On March 1, 1972, MP Wallace Nesbitt, a progressive Conservative representative for Oxford, stood in the House of Commons, demanding to know why the Liberal Party funded Satanism in Toronto.
The Liberal government had provided funding for a religious group “that was widely reported to promote devil worship with associated rituals and rituals,” Nesbitt said.
The group in question was the Toronto chapter of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a small sect that became the subject of intense media scrutiny and high-level debate during its short existence. Church followers (called Processeans) did not engage in devil worship, but the group’s offbeat beliefs and conspicuous outfits made such a misunderstanding anything but inevitable.
Church leaders wore dark, ankle-length robes and modified crucifixions with serpent images. The church was part of the subject Goat of Mendes, which consists of a goat’s head in a pentagram (“a satanic symbol” according to a Toronto Star profile of the group). Male leaders had long hair and beards, giving them a tight, Rasputin-like appearance.
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“Everyone who walks down Yonge Street knows them — bright eyes in long black or blue robes — wearing strange images of a snake around their necks,” Globe wrote on February 5, 1973.
Process Church was started in 1963 in the UK by Robert de Grimston and Mary Ann MacLean (the couple later married). Originally a therapeutic movement called Compulsions Analysis, the group transformed into an eclectic religious order with branches in London, Rome, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, among other cities. The Toronto Chapter was founded in early 1971. That same year, Process Church co-founders de Grimston and MacLean lived briefly in Toronto.
The Processional Church adhered to “a complicated theology,” which Globe and Mail Put it. Explained simply, the processes believed that God consisted of three separate gods: Lucifer, Satan, and Jehovah. The church expanded the Christian concept of loving your enemy to include the devil and advocated an apocalyptic “end is near” philosophy.
In their extensive writings, de Grimston insisted that the Process Church did not worship demons (did the Trinity at the center of the faith represent literal gods, or were they symbols of common personality traits? Members expressed different views). The public found such theological nuances difficult to understand, and the press usually presented the order as a bizarre satanic pact (“Process Church sees Satan’s Force as ‘Positive, Vital'” stated in a May 16, 1973, Toronto Star headline).
Cruel rumors connected the Church with terrible people. There were accusations that the Process Doctrine had inspired Charles Manson (it did not, although the sect interviewed Manson for Process, the Church magazine). Serial killer David Berkowitz, who terrorized New York City in the mid-1970s under the alias “Son of Sam,” is said to be a member (at best, a dubious claim).
Although these murderous connections were unfounded, the Church may have committed other sins. Bogen, L.ove, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inner History of the Process Church of the final verdict enumerated accounts of sexual and psychological abuse in various chapters around the world. Author Timothy Wyllie (former member of the Process Church in Toronto and other localities) described the sect as rigid and authoritarian.
The Toronto chapter first contained a dozen full-time members (the order would later require hundreds of followers). Church members accused on sidewalks in the center and sold books and copies of Treat magazine. This sleek publication featured interviews with celebrities like Mick Jagger and articles on esoteric topics. The Toronto branch also operated a drop-in center and an outdoor coffee shop at 94 and 99 Gloucester Street. The church hosted religious services, concerts and seminars on telepathy that were open to the public.
At first it went well: “To our relief [the Toronto branch] quickly became a success. The Canadians were generous to us on the street and seemed to enjoy our magazine and started showing up in our coffee house in droves, ”Wyllie wrote.
Prominent supporters included pioneer George Clinton. Trial members came to hang out with the musical genius in a Toronto recording studio at a time when Clinton, who led the band Funkadelic, was crazy about the sect.
For all this energetic activity, it required a state subsidy to drive the Toronto chapter to national notoriety.
In 1972, it was revealed that Process Church in Toronto had received $ 25,900 in grant money from the Local Initiatives Program. The LIP had been set up by the Liberal government to fund cultural and community projects around the country. The trial church said the funds went to pay for employees at its drop-in center.
When the news of this grant became public, hell broke loose, so to speak. The PCs bombarded the Left with pointed questions. In response to MP Wally Nesbitt, Acting Prime Minister Mitchell Sharp said the grant application was “approved” by reputable organizations including the YMCA, the Toronto Medical Hospital, the Department of Health (now Ontario Health Ministry) and the Bank of Montreal.
These groups were quick to clarify that they had not approved the trial church per se, but simply signed the grant application. Ontario Health Minister Richard Potter “rejected” a letter from his ministry supporting the grant that it was “written by a junior member of the department’s staff without [his] authority, ”he wrote Globe on March 4, 1972.
Similarly, the Medical Hospital said all it had provided was a letter acknowledging that Process Church members performed volunteer work for the organization. (According to the Globe and Mail, “SJJohnston, administrator of Doctors Hospital, said his director of volunteering issued a standard declaration letter after two members of the sect spent one morning a week for seven weeks working with children in the hospital … He said there was no religious overtones to the work of volunteers. ”)
By denying that they had deliberately funded Satanism, the Liberal Party insisted and “rejected the proposal that a group’s religious affiliation should be a criterion for whether it should receive a LIP grant or not,” he wrote. Globe.
In late March 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told the Commons that “the offices of the Local Initiatives Program provided [Process Church] give in good faith to people who seemed to be committed to doing some good work. ”
The Tories would not let the matter go; During a Commons committee meeting in early 1973, Erik Nielsen (PC-Yukon) read “two statements that a Toronto coffee shop and a drop-in center were funded by the Local Initiatives Program last year. [and run by the Process Church] was a haven for addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals and drug traffickers, “it said. Citizens of Ottawa.
The Toronto Processeans denied these allegations as well as allegations of devil worship.
If Wyllie’s account in Love, sex, fear, death is correct, the real funding scandal had more to do with deception than drugs and demonology.
According to Wyllie, a colleague named Phineas “discovered a Canadian government program that promised significant subsidies for social work. Without really believing that we would get it, Phineas and I filled out their forms and carefully bowed the facts to meet the government’s requirements. ”
To the surprise of the chapter, the grant was approved. The group quickly transformed the basement of its coffee house into a soup kitchen and began offering free meals to the homeless. Old clothes were collected and given away to the poor. The group also advised drug addicts. In fact, the chapter’s mission to poverty was “a half-hearted effort mainly by us to justify the grant and improve our public image,” Wyllie wrote.
Extensive news coverage of the grant increased the group’s profile. The chapter leaders were extensively interviewed by the media; a rock band with members of the Toronto Processeans played regular concerts at Process Church headquarters and other venues.
Despite this outburst of publicity, the church’s strange theology prevented mainstream acceptance – in Toronto and elsewhere.
In 1974, Process Church around the world was engulfed in crisis. The founders de Grimston and MacLean had a fall, and the latter seized control of the organization. The group changed its name to Millennium’s Basic Church, dropped the doctrine of “love your enemy – the devil” and embraced a more common Christian faith. The rebranding did not work and the order faded into obscurity. In 1993, the church adopted yet another new identity and became Best Friends, a non-profit group dedicated to animal care.
The process church continues to attract attention. Netflix series The Sons of Sam revived the shocking claim that serial killer David Berkowitz was a member. The church was also profiled in a 2015 documentary called Sympathy with the devil.
As for the LIP grant – which expired in September 1972 – Wyllie wrote that “credit should go to the Trudeau government, as they did not withdraw, but from our point of view it just kept all the unpleasant news in the news that much longer. “
Unpleasant publicity that made it almost impossible for a bubbling sect with a radical theology to gain a following in Toronto the Good.
Sources: March 27, 1972, edition of Calgary Herald; 17 April 1971, 5 February 1973, 4 March 1972, 9 March 1972, 24 March 1973, 30 May 1974 and 5 December 1974, editions of Globe and Mail; March 2, 1972, edition of Leader-Post; Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inner Story of the Trial Church for the Final Judgment by Timothy Wyllie (Feral House: 2009); 2 February 1973 and 2 March 1972, editions of Citizens of Ottawa; May 22, 1971, edition of Ottawa Journal; 16 May 1973 and 22 May 1971, editions of Toronto Star; The Ultimate Evil: The Search for the Sons of Sam by Maury Terry (Quirk Books: 1987).
Also: Wallace Nesbit (PC – Oxford) and the Honorable Mitchell Sharp (acting Prime Minister), House of Commons debate, Manpower – Local Initiatives Program, Ottawa, 1 March 1972.
The Honorable Pierre Trudeau (Prime Minister), Lower House Debate, Labor ‚—Local Initiatives Program – Grant to Process Church of the Final Judgment, Ottawa, March 22, 1972.
Local Initiatives Program (LIP), Connexipedia website