Denver family tries to free mother from religious cult

November 4, 2005

By John Fosholt

Denver - The children of Kathleen Raleigh say they didn't intend to abduct their 78-year-old mother when they met with her two months ago.

"We were simply there as a family to talk to our mom," says daughter Rose Marie.

"Maybe we'd plead insanity of the moment, that this was our mother, and we hadn't seen her in 13 years," adds her brother Kevin.

Kathleen Raleigh is now known as Mechtilde Marie, an elder in a cloistered religious sect in the Pacific Northwest. She is the mother of six children, all law-abiding, middle-aged professionals with children of their own. The Raleighs say their Denver family was devoutly Catholic, but in the 1970's they became involved with a splinter group led by a man who called himself Bishop Francis Schuckardt. The "Bishop" convinced two of the Raleigh children, Rose Marie and Peter, to leave home and become part of his reclusive and tightly-disciplined cult.

Schuckardt's sect is known as the Tridentine Latin Rite Church. It is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, and Schuckardt is not ordained by an organized religion. His cult has been the subject of news reports about physical and sexual abuse, and Schuckardt himself was arrested on drug charges in California. Two of Schuckardt's young "nuns" were attacked while soliciting donations, late at night and unescorted. One of them died.

Rose Marie and Peter Raleigh say they eventually escaped the Schuckardt cult, but they can't convince their mother that the "Bishop" is dangerous. Kathleen Raleigh abandoned her home and husband in 1992 to live with Schuckardt's group in Washington state. The family says, for many years, they didn't know where she was, or even if she was alive.

Her husband tried to find her with a message on 9News five years ago. "Sweetheart, why don't you come on home," said Jack Raleigh, her husband of 54 years. "I miss you. Your kids miss you. Your grandchildren miss you."

Several months ago, a former member of the cult contacted the family and told them where their mother is living. They learned the date of an appointment the cult had made for Mrs. Raleigh at a medical clinic in Seattle. Her children decided to meet there, and talk to their mother outside the clinic.

The meeting did not go as planned. "She was my mom," said daughter Mary, "but I felt she was brainwashed. She just kept her head hung down."

The sons grabbed their mother and, as the elderly woman cried for help, they carried her to their rental minivan. The Raleighs drove to their father's home in Spokane, nearly 300 miles away, where their dad was planning a family reunion.

The children telephoned the cult's commune to let them know Mrs. Raleigh was okay. A few hours later, police arrived to take their mother away. One of the officers snapped a family reunion photo, but the snapshot shows an unhappy Kathleen Raleigh sitting among her children.

"It's hard for those who've not been inside the cult, to know what's going on with my mom," says daughter Rose Marie. "Her mind is imprisoned. She's been told that if she talks to her children or to her own husband, that she's damned and she's going to lose her soul."

Police have not filed kidnapping charges, but legal experts say the children had no right to move their mother by force. "It's a dangerous situation that people should avoid," says prosecutor Don Quick, "not only because of the danger to the senior, but also because you could end up with criminal charges."

An attorney for the cult has obtained a court order barring the children from contacting their mother again. In an affidavit to the court, Mrs. Raleigh accuses the children of kidnapping her. The children reply angrily that it is actually Schuckardt and his followers who have kidnapped their mother. "They have tried to destroy our family," says Rose Marie, "And yet they want to call us criminals."

Mrs. Raleigh says her children have lied and broken the law in their efforts to separate her from what she calls the "one true faith." Her affidavit to the court in Washington concludes, "I simply want to live my life in peace, in the lifestyle that I have chosen."

Her children say it's more than a change of lifestyle. "I love my mother and will remember her for the wonderful things she did," says her son Kevin. "But as far as I'm concerned, my mother died 13 years ago, and may she rest in peace."


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