The insular and mysterious Amish community in US has come under the scanner following the arrest of a man over child abuse.
Over ten years, Chester Mast, all of 26 years, and father of two, is said to have abused victims aged from five to 15. He is charged with two counts of statutory rape, two counts of statutory sodomy and one count of felony sexual misconduct involving a child. He has pleaded not guilty and a trial has been set for Dec. 15. Charges also are pending in Wisconsin.
It has also been revealed that Amish elders spent six years moving the man around in an attempt to cure him, during which time he apparently continued his abuse.
Relatives had long suspected the apprentice carpenter, but called in police only when the scandal threatened to tear apart their community.
Asking for outside intervention is rare among the deeply religious congregation, which prefers to resolve disputes internally.
The Amish are a 250,000-strong sect, mainly descended from Swiss religious Mennonite groups who began migrating to the U.S. in the 18th century to avoid religious persecution and compulsory military service.
Electricity is banned and residents have no access to cars, telephones, televisions or the internet, which they fear would destroy their simple way of life.
Mast's own community is made up of 70 families and has been in Pike County, Missouri, since the 1940s.
They speak a Germanic dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, travel by horse and cart and survive by farming.
The town is 'Old Order', which is the most conservative type of Amish settlement.
Mast is said to have committed his first attack when he was sent north to Wisconsin to become an apprentice carpenter with his uncle.
When his 13-year-old girl cousin complained of a stomach ache, Mast, then only 20, said he had a solution -- having the girl lie on her back as he penetrated her.
In an effort to cure Mast, his Amish community ex-communicated him on three separate occasions. It was only during the last ex-communication, though, that the community made the controversial decision to alert law authorities.
During his excommunications Mast is said to have continued his abuse, including targeting girls who were not Amish.
'We seen this coming for years,' said Noah Schwartz, one of Mast's uncles.
'The church worked desperately to get behind him, but it was a lost cause. I don't think we realised the seriousness of the crimes.'
Mast was not born into the Amish community, but his Amish parents adopted the boy when he was five days old, the relative told the Courier-Post. The family moved to Missouri in 1990.
In a probable cause statement to the Pike County Sheriff's Department, Mast admitted that he had sexual intercourse and oral sex between July 2007 and March 2009 with a girl who was under 17. He also admitted to masturbating in front of a girl who was under 15 in August 2009. The incidents in Wisconsin allegedly took place between July 1 and Nov. 1, 2004. Mast is in the Pike County Jail at Bowling Green on $100,000 cash-only bond.
If convicted on all the counts he faces, he could get up to 32 years in prison in Missouri and 62 years behind bars in Wisconsin.
The decision to turn Mast over to the police has split the community, however, with some still believing he should be dealt with internally.
According to other elders, Mast has admitted his crimes to them during a ritual reconciliation with the church. But when he appeared in a conventional court, he pleaded not guilty.
For some, this means he is no longer an Amish, not because he stands accused of being a paedophile but because he has lied.
'Chester is lying, and that's worse than the sex crimes, because no sin is so bad that you can't recognise it and take total responsibility,' said Mr Schwartz, 60.
'We tried to work with it ourselves,' admitted Joseph Wagler, the bishop for a neighbouring church.
'We punished him, and he owned up to it. If he's going to act like this and not admit it in court, he's still going to have to answer to God.'
Meantime the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has called for a probe into the goings on in the Amish world.
SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy, a Northeast Missouri native, said it was alarming that there should have been a conspiracy of silence when helpless children were being so consistently abused. "No culture or religion should hesitate before calling (law enforcement) about possible child abuse."
Clohessy said he was "alarmed" that "any church officials or members" would "think they are above the law and can ignore or conceal known or suspected child sex crimes from the police."
He urged Pike County authorities to "investigate and charge...every Amish individual who knew or suspected Mast's crimes but kept silent about them."
Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte began the Mast investigation after his department was contacted by the Amish on April 19.
Korte said Friday that the investigation is not active, but that "as leads or any further information comes in, those will be followed up."
"We suspect there may be more victims" but "if somebody doesn't report a crime, it's kind of hard for us to investigate it," Korte said.
Clohessy argued that criminal probes "will deter future recklessness" and that "when adults see law enforcement vigorously pursuing those who protect pedophiles, it makes other adults think twice before keeping silent about child sex crimes."