Hammer-wielding pastor: why I smashed orphanage to pieces

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The founder of one of Northern Ireland’s best known churches has told how he smashed up a Romanian children’s home funded by his congregation to stop it falling into the wrong hands.

Pastor James McConnell, from the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, described how he “took a hammer myself” to destroy the building he had established there last year.

The 72-year-old east Belfast man said he was given a standing ovation by his congregation when he revealed he “tore down the ceilings, the bathrooms, the showers, everything, the floors”.

Pastor McConnell said he acted after learning a paedophile ring he believed to be close to the Romanian government had designs on the home.

“Four men from the government came to see me and they said your home is lovely, would we have your permission that every now and then we would place a child in the home for a month or at the most three months,” he said.

Pastor McConnell said when the men offered $18,000 per child, “I smelled a rat.”

I believe that I was listening to a paedophile ring in the Romanian government.”

He added: “From that day, the Romanian government was against our home and against all we were doing. They wanted us out to take our home.”

A spokeswoman from the Romanian embassy last night rejected these “very serious” allegations.

“I can assure you that these allegations are not true. There is no possibility that they are true,” she said.

The children’s home in Romania was run by another church minister, Pastor John McCready and his wife, up until its closure.

“I took five of my men with me and we tore down the place inside before we left,” Mr McConnell told the BBC’s Sunday Sequence programme.

“I tore down the ceilings, the bathrooms, the showers, everything, the floors because it was like a five star hotel. It was beautiful and I tore it down and I said this government is not taking it and if they do take it they’ll have to spend money on it. And that’s why we left Romania. I took a hammer myself. I had a meeting and 1,300 of my congregation turned up and I told them what I did and they gave me a standing ovation.”

Pastor McCready, who was returning to Northern Ireland, said the home had to be closed because of an EU directive that children should be helped out of institutions. He told the programme that the children had all been reunited with their families or foster families and had left the home before it was demolished.

Mr McConnell, who was orphaned at an early age, began the Whitewell Church on north Belfast’s Shore Road in 1956.

“The desire for lost souls in James McConnell's life is such that he constantly encourages his members to knock doors, distribute tracts and to evangelise every area of this province — and he is prepared to lead by example,” reads the church website.

The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact Pastor McConnell directly yesterday.

From The Belfast Telegraph