Stephen Carthew, A Voice of Testimony From Australia, On The Dangers of Cults
Posted by Barry Pittard on December 10, 2009
There are many decent men and women who, moved by conscience, have spoken out calling for proper investigation of the countless allegations against Sathya Sai Baba. One of these is Stephen Carthew, who, until 2000, was a spiritual coordinator in the Sathya Sai Organization for South Australia. Now entering his 60’s, he has been doing his Ph.D. in Communications, and tutoring, at the University of South Australia’s Division of Communication, Information and New Media. And, as depicted in a recent ABC (Australia) documentary, selling roses.
No doubting – it is good to smell the roses.
The person named Rama to whom Carthew refers at the beginning of the letter below is Sri T.Ramanathan, for years a very autocratic head of the Sathya Sai Organization of Australia. A Sai Baba follower for 15 years, Stephen Carthew speaks of how he was sacked from his position in 2000. He had suggested that “allegations about our Guru be examined impartially”. He was but one of many others in various countries to be mercilessly suppressed. In opting for profound concealment, the Sathya Sai Organization has delivered to itself still more profound wounds. Many have left it, some formally resigning but very many simply quietly leaving. Recruiting drives have had the quality of desperation. See: Subtle recruitment to Sai Baba’s cult and: ‘Secret Swami’ Cult Recruits At Prime Public Venues (see photos of just a few of the enormously costly venues in which recruiting is staged)
I find it sad and moving that, in regard to spiritual affiliation, Stephen Carthew has had two major let-downs in his life . You can see him in an hour-long documentary “The Brotherhood” (first broadcast 22 February 2009) by the ABC, Australia’s national television and radio broadcaster in its weekly much-respected religious program ‘Compass’. The program (which does not mention Carthew’s later affiliation with the Sathya Sai Baba cult) shows his prior involvement with a then quite strong alternative life-style movement in Australia, ‘The Universal Brotherhood’, of which he was founder. His life in this cult has returned to haunt him. And perhaps, in some measure, within a recent group reconciliation process, to help to heal him. In the days of the cult he helped to establish, he was young, idealistic and full of hopes for glorious spiritual transcendence, but, as issues of power and control increasingly arose, took on himself the role of suppressor. The ABC program notes state:
“As time passed, the Centre Core became more hardline, scrutinising the young followers’ behaviour, and punishing them for minor misdemeanours or perceived weaknesses. Few dared to confess any doubt, anger or distress. The Brotherhood’s utopian dream was only six years old when cracks appeared and by 1978 the New Age dream was all but over”.
Embroilment in cultic life, and the loss of most dearly cherished hopes and dreams, did not stop for Stephen Carthew with the collapse of ‘The Universal Brotherhood’. For he became closely involved as a leader with the Sathya Sai Organization, a global cult of huge, and in certain cases terrible, dimensions.
NOTE: To view the one-hour documentary at the ABC site, click on the image below:
Stephen Carthew’s Attempt To Raise Allegation Issues Re Sathya Sai Baba In South Australia
22 February 2009
Letter from Stephen Carthew
September 10, 2000
Dear brothers and sisters,
During our last meeting I tabled the letter to Rama our Australian Central Coordinator about the Nexus article with the testimonies from ex devotees.
Firstly, I am interested to know if everyone read my letter? (From what I could ascertain – out of the 10 people present 3 had read the letter to Ramanathan the Central Coordinator).
Who has read the Nexus article? (Only two had read this article that was freely available in newsagents – not a good sign of responsible leadership).
Please could the results be tabled? (They probably were)
How many of you have read ‘The Findings’ by ex devotee David Bailey? (Things were happening pretty quickly but from what I could gather only two members had looked at this).
I went on:
Without having done so, (reading “The Findings” material) I don’t believe it is possible to understand what on earth I am talking about.
I certainly didn’t have a clue, until my eyes were prized open by the heartfelt testimony of these brave ex-devotees who have told the truth about their experiences of sexual abuse in the privacy of the interview room.
As of last month I had not sought out any ex-devotee or read anything on the various web pages devoted to either putting down Swami or upholding his status. I had thought the whole thing to be a ‘media beat up’ and ‘sob story’, designed to suck in the unwary. A process that we had been told by Swami would happen – a “sorting of the wheat from the chaff”.
You can if you like put me in the chaff bag today.
However I will provide good satvic roughage, if you will hear me out fairly, without applying the gag – either physically or mentally. (At this point I made a sarcastic aside referring to the effort made to silence me from even reading the letter – I was not proud of myself for this – it aggravated the life out of the two most unreasonable members and set a more confrontational atmosphere).
My request for an internal inquiry into the allegations seemed reasonable. Something I would have though standard practice in an organization with such a high moral code. Any group that denies the process of investigation of the alleged misconduct of one of it leaders is an organization that falls quickly into the category of ‘irregular’ or even ‘cult like’.
So, “what to do”?
I had no where to go, other than to carry out my own investigation by whatever means available. · I have read the testimonies on the so called “gossip” web sites. · I have spent time on the ‘positive’ internet sites designed to undermine the authenticity of the unfavorable testimonies. · I have spoken on the telephone to ex-devotees who were kissed passionately on the mouth and were asked to perform oral sex on Swami.
I have also spoken to three parents who have sons who have been asked to give gross sexual favours to Swami. These people are quite sane and quite clear that these events have happened to their sons. There are now many reports flooding in. It is understandable that young men have held this information within, in the same way as those who were abused as a child by priests relations and parents have taken half a lifetime to come out and speak about it and eventually be healed. Some of these young people have been through suicidal episodes. One pattern is clear they were all told by Swami not to tell their parents.
It seems there are many of the Sai Organizations leaders who know that this has been going on for years. Some say “the Avatar is God he can do whatever he likes”.
This doesn’t wash with me.
Under the self proclaimed title of “Avatar” it seems that Sai Baba may have impunity to do whatever he likes. It is possible that this behavior has been going on throughout his adult life and continues as we speak together this morning. (I had to raised my voice above the voices of protest. There was a certain drama in the air – with the quiet drone of chanting emanating from one of the members)
Reports from older ex-devotees who were at the Ashram with Howard Murphet in the sixties are apparently now becoming available. These ex-devotees are now ‘coming out’ admitting to the dark side of their relationship with Sai Baba. The stories related to the ‘shadow side’ of this undoubtedly extraordinary person, who we devotees thought to be “of the Light”, is now coming out.
Apparently it is almost common knowledge amongst students at his colleges, that ‘his favorites’ have many such sexually oriented ‘interviews’.
I could go on and on with pages of this stuff.
However it is hard and unpleasant to read and just as awful to listen to. At the least, I am saying is that there are serious allegations that need to be evaluated internally.
The Central Coordinator and the Deputy Central Coordinator seek to put all this to one side saying. “If you have a problem take Swami to court!.” They say. This has and will be tried, however Swami is in India and we all know about Indian corruption and the connections Swami has in high places.
Here we are as office bearers, in insignificant Adelaide, sitting on information that could be having the impact of Jonestown in its own way. For us as office bearers to have any self respect we must I believe make an internal investigation.
It seems our leaders may be either too ‘brainwashed’ to even consider the reports, or too weak and afraid of the awful truth to delve beneath the surface. (this statement really set the cat amongst the pigeons – I had to raise my voice above the outcry)
I believe we, as the South Australian Organization should have the courage to follow truth where ever it takes us. Only by using our discrimination and moral conscience, will we make our way through this saga. It is a lonely road by ones self. Together we may be able to make sense of it.
I have written extensively on my process – it may be helpful to others. I will send my understandings upon request – by email or fax. I believe we have a ‘spiritual crisis’ on our hands and that this issue falls clearly within my portfolio as Spiritual Coordinator of South Australia. For all these reasons and many more that go beyond the time available, I propose that the South Australian Sai Organization set up a “Truth Seeking” committee to examine the allegations and hopefully to disprove the claims against our Founder.
There is nothing more that I would like to see this ‘phase’ of mine over and to become a devotee again. However this can no longer be from the point of ‘blindness’ from which our leaders wish us to operate.
The truth will out eventually, we may as well play our part by engaging in the process of finding it for ourselves, sooner rather than later – however distasteful. Your Faith in God can only be strengthened by truth.
For this purpose I will be continuing as the Spiritual Coordinator for South Australia and continuing to uphold the spiritual principles that have been given by our Founder. Particularly. “Members shall live an exemplary life”. Is Sai Baba an embodiment of his often repeated statement “My Life is My Message”? That is the key question we will address on this committee, if we have the guts to form it.
This couple of paragraphs were a twist. The two key ‘cult controllers’ were using words like “absurd” and “ridiculous” almost exploding with a strange sort of wide eyed rage. They had all expected a resignation! However I had placed a motion on the table for the formation of a committee that then needed to be handled. I admit that for the rest of the meeting I was a bit of a pain. I knew they would sack me. Which they promptly did. However I wanted to make it hard for them – which I also did.
I stayed on at the meeting making comments occasionally about aspects of general business that seemed to be irrelevant, when compared to the issues I had raised. This would have been hard for the reasonable Chairperson. Although I explained to the group that I was being disruptive in the same spirit as the Greenpeace activists, I was, on reflection going to far and as a result I alienated some of the more reasonable members.
This is a pity – I put it down to the adrenaline rush that can come when we create a living drama – I would have been much more effective if I could have simply ‘ held my peace’ at the eye of the storm. The state of mind I was in was that of ‘The Crusader’. I almost wanted to be asked to leave. I would have refused and asked them to carry me out. It never got to that.
The meeting finished with a somewhat healing chat with some of the members. A motion to the effect that I can present my findings to the group was accepted. Whether anyone would read it or not is another matter. However I was able to make my point before being ousted.
Other members will look at this issue in their own time. I believe all those whose ‘moral conscience’ rises above ‘blind faith’ will eventually evaluate the actions of Sai Baba. There is clarity to be found in the multiple testimony of the ex-devotees. None of whom wanted to believe that this was true – until it happened to them or their sons.
Stephen Carthew, Ex- Spiritual Coordinator South Australia
The Universal Brotherhood was a home-grown spiritual movement that became Australia’s most successful alternative community. Born in the early 1970s it flourished on a 300 acre farm near a small country town south of Perth. The movement attracted hundreds of young idealists who turned their backs on jobs and a safe life in the suburbs. Instead, they cashed in their savings to follow their very own guru, 80-year-old Fred Robinson – a self-styled eco-prophet who wanted to pioneer a model community that could save the planet, and mankind!
Fred espoused a mixed bag of mystical teachings, New Age philosophies and old-fashioned Christian values. He’d also developed his own cosmic vision of the future involving ‘elder brothers’ from outer space coming in UFOs with Christ to take them away if and when catastrophe destroyed the world.
From a handful of pioneers, the Universal Brotherhood quickly grew and within a year, it was almost completely self-sufficient. On the farm the Brotherhood took care of everyone’s food, shelter and clothing. Everything was shared, and everyone ate, played and prayed together. Life in the Brotherhood was deemed ‘safe and pure’. The world outside was viewed as dangerously corrupt. Increasingly the control of the group was left to its governing council, a small group of advisers known as the ‘Centre Core’, made up of Fred’s wife Mary and the Brotherhood’s young co-founder, Stephen Carthew.
As time passed, the Centre Core became more hardline, scrutinising the young followers’ behaviour, and punishing them for minor misdemeanours or perceived weaknesses. Few dared to confess any doubt, anger or distress. The Brotherhood’s utopian dream was only six years old when cracks appeared and by 1978 the New Age dream was all but over.
Barry Pittard’s comments in regard to the Public Petition) -:
There is a Spanish version available: