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Title Apostles - Religious Leader Charged

Apostles - Religious Leader Charged Wednesday, April 14, 1999 By JACK BRANSWELL-

The Canadian Press ST-JOVITE, Que. (CP) - 

The head of a religious order, whose followers believe he's the real pope, remained at large Wednesday after he was charged with sexually assaulting minors. Jean-Gaston Tremblay, 70, the head of the Apostles of Infinite Love, is one of four people whom police are seeking in the alleged abuse of children between 1966 and 1985.

Quebec provincial police raided the order's sprawling commune early Wednesday morning but made no arrests. The four people they were looking for may have fled because news of the planned police operation was on the front page of Montreal La Presse's Wednesday morning edition. Tremblay and another man have been charged with assault, gross indecency and sexual assault. Two women have been charged with assault. In all, there are 51 charges stemming from the complaints of 15 alleged victims, said Pierre Robichaud, a provincial police spokesman. Police have been investigating the four accused since 1993 when they received the first complaint. "It's a very difficult investigation because the infractions that we suspect happened a very long time ago," Robichaud said. He acknowledged "it's very possible that they (the four) aren't here anymore."

Police planned on issuing a Canadawide warrant for the four accused. Aside from police, there was very little action around the commune, which covers more than 120 hectares. At one point, two men dressed in brown robes emerged and entered a building at the entrance to the community. They ignored all questions. Youth protection officials entered the commune with about 130 police officers and they removed 14 children, from the ages of four to 15, for an evaluation on whether they have been abused. Francis Gagnon, a spokesman for youth protection, said if the children are fine they will be returned to their homes in St-Jovite, about 150 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Relatively little is know about the order. "They're kind of a Catholic monastic community," said Mike Kropveld, the head of Info-Cult, a Montreal-based group which tracks religious sects and cults. They're not part of the Roman Catholic movement but Tremblay's followers "believe he is the true pope," Kropveld said. Kropveld said the number of members is hard to gauge: the movement is based here but has followings in other countries. Local residents said Wednesday they were not surprised by the charges. "We've heard the rumours for a long time but people don't really know what goes on there," said Celine, who is a neighbour of the order and didn't want her family named published. She said the commune of about 160 people is made up of folks who keep to themselves.

"They go by about 25 to 30 times a day and they never give you a wave like people in the country do," she said. She also said the four could still be on the huge compound and the police wouldn't know it. "They have hiding places all over," she added. "They have chapels in the mountains. The police may never find them." A local shopkeeper, who has visited the commune on a guided tour, said the order is very isolated from its neighbours. "They don't speak to people," she said. "They come here (in town) to run errands and that is it." The order, formed in the 1960s, has been in the news in the past. There have been a couple of cases of lengthy custody battles between a parent, who has left the order, and the other who has remained behind.