Yet Levi Schwartz, who lives in Mt. Gilead, said the church's reliance on repentance failed him. "Sometimes I went into the bedroom and cried because of my sin," he recalled. In 1989 Schwartz started molesting one of his daughters. He kissed the girl, rubbed her, and bared himself to her until she grew old enough to date, and then he moved on to her younger sister. On a late fall night in his cavernous living room, the 52-year-old, who has since left the Amish, talked about his past with unnerving ease while one of the daughters he molested sat on a nearby couch. "I confessed in church a number of times," Schwartz said. "I wanted to be clean, so I took it to the ministers. I thought that would give me grace, and the power to overcome it."
Schwartz said his bishop, Eli Raber, discouraged Schwartz's sporadic attempts to get counseling. (Raber declined to comment.) In 1994, Schwartz's son Benjamin began touching his sisters; he confessed in church and was shunned for two weeks. Levi Schwartz, however, was losing faith in the church's method of punishment. After one of his daughters started crying while he was molesting her, Schwartz checked himself into Oaklawn Psychiatric Hospital in Indiana. He asked the girl to pray for him, and she did.
When Norman Byler's family sent him to Mercy Medical Center in Ohio, he received a week of counseling and was given antipsychotic medication and antidepressants, which he burned instead of taking. Still, Yoder believes the "doctoring" helped his father-in-law. "I felt like we had him half decent under control," he said.
But pedophilia is a hard disease to treat. Deborah Love, an English neighbor who lived next to the Yoders, saw Norman take his 3-year-old granddaughter into his woodshed on a fall day in 1999. She knew that one of Norman's daughters had recently moved her family to Iowa after saying that Norman had asked to sleep with one of her girls. "He was with me enough. He wasn't going to be with my daughter," Love said the woman told her.
A day after Norman took the 3-year-old into his shed, Love noticed some dried blood on the girl's leg. She called Guernsey County Children's Services. The Amish accused Love of lying, and she said she has felt their anger. When some of the men passed her house, they raised their hats and turned them sideways to avoid looking at her. Love's husband said that one young Amish man warned him during hunting season that, "Accidents do happen, so you'd better be careful." In the spring of 2000, the Loves moved out of the neighborhood.
Last March, a detective in Wisconsin phoned trooper Janice Wilson to tell her about statements that Mary and her family had made about rampant incest in the Amish community in which they grew up. That community is in New Wilmington, Pa., near where Wilson works. When she started investigating, she was stunned to hear reports of extensive sexual abuse, and of births resulting from incest.
Amish insiders say the problem is so common that a bishop in the area has preached against it. Johnny Byler said that, growing up in Lawrence County, he thought it was normal to have sex with his sister. "Other kids would talk about it," Johnny said. When I asked Mary's cousin, David Wengerd, whether he had molested his sister in addition to Mary, as Mary has charged, he responded, "I'd rather not answer."
When the police identify a perpetrator, however, their work in one sense becomes easy. The Amish ethic of confession extends to answering questions asked by outsiders. With little prompting from the detectives who questioned him, Norman Byler admitted to manually penetrating his 8-year-old granddaughter. He said that he hurt the child to get back at her father, who had refused to take Norman to the hospital to treat a torn muscle. (Most Swartzentrubers resort to Western medicine only in emergencies.) Raymond Byler, Levi and Benjamin Schwartz, and Johnny, Eli, and David Byler confessed with similar readiness.
Johnny and Eli were each charged with five counts of sexual assault and pleaded guilty, to two counts and one count, respectively. David pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his little sister. In September, a month before his sentencing, Johnny said he sometimes felt suicidal and couldn't understand why he might go to prison. "Johnny thinks, 'I did a terrible thing but I've tried to make it right,' " said Jack Buswell, his attorney. "He feels let down."