's Box of pain and hurt within me that I couldn't deal with. I started the Yahoo group so that my story could be told and so that I could help and support others who were hurt by MKP like myself."

People have posted thousands of messages over the years on the two sites, comfortable in their anonymity.

Writes Dannyjoerocks on the Yahoo site: "On another carpet another man was all wrapped up in ducted[sic] tape on the floor screaming as another man was yelling you can't get out of that, On another carpet a young man was screaming I fucking hate you I fucking hate you look what you did to me. It was like people didn't know what was going on they were in some trance...I felt like I was regressing. I was being taken back to a place where I no longer want to be. A life of chaos where I had no control. The cold shower reminded me of when I didn't pay my bills. Sitting on the cold floor in the shack (after arriving and checking in) reminded me of the holding cell where I waited before going to jail. All the yelling reminded me of my father...I just kept thinking this was very inhumane very very strange stuff. Something is not right."

Writes a person calling himself Henntsp: "Much bullying and abuse goes on simultaneously which I argue can easily cancel out any healing. Amateurs helping amateurs in such an important and vulnerable area as emotional pain is wide open to an organization and as individual members they sometimes function with extremely questionable ethics."

Several days after Ralph Scinto buried his son, he began flipping through The ManKind Project's Houston membership roster, filled with names, phone numbers and addresses. Suddenly, he saw an address he recognized. It was a Roman Catholic church. As a Catholic himself, Ralph was stunned. Michael's entire family then began searching all 2,904 entries on the 2005 list to find out who it was that belonged to this secretive group.

They discovered that dozens upon dozens of priests, ministers, therapists, heads of companies, doctors, lawyers and people involved with addiction rehabilitation all had at one point attended The New Warrior Training Adventure.

"We said, 'Oh my God,'" recalls Kathy Scinto. "We couldn't believe it. All these people who belonged were in powerful positions. And they all deal with vulnerable people who could be convinced to go to this thing. It was really scary."

Kathy Scinto then went to speak with a priest who was initiated the same weekend as her son.

"I asked him, 'If I told everyone that you were dancing around naked, what do you think people would say?'" she recalls. "I asked him, 'How can a Catholic priest who is supposed to serve God go into the woods and do these pagan rituals?' He said he was invited to attend and that he doesn't have anything to do with it ­anymore."

The Press contacted several priests who were on the roster, all of whom declined to comment, referring questions to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Bishop Joe Vasquez then issued a statement condemning the organization. In an e-mail, he wrote that the archdiocese became aware in late 2005 that priests were members of The ManKind Project. The then-archbishop, Joseph A. Fiorenza, "was concerned that elements of The ManKind Project and its New Warrior Training weekends seemed to reflect a New Age philosophy and were not in harmony with traditional Roman Catholic belief and practices," Vasquez wrote. "Archbishop Fiorenza issued a letter in January 2006 asking priests to refrain from being actively involved in the group or promoting" it. Vasquez says the current archbishop, Daniel N. DiNardo, maintains the same stance as his ­predecessor.

Mel Taylor, president and CEO of The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston, a publicly funded organization providing resources to people adversely affected by drugs and alcohol, is listed as a member. He did not return phone calls requesting comment; however, attorney Wade Quinn, also a member, speaking on Taylor's behalf, said the Council has no connection with the activities of The ManKind Project.

However, some therapists and ad­diction specialists actively recommend the organization to patients and ­clients.

George Joseph is a licensed chemical dependency counselor and founder of The Right Step drug rehab center, with locations in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana. He says he has recommended The ManKind Project to many people.

"If you have any kind of desire to know more about yourself and how to be a better man, then I think it's awesome," he says.

Joseph attended one of the very first Houston initiation weekends in 1992 and is no longer active. However, his company pays for half of the fee should his employees decide to attend the weekend. And looking through the 2005 roster, many have.

When asked if he is concerned about the effect a psychologically stressful retreat could have on someone struggling with addiction, Joseph says that The ManKind Project is not his first recommendation for patients leaving his rehab centers; however, he does refer some people to it once they are out on their own and sober.

"I guess there are two types of people who should be excluded," he says, "if you have no sense of adventure and you think your life is already perfect. (But) I don't see that many people would need to be excluded from it."

Psychotherapist Michael Butera attended the retreat in 2001 and says he also refers patients to the program. He feels it can help men discover they have a connection with other men if they are feeling like outsiders and unconnected to the world.

"I could never do what The ManKind Project does in my office," he says, "because there's no way to give the person feedback like that. I can tell him something, but I'm a therapist. But if he has ordinary guys tell him, it's the kind of validation you cannot get in psychotherapy."

In a way, Butera answers some of the questions that plague critics of The ManKind Project. He admits the weekend is analogous to therapy and that the processes used are powerful enough to cause some men real trauma.

"There are people who would be too fragile to go through it," he says. "And MKP themselves do not want people who are actively psychotic because it may be too overwhelming to them. I think (they) do the best they can with the screening process, but that doesn't mean someone can't get through that might be too fragile. I've never had any difficulty with anyone I've ever referred, but I can appreciate, like in a 12-step program, those are not all professional people who are referring. So, mistakes will be made...and perhaps some people are referred who should not be."

Dr. John Hochman, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, says he has seen a few patients who attended the retreat. One, he says, would not talk about it; another was scared to death.

"Some people can't deal with it," he says. "It rings of bad therapy and doesn't pass the smell test to me. The refrain of all these groups is that they're not therapy groups, they're something else. They're education, yeah, that's a good one."

He gets a chuckle out of the fact The ManKind Project uses parts of Jung and other well-known psychologists.

"What this does is give it a patina of credibility because there's a philosophy behind it and it's not just some mean bully," he says. "It's like, 'We've got this philosophy,' Jung's 'Shadow,' so they're really sensitive and thinking people, (while) putting you through this psychological wringer."

There seems to be a gray area in Texas law as to whether or not practicing techniques such as the ones utilized on the retreats is lawful. There are numerous licensing boards depending on whether you are a psychologist or a counselor. And there does not seem to be a consensus among them.

The Texas Department of State Health Services licenses social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Spokeswoman Emily Palmer says that so long as the people conducting the activity do not bill themselves as licensed practitioners during the activity, there are no rules against practicing techniques traditionally used by a licensed counselor.

Sherry Lee, executive director of the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, says sanctions can be imposed.

"If someone is not licensed by our act and they either claim to be a psychologist or to provide psychological services, or if the very nature of what they're doing is psychological services, in other words, if it smells of psychological services, then we would issue them a cease-and-desist order," she says. "There is also an incumbency on anyone who holds a state license that you can't just do something that's in violation of the act or rules. So, if you're a licensed psychologist and you're out there saying, hypothetically, 'I'm doing therapy to reduce your tendency to want to kill yourself,' clearly that is practicing therapy, even though you may call it something else."

About five months after the suicide, Ralph Scinto says he became short-tempered and difficult to live with, so he separated from his second wife and moved into a motel near Bush Intercontinental Airport. He is still there, as if frozen in time.

"I'm just floating, just existing," he says, chain-smoking menthol cigarettes inside an office at the motel. "I try every day not to think about it."

Kathy Scinto still cries at the mere mention of her son, apologizing profusely, as though two years later she should be well and done mourning the loss. But these days, for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, she senses a glimmer of hope: the lawsuit.

"I'm so stressed out I feel like I'm having a heart attack getting all this together," she says. "My family really needs a rest, a break, but we can't rest until The ManKind Project is exposed. Michael tried to expose them by going to the police, and it breaks my heart that no one would listen, but I'm so thankful that his words will finally be able to be heard in court because what happened to him can happen to other people."

She says she will not settle the case. But there is a long way to go before any trial.

For one thing, there is the matter of the contract her son signed before attending the retreat. It clearly stipulates that both Scinto and his heirs surrender their right to sue on grounds of wrongful death and strict liability, two of the allegations in the lawsuit, and if a claim is made, it must first go through arbitration as opposed to litigation in civil court.

"They've actually filed in the wrong area," says Young, attorney for The ManKind Project Houston and Sawyer, "so I don't know what's going to happen with the lawsuit. There are some procedural issues the court is going to have to deal with."

The Scintos' lawyer, George Kelley, says this won't be a problem.

"The court requires that both parties go to mediation in every case before trial anyway," he says. "It's just less formal than arbitration, so I'm not worried about it at all."

Of course, as in any lawsuit, the Scintos are suing for money. But Kathy Scinto insists that's not her primary concern.

"I've told my family that if we get any money," she says, "it's Michael's money and we will put it toward something he would have wanted. The main purpose of the lawsuit is to expose MKP. I mean, in this huge city, how many people have heard of them? Not many. And how many people have problems with drugs and alcohol or see a therapist for whatever reason and are vulnerable and may be convinced to go? Too many. It really scares me."

Ralph Scinto thinks less about the next wave of potential recruits. He seems solely fixated on his pain and those who he believes caused it.

"I try not to talk about Michael too much because it hurts too much," he says. "I get flashes of the way we found him in his apartment, sometimes daily. And they will never go away. I don't feel joy or happiness anymore. I just am. But now that we've initiated this lawsuit, they'll have to look me in the eye and defend what they did. They murdered his spirit. It was the worst kind of murder."

Oct 3, 2007

Cover Story: The ManKind Project

Chris Vogel
Houston Press
October 3, 2007

I was first introduced to a men's group called The ManKind Project while reading through a lawsuit filed against the organization in Harris County civil court. It described a weekend retreat north of Houston where men dress in black, wear face paint, and engage in rituals and exercises called "Cock Talk," and "Little Boy's Deepest Needs."

The ManKind Project is an international nonprofit organization that claims to offer men training: how to be accountable for yourself, how to express yourself, how to learn that being a man in today's world is okay. Men pay hundreds of dollars to attend a weekend initiation retreat, during which they engage in rituals – many in the nude – and delve into men's most intimate and personal issues.

Many men who attend the weekend swear the program changed their lives for the better. But not all. The Scinto family, who filed the lawsuit, claim their son attended the retreat in 2005, came home, and two weeks later took his own life because he could not handle the psychological stresses placed upon him during the weekend.

The family began investigating and discovered an underworld of critics who feel this self-help program – where men must sign confidentiality contracts and liability waivers to attend – has the potential to do harm. Critics, including the Scinto family, claim the organization appears to practice psychology without a state license, targets vulnerable members of 12-step recovery groups, and has a poor vetting system with which to determine who is and who is not capable of dealing with the program.

With all its confidentiality agreements, The ManKind Project is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. In this week's feature, "Weekend Warriors," we chronicle the Scinto family's attempts to pull back the veil and show a side of The ManKind Project that's not seen in the organization's promotional films, two of which you can view below.

Sep 26, 2007

Authorities urged to investigate polygamy cases

CTV News

September 26, 2007

A Canadian woman who said she escaped a polygamous group is hoping the conviction of Warren Jeffs in Utah will urge Canadian authorities to pursue similar cases.

Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous Mormon splinter group, was convicted Tuesday of being an accomplice to rape, for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year old girl.

"I think that it's time that something like this happened," Debbie Palmer told CTV's Canada AM. "This is the first time in North America. It's the first time anywhere that a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist prophet has been prosecuted and then found guilty for any crimes."

Palmer is hoping the conviction will urge Canadian authorities to revisit their information on polygamous communities.

"I hope this case will help our Attorney General's office and our Crown prosecutors in Canada take further attention," Palmer said.

Palmer was assigned to marry 57-year-old Ray Blackmore when she was 15 years old in Bountiful, B.C., but she left before that happened.

The Mormon Church excommunicates members who practise polygamy. Members of the Bountiful community are a part of a breakaway sect that believes men must marry as many women as possible in order to reach heaven.

The polygamous community is split, with some people supporting Jeffs while others back Bountiful bishop Winston Blackmore.

Palmer, who met Jeffs before he came to prominence, said she has half-brothers who are enforcers in the community.

Polygamy is illegal in Canada, yet charges have not been laid against anyone in Bountiful, B.C.

Earlier this month, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal ordered a review into whether to lay criminal charges can be laid against members of the colony in Bountiful.

The case is being reviewed by lawyer Leonard Doust and a decision is expected in the next few weeks.

In August, special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded that there was not enough evidence to charge members of a breakaway Mormon sect with any sexual offences.

The RCMP had initially recommended charges against members of the colony in Bountiful in 1990. But legal opinions that the polygamy ban would be struck down as an infringement on religious freedom meant that no charges were laid. The RCMP also recommended sexual exploitation charges against the colony in Bountiful in 2006. 

Sep 19, 2007

Australia says no chance of Beijing Olympics boycott


September 19, 2007

SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia on Wednesday ruled out boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics over China's human rights record.

Sports Minister George Brandis said Australia would attend the Games, despite allegations from the Falun Gong spiritual movement that Beijing is involved in "harvesting" the organs of jailed members and other dissidents.

Brandis said Australia would not boycott the Games even if the allegations were proven.

"The Australian government isn't making a link between the two issues," Brandis told parliament.

"There's no issue about Australia's participation in the Beijing Olympics being reconsidered."

The minister said there were other ways for Australia to address human rights issues with China, although he did not specify what they were.

China last month overtook Japan as Australia's number one trading partner, with two-way trade between the countries exceeding 40 billion US dollars as Chinese demand for Australian resources continues to boom.

China outlawed Falun Gong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, as an "evil cult" in mid-1999.

Since then the group, which claims to have more than 100 million followers worldwide, has campaigned from abroad against what they claim is brutal persecution of their followers in China.

Earlier this year, Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific, David Kilgour, and human rights lawyer David Matas released a report saying the Chinese military were harvesting and selling the organs of executed prisoners.

China denied the claims, saying organ transplants were strictly controlled. 

Sep 8, 2007

B.C. attorney general again reviews decision not to lay polygamy charges

Canadian Press
September 8, 2007

VANCOUVER (CP) — Yet another review has been ordered on whether criminal charges can be laid against members of a B.C. polygamist colony.

This time, high-profile lawyer Leonard Doust is being asked to review a report that concluded there wasn't enough evidence to charge members at the breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., with sexual offences.

Special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded in a report released in August that the provincial government should ask the court to rule on the constitutional validity of Canada's laws against polygamy.

Peck said a reference to the court would avoid a lengthy criminal trial in which the defendants would likely claim religious freedom and where getting witnesses to testify could be extraordinarily difficult.

"Peck looked at it from one particular angle as to the reference part, not necessarily from the perspective of whether we should lay charges and let the defence raise (the constitutionality), and I've always sort of felt that way about it," said Attorney General Wally Oppal, a former judge, in an interview.

"I just want to cover all bases. We just want to be cautious before we do those things."

Peck's report itself was a review of past recommendations by other Crown lawyers over the years who concluded the government was at risk of losing any trial on polygamy charges. They said the defence would simply assert that the law banning the practice was illegal under the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights.

Critics of Bountiful have repeatedly complained the government is doing nothing but studying the question while women are exploited.

"Why now do you have to hire another high-profile lawyer? How much is being spent on this that could actually be spent in the courts prosecuting these polygamists?" asked Nancy Mereska, who runs the Stop Polygamy Coalition.

Though she said it's good to know the government is considering laying charges, the delay is frustrating.

"I see it as another delay tactic so that one person doesn't have to take the responsibility," she said. "They are elected to that position to take this responsibility. Why does he want to lay it on the shoulders of other people?"

Peck had also looked at whether members of the community could be charged with sexual offences, which was seen by many as another legal avenue available to the government to try to stop young women from being forced to marry older men.

Peck concluded it wasn't an option, and that a constitutional reference question was likely the only way for the government to proceed.

"Peck has offered us a route that is conservative and he thinks it's a good clean conservative way to go and there is some merit to that suggestion." Oppal said.

"I am a little more aggressive on this."

Doust is being asked to review the case and other factors Peck considered in coming to that conclusion.

Oppal said he also wasn't comfortable with the idea of putting the question before the courts.

"Courts often don't like giving opinions on these things," he said. "They say why should we give an opinion in a vacuum when there is no charge against us."

If Doust concludes a prosecution meets the criminal justice branch's charge approval policy, Oppal has asked that Doust conduct the prosecution.

He said he didn't expect Doust's report to take long because no new information will be gathered.

Peck declined to comment on the ministry's decision when contacted by phone on Friday.

Members of the colony, located in southeastern B.C., belong to a breakaway sect of the Mormon church and believe that in order to get into heaven, men must marry as many women as possible.

Charges against members of the colony were recommended by RCMP as far back as 1990.

The Crown decided not to proceed based on legal opinions that the polygamy ban would be struck down as an infringement on religious freedom.

In 2006, the RCMP again recommended charges, this time under the sexual exploitation provision of the code, which prohibits an adult from having sex with someone between age 14 and 18 when the adult is in a position of authority .

Again, the Crown concluded a conviction was unlikely.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, renounced polygamy in 1890 and the Bountiful group broke away from it. The Mormon Church excommunicates members who practise polygamy.

New Democrat Opposition critic Leonard Krog said Oppal was missing the point.

"While the issue of polygamy is important, what is much more important is the protection of children. And the Attorney General's decision to restrict the terms of review to polygamy gives the wrong message," said Krog. "The women and children of Bountiful have waited a long time for justice. The time for action is now." 

Sep 6, 2007

Attleboro cultist who starved son to death wants new trial

Dave Wedge
Boston Herald

September 6, 2007

A baby-killing Attleboro cultist wants his life sentence tossed out, claiming he was brainwashed by the sicko sect and misled to believe he could resurrect his son from the dead.

Jacques Robidoux, who is serving life for the 1999 starvation death of his infant son Samuel, “believed that no harm would come to his child if his food was restricted, and if harm did come to his child, that he could bring the child back to life,” his attorney, Janet Pumphrey, argues in a pleading set to go before the state Supreme Judicial Court today.

Pumphrey is asking the SJC for a new trial, claiming Robidoux should have pursued an insanity defense because he was the victim of “mind control” and “extreme coercion” at the hands of the cult, which was led by his late father, Roland Robidoux.

“At no time did he believe that withholding solid food from Samuel was wrong; rather, he believed it was what God told him to do,” Pumphrey argues. “Everyone in the cult believed that God’s law was higher than man’s law and they followed God’s law.”

But special prosecutor Sharon Sullivan-Puccini said Robidoux rejected an insanity defense because he believed a psychological evaluation clashed with the sect’s belief that doctors are tools of Satan. She also noted that he took the stand at trial and “took full responsibility” for the murder.

Jacques Robidoux, 34, and his wife, Karen, starved the toddler to death after a twisted prophecy delivered by Jacques’ sister instructed them to feed the boy only breast milk, even though he had already been eating solid food.

Karen Robidoux successfully used a battered women’s defense, arguing that she, too, was victimized by the sect’s heavy-handed ways. She was cleared of second-degree murder. No other members were charged.

Bob Pardon, a cult expert who has studied the Attleboro group extensively, said Jacques Robidoux was scapegoated in the case and “took the fall” for his iron-fisted dad.

“The wrong person was convicted. His father was calling the shots,” said Pardon, who has visited Robidoux in jail several times. “Jacques was under undue influence. I don’t think he got the sentence he deserved. He deserves a second shot.”