The trial of self-proclaimed evangelist Tony Alamo, accused of taking underage girls across state lines for sex, began today. Authorities raided his religious group’s Texas-based compound after a 16 year old girl alerted authorities to her alleged forced marriage to Romo when she was 8.
According to the girl, who escaped from the compound early in Septemeber, Romo forced her to have sex with him as early as age 10.
Several other girls have now come forward, saying they too were married to Romo on the compound between 1994 and the present. These girls ranged in age from 8 to 14 and all of them were allegedly forced to have sex with him throughout their “marriages.” Romo is also accused of taking them on frequent out of state trips to prevent people from knowing what was going on. According to the AP, Romo himself has gone on record saying that “puberty is consent,” yet the judge has refused to allow prosecuters to enter evidence that Romo thinks the Bible corroborates this belief. The web page for Romo’s church, (http://www.alamoministries.com/false_accusations/falseaccusers.html), says that Alamo has said
the age of consent to be married should be at puberty, and that young women should be allowed to marry at puberty rather than committing fornication
They believe this is different than saying that children can consent to sexual activity, all though clearly the statement links his belief in marriage consent to the the idea that they are and will be having sex. The same page also sites Mary’s having given birth to Jesus at approximately 14 years old as proof that sex with pre-teens and teens in marriage is Biblical, even tho the life expectancy of people in this period is radically different than now.
Romo’s defense alleges that none of the girls were assaulted and that the trips were part of the growing ministry. They intend to argue that the child sexual abuse charges are meant to mask ongoing conflicts with government about the status of Romo’s church for tax purposes. Romo himself claims that the trial is a “Vatican conspiracy” (MSNBC) and has an entire page of links about his belief that Catholics are Nazis and in league with “the anti-christ.”
Most of the multi-million dollar ministries funds is believed to come from its primarily susbsistence level congregation. The ministry targeted economically depressed areas and low income families promising salvation from both sin and poverty. And, according to MSNBC, at least one girl’s family admits to encouraging the marriage between their daughter and Romo so that she could have access to better food, housing, and social life. It is unclear how the girls helped expand the wealth of the ministry, but it will hopefully be uncovered during trial.