'Retard Baptisms' Lead to Several Drownings
CAROLINA -- A parish is under fire for its practice of aggressively
pursuing baptisms for mentally handicapped people, despite a string
of drowning deaths. In the midst of an ongoing investigation, a
reverend and several of his lay assistants have rushed to defend
a rite they say has been performed without incident on "dozens
performing an invaluable service to the community and for which
there is no secular substitute," says Reverend Jim Poulin of
Red Sea Ministries in Catawba, North Carolina.
"These retards aren't just sick. When they're flailing about,
rocking their heads, attacking people, babbling 'Bah, bah, bah'—that's
argues it's his duty, as a man of God, to baptize individuals afflicted
with mental handicaps. He compares his obligation to that of a physician
caring for patients suffering from treatable illnesses.
people we've baptized are sick. Sick, but curable. Now, am I supposed
to sit by and do nothing, when I have it in my power to help?"
But, he adds there is a crucial distinction. "It is beyond
the power of medicine to do anything for retards. The devil is at
work here, and I haven't met a doctor yet who could do anything
trouble started last year, when three candidates for baptism with
Down syndrome drowned in the shallow waters of a nearby river the
parish uses for its sacraments. In all, twelve have died in the
past nine months. Reverend Poulin claims the deaths occurred because
the victims panicked and he was unable to restrain them. He doesn't
deny they may have experienced pain or emotional trauma.
like all the devil's possessions, hate holy water," Poulin
says. "And that shouldn't surprise anyone. This isn't a leisure
time activity we're pursuing.
'Ith burm me, ith burm me!' I can't count the number of times I've
heard that. It's sort of the point, you know?"
heart weeps for those heathen simpletons," Poulin insists.
"You think it's easy watching them thrash about, gulping their
death in a foot of water? A few have died. But the fact is I've
ridden dozens of 'em with no problem." He says he is not speaking
has been interviewed by authorities, but thus far has not been charged
with any crimes. He enjoys great support, even among law enforcement,
in this deeply religious community.
understand what he's trying to do. Retards are a problem, no question,"
says Sheriff Walter Halberstam. "People think they're cute,
with their flat faces, stubby hands and wagging tongues." This,
he believes, poses a danger. "The fact is, they're strong as
monkeys and twice as dumb. Sometimes, it seems Reverend Poulin is
the only trying to do something about it."
Sheriff says Poulin has been forthcoming throughout the investigation.
hasn't held anything back," Halberstam said. "The first
time we interviewed him, [Reverend Poulin] told us, 'Look, this
was a struggle, lots of drooling, a lot of nonsense talk. There
was biting on both sides.' So, when we examined the victims, we
weren't surprised to find the Reverend's teeth marks on their hands,
feet, arms, legs, chest, face and back. To his credit, he's not
least one mother of a challenged child whom Poulin successfully
baptized has come to his defense. Mary Beth Callender says her son
was out of control before they sought help at Red Sea Ministries.
"My husband and I are just so grateful to the Reverend. Bobo
is such a different boy now. A real boy," she says. "We're
trying to teach him to count cards."
understands people are concerned, but worries the reaction of local
authorities might be excessive. "No one's been fondled, or
anything like that," she adds without prompting.
remains defiant. "You can't abide the devil. You have to expel
him. You think they way they buck around with me on their backs
is natural? That ain't human strength. It's pure wickedness and
Halbertsam is adamant the investigation will continue. He will not
comment on whether he thinks charges will ultimately be filed. "I
can tell you this," he says. "The reverend also bit their
ears. I forgot to mention that before."