Forty children have been taken from a Christian community in Bavaria in a raid by German police following allegations of child abuse, though the members have said they spank children only to discipline then.
"We have lived now for some time in your vicinity, dear citizens of Wörnitz and neighbors of the Ries valley," the Community of the Twelve Tribes in Klosterzimmern & Wörnitz said in a statement. "We call on you to give your opinion on the allegations – surely you have seen us and our children stroll through the village? What impression do you have of our children and their well-being? Were they happy? Were they respectful?"
Over 100 police officers participated in the operation that seized 40 children children aged seven months to 17 years old from a monastery in Klosterzimmern and from a communal house in the village of Wornitz. The children were then placed in foster families while authorities carry out an investigation into the group, The Guardian reported. The raids were apparently prompted by "fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members."
"We suspect that parents were exercising abuse," said Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court. Evidence has allegedly shown that children were struck on their feet, arms and backs by disciplinary rods soaked in oil. Eyewitnesses said that the community members did not show resistance during the raid.
The "Twelve Tribes" group, founded in 1972 in the U.S. and numbering close to 3,000 members worldwide, describe themselves as a Messianic Community who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, who they refer to as "Yahshua." On their official website, members admit that they spank children, but only out of 'love.'
"We teach them to listen to what their parents say and to obey their parents and teachers. When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage. Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist," the community says.
"We know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial, but we have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority. The Columbine tragedy in particular points to the potentially terrible consequences of children left to themselves, who are not held accountable for their actions," the explanation adds, referring to the 1999 Columbine High School Massare in Colorado where two senior students killed 12 other students and a school teacher.
The Twelve Tribes community lives a self-sufficient existence, producing its own food and electricity, its members dress modestly and they do not allow children to watch TV.
The Christian group has faced problems with German authorities before, BBC News reported, particularly for its refusal to send its children to public schools. Officials recently withdrew an education license from a Twelve Tribes school at Klosterzimmern, reportedly because of a lack of suitable teachers – though the Bavarian state education ministry said the raid on Thursday is not connected with the issue.
"The action today has nothing to do with the subject of compulsory education," a spokesman for the education ministry shared with German daily newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine.
The community noted that a court hearing on the charges will take place next week. In the meantime, the children are expected to remain in foster care.