Wife of alleged cult leader Victor Barnard files for divorce

- Victor Barnard may finally be back in Minnesota, but now his wife wants out. As Barnard was making his first court appearance in Pine County on Monday, looking gaunt and haggard from his year long ordeal in Brazil, 1,700 miles away in Bellingham, Washington, his wife Stephanie Barnard was filing for divorce.

The two have been married for 30 years, raising 4 children, who are now grown. The two met in their early 20s in Ohio, when both belonged a religious group, called The Way, that some have also compared to a cult.
In the divorce papers, Stephanie claims, "this marriage is irretrievably broken." She says they've been separated since November 2010 "when they moved into separate residences." That would make it shortly after they left Minnesota, along with other followers, as the River Road Fellowship was collapsing from within.

Barnard had admitted to extramarital affairs with several married women in his congregation. His alleged sexual abuse of young girls in the group, his “maidens,” was still a secret, although people had their suspicions.

Jess Schweiss was one of those maidens, who says Barnard preached he was Christ in the flesh, and began having sex with her when she was just 12 years old. Stephenie never appeared to be jealous.

“He said this was his way to teach me love,” Schweiss said. “He wanted to show me love.”

Why Stephanie Barnard is divorcing Victor now is unclear, but prosecutors said there were signs Victor Barnard was "liquidating his assets." In the divorce petition, it says Victor and Stephanie will each retain property already in their own name.

Barnard’s attorney, Marsh Halberg, says it is really a formality -- that there are no assets to fight over. He anticipates the divorce will be amicable. and says Barnard has yet to be served with the divorce papers in jail.
If the divorce is final before the case goes to trial, it offers up a very interesting dynamic. Both sides could call Stephanie as a witness and she can testify about facts in the case, but could not testify about communications within their 30 year marriage.


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