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Lawsuit against ICOC alleges ‘systemic scheme of abuse’

The case’s implications extend beyond the International Churches of Christ, a victims advocate says.

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Five women in California have filed a lawsuit against the International Churches of Christ, a global discipling movement with roots in mainline Churches of Christ, alleging a “systemic scheme of abuse.” 

The plaintiffs named in the complaint filed Dec. 30, 2022, are Darleen Diaz, 33; Bernice Perez, 31; Ashley Ruiz, 31; Salud Gonzalez, 30; and Elena Peltola, 23.

They accuse ICOC leaders and associated ministries of actively concealing acts of sexual abuse against minors to “avert discovery by child protective services and the police.”

Both Diaz and Perez identify David Saracino, a convicted sexual offender, as their abuser in the lawsuit. The women accuse church leadership of failing to adequately protect them from his actions. 

The lawsuit further cites that financial pressure exerted by leadership caused anxiety and depression in many church members, later leading some to kill themselves. 

“Members were forced to tithe and give at least 10 percent of their gross income to the church and participate in special contributions for missions approximately twice a year equaling approximately 40 times their normal tithe amount,” the lawsuit states. “The ICOC was relentless in its pursuit for funding, and church leadership would resort to interrogating members about their income, going so far as to demand copies of the members’ pay stubs.”

Related: Road Notes: A weekend with the ICOC

The website for ICOC states that it has over 700 churches in 150 countries. Emails seeking comment from the ICOC were not returned by the time this article was published.

Jimmy Hinton, a minister in mainstream Churches of Christ, is a nationally known advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

“I am certain sexual abuse of children is still happening on a large scale in the Churches of Christ because I’ve had dozens of victims reach out to me over the past few years.”

The lawsuit’s implications extend beyond the ICOC, Hinton said.

“What we are seeing with the ICOC is exactly what was revealed through investigations into the Catholics, Southern Baptists, independent fundamental Baptists, Amish and Mennonites and more,” said Hinton, who preaches for the Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania. “I am certain sexual abuse of children is still happening on a large scale in the Churches of Christ because I’ve had dozens of victims reach out to me over the past few years.”

Among other charges against the ICOC, the women filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — or RICO — lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. 

The lawsuit also named Hope Worldwide, Mercy Worldwide, the International Christian Church and the City of Angels International Christian Church as well as previous leaders Thomas McKean and the estate of Charles Lucas as defendants. 

Another lawsuit was filed on Dec. 31, 2022, by plaintiffs Anthony M. Stowers and Erin Tomlinson against the ICOC, its associated ministries and specific congregations — the Crossway Church, the Cornerstone Church of Christ and the Chicago Church of Christ. It alleges similar acts of abuse unreported by leadership. 

The ICOC has been associated with multiple movements and names since its inception, including the Boston Movement and the Crossroads Movement. It formally split from Churches of Christ in 1993.

Filed under: Charles Lucas churches and sexual abuse HOPE Worldwide ICOC International Christian Church International Churches of Christ lawsuit Mercy Worldwide National News Thomas McKean Top Stories

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