Wayback Machine
Previous capture 10 Next capture
2011 2013 2014
32 captures
2 Oct 02 - 10 Mar 13
Close Help

Prophet family struggles with problems right at home

Bozeman Chronicle/March 16, 1998
By Scott McMillion

CORWIN SPRINGS Elizabeth Clare Prophet has a lot on her mind. Her fourth marriage has crumbled. Her four adult children have turned their back on the Church Universal and Triumphant, the fruits of her lifetime of incredibly hard work.

At 58 years old, a time when many women are enjoying their grandchildren, she rarely sees her own and is in a custody dispute over her fifth child, 4 year old Seth. She is also arguing with her ex husband, who recently married Seth's former nanny, a woman who was once a trusted aide.

Along with her grown children, thousands of other members have left the church, an organization that has hemorrhaged money for nearly a decade, one that faces collapse without drastic and fundamental changes, its new president says.

The church she built is being dismantled, becoming something new and different and not of her creation. Some followers like the changes. Others abhor them.

Competition is springing up around the nation on the spiritual front, too. Other people including some former followers now claim for themselves the spiritual mantle she maintains is hers and hers alone. All this, and she learns her brain doesn't work right. She now admits she has epilepsy but there's something else wrong, too: an undiagnosed neurological disorder that makes her forget names and entire conversations.

It's not Alzheimer's Disease, insists church president Gilbert Cleirbaut, but it's got church officials worried enough to provide ''professional caretakers'' for her around the clock. The ailment illustrates Prophet's mortality, gives them an impetus to prepare the church for the coming day when its founder and leader is no longer around.

''It's forcing me, it's going to force the whole community, to move on faster in all that we do,'' Cleirbaut said. ''Because we don't know if she's going to get better. Maybe. Is she going to get worse? Maybe. Is she going to be the same? Maybe. We don't know.''

''Her memory has been deteriorating for several years,'' said Prophet's daughter Erin, 32, who resigned as a member of the church and its board of directors in 1993.

She said her mother once, while delivering a lecture, pointed to a picture of Jesus Christ that flanks her alter and couldn't come up with his name.

''It made it pretty obvious to the crowd that she was having a hard time,'' Erin Prophet said.

Elizabeth Prophet is the ''Messenger,'' her followers believe. They call her ''Mother'' and say she is the only mouthpiece on Earth for an array of celestial beings known as Ascended Masters, spirits that once walked the earth as Jesus Christ, Merlin the Magician, Columbus and a host of more ordinary beings that now live in heaven. They communicate through Prophet's mouth in what are called ''dictations.''

As Messenger, Prophet is the dispenser of the church's teachings, a vast and complicated set of lore that addresses everything from music to sex to geopolitics. There have been perhaps 2,000 dictations since Prophet became a messenger 35 years ago. The transcripts fill volumes.

All of Prophet's adult children have left the church, Erin and her brother, Sean, said. Erin said she went to a service once about a month ago. None of the other family members have been to services in at least two years, Erin said.

Sean, 33, is the oldest. He has a successful video editing business in Los Angeles. Then comes Erin, a writer who is married to a non church member and lives in Livingston. Then Moira, 30, also living in Los Angeles, where she works in marketing. Though Moira no longer belongs to the church, she no longer speaks out about it publicly, Erin said. Tatiana, 26, lives in Georgia and attends graduate school.

Moira once co authored an expose book about the church with Kathy Grizzard Schmook, a writer formerly living in Livingston. But Moira retracted her statements and the book was never published.

''She said everything she wants to say,'' Erin said of Moira.

Before Moira announced plans to write the book, Sean, Erin and their mother attacked her in a multi page press release after she criticized their mother and the church in newspaper interviews.

Both Sean and Erin said they regret the attack, in which they said Moira was lazy, a liar and promiscuous.

''One of the things I regret the most are the things I said about her,'' said Sean, who now lives a mile from Moira and sees her regularly. ''When you believe something, you'll do almost anything to defend it.''

''We felt threatened by what she said,'' Erin said.

Sean's beliefs have changed, now. He said he no longer follows any of the church's teachings.

''I'm kind of down on religion in general,'' he said. ''Not spirituality, but religion.''

Sean at one time appeared to be singled out for spiritual achievement.

On Oct. 2, 1989, one of several deadlines for the apocalypse, the Ascended Master Rex, speaking through his mother, announced that Sean was one of nine ''Buddhas'' to be born in this century.

What does that mean?

''To be honest, I don't know,'' he said in his first extensive press interview.

''The further I get from the situation the better,'' he said of the church, which he left in 1995. He said he is estranged from his mother as well.

''She's made her priorities clear,'' he said. ''She prefers the organization and its goals over any sort of meaningful relationship with her kids.''

These days, he seeks his spirituality in science and nature, he said.

''I've got a lot of awe toward the universe and whoever designed it,'' he said.

Leaving the church was difficult at first, he said. Part of his disillusionment began in the wake of the ''shelter cycle'' of 1989 1990, during which church members were building and stocking bomb shelters.

''It started out as something prudent, like an insurance policy,'' he said of the shelters. ''Then it turned into a way of life. We were building bomb shelters because we expected to use them. There was a real sense that this was the time.''

He said church members believed that, if nuclear bombs fell, the church would be a likely target because of its ''light,'' its spiritual uniqueness that made it a target of ''dark forces.''

For years, the church looked very much like a family business.

Elizabeth, Sean and Erin Prophet, along with Elizabeth's husband, Ed Francis, dominated the board of directors and/or were officers of several companies affiliated with the church, most of which Cleirbaut says have now been disbanded. All the children except Moira have written fund raising or morale raising letters for the church and have lead church services. Erin and Sean were ordained ministers, though Sean said he didn't recall any special training for the job. It was just one of his mother's decisions, he said.

Sean Prophet said he never had any ownership in any of the companies and that it was his mother who always called the shots.

''The board could vote but mother had the veto power,'' he said. ''I don't know how anybody could say otherwise. It was very much her show. I never felt I had a stake in it.

''Whatever my mom decided had to happen, they figured out a way to make it happen,'' he added.

Elizabeth was never motivated by money, Sean and Erin said.

''Her whole life has been built around this concept of being a messenger,'' Sean said, and that means seeing that people do as she says. ''That role, for her, is far more important than any financial consideration.''

His former stepfather, Francis, had a role similar to that of Prophet's adult children, Sean said. He handled things she wasn't good at, like talking to lawyers, local officials and IRS agents.

Francis now works as the church's legal and financial advisor on an annual ''contract of protection'' in case of a dispute with Prophet, Cleirbaut said.

''If he leaves, we have to pay him,'' Cleirbaut said, adding that he told him, '''Edward, I don't want you to become a victim.'''

''I have a great deal of compassion for Edward,'' said Sean, who came here in February for Francis' wedding, his third.

Francis and Elizabeth Prophet are now arguing over custody of their son Seth, born when Prophet was 54 years old. The dispute has grown bitter at times, Cleirbaut said, and he had been drawn into a role as mediator.

The dispute was taking so much of his time that finally, after nine months, he told them to hire a professional to help them settle the dispute, he said.

''It's not in my job description,'' he said of that role.

The divorce and the ongoing dispute left Prophet ''depressed,'' he said.

Sean said he wouldn't speculate about his mother's state of mind, the effects on her attitude of her scattered family, her divorce, the custody dispute, the way the church is changing, the failure of her dream of a self sustaining spiritual community in Montana.

''I can't begin to get inside her head,'' Sean said. ''I don't understand her any more than she understands me.''

''I don't want to comment on my mom's state of mind,'' Erin said. ''She tries to put the best face on everything. Obviously, she has a lot to be concerned about.''

Clearly, the Church Universal and Triumphant is no longer a family business. It's not even Prophet's business any more, according to Cleirbaut. She only handles theological matters now, he said.

''In the old school of thought, Mother and Edward were always the exception,'' he said. ''Like a king and queen. (Now) everyone in the organization has to live by the rules.''

Erin said she has talked to her mother about a possible successor and told her that ''by default, your successors are going to be the board (of directors) and not your children.''

She said her mother didn't dispute that.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Abusive Controlling Relationships