Argentina police free 70 members of female-led Christian cult that kidnapped poor children across the country

Nick Evans
·3-min read
Argentinian police raided 23 locations - REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian
Argentinian police raided 23 locations - REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Leaders of an alleged religious sex cult run by a septuagenarian known as "Aunty Eva" have been arrested and victims freed in a series of coordinated raids across Argentina.

Sixty-nine victims were rescued after 23 early morning raids in Buenos Aires province, Mendoza, Salta, Tucumán, Entre Ríos and Neuquén, and at least ten people were arrested.

The sect leaders have been accused of people trafficking and sexual abuse.

The self-styled Templo Evangelico Filadelfia was run by three women, headed up by diminutive 76-year-old Eva Petrona Pereyra, who called herself “Aunty Eva”.

The other leaders were Ms Pereyra's sister Divina Luz, known as Divine Light, and Adriana del Valle Carranza, both of whom are dead.

A year-long police investigation unearthed evidence that the cult preyed on vulnerable children living on the streets, or with families on low income, recruiting them with  blandishments of a better life.

On arrival in the church, victims were stripped of their ID cards, banned from contacting their biological families or attending school, and required to work in a bakery run by the organisation, police claim.

Ms Pereyra, who was first arrested in May 2019, but was granted bail, is registered with the tax authorities in Argentina as a baker.

The Buenos Aires news agency InfoBae reported that Ms Pereyra, despite having no credit cards or bank accounts in her name, had purchased a $500,000 property in an estancia called La Benquerencia Farm Club, which boasts a golf course, polo pitches and horseriding facilities.

The cult also had a training camp for followers called El Descanso (Place to Relax) where recalcitrant members of the sect were allegedly beaten and starved.

Ms Pereyra held bizarre ceremonies apparently designed to curtail male cult members’ natural sexual impulses.

One victim quoted by InfoBae told police: “There would be services in the temple of at least 20 men once a week. They would switch the lights off and put religious music on.

"Eva would say: ‘Throughout the history of the bible man has hit out at God and at women because of his virile nature.’ We all had to dance and when the Holy Spirit entered Eva she began to rub her body against all the men until we were made to ejaculate.

"She explained that in this way, our virile force was diminished. She called this ‘spiritual castration’.”      

Sect leaders are claimed to have provoked one young gay member known only as “Jony” to kill himself, after he was treated for his “illness” with punishment beatings and imprisonment.

Investigating prosecutor Santiago Marquevich told La Nacion: “Recruits to the Filadelfia congregation remained under the complete domination of its leaders, who co-erced them to the extent that they controlled their will.

“Through this process, which often started at a young age, followers ended up believing their leaders were divine, allowing these women [Ms Pereyra and her accomplices] to carry out all sorts of actions, many of them criminal, without ever being questioned.  

"Investigators believe the organisation dates back to the early 1970s. Established in the Buenos Aires district of San Justo, it spread throughout the country, and into Brazil and Paraguay. 

The group did not respond to The Daily Telegraph's requests for comment.