A cult leader, who claims to have visions of the Virgin Mary, is selling home loans and slimming tablets to raise money for a cathedral.
Magnificat Meal Movement leader Debra Geileskey, who now goes under her maiden name of Burslem, has erected signs on the Warrego Highway near her headquarters at Helidon, 90 kilometres west of Brisbane, advertising Herbalife products and discount home loans through a 1800 telephone number. Ms Burslem has also bought a silver Mercedes-Benz.
Ms Burslem founded the movement in 1992, attracting up to 400 people to monthly prayer meetings at its peak. She plans to build a $41 million cathedral in a nearby paddock to which she believes Jesus Christ would visit at his Second Coming. She was unavailable for comment today.
Helidon Catholic priest Father John Ryan, who lives next door to the movement's former base, said he believed its new business orientation would lead to its downfall.
"I believe that this overt moving into business and sales is to me evidence of what I've always believed - that there is a strong commercial element to this movement," Father Ryan told AAP. "The alleged spiritual aims will abate." He said at least two couples had left the movement since it started the new business.
Twenty-two of the 75 families that moved to Helidon to take part in the movement in the past five years had since left and returned to the Catholic Church, he said. Father Ryan said two types of people had become involved in the movement - people who had grown up "in the Catholic mould" who were keen to explore devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, and people with "psychological and spiritual burdens" for whom the cult was a haven. He said the second group of people were particularly at risk of the movement's brainwashing methods.
"People are very afraid to leave when they are there," Father Ryan said.