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Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.“I saw so many people beaten over the years.

Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists,” said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.

The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church.

Many initially were reluctant to break their silence because they had hidden their pasts from new friends and colleagues — and because they remain afraid of Whaley.

In one case involving two boys, she said she failed to report the incident “because it had all stopped, and they were serving Jesus, and I found out about it way later.” She also said that “because of ministerial confidentiality, I don’t have to.”In fact, there is no such waiver for clergy in North Carolina.

It was Whaley’s personality as much as her message — “strong prayer” and deliverance turn around troubled lives and assure salvation — that attracted people to the church, former members said.

When she started Word of Faith in her early 40s, some of the former members recall her as a motherly figure offering hope to those struggling with alcohol and drugs, or stuck in bad marriages.

Those interviewed — most of them raised in the church — say Word of Faith leaders waged a decades-long cover-up to thwart investigations by law enforcement and social services officials, including strong-arming young victims and their parents to lie.

They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains and cracked ribs.

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