Controversial church branded a 'dangerous cult' planning on coming to Belfast
A controversial church that has been accused of being a “cult” whose “only goal is to enrich itself” is planning on coming to Belfast.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) has filed plans with Belfast City Council to establish a “place of worship” at Equality House in the Donegall Pass area.
Since it was founded in 1977 in Brazil by self-styled Bishop Edir Macedo, the UCKG has gained some 12 million members in 200 countries.
Along the way, however, it has also been embroiled in several controversies.
The church places a strong emphasis on money and employs “tithing”, a practice whereby members of their congregation donate a fraction of their income to the church.
“The tithe is 10% of all income, and it belongs to God. This is a very ancient practice followed by God-fearing people everywhere,” according to the UCKG website.
The UCKG has, according to Forbes magazine, also made Bishop Edir Macedo a billionaire.
A 1997 report by the Belgian Parliament branded the church a “dangerous cult” and claimed it is simply out to defraud believers.
“This is an authentic crime organisation whose only goal is to enrich itself. This is an extreme form of religious merchandising,” it read.
The same year, the Advertising Standards Authority banned a church poster that claimed:
“Constant headaches, depression, insomnia, fears, bad luck, strange diseases… These are just a few symptoms caused by demons.”
In 2009 another poster was banned for claiming “blessed oil” could cure heart problems.
The UCKG has several “HelpCentres” in England, where it is registered as a charity with an annual income of £15m, and a small presence in the Republic of Ireland, however it has no permanent base in Northern Ireland.
It isn’t just financial or advertising standards issues the UCKG has found itself embroiled in over the years, however.
Back in 2000, the church was linked to the death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie in London, in what is still regarded as one of the UK’s worst abuse cases.
Victoria was taken to a UCKG centre for an “exorcism” by her great-aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, in February 2000.
Kouao was found guilty of her murder in January 2001 and the church was later cleared of any wrongdoing, however the Charity Commission recommended the UCKG implement child protection policies in the future.
In December last year, Portugal’s Attorney General’s Office opened an inquiry into the alleged illegal adoption of babies arranged by a centre run by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
A seven-month inquiry by a Portuguese TV station alleged that at least ten Portuguese children were stolen from their biological mothers in the 1990s from a reception centre in Lisbon that was funded by UCKG.
Allegedly, the babies were taken from Portugal and adopted by couples based overseas.
The Attorney General's Office has stated that "there is an investigation related to this matter, and it has been referred to the Department of Investigation and Criminal Action of Lisbon for investigation." The inquiry is ongoing.
Denying these allegations, the church says any such claims are the result of a “defamatory campaign of lies”.
The UCKG have not responded to a request for comment on their planned move to Belfast.
Local News Partnership