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Debate over messages moves to the web

Sarah Fortney
News-Post Staff

(8/17) Gianna Talone Sullivan claims the Virgin Mary appears and speaks to her every day. For more than two decades, believers have followed what Sullivan describes as messages from the Holy Mother.

Sullivan, who lives in Fairfield, Pa., began to share her messages during weekly meetings at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Emmitsburg in 1993. After attracting followers from across the country for seven years, the Archdiocese of Baltimore asked her to take her messages elsewhere.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said a commission found her messages emphasized future destruction; it also determined they were not compatible with Catholic teachings or tradition.

Now, Emmitsburg's town historian is trying to shed light on what he believes is a hoax.

Mike Hillman said he has been tracking Sullivan's claims and in June posted an article discrediting her on the town's website, which he manages.

Hillman suspects Sullivan's messages are characteristic of cult leadership because they are vague and predict false prophesies.

"It really is a cult and someone needs to put a spotlight on it," he said.

Sullivan, who founded the nonprofit organization Mission of Mercy, which provides medical care to the needy, could not be reached for comment.

Her husband, Michael Sullivan, offered a statement on her behalf.

"All of our ministries are products of love and truth," he wrote. "Those who spew this negativity and defamation of character appear to be filled with hate, envy, anger and pride."

In 2002, Sullivan began to compile her messages online. She started a website,  detailing her mystical experiences and testimony from religious leaders.

On June 1, Sullivan posted a message on her website that struck a nerve in Hillman, leading to his response on the town's website.

"Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the world's population, as you know it, will cease," Sullivan wrote. "Of those who survive, 60 percent of them could die of disease and starvation. Prayer is the answer!"

Hillman said the message implies doom and gloom.

"When you start predicting the end of the world, you've crossed a line," he said.

After Hillman posted his article, he received almost 200 e-mails, he said. Several responders offered to write about their experiences, including Gordon and Murf Fath.

The Faths, of Waynesboro, Pa., had followed Sullivan's messages in the mid-1990s and recently wrote for Emmitsburg's website.

In 1994, the two began attending her meetings at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. After about three years, they started to have doubts.

"We came to believe the messages were not supernatural," Gordon Fath said.

Leaving the group was difficult for the Faths.

"Once you believe in something, it's hard to convince yourself you were wrong," he said.

In their article, they said they left Sullivan's group because they were not comfortable with the type of control she exerted, control that extended into "spiritual direction."

"We watched Gianna's relationship with the patients on Mission of Mercy when there were cameras present and when there were none," they wrote. "We watched Gianna bring books to the Mission of Mercy working sites and spend much of the day reading. It soon became apparent that, by looking at the book she was reading, we could accurately predict the coming Thursday message topic."

Though they stopped going to Sullivan's meetings, the Faths remained committed to her nonprofit organization.

"We continued to work (for) Mission of Mercy as, at that time, it was still considered to be separate from the alleged apparitions," they wrote.

They were asked not to return in 2000.

Linda Ryan, an executive director for Mission of Mercy, would not comment on the matter, saying Sullivan's messages and meetings are personal and therefore separate from Mission of Mercy.

Hillman said he knows he cannot tell people what to believe. But he hopes he can help make people aware that Sullivan lacks the support from Catholic leaders that she claims she has.

"We're just putting up the facts," he said.

"People who expect the world as it is to end soon
 do a lot of very strange things."

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