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Church Leader Wants to Name Guardian

Bozeman Chronicle/September 5, 1998
By Scott McMillion

LIVINGSTON -- Elizabeth Clare Prophet is no longer mentally able to take care of her own financial, legal and medical affairs and has asked former church spokesman Murray Steinman to be her legal guardian, the Church Universal and Triumphant has announced. Steinman, now a church vice president, filed a legal petition in Park County District Court Thursday seeking to be the limited guardian and conservator for the church's ailing spiritual leader.

Three of Prophet's four adult children released a statement about "their concerns" about Steinman's plans and publicly doubted whether a letter of explanation to church followers was really written by their mother. "I question whether it is in her best interests," said Moira Prophet, a 30-year-old radio marketing executive in Los Angeles.

"I question the authenticity of the letter that was released to members as well as my mother's quotes in the news release issued by the church," said Erin Prophet, 32, and a Livingston writer working on a book about her mother and the often controversial church. "They don't sound like her."

Their brother, Sean Prophet, 34, said he didn't like the way Steinman handled the issue. He is a video editor in Los Angeles.

"The first I heard of it, I got called out of an edit session and there was Murray on the phone with two attorneys," Sean Prophet said. "It was obvious that he had all his ducks in a row before he called me."

Elizabeth Prophet, 58, suffers from an undiagnosed neurological disorder that affects her memory and her "ability to process new information," the church release said.

She is able to carry out her religious duties and co-parent her 4-year-old son, Seth, with her ex-husband, Ed Francis, she said in the letter to members.

"There are areas of my personal life where I need additional support," she added.

Those areas are her finances, her medical care and legal affairs, Steinman's petition says.

Prophet "is unable to fully care for her personal medical needs or financial matters and may not recognize the significance of legal service of process if made upon her," the petition says.

Asked how a woman can care for a small child and run the religious aspect of a worldwide organization, yet be unable to handle her own money or get a lawyer when she needs one, Steinman said her disorder is of a nature that "these are the areas where she needs help."

He said he expects to be asked that question a lot.

"I knew that some people would misunderstand and that others will be very supportive," he said.

Steinman has been in the church for 26 years and his wife, Claude, has been Prophet's personal assistant for 10 years.

Steinman said he understands the chagrin of Prophet's adult children.

"I understand how they feel," he said. "I have a great deal of respect and admiration for all of them. I'm not trying to displace them. I'm not trying to steal their mom."

All of Prophet's adult children have left the New Age sect Prophet and their father, Mark Prophet, founded in the early 1960s. Sean, Moira and Erin have been critical of the church at times. Their sister, Tatiana, is making no statements about Steinman's efforts, Erin said Friday.

Steinman said he isn't sure how becoming Prophet's guardian -- his petition calls her an "incapacitated person" -- would affect her ability or obligation to testify in a court case.

"From time to time, people sue the church," he said, but added that he knew of no new suits looming.

The church has been involved in a number of court battles with government agencies and with individuals. Most of them name her personally as well as the church, Steinman noted. One pending lawsuit seeks damages for the death of a church member his lawyer maintains was indoctrinated by the church to distrust local police, who killed him after he waved a sword and a small gun at them.

Some former members of the church are angry with leaders for the changes they have wrought over the past two years. Some have threatened to sue, claiming they devoted their lives and large amounts of money to the church in return for promises of a spiritual community in Montana.

The church broke those promises when it began laying off hundreds of people and offering to sell thousands of acres of land here so it could devote more resources to reaching and converting new members around the world, the ex-members say.

Before his request can be filled, there will be a hearing in Judge Nels Swandal's court. All of Prophet's children must be notified in advance.

Erin Prophet said Friday she is seeking legal advice.

If Swandal grants his request, Steinman would oversee Elizabeth Prophet's financial affairs.

His petition listed her assets as $95,000 worth of savings and investments, gold and silver coins, jewelry, antiques, art and other items of unknown value.

The church pays her $96,000 a year, provides a house and some food, and pays her executive assistant and health insurance, the petition says.

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