ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – State police have removed three children from an apocalyptic church whose leader claims to be the Messiah and acknowledges having sex with some of his followers.
The two girls and one boy — all under the age of 18 — were taken from the northeastern New Mexico compound following an April 22 investigation, Romaine Serna, spokeswoman for the state Children, Youth and Families Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
She said a fourth child, a girl, agreed to be interviewed by the department. Serna said that girl had been at the compound but now lives elsewhere with her parents.
The three children were taken into state custody because of allegations of inappropriate contact between minors and the adult leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, Serna said.
"I understand that it was very calm and they (state police) did not meet with any resistance," she said. Serna said she wasn't aware of any other youths at the compound.
Serna declined to elaborate because of the ongoing investigation by state police and the district attorney's office. No charges had been filed, she said. The church has at least 70 members, Serna said.
Wayne Bent, 66, who is known in the church as Michael Travesser, established the church at a rural site called Strong City, north of Clayton in extreme northeastern New Mexico. He said God anointed him Messiah in July 2000.
"There was never any child molestation, or adult molestation by anyone, including myself," Bent wrote in a posting Wednesday on the church's Web site. "There has never been 'sex with minors' or anything remotely approaching that."
Bent, on an April 27 posting on the Web site, accused the state of kidnapping the children. "My children are kidnapped because some demon wrote a letter to people in authority accusing me of some crimes," he wrote.
"When the state came against our children (seed), the state came against God, and this will NOT ever be forgiven them," he wrote.
In a lengthy discussion dated Sept. 11, 2007, Bent said his work is finished and he does not expect to be "in the earthly sphere" much longer.
He acknowledged having sex with three women — the wives of two of his followers and his daughter in law. He said it was at the direction of God and the instigation of the women.
Jeff Bent, who Serna said is Wayne Bent's son, denied in an April 29 letter to Gov. Bill Richardson and posted on the Web site that any child had been abused or neglected at Strong City.
The group educates its children "to avoid the slavery you seek to impose on them, and to experience the freedom they have in God," Jeff Bent wrote.
"We have given everything to prepare them for an eternity with God. We haven't oppressed them with your atheistic globalist curriculum, socialist indoctrination, and 'alternative lifestyles' dogma that comprise modern public education. We have taught them higher values than the values of your slave-state, and have sought to shield them from the abuse that is institutionalized in your system," he wrote.
Jeff Bent also wrote to Richardson: "Now that you have moved against us because of our faith, the cup of God's anger is full to the brim, and now He is free to move against you."
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson, declined comment on the letter.
Serna said two of the children removed from the ranch were placed in foster homes, and one accepted voluntary placement, which usually means with a friend or relative.
Serna said her agency received information on April 21 that warranted the removal of the children. She declined to reveal the information or its source.
The New Mexico removal came three weeks after Texas officials raided a polygamist-sect ranch and took custody of 463 children, saying that group's practice of underage and polygamous spiritual marriages endangered the children.