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Michael Peter Woroniecki : Did preacher sway Texas mom?

Did preacher sway Texas mom?

The Grand Rapids Press, Jan. 23, 2002
http://gr.mlive.com/ Off-site Link
andrea yates, Michael Peter Woroniecki, rachel, religion news report provides news of interest to those who work in Christian apologetics and countercult ministries.  It includes information about religious cults, sects, new religious movements, and related issues, such as religious freedom, religious tolerance, and cult crimes.

A former Grand Rapids street preacher, whose fire-and-brimstone style led to him being exiled from his hometown, is embroiled in the case of a Texas mother accused of drowning her five young children.

Letters written by West Catholic High School graduate Michael Peter Woroniecki and his wife to Andrea Yates may have contributed to Yates' downward mental spiral, according to "Breaking Point," a book by a Texas author who researched the case.

Jury selection continues this week in the trial of Yates, 37, of Clear Lake, Texas. She is charged with capital murder after confessing to drowning her children in the family's bathtub June 20.

Her husband, Russell "Rusty" Yates, said his wife suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of their fourth of five children.

Andrea Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If convicted, she faces the death penalty.

Watching the trial closely is Suzy Spencer of Austin, Texas, who interviewed Rusty Yates shortly after his wife was charged with murder. Her book details the Yates' family life and Andrea Yates' alleged slide into mental illness and suicide attempts.

It documents the Yateses' lengthy relationship with Woroniecki and his wife, Rachel. It describes how Rusty Yates first met Woroniecki in the 1980s while he was a student at Auburn University and Woroniecki was preaching on campus.

Unlike his reputation here, Woroniecki, 47, was described by Rusty Yates as a "quiet and simple preacher" who asked "fat cat preachers" the kinds of questions he, too, wanted answered, Spencer said.

In the years that followed, the Woronieckis served as spiritual advisers to the Yateses, while Rusty Yates and his wife sent the Woronieckis money to support their ministry, she said.

"They communicated via letters once or twice a year," Spencer said. "And there were references in the letters to phone calls and tapes and to Andrea sending them 'goodies.' "

Some of the letters written by the Woronieckis to Andrea Yates contained negative, troubling messages, Spencer said. "The letters say all women are descendants of Eve, and Eve was a witch," she said. "And women, particularly women who worked outside the home, are wicked."

One of those letters was written to Yates in spring 1999, a few months before her first suicide attempt, Spencer said.

"The Woronieckis' letters are hammering her about her salvation," Spencer said.

Gerald Woroniecki, of St. Cloud, Fla., said he recently spoke to his brother about the relationship with the Yates family.

"He has been ministering to them," he said. "He (Yates) wanted to learn more about God's word and the Bible. That's how the relationship got started. Where it went, you'd have to find out from Michael."

Gerald Woroniecki said his brother and family visited him in Florida for Christmas and then headed to the Tampa, Fla., area in a Greyhound bus they had converted to a travel trailer. He doesn't know where his brother is.

Michael Woroniecki, whose mailing address is in Eugene, Ore., calls in for messages to a phone-messaging service, his brother said.

Woroniecki's relationship with the Yateses has stirred up nationwide interest. In addition to Spencer's book, ABC's World News Tonight on Monday aired a video clip of Woroniecki preaching to students at the University of Kansas about the evils of Satan. An article about the Yates trial in this week's editions of Newsweek magazine refers to Woroniecki as a "free-lance evangelist."

While Woroniecki's roots are in Grand Rapids, his life has been on the road -- a traveling preacher who frequents college campuses, sporting events and any occasion that might garner national media attention. The father of six has set up his microphone and spouted his version of Christianity at Mardi Gras, the Rose Bowl and at least two Olympic games in the last decade.

Woroniecki got his master of divinity degree in June 1980 from the interdenominational Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., one of the largest seminaries in the country, school officials said.

Gerald Woroniecki said his brother's family spends most summers preaching in Mexico and hope to take their message to Central America. In the fall, they return to the United States, where he preaches at university campuses around the country.

"Some treat them well, but other places, they just mock him," Gerald Woroniecki said. "There are a lot of people who may have not heard the true Gospel."

He said his brother rarely returns to Michigan.

Woroniecki's early fame came on the gridiron, first playing for West Catholic High School, then as a fullback for Central Michigan University.

Raised a Catholic, Woroniecki became a born-again Christian in college. His mother gave him a Bible to read while he was hospitalized with a football injury. Once back on the field, Woroniecki wore a gold cross on his maroon CMU helmet.

By 1980, Woroniecki had morphed into one of Grand Rapids' most notorious street preachers. The former Southeast Side resident was in his mid-20s when he began using a bullhorn to deliver his scathing pronouncements of sinners. He frequently tried to shame people on downtown sidewalks, and outside public events, concerts and churches on Sunday mornings. He often walked through crowds wearing a homemade wooden cross attached to his belt.

While his belligerent evangelical style had some supporters, others complained it was ear-splitting and obnoxious.

While living in Grand Rapids, Woroniecki was arrested at least five times and charged with a variety of offenses, mostly disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. He was convicted twice and acquitted once. Another trial ended in a hung jury.

The last arrest came in October 1981, when Woroniecki was accused of accosting a woman who had gone to the Grand Center to buy tickets for the Shrine Circus. He allegedly told the woman she was a sinner who was going to hell, berating her until she was in tears.

Faced with jail time if convicted, Woroniecki agreed to an offer by the city attorney's office: stop preaching and leave town in exchange for the charges being dropped. The deal ousting Woroniecki from Grand Rapids made national news.

Since leaving here, Woroniecki has claimed he has taken his biblical message across the United States and into Europe.

In a 1996 interview with The Press, Woroniecki said he initially moved to Florida, then began touring the country with his wife and their six children in a 17-foot travel trailer. He said he preached at Mardi Gras, the Rose Bowl and rock concerts.

In the early 1990s Woroniecki said they preached in several countries, including Russia, Greece and Belgium, and received a kinder reception than they had here.

In 1992, Woroniecki preached outside the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain.

The only wrinkle in the overseas trip occurred in Morocco in 1995. Woroniecki said a group of Muslims who disagreed with his Christian message set off a small riot. The windows in his family's van were broken and the Woronieckis were jailed and questioned, he said.

The family returned to the United States in 1996 in time for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, where he used an electronic keyboard, speakers and a microphone to preach to tourists. His wife and children handed out pamphlets.

In October 2000, Woroniecki was in Michigan. He and his daughter sprinted across the field in Spartan Stadium during a Saturday football game in East Lansing. Both were carrying pro-Christianity banners.
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