LONG BEACH (AP) – A cult that claims it can cure AIDS arranged sham marriages to subvert immigration laws and discouraged childbearing, saying the end of the world is near, former members allege.
Edward Masry, attorney for the Morningland Church of the Ascended Christ, denied allegations contained in interviews published by the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Vasectomies, abortions and oral sex were encouraged and some families were even told to send their children away, ex-followers of Morningland spiritual leader Sri Donato told the paper. (reporter’s error, Sri Donato is not associated with ex-followers)
“Under a lot of pressure, I got an abortion,” said a woman who left the sect two years ago and didn’t want her name used. Later, her husband got a vasectomy under similar pressure, she said. The couple is now separated. She said she and her former husband had to get church permission to wed. When she got pregnant, she said, she was told by a Morningland ‘ gopi” (female minister) that if the pregnancy went full term, her discipleship would be jeopardized “Morningland was definitely against the basic family unit,” said former follower Ray Slavin, 39 “All men were to have vasectomies. Oral sex was the order of the day.”
Allegations about vasectomies and abortions were dismissed as “probably ludicrous” by Masry. He also denied any practice of urging families to break up “I’m positive these allegations are … false,” he said, claiming he’d never heard of any sham marriages arranged by the sect. Sri Donato, formerly known as Sri Patricia, did not respond to numerous requests for interviews.
The sect contends children are undesirable because Armageddon is near and only 144,000 people already on Earth will be chosen to migrate through space with the master, Donato, to have eternal life. Donato is Daniel Sperato, Sri Donato’s deceased husband, who claimed to be Christ.
Sperato, a former director of the North Long Beach Boy ’s Club, surrounded himself with 12 women disciples. He died of a heart attack in 1976, and the sect was taken over by Patricia Sperato, his widow. The sect, with a current following of about 50 members, teaches a mixture of Christianity, Eastern religions, astrology, numerology, tarot, palmistry, aura reading and spiritual healing
In 1979, Sri Patricia was indicted on a charge of conspiring to bribe former Lt Gov Mervyn Dymally to seek a state investigation of alleged government harassment of the cult. The case was dropped because a three-year statute of limitations expired before the charges were filed
Recently the church began advertising that it can cure AIDS. “Through Sri … AIDS is healed,” ssys a Morningland pamphlet. Masry said he knew nothing about the pamphlet. Scientists say they know of no cure for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
A woman identified only as Bonnie told the paper that, on pain of excommunication, she participated in one of the sham marriages to protect a fellow member from deportation. “The fact that I knew it was illegal had nothing to do with my concern,” she said. “I was looking at spiritual death, so of course I did it.” The couple has since split up.
Ray and Judy Slavin say they sent one of their two daughters, age 13 at the time, to live with Judy’s mother three years ago at Morningland’s urging. “They make you believe it’s your decision,” said Mrs. Slavin, 38 Both daughters now live with the Slavins, who left the sect in 1984 after 10 years’ membership. “They feel like they had no parents for 10 years,” Mrs. Slavin said.
Ex-member Shirley Haaswyk, 33. divorced her husband and relinquished custody of her 3-year-old son to him but said she wasn’t ordered to. “You learn to read between the lines,” she said. “If you didn’t read between the lines, you got punished.” She has since regained custody