A controversial Attleboro sect had its inception nearly 30 years ago as a benign offshoot of another cult, but was eventually "sent spiraling out of control" with the resulting deaths of two babies, according to a watchdog organization.
"Seeds from one cult were planted in another, and these eventually took root and bore the fruit of death, and tragically, in the name of God," according to a report about the Attleboro cult prepared by the New England Institute of Religious Research.
NEIRR founder Rev. Robert Pardon, who was appointed by Attleboro District Court Judge Kenneth Nasif to be a guardian ad litem for the 13 children originally removed from the cult, and his associate, Judith K. Barba, have spent "thousands of hours" studying the Attleboro sect and its "thousands of pages of journals" the group kept about history.
The circumstances that led to the deaths of the two babies can be traced back to 1976 when Roland and Georgette Robidoux left the Worldwide Church of God in Mendon, R.I., because the "WCG in those days was an extremely repressive, religious fringe group," according to the report.
Founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1935 and headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., it was considered "a full-blown cult" and was never accepted by the World or National Council of Churches.
The Robidouxs got together with other WCG defectors and began holding weekly Bible studies at their home. In 1977, the report says, the group had grown to about 75 and they rented the Grange Hall in Mansfield, forming the "Church of God of Mansfield."
The first hint of trouble came when one of the church leaders, Brian Weeks, parted ways with Robidoux. "I went to Roland and told him that I didn't think we knew what we're doing," Weeks told Pardon.
In the early 1980s, Robidoux ran into high school classmate Roger Daneau, whom he had not seen for years.
The Daneaus, who had been part of the Catholic Charismatic Revival movement in the 1970s that included communal living and sharing possessions, began attending Bible studies with the Robidouxs and embraced some of the repressive practices of the WCG that the Robidouxs still espoused, the report states.
Now accepting the Robidouxs' practices of shunning traditional society, the group remained benign until 1997, NEIRR says, when two events took place.
The first was the defection of four members, including one of Robidoux's adult daughters who was excommunicated because she bought eyeglasses, the report states.
The second was the influence on the group of Carol Balizet, who founded an organization in Florida called "Home in Zion Ministries" which advocates that God will lead followers through revelations and urges them to shun medical care and have babies born at home. If a child dies during childbirth, it's "God's will," Balizet instructs, according to the report.
Pardon said an ensuing power struggle in the group between Roland Robidoux and his son, Jacques, matched with their strict adherence to Balizet's teachings, set the stage "for the tragic death of Samuel Robidoux and Jeremiah Corneau."
"This group has a benign origin but has since developed into an organization that is directly responsible for the death of at least one infant and contributed to the `stillbirth' of another," the report said.