Evangelical group denies it is a cult

The Toronto Star/September 7, 2006
By Paul Morse

A Hamilton evangelical Christian group at the heart of a kidnapping case denies it is a religious cult.

Hamilton police have charged members of a Milton family with abduction after an alleged attempt to deprogram a family member who joined the Dominion Christian Centre on Park St. N. three years ago.

Police say the woman was snatched from Park St. near the church just before Christmas and held 10 days before she was able to escape. Investigators say her family believes she was the victim of a cult.

Pastor Peter Rigo, a former painter and decorator who founded the downtown DCC six years ago, says a well-known American deprogrammer was brought to Halton to try to talk the family member into leaving the group.

"They brought in cult deprogrammer Mary Alice Chrnalogar. They flew her in from the States," Rigo said.

Chrnalogar, a Tennessee-based intervention consultant, is the author of Twisted Scriptures: A Path To Freedom From Abusive Churches.

"I didn't come up there to take part in anything, I did come up there and talked to the family," Chrnalogar said in a phone interview. She refused to answer any other questions.

Hamilton police would not comment on Chrnalogar.

Rigo, 41, runs the centre along with his wife Peggy. He says the DCC is nothing more than a Bible-based church that believes in praying for the revitalization of downtown Hamilton and positive change for people through believing in Christ.

"Look at us, our doors are open, anyone can come in here," Rigo said this week.

Her father, Dr. Renato Brun Del Re, 53, a family physician who practises in Mississauga, and brother Giancarlo, 25, have been charged with kidnapping and forcible confinement. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life in prison.

Her mother, Lucie Brun Del Re, 54, a French teacher at Christ The King Catholic Secondary School in Georgetown, has been charged with forcible confinement, which carries up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Dr. Brun Del Re said in an interview he believes the Dominion Christian Centre "is a cult."

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen said the charges against his clients are very serious.

"I'd be most interested in learning as much as I can about the Dominion Christian Centre and anyone with knowledge about that organization," he said when asked about the case.

Hamilton police say the victim was walking to work at 8:30 a.m Dec. 21 when she was forced into a van by a group of men and taken to a location in Halton.

"Once inside the van, the victim recognized her brother and her father," said acting Det. Sgt. Dave Brady.

The young woman was held at an undisclosed place in Halton, then taken to her parents' home, police said. "She managed to escape her parents' residence and fled to a nearby home where police were contacted."

Police say they are looking for more suspects.

Rigo, who grew up in Hamilton, said he returned from the U.S. in 2000 after "God spoke in my heart" to return home and work to better the city.

"We believe in taking young adults, most of the time 20 and over, and training them in life skills and entrepreneurship."

Preaching first from the basement of a Mountain bingo hall, Rigo and his wife bought an old commercial building on Park St, N. The old Hamilton Gas Works headquarters underwent a renovation that includes a prayer hall and a top-floor restaurant.

DCC members meet four times a week in prayer and incorporate a heavy measure of music in their worship.

"People's first reaction to something new is that there has to be something wrong with it," Rigo said.

Rigo told The Spectator he received his theological training at the respected Zion Bible College in Rhode Island in the 1980s.

Zion's dean of academics, Patrick Gallagher, confirmed Rigo took courses at the college but did not graduate. Peggy Rigo, who met her husband there and is a DCC pastor, did graduate.

The DCC was once affiliated with the Open Bible Faith Fellowship, a network of evangelical churches across North America, but is no longer a member.

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