I was married to clone cult leader Rael 15 years. He wrecked my life and our children's.
Mail on Sunday/January 12, 2003
I was married to clone cult leader Rael 15 years. He wrecked my life and our children's ; The ex-wife of the 'alien messenger' who claims to have cloned human babies reveals how he abused and brainwashed his own family
Fighting back the tears as she perches anxiously on the edge of the sofa in her remote French Alpine chalet, it is still hard for Marie-Paul Cristini to express her anger and disgust at her 15-year marriage to sinister sect leader Claude Vorilhon - the man who claims to have cloned humans.
Even 17 years after their divorce, raw emotions at the way he abused and corrupted her and their two children are just under the surface. The mention of the word 'Rael' makes her tremble with loathing.
Spitting out the words, she says: 'He destroyed my life and our children's lives. They were so young and innocent. They should never have been exposed to the debauched and wicked things that went on in our home.' Marie-Paul, now an elegant 57-year-old woman living as a virtual recluse, tells how Vorilhon brought home hundreds of young women to have sex with during their marriage.
She witnessed nude gatherings in the living room and says she was treated as a servant while he brainwashed their preteen children into believing he was a divine messenger for an alien race.
She says: 'The kids believed him . . . they'd had it drummed into them since before they could talk. What he did to them was hateful - he devastated their lives. No child should be expected to witness adult nudity and exist in an environment so close to people having orgies.' For 15 years after their divorce in 1985, Marie-Paul's daughter Aurore, now 30, and son Ramuel, 28, refused to have anything to do with her. Only in the past two years has she resumed contact with them and rebuilt her own life free of the clutches of the sect.
At her home in the mountain hamlet of Draillent, she finds solace painting dreamlike pictures, eerily akin to the extraterrestrial visions of Raelism.
Marie-Paul adds: 'I don't blame them for hating me. I am partly responsible because I didn't get them away from him. But Claude had some sort of psychological grip on me that I couldn't shake off.
'I believed the children needed a father and every day of their lives I prayed he would stop being Rael and become Claude again, but he never did.
'He is a very cynical, manipulative and charismatic man. I just did not have the strength to leave. Looking back, it is extraordinary what I tolerated.
'He was only at home for about half of our marriage. The rest of the time he was travelling the world preaching and gathering disciples. When he was at home he slept with hundreds of women - a new one every day, all pretty young devotees who thought he was some kind of god. He wouldn't stop having sex even if I walked into the room. He made me cook for them and clean up after them.
'I never attended sect meetings and never believed in his mad ideas, but found myself sucked into his lifestyle none the less.
'When I finally left him in 1985 we were living in Spain, where we had moved after France banned his sect. He had turned the children against me and one day he simply said he had no more use for me.
'I was both relieved and devastated at the way I had been abused for so long.' Penniless, Marie-Paul went back to France and borrowed money from her mother to buy her house in Draillent. 'We still owned the house in Paris where we had been living earlier, but the memories of what had gone on in there were so awful I couldn't go back,' she says.
Marie-Paul returned to nursing to pay the bills - but lost touch with the children. 'Claude took the children to Montreal and they were both deeply involved in the sect until about two years ago when they finally saw reason and managed to get out.
'They both despise him and can finally see all the damage he did. Aurore even plans to change her surname soon because being a Vorilhon is ruining her life.' It is no surprise that Vorilhon, now 55, tells a different story. In a recent interview he said: 'One day my wife said, "You have to choose between me and the movement." I chose the movement.' Marie-Paul met and married Vorilhon in Paris in 1970 when he was running his own car magazine.
In 1973, when she was pregnant with Aurore, they visited his home village of Ambert, in the mountainous Auvergne region of central France. He set off one day to climb an extinct volcano - and came back as Rael.
He claimed he had met a 'little green man' called Elohim who had taken him in a spaceship to his planet to meet Jesus, Moses and Buddha. He was given a scented bath by female robots and was told aliens had created the human race 25,000 years earlier using DNA technology.
Returned to Earth the same afternoon, he said his mission as Rael was to build an embassy for aliens in Jerusalem by 2035. He was also told humanity could achieve eternal life through cloning. This led him to set up the secretive, Bahamas-based Clonaid organisation in 1987.
He now claims to have 55,000 followers in 84 countries and last month announced the birth of two cloned human babies. Neither has been authenticated.
Marie-Paul says: 'I thought I had married a fairly ordinary, if slightly egotistical, man. Not a freak. At first I believed that Claude really thought what he was saying was true, but over the years I began to think the whole Raelian movement was a trick to have more sex and to satisfy the enormous ego and need to be worshipped that he had always had.
'These days I have ceased to care. I have no opinions on the cloning and haven't seen him since 1985. I have rebuilt my life. It has been a long, grim, uphill struggle, but I am free of him. Is he mad? No, I don't think so.
I think he is devious, crafty, manipulative and very, very clever.' Back in Ambert, Claude's aunt, Therese Vorilhon, 87, still finds it hard to grasp how the 'angelic' nephew she raised as her son became a man bent on playing God.
She says: 'He was such an adorable child. What made him do it? He went to the local Catholic school and he was in the church choir. He was the perfect child.' Therese brought up Claude, an only child, after his own mother, Colette, 'rejected' him. 'She started bringing Claude round to my flat all the time when he was a tiny baby,' says Therese. 'By the time he was three he was living here fulltime with my husband Gilbert and me.' Colette, now aged 85 and twice widowed, lives less than half-a-mile from Therese, but relations between them have been poisoned since the day Claude became Rael. In almost 30 years, the two old women have barely exchanged a word. In the street on market day they avoid each other's gaze. In Therese's photo album, Colette's face has been scrubbed out with black ink.
She says: 'Colette thinks I have raised a monster. I think she is heartless and possesses no maternal instincts at all.
'If Claude wants to have orgies and connect with space aliens, that's his business. But now he's started trying to create clones, Claude has gone too far.' Therese recalls how as a youngster, Claude had self-belief bordering on arrogance that she always hoped he would channel into one of his two great childhood ambitions - to become a pop star or a racing driver. He tried and failed at both.
'At the age of 14 he wrote a song which was made into a record. He became something of a pop star in the early Sixties, but by the time he was 18 it had fizzled out,' she says. 'He was also crazy about racing cars and with the money he had made in music he started racing. That lasted about a year before he realised he wasn't good enough and set up a car magazine instead. Then, in 1973, everything changed.' But it seems she is still fond of Claude. 'He says his discovery of Raelism was like being reborn. He wasn't expecting it to happen. I love him like a son so I have to accept it.
'Last time I saw Claude was at a Raelian gathering in Geneva two years ago. There were a lot of people sitting about in the nude, but no one seemed brainwashed or reluctant.
'Claude stayed the night with me here after the rally. He tried again to get me to join the Raelians, but I always said No. I remember joking that at 85 I was too old to strip off in public. I told him it was a load of fairly harmless mumbo jumbo.' Therese gathers up the childhood photos of Claude from the table and tucks them inside an old issue of his glossy Raelian magazine called Apocalypse, which has a large picture of a demonically grinning Rael on the front cover, sporting his topknot of hair and wearing the baggy white costume of a cult leader.
She says: 'Some children grow up to become doctors or farmers. He leads a cult. I have learned to live with it.' Claude's mother Colette Michel certainly hasn't learned to live with it. She rarely gives interviews and refuses to pose for photographs, but her son's latest claims about cloning have forced her to break her silence.
Through a gap in her front door secured with a burglar chain, she rants: 'Claude has always been weird, but this cloning thing is just plain evil.
Everyone in Ambert apart from Therese thinks he's barmy.
'I always thought Therese would do a better job bringing him up than me - that's why I let her take him. But she has produced a monster.
'What he is doing now is vile. I have not seen him for ten years and I'll be happy if I never see him again.'