Local Man Escapes Alabama Cult
Fox News on Caritas of Birmingham and Terry Colafrancesco
Other languages: English, Italiano
Date: March 27, 2010 , Originally published June, 2003
Category: Caritas of Birmingham and "A Friend of Medjugorje" Terry Colafrancesco, Sterrett (AL), Alabama
By Andy Treinen, Fox News 19
Faith is defined as a complete acceptance of a truth which cannot be proved by the process of logical thought. All of us have faith in something, but sometimes our faith is betrayed. That's exactly what happened to a local man who after nine years, came to the realization that he was in a cult.
Tom O'Neill, a Xavier graduate and former teacher at LaSalle High School, was also in the FBI for 20 years. But none of his past work prevented him from making one of the biggest mistakes of his life. Now, his daughter is the one at risk.
"What is happening at Caritas is exactly the same as Waco, Texas," claimed O'Neill.
In 1993, federal investigators easily recognized the 80-member Branch Davidian compound as a cult. The same realization came with Heaven's Gate and after 187 people committed suicide in Jonestown in 1978.
O'Neill is trying to shut down Caritas in Alabama before it too becomes a devotion disaster, taking his daughter down with it. But, his efforts are limited.
"If we call, they hang up. If we send a letter, she doesn't get any mail," said O'Neill. "His reasoning for doing that is because the outside world will poison the purity of the community and that's the way Koresh was, that's the way Jones was."
A lawsuit filed in California accuses Terry Colafrancesco, the president of Caritas, of brainwashing residents and pocketing donations. In fact, O'Neill claims Colafrancesco was bankrupt when he started Caritas in 1987.
Since then, the president has purchased 134 acres of land in his name, built a beautiful house and swimming pool, and reported 1.7 million dollars in annual income.
"I don't understand why the federal government isn't there looking into this guy," said ONeill. Furthermore, Caritas spends $800,000 a year, alone, educating people about Medjugorje. Colafrancesco's tie to Medjugorje is a woman who has reported seeing the Virgin Mary daily since 1981. She traveled to Alabama to donate a kidney to her brother in 1988 and had a vision on Colafrancesco's property.
O'Neill says the visionary is what Caritas uses to make money. So why did it take nearly a decade for him to leave ?
"He has you convinced that she is supporting what he does because of this association that he has with her so you think 'If I disobey him, I disobey God'."
Since he left, O'Neill has spent his time researching cults. He says Colafrancesco's tactics of breaking people down by working them 12 hours a day, six days a week, are classic. Now, his only concern is getting his daughter to see the light.
O'Neill said he would kidnap her if he anticipated imminent danger, but he expects Colafrancesco to flee the country... without any of his followers, but with all of their money.
"Those families would have absolutely nothing. He's taken their cars, their furniture; he doesn't even pay them a salary," claimed O'Neill. "They would have nothing."