Against Satanic Panics > Recent cases > Hosanna Church
The Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana:
A current full-blown alleged MVMO SRA case!
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
In the 1980's and early 1990's, there was quite an epidemic of "Satanic" child sex abuse cases involving multiple alleged victims and multiple alleged perpetrators. Most of these cases involved daycare centers, but some did not. A few involved Pentecostal/charismatic churches.
There haven't been very many alleged multi-victim multi-offender (MVMO) "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) cases since the mid-1990's, thanks to the discrediting of the methods used in prosecuting most of these cases. (See my collection of links on The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare (and the larger child sex abuse panic) of the 1980's and early 1990's.) However, ye olde SRA scare is still far from completely dead.
There is now a full-fledged alleged MVMO SRA case which erupted as recently as 2005, and which has yet to go to trial. A large collection of news articles about it can be found on Rick Ross's site.
The case involves the Hosanna Church, a small Pentecostal/charismatic-type church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. Judging by everything I've read about these folks, the Hosanna Church is indeed a "cult" in just about every unpleasant sense of that word. However, being a "cult" does not imply that they are guilty of raping babies, as they are accused of doing - without any medical evidence, apparently. And it certainly does not imply that they are "Satanists" or "occultists."
In the Hosanna Church SRA case, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office (counties in Louisiana are called "parishes") "got the first whiff of trouble ... when a woman, Nicole Bernard, 36, called the Sheriff's Office from Ohio to say she had fled the town to save her child from sexual abuse," according to the New York Times article Sex Charges Follow a Church's Collapse by Rick Lyman, May 25, 2005. The New York Times article says the cops got this phone call "six weeks ago" and then had another phone conversation with her "two weekends ago" in which she finally "began to name names." So, apparently she first called them in mid-April, 2005, and then finally gave details in mid-May.
According to another news story, Local Tip Leads To Church Abuse Case, World Now (apparently an Ohio newspaper?), May 21, 2005, "Nicole Bernard, the youth minister's estranged wife, called police from a house in Blacklick, Ohio saying her child had been abused at Hosanna. Deputies said she contended that in counseling sessions, the child spoke about abuse at the hands of Lamonica and others."
Big questions here: What kind of "counseling sessions," and by whom? This must have been a counselor in or near Ponchatoula, Louisiana, since Nicole Bernard says she left town because of what the children said in these counseling sessions. Was the counselor a member of the Hosanna Church? What methods did the counselor use, and what were the counselor's professional qualifications? Is there reason to believe that the counselor may have been hypervigilant about child sexual abuse and asked suggestive leading questions, as did all too many counselors back in the 1980's? None of the news articles I've read about the case so far have contained answers to any of these questions.
Now for the really weird part. According to the May 25, 2005 New York Times article:
The next day [after the phone call in which Nicole Bernard "began to name names"], the younger Louis Lamonica walked into the sheriff's office in neighboring Livingston Parish, where he lives, and proceeded to describe all manner of sexual offenses.
"He didn't come to turn himself in, he came to talk with us," said Stan Carpenter, the detective supervisor in Livingston Parish.
Mr. Lamonica, 45, matter-of-factly told them of having sex with at least two boys, from the time they were 4 until they were 12 or 13, as well as having sex with a dog, Mr. Carpenter said, adding that Mr. Lamonica did not act as though he was confessing to crimes. He was just trying to be helpful.
"We didn't let him walk away," Mr. Carpenter said.
Louis Lamonica's apparently spontaneous and uncoerced confession makes this case seem - at least at first glance - to be far more credible than the vast majority of the other alleged MVMO SRA cases I've run across. However, why did he "not act as though he was confessing to crimes"? In what way did he imagine he was being "helpful," if not by confessing to crimes (and giving the names of his accomplices)? And why would he, out of nowhere, suddently tell the cops about all his crimes in a "matter of fact" manner? Is the guy completely nuts, or what? In quite a few of the articles I've read about this case, the police noted that the circumstances and manner of his confession were extremely odd. And, as we'll see below, there are some reasons to doubt his confession.
According to an article on the CourtTV site, Claims of brainwashing, child abuse and a cult-like sex ring to be aired in court by Emanuella Grinberg, August 3, 2005:
Authorities in the small, rural Louisiana town of Ponchatoula were shocked when a local pastor walked into their office in mid-May and allegedly confessed to having sex with children, cats and dogs at his Hosanna Church.
Louis Lamonica allegedly implicated eight other members of his flock, including a deputy sheriff, in "cult-like" rituals involving the rape of as many as 24 young victims, from infants to teens, between 1999 and 2003.
Note: the outright rape of an infant - not just molestation - would surely cause some bodily damage; thus surely it shouldn't be too hard to get some corroborating medical evidence.
In various articles on the case, including the CourtTV article, the defense attorneys are quoted as pointing out that there was no medical evidence for child rape.
Lamonica confessed on Monday, May 16, 2005, judging by both the Associated Press article Four members of 'cult-like' church charged with abusing children, authorities say, Ponchatoula, Louisiana, May 19, 2005, and another New York Times article, 4 Members of Louisiana Church Charged With Abuse of Children by Ariel Hart, May 20, 2005.
Then, within a week, the police proceeded to arrest a bunch of other people based on Louis Lamonica's and Nicole Bernard's say-so.
The CourtTV article also says:
But lawyers for the nine codefendants, ages 24 to 55, say that not only are their clients innocent, but they are the victims of a brainwashing scheme.
"It appears that one of the leaders of the church exercised a tremendous influence over its congregants to the point of making them say they did things that they never did," Stewart said.
In a twist, he was not referring to Lamonica, who inherited the once large parish after his father's death, but to another parishioner, Lois Mowbray, who was charged with obstruction of justice and failing to report a crime after the fact.
In particular, Stewart cited Mowbray's 586-page journal in which she allegedly had other parishioners write out their confessions to the sex acts.
The journal's contents were not detailed in a June grand jury proceeding, but a detective described Mowbray as the church's pastor and suggested there had been infighting among the congregation, whose membership had eroded to about 15 members before its doors were permanently shut in 2003.
Was Lois Mowbray also the "counselor" of Nicole Bernard's kids, I wonder? None of the news articles I've read so far have identified the kids' counselor.
At first glance, the above defense may seem pretty far-fetched. It's by no means impossible, though. Remember, the Hosanna Church was a Pentecostal/charismatic-type church. Pentecostals/charismatics have a regular habit of putting themselves into hypnotic trance states without even admitting to themselves that they're doing so, let alone practicing their self-hypnosis in a knowledgeable and responsible manner. And, if there's anything we should all have learned from the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's, it's that hypnotic trance states can wreak havoc with a person's memory.
So, yes, it is indeed possible that someone, such as Lois Mowbray, might have brainwashed a bunch of her fellow Pentecostals/charismatics to believe that they were guilty of crimes that they hadn't really committed. But is that what really happened? Or, on the other hand, is the Hosanna Church case one of the very few authentic cases of MVMO ritual abuse, though perhaps involving molestation rather than full-fledged rape?
Alas, determining the real truth would most likely require quite an investment of time and resources. And, unfortunately, it appears that the defense attorneys in this case are mostly public defenders, who are notoriously short on time and resources. It would sure be helpful if some investigative reporters could look into this case.
What are we to make of Louis Lamonica's "confession" to crimes that probably could not have occurred, such as raping little children without injuring them in any medically detectable way? False "confessions" are by no means an unknown occurrence. (See False Confessions by Adults by Bruce A. Robinsom; another copy here.)
By the end of July 2005, the number of alleged victims had been whittled down to three, and the prosecutor decided to drop any claims involving "Satanism" or "occultism," according to a local news article Detective says evidence short: Cult sex inquiry focuses on 3 children by Debra Lemoine, in TheAdvocate (produced by WBRZ-TV News 2, in Louisiana), July 30, 2005. The charges still included full-fledged child "rape," though, as well as molestation.
Besides the CourtTV article and the news article collection on Rick Ross's site, I also found the following pages on the website of NBC4, a local TV station in Ohio, where Nicole Bernard was living when she called the cops about the Hosanna Church:
- Woman Charged In Alleged Church Sex Case, Columbus, Ohio, May 20, 2005
- Search On For Clues In Alleged Satanic Pedophile Ring, Columbus, Ohio, May 24, 2005
Also on the NBC4 site I found a page titled Local Officers Trained In Religious, Occult Crimes, Columbus, Ohio, October 26, 2005 - an interview with Dawm Permutter, who apparently had been called in by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office as an "expert in ritualistic crime," and who of course insisted that the Hosanna Church case involved genuine, full-fledged "Satanic child sex abuse." (See my comments in my collection of news stories about Dawn Perlmutter, and see also my collection of commentary about Dawn Perlmutter and her Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence.)
I found some discussion of the case in the following places:
- On the blog The Devil Appears - see also my comments on The Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana on my page of responses to S.M. Elliot and her blog The Devil Appears
- On a message board called Democratic Underground: More Arrests Made in Case of Bizarre Sex Ring
The most recent news story I found was Hosanna may reach trial in ’06 by Debra Lemoine, on the website of The Advocate (produced by WBRZ-TV News 2, in Louisiana), Mar 5, 2006. According to this article, the prosecutors still "literally have a truckload of potential evidence to sift through," and the Assistant DA "said that he hopes one of the accused can be brought to trial by the end of 2006."