Antagonism growing over religious group’s claims it can cure autism

A religious group based in Aalborg claims it can cure autistic people. The Last Reformation, a branch of evangelical Christianity that formed in 2011 and is rapidly winning over ‘disciples’ across the world, believes that a nine-year-old autistic girl was “set free from demons” during a baptism ceremony.

In a video released on its Facebook page, the group’s leader Torben Søndergaard describes how after praying for the girl a “spirit left her”.

“She could not cry like other kids,” the 39-year-old said. “She became angry instead, she heard voices, and she couldn’t play with other kids. One night my friend Michael prayed for her and that girl was set free.”

From kneader to preacher
Autism advocacy groups are increasingly concerned about the teachings of the Last Reformation. Among them is Autistic Rights Together (ART), whose founder Fiona O’Leary, who is herself a mother of two autistic children, wholeheartedly rejects their claims.

“Torben is a baker-turned-healer who is saying he can cure autism. It’s absolute rubbish, because they can’t cure anybody,” she told the Copenhagen Post Weekly.

“It’s really crazy stuff. They say that demons are in autistic children and by freeing these demons they can cure their autism.”

O’Leary worries that it could have a long-lasting psychological effect on some members of the autism community.

“Autistic children have a very good memory – it’s called replay. I think these children could be damaged long-term.”

However, speaking to the CPW on Monday, Søndergaard has refuted claims that he believed the girl he ‘cured’ was possessed.

“I never said she was possessed. I think it is a really strong statement to say someone is possessed,” he said.

“But it was like something had left her – I think it was a spirit. Demons can cause many problems, and I do believe God can heal anything.”

“Demonic healing”
The Last Reformation is currently touring Europe carrying out ‘kickstarting’, a practice in which attendees are “activated” to – according to their website – go out and take part in “healing the sick, casting out demons, preaching the gospel, baptising people in water”.

Speaking to the CPW, Paul – an attendee at a recent kickstarter event in Hanover in April – described it as “like a horror movie”.

“The demonic healing was really the worst part,” he said.
“Torben called up this woman in front of the crowd. She then started speaking in tongues … almost vomiting, crying and screaming, and then she fell to the ground.”

And it got worse. “Soon there were dozens of people on the ground screaming. It was really shocking – it took me a week to recover and be able to sleep at night,” recalled Paul.

“They are targeting weak people and they use their weakness to turn them into some kind of zombie – that’s what they look like.”

However, Søndergaard describes the event differently.

‘It’s not a healing meeting. We don’t advertise it as that,” he said.

“We talk about how to heal the sick and how to cast out demons. We demonstrate to show people how to do it all.”

ART founder Fiona O’Leary vehemently believes that such practices are highly damaging.

“They are vulnerable. I have autistic children myself and if I were to tell my son that there were demons in his body he would be scarred psychologically. It would be terrifying for him,” she said.

Coming to a city near you
The group’s kickstarter events are gaining traction, many of them boasting more than 300 people in attendance. The Last Reformation spent last weekend in Barcelona where 33 people were baptised.

“At one point, I saw one person in the water and 15 people around them saying the same thing all together – it’s like a voodoo ceremony,” contended Paul.
The kickstarter events are advertised as free, but attendees are asked to make donations in the form of a “gift”.

“The donations are huge. Every day they pass you a basket for you to put money in it, so people put a couple of coins or hundreds of euros – there is a lot of money involved,” said Paul.

“They also sell books and they have a new movie – it’s a commercial operation.”
The next kickstarter event is taking place in Ireland on May 20 – where there has already been a backlash from ART and other advocacy groups – after which the group are moving on to Amsterdam and Riga. On June 25, there will be an event in Southampton in southern England.

Curing over Skype
Members from all over the globe congregate together in Denmark at the group’s training school – the Jesus Hotel in Aalborg – where some say they have been taught to heal people through Skype.

“One member, Lucy, spent two months at the Jesus Hotel living with this family. She believes that now she’s trained she can go out and cure people over Skype and over the phone. They also say that they can cure gay people,” said O’Leary

“The bottom line is that you can’t cure autism – it’s a neurological condition. We don’t want our children to be humiliated and abused and that is what’s happening here.”

Paul and Lucy’s real names have not been used in the interest of keeping their identities private.