New Haven - Is there a cult climate around one church in New Haven? One woman fears her mother has been lost to a cult in the Elm City.
Theresa Biagiarelli has boxes and boxes of photos her mother took of her. And that's not all.
"My little photo album. Her photo album her father made for her. All our family things. And all of her clothes."
She has them, because her mother Julia got rid of them.
"She brought it to my aunts house and just left it there," she said.
"It made me feel terrible to know my mother didn't want to have any pictures of me as a baby anymore."
"Did you question 'what did I do?'"
"At that point it was more like what did they do."
They are the Order of Christ~Sophia or the Center of Light. The group has chapters across the U.S. including New Haven at an unassuming building on Grand Avenue, where some members, including Theresa's mother Julia, live.
Reverend Michael runs the group locally and says no one, including Theresa's mother, is a prisoner here.
"People are free to come and go. Julia has an apartment here in the building as I do," Reverend Michael said.
They call themselves Christian Mystics, but some experts on mind control like Steve Hassan, call them "a destructive mind control cult where dependence and obedience is demanded."
The fact is the founder of the group, Peter Bowes, doesn't shy away from the term "cult". He even talks about it on a YouTube posting.
"A cult is a new religion that people hate," he says on the video. "I think we can say we are one then."
Peter Bowes' was a psychologist in Wisconsin until he surrendered his license. Is there sometimes strain between members and their families? Yes, he says.
"We don't take people away from their parents, but sometimes the relationship is so bruised," Bowes said.
"What he was doing and saying about being honest reminds me of Chinese Communist brain washing techniques of the 1950's when people would have to be honest and refute their families," Hassan said.
"Do you ever wonder what kind of faith would result in you becoming disassociated with the dearest people to you?" "Well, everything I have ever learned about Christian values shows you you should become closer to your family," Theresa said.
Theresa's mother, a teacher, wouldn't talk to News Channel 8, but her picture is right on the group's New Haven web site. That web site also shows members working booths at community events, with face painting for kids or selling smoothies. The group often leaves fliers in area coffee houses.
"We teach meditation and we have classes on the bible," Reverend Michael said.
But Theresa asks where in the bible does it say leave those you love behind? "What it seems to me is that they are being taught to judge the people closest to them who have known them for years, and they are being taught to take in these new people as almost a replacement for the family that they used to have."
Steve Hassan says a lot of people who belong to these groups are able to hold down regular 9-5 jobs. One we're told is a doctor at a local hospital.