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CUT faces harsh criticism after member's suicide

Bozeman Daily Chronicle/February 19, 2005
By Scott McMillion

Livingston -- A 75-year-old man shot himself to death last week at the headquarters of the Church Universal and Triumphant in Corwin Springs.

The New Age sect on Friday issued a press released announcing the suicide of James Pollard, who came to the church's ranch in 1983.

"We're shocked and devastated at the loss of a long-time friend to suicide," Destyne Erickson, communications manager for the church said in the press release.

The release came after increasing chatter about Pollard's death on Web sites and in e-mails. The circumstances of the death have ignited some criticism of church leaders.

One of those Internet messages, from Valery O'Connell, said church leaders tried to "cover up, lie about and omit the true facts and nature of the circumstances surrounding this tragic event."

She maintains that Pollard was a friend of hers and killed himself after he had been fired from his volunteer position as a janitor, that he'd been abandoned by the church after living there for 22 years.

"We and many other members believe this played a very large part in putting these terrible circumstances into play," O'Connell wrote in an e-mail.

She said the church has a history of abandoning old people.

Erickson said that's not how it happened at all.

She said Pollard had recently turned away from the church's teachings, which are a theological mix of Christianity and messages from "Ascended Masters."

"He made it clear that he didn't believe in anything we do here," Erickson said Friday in an interview. "We asked him if he thought living at the ranch was appropriate and he said no."

Suicide is sadly common in Montana, but press releases announcing such deaths are unusual.

On the date of Pollard's death, the church issued an announcement to "ministers and representatives" of the church, but said it was "not intended for wide release."

Friday's release was issued to the public.

Erickson said she issued it "because people are asking about it."

Park County Coroner Al Jenkins confirmed the cause of death.

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