Morningland sect accused of charging to “heal” AIDS
By Larry Keller, Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram
A Long Beach man says he gave the Morningland religious sect nearly $700 over a span of 2.5 months earlier this year in order to be healed of AIDS. Since then he condition has worsened, said the man, who asked that his name not be given because of possible repercussions at his job if his illness is revealed.
The Press-Telegram reported recently that Morningland, described by former members as a dangerous cult, has been claiming that it heals AIDS — acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Researchers are still searching for a cure to the fatal disease.
Although he feels he was a “jerk” and wasted his money, the man, who will be called Richard here, said he is not better over his Morningland experience. “I feel they had good intentions,” he said.
Richard said he was diagnosed as having AIDS in January. He was disappointed when a doctor whom he visited told him not to return until he actually became ill. Morningland has taken out full-page ads and published a brochure in which it claims to heal AIDS. Sect disciples have publicly made this claim. But it was through friends, Richard said, that he heard of the sect’s claims of healing AIDS. He telephoned the sect in January and was told to come to its Long Beach temple at 2600 E. 7Th St. that evening.
Once there, he had to sign a disclaimer, he said, stating that at no time did Morningland suggest he not see a doctor, “which they did say later on.”
He was led into a room, said Richard, where Morningland disciples and persons hoping to become disciples were gathered. Sri Donato, the group’s leader, appeared behind him.
“She started waving her hands around my head in different areas, and that was the healing.” Richard, who added that the procedure lasted only a few seconds. “She was saying something, but I don’t know what she was saying. I was a little stunned and frightened at the time.”
In order for the healing to take effect, Richard said he was told, he would have to return to the Morningland temple every night. He did so, paying $10 every night and $35 for weekend seminars.
I can’t believe I fell into it like that,” said Richard, who is in his 20s and employed at a retail store. “I think it was because I wanted to believe it so much. It seemed like a matter of life or death to me.”
Morningland leaders did not return telephone messages left at the temple. And the sect’s attorney, Edward Masry, also pleaded ignorance to his client’s claims of healing AIDS. “The only thing I know is what I read in your paper.” He said.
Richard said that in the 2.5 months after the initial “healing” he was given no further advice or healings for AIDS. Instead, he listened to discussions related to Morningland’s eclectic philosophy, which includes the belief that sect founder Daniel “Donato” Sperato is waiting on a spaceship in space for 144,000 earthly souls to join him. Sperato died 10 years ago next month.
Many nights, Richard and a half-dozen other persons in his group stayed up late at the Morningland temple watching movies, including “Ghostbusters” and a made-for-television (movie called) “An Early Frost.” said Richard.
In one film, a woman commentator said an unusually large number of AIDS cases in a Florida community were due to the disease’s transmission by mosquitoes, recalled Richard. The 52 year-old Sri Donato said she had seen this woman in a vision… “and that everything she was saying was true,” said Richard.
Medical specialists say there is no evidence the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Sri Donato told Richard he would begin to have headaches, a coating in his mouth and other physical signs of his entry into a new environment in the “fifth dimension,” once he began going to the sect’s temple, he recalled. He did experience these sensations, but he said they were symptomatic of his worsening illness.
Richard grew disillusioned with Morningland and stopped going to the temple in April. But while he was associating (with others there,) he was ordered to sleep overnight at the Morningland temple during weekend seminars. He and about five other persons slept in sleeping bags in a room at the rear of the temple on several occasions, he said.
This is in violation of Morningland’s zoning as a commercial office building, a city official said. “A church cannot be used for camping out.” Said Max Madi, a spokesman in the zoning division of the city Planning Department. Made said he received a complaint from a Long Beach resident about 12 days ago regarding persons sleeping overnight at Morningland. But the complaint was apparently lost, said Joe Osuna, who supervises the department’s field inspectors.
The woman who filed the complaint, Daisy Zahn, owns an apartment building next to Morningland’s parking lot. She said she will file a new complain. The city will then ask Morningland if the allegation is true, said Osuna. If sect members deny it, the city will be hard pressed to prove otherwise, he said. “Unless there is a life or death situation, we can’t stake out a building,” he said. “We would rely on the information to help us prove it.” Masry, the sect’s attorney, said he doesn’t know if persons are living at the sect’s temple.