Dangerous flights of fantasy

The Courier Mail/June 15, 2003
By Amanda Gearing

Paint is peeling from the shop-fronts in Helidon.

The rural township in the Lockyer Valley has been unable to shake off the infamy of being the adopted home of cult leader Debra Geileskey.

Geileskey's followers in the Magnificat Meal Movement still own dozens of homes in the run-down town and activities at the former convent continue despite the condemnation by the Catholic Church of Debra's alleged visions of Mary.

Since Geileskey told her followers to discard their distinctive blue robes a couple of years ago she has reverted to her maiden name Debra Burslem and launched her new money-spinning career as a Herbalife sales executive.

The MMM virtually disappeared from public view.

Mrs Geileskey has been rarely sighted in public - and never photographed.

This month the reclusive cult leader was drawn reluctantly but dramatically into the public arena for the first time in three years since she went underground with her cult to escape the blaze of media scrutiny.

She agreed to be interviewed live on Ireland's main radio station, Radio 1, on an afternoon talk program Liveline' hosted by Joe Duffy.

Her reasons were probably two-fold: she wanted to assure Irish Catholics of the safety of a terminally ill teenager taken to her Helidon headquarters by her mother without her father's knowledge.

The cult leader probably could not pass up the opportunity to advertise the 15th anniversary of the Magnificat Meal Movement which will be celebrated today to coincide with her own 50th birthday.

Invitations to "Debra's Jubilee Birthday Party" have been distributed widely, including to former members and to local Catholic priests and even plice.

In a wide-ranging live interview Geileskey revealed the fantasy world she has created around herself and her followers and has detailed some of the secretive inside workings of her cult.

The former primary school teacher claimed to have Vatican advisers and to be a multi-millionaire who had no need to ask for money.

"With all the generosity of my friends I don't need to ask for a thing. But I would say (I'm) probably worth much more (than a few million) and any trouble I get, they send in more money," she said.

Title searches show she has bought $2.3million in property in the Lockyer Valley in the past 18 months.

Geileskey also portrayed herself as being the spiritual epicentre where priests and bishops sought her counsel from around the world and where the sick come for healing.

"With the large numbers (of people) that are here all the time - priests coming backwards and forwards all the time - it's very hard to really stop and have much communication with (a terminally ill girl) but I have said hello and spoken to (the family) and we've prayed with the daughter," she said.

"Our biggest financial supporters and donors and the most beautiful support from priests has always come from Ireland," she said.

"We've always had a very strong Irish support and I don't think we'd have been able to function financially without them."

But a visiting Irish cult specialist and academic Mike Garde has confirmed that there is no MMM movement in Ireland and there is no parish where it has been accepted.

When quizzed about her husband Gordon's reason for calling her a fraud and leaving her in 1999, she dismissed her estranged husband saying "God bless the poor pet, he's always had some problems."

But Debra claimed she was still legally married to him.

"As far as I've been advised by Vatican friends and authorities there, it's still considered to be a marriage before God," she said.

Debra also falsely claimed that her Helidon cult headquarters, a former convent, were in the grounds of the Catholic Church.

Her own birthday invitations describe the group as an international independent private religious movement.

Listeners would have been surprised, or even shocked, to hear a Catholic priest from Australia call her a bitch, a liar, a deceiver of the faithful and to accuse her of putting a curse on him and his parish.

Toowoomba Catholic priest Fr Tom Keegan, also on air from Australia, told the interviewer he wouldn't even have agreed to be interviewed if he had known Debra was to be speaking on the same program.

"A bloomin' b-i-t-c-h like Debra," he remonstrated. "She's been telling you lies for the past few minutes."

"I would strongly advise the Irish people to break off any relations with Debra and the MMM," he said.

Toowoomba Catholic Bishop William Morris declared the group a cult in 1996 and an investigation by the Vatican's Congregation for Doctrine and Faith concluded in 1999 that the writings published by the Movement 'led to the inevitable conclusion that it neither had, nor desired, any place in the Catholic Church.'

Father Keegan saw at first hand in the early 1990s Debra's recruiting of devout Catholics seeking a deeper faith through devotion to Mary, when shearrived at Holy Name parish in Toowoomba.

Her parting gesture was to deliver a curse, made in writing, to Father Keegan and the parish.

Mr Garde tried unsuccessfully to interview Debra last week for his Masters Thesis research.

He said media coverage in Ireland and Australia exposing Geileskey's claims would add oxygen' to the high altitude brainwashing inflicted on her followers.

"At high altitudes, people pass out. These people are at high altitude - Debra is controlling them, she's has made herself out to be the only sourceof God to them," he said.

"More oxygen needs to be added."

Mr Garde was in Australia studying the MMM and its failure to gain any foothold in Ireland despite the emergence of many new religious movements in the past decade as the Catholic Church has been rocked by scandal, reducing congregations by half in just over ten years.

One of those drawn from the Irish Catholic church to the MMM was Pauline Hanly, a woman whose daughter Nora was diagnosed with leukemia seven years ago.

Nora was found unsuitable for a bone marrow transplant and doctors have told the family she has only four to six months to live.

It was Pauline Hanly's sudden departure from the rural town of Roosky in county Roscommon in western Ireland with her dying daughter that prompted Pauline's sister Marilyn Patton to go public with the dangers of the MMM.

Mrs Hanly was interviewed the following day on Joe Duffy's talk programme Liveline and said Nora had not seen a doctor but she was so well since arriving in Helidon that she did not need her medication.

"If you saw her today you wouldn't think she had leukemia. She has a lovely wee crackled nose because the sunshine here is wonderful," Mrs Hanly said.

"Nora has leukemia you know, but I like to be positive and say she had it."

"She was on these tablets when we left and that's what she'd be on if we were home. She is so rested here," she said.

Debra told listeners that "(Nora) certainly doesn't look or act like a sick child here at the moment - (she's) running up the hill and playing around in the sunshine so from a distance she looks fine at this stage."

The fantasy world of Debra Geileskey which has provided her with a very comfortable living and frequent world travel is costly for her followers.

In an interview with the Courier Mail, Mrs Patton said Nora needed threeunits of blood each week.

"The doctor didn't realise where she was going. They give her three units of blood and that lasts one week. She's deteriorating. She needs blood," Mrs Patton said.

"I'm concerned for my niece - for my sick child. And I'm concerned the other two won't return to Ireland because they're in the clutch of Debra," she said.

The girl's distraught father, Patsy Hanly, emailed photos of his daughter to Australia in a desperate bid to find out if Nora is safe and well.

He said he would fly to Australia immediately if he thought he would be able to see his daughter but he fears his wife is so controlled that he would not be allowed to see Nora.

At least six other members of the cult have died after they ceased taking medication for serious illnesses when Debra encouraged them to swap to herbal remedies she sells, according to former members of the cult.

Geileskey's latest step away from reality has been to join the Commonwealth of Caledonia Australis, forming a United States of Australia as part of British Israel, an organisation which claims members are not subject to any Australian laws.

Geileskey bought a disused Lutheran Church in Helidon recently and has put up a sign saying it belongs to the CCA of Australia. An obvious benefit to Geileskey's operation is the claim that CCA members do not have to pay tax.

Mike Garde is concerned that the cult has the potential for imploding like other cults have done in the past including another Marian cult the TenCommandments of God in Uganda where 600 people were incinerated in a church building.

"The danger is Debra lives between reality and fantasy - she is not living in the real world," he said.

"Just because the movement is jelly-like at the moment, the potential is there for catastrophe."

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