Jan. 18, 2005 -
Briefing from Claire Borowik for The Family International
An International Christian Fellowship
The Family International is sad to announce the recent death of Ricky Rodriguez, (son of Maria David, who with her husband is the administrative and spiritual overseer of The Family International), and Angela Smith, Family member of over 30 years. Ricky (1975-2005) committed suicide after taking Angela's life. The tragic circumstances surrounding their untimely deaths have brought much grief and heartbreak to Angela's family and Ricky's mother and relatives.
In these moments of tragedy, we draw comfort from the timeless promises of the Bible, knowing that Ricky and Angela have passed into the realm of eternal justice and peace. As our Lord promised, "I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." (John 11:25). We wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the families of both Angela and Ricky.
As Christians, we deplore and are diametrically opposed to acts of violence and the suffering these inflict on innocent people. We believe that human life is sacred, and each person should be respected as an individual created in the image of God. It is our belief that God's love is the solution to all of man's problems, even in such a complex, confused, and highly complicated society as that of today. As Christians, our duty is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and to share the news of God's love and salvation for humanity and care for the needy. (For more information on our charitable activities in over a hundred countries, please see http://www.thefamily.org/)
Ricky Rodriguez withdrew from the Family fellowship in 2000 in order to pursue his education and other interests. Although he departed on good terms, he later became estranged from his mother and sister. After contacting some of our more vitriolic apostates, he began to manifest violent tendencies. Those who were aware of his violent intents failed to report it to authorities or seek assistance.
Contrary to statements currently being made, Ricky made no effort to contact his mother, and was in fact very categorical about not wanting her to attempt to contact him. Had he wished to contact her, he had numerous avenues available to do so: her e-mail, The Family's 800 number, her relatives who were in regular contact with her, and current Family members whom he was in regular contact with. His mother, via his relatives, sent him regular Christmas and birthday greetings and gifts.
Second Generation Former Members
Children of Family members raised in missionary communities are taught their parents' religious beliefs and participate in their parents' mission work and lifestyle. As these children began to come of age, some manifested a desire to experiment with other lifestyles or opt for secular careers rather than that of a missionary.
This desire was somewhat unexpected for many of their parents, as their hopes and expectations were that their children would follow in their footsteps in a life devoted to serving God and their fellow man. However, over the past ten years it has become increasingly evident that a number of the Family International's second generation is inclined to pursue other careers. The Family's Charter (first published in 1995), as well as several internal publications, advise parents to assume responsibility for assisting their children through what can be a difficult transition from a close, nurturing, faith-based support system to an independent secular lifestyle.
Most second generation adults who have opted to pursue secular lifestyles and careers continue to respect their parents, despite the different paths they have chosen. However, a vocal minority of former members has openly declared that their parents had no right to raise them according to their parents' religious convictions and mores, and have publicly stated their intent to harm the Family and members within the organization. This has been a source of anguish and consternation to their parents, who continue to love their grown children and wish them success and happiness in their chosen lifestyles and careers.
In 1994, The Family initiated a concerted reconciliation process to attempt to resolve differences with any and all former members who held grievances either from their time in The Family or from the lack of communication with Family members after they departed. In 1994 and 1995, in open letters to former members and in Maria David's "An Answer to Him that Asketh," Family leadership officially addressed concerns in regard to any questionable past actions regarding discipline, education, or sexual misconduct that may have taken place. These apologies were published and have been reiterated numerous times in official Family publications over the years.
The allegations forwarded by Daniel Roselle have no basis in fact. According to his parents, he never suffered any abuse during his time in the Family. We have a policy in place of investigating claims of abuse from our members and former members -- Daniel never lodged a complaint or requested an investigation. In fact, before getting involved in an anti-Family campaign, he had never alleged that he had been abused. Only recently has this allegation surfaced and has not been substantiated. He, in fact, declared that he had "had a good life" in the Family prior to engaging in this campaign.
As far as other anonymous claims forwarded by Daniel Roselle, we are not in a position to respond to alleged circumstances by unnamed individuals. Should these individuals feel that another individual harmed them in a legally reprehensible fashion, they should seek the same redress that ordinary citizens do via the courts. Ricky Rodriguez, for example, knew exactly where some current members lived whom he had grown up with and even conversed with them on the phone several times. The fact is, he wasn't really interested in substantiating his claims, which is the case of this core of detractors -- their stated goal is to cause wide-scale damage to the group and its members of all ages. The true intent is to receive attention from world-wide media and law enforcement to take sweeping actions that would impact every Family member.
Our prayers are that Ricky's actions and the pursuant attention from the media won't whip up a new reaction at the behest of our detractors, which will once again cause harm, trauma and abuse to the innocent (for more on what our children have suffered via raids in Argentina, Spain, Australia and France, information is available upon request. These actions perpetrated untold trauma on over 600 children). This has been the pattern in the past, and our hope is that those who present this tragedy to the public take care to not unwittingly be a tool in the hands of those who indiscriminately seek harm and vengeance at any and all cost, even if it ultimately harms children.
Ensuring the Safety and Protection of Our Children
Due to the fact that our current zero tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not clearly stated in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances. This should not have happened. In hindsight, it became clear that potential problems arising from our liberal stance towards sexuality should have been anticipated and stringent rules established earlier on. This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an excommunicable offense. All previous literature underwent careful scrutiny to ensure that it was in line with this position and questionable publications were expunged. The policy that has been in place since 1986 has remained unchanged and infractions result in excommunication from the group.
The Family's success in protecting our children and ensuring their well being has been documented by independent and court-appointed investigations in the early 1990s of almost 700 children living in Family communities. After extensive physical, psychological and educational testing, all of the children were found to be healthy with no sign of abuse in a single case.1 This total absence of abuse speaks for the efforts made to safeguard children in Family communities.
Recently, a small core of apostates has made statements that there is an unusually high incidence of suicide amongst former Family members. These statements have been parroted by media sources without any investigation to substantiate such claims. They allege that in the past 15 years of our history, 25 people have committed suicide. We have examined the list posted of supposed suicides and have found several instances where the deaths were definitely not suicides, or were unconfirmed, as police could not ascertain if the death was accidental or not. In one case, the person in question was still alive. We have not been able to confirm more than 10 of the alleged cases.
Considering that the national suicide rate was pegged at 12/100,000 per year in 2001, we don't believe that the number of suicides that have occurred over the past 15 years in our movement reaches the national average as per National Institute for Mental Health. Considering that 32,000 people have left our movement since its inception, even these inflated numbers hardly fall within the national average.
Of course, in saying this, I also want to make it clear that I think even one suicide is too many, and a tragedy and a sad loss of life. Thankfully, suicide is extremely rare in our movement, as is the case with violence. We believe that a faith-based nurturing society is important for mental health. However, we do not believe we can be held responsible for the actions of people a decade after they leave our movement.
The Murder of Angela Smith
We are frankly appalled at the coverage the media has given to the death of Angela Smith. We believe that it opposes all journalistic ethics, in its one-sided nature and its basis in unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors. Both these deaths are cause of great mourning and grief to the members of our Fellowship and the families involved and it is grievous to see them handled in such a callous way.
We would like to clarify the following in honor of Angela Smith, whose memory has been slandered by individuals who never met her, nor knew Ricky Rodriguez throughout his entire childhood. The blatant lack of respect for the loss of Angela's life is appalling -- one would think she had committed the crime in this sad tragedy, rather than been a victim.
To set the record straight, Angela Smith was never Ricky Rodriguez' "nanny, nor was she "sent on a mission" to speak with Ricky. She was on an extended furlough from the Family and lived in her own apartment, detached from Family communities. From what she told friends, she believed Ricky to be on friendly terms with her, which is why she visited him. Ricky published several statements in the latter years of his life, after connecting with our vitriolic former members, but never once did he state therein that he had been abused in any way by Angela Smith throughout his childhood.
In searching for a motive for this tragic crime, journalists should take care to not casually write off Angela's death and justify the actions of an obviously disturbed young man acting out his misplaced anger. Our society is rife with violence -- regularly the public is exposed to violent crimes of individuals that act out the violence they witness via the media, and discuss anonymously via the internet. Such crimes are not particular to religious groups -- in fact such violence is shocking and entirely unheard of in Family communities.
Angela is remembered by those who knew her as a kind, unselfish person who devoted her life to the service of those in need. She was a missionary for over 30 years in several countries.
The Family International, formerly known as the Children of God, is a fellowship of independent, self-governing Christian missionaries dedicated to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. Members have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and live and work together in small communities called Homes. The Family, founded by David Berg in Southern California during the late '60s, has expanded into an international missionary fellowship located in over 100 countries around the world.