Gianna Talone-Sullivan, a woman claiming to have daily visions of the Virgin Mary, has been told by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to discontinue prayer services at a Roman Catholic church in Emmitsburg, where thousands eager to hear her message have gathered on Thursday nights for seven years.
"The church found it impossible to permit the continuation of prayer services centered around apparitions she alleges to experience," according to a statement released yesterday by the Archdiocese. Her messages have evolved from calls for prayer to visions of apocalypse, church officials said.
The archdiocese banned the services indefinitely, starting with one scheduled for tonight.
"The most important thing for us to do is to obey," said Dr. Michael Sullivan, Talone-Sullivan's husband. "Our position is that this decision by the archdiocese is a wonderful gift from Our Lady. We encourage people to be at peace and to continue to pray. All of this is in God's hands. The stage is set. We will watch and see."
Several Catholic priests met with Talone-Sullivan recently and reviewed her claims. They notified her Friday that the archdiocese "finds no basis for the alleged apparitions" and told her to end the weekly service at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church. The pastor of the Western Maryland parish read the official statement to the congregation at weekend Masses.
The hundreds who flocked to Emmitsburg on Thursday evenings would hear Mass, say the rosary together and listen to a message from Talone-Sullivan. She claimed to be relaying the messages from Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Seated in the front pew, Talone-Sullivan was the center of the services, which regularly drew close to 1,000 people. Many came by bus to the 160-year-old church and the nearby parish center, where the service was broadcast on closed-circuit television. During the rosary, Talone-Sullivan says, she receives messages from Mary, which are later read to the congregation. Sometimes, people asked the church staff to seat them close to Talone-Sullivan so they could request a blessing from her.
Talone-Sullivan's messages are disseminated by electronic mail to more than 3,700 people around the world by one of her followers.
"I'm simply an instrument, and I live life for others and do not interpret Our Lady's message," Talone-Sullivan said. "I unite with her in prayer."
For years, the archdiocese remained neutral on the authenticity of Talone-Sullivan's claims. But her messages have changed to "material that deals with predictions for the future and visions of an apocalyptic nature," according to the archdiocese's statement. Church officials said they would not be more specific.
Since March, her messages have frequently mentioned a sign that would be coming from Mary in October. In a message delivered July 13, Talone-Sullivan said Mary "was about to meet Satan on his own turf and extinguish his ways forever. Watch and see."
The Rev. James A. Wiseman, a theologian at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said the church is wary of any predictions of an apocalyptic nature. "The desire of people to claim to know things that are going to happen in the future does run up against another very clear and important statement in the New Testament put on the lips of Jesus himself: No one knows the day or the hour," Wiseman said.
"I just think the church is going to be extremely leery of people claiming to be able to predict what is going to be coming about in the future" he said.
Church officials have also called for an end to sales of a video "Unbridled Mercy," in which Talone-Sullivan figures prominently.
"Prompted by the content of the messages allegedly received and the video, priests and priest theologians reviewed the issue over the last several months," said Ray Kempisty, spokesman for the archdiocese.
In the video, the crux of the messages from Mary delivered by Talone-Sullivan focus on being childlike and innocent, emphasizing simplicity and purity of heart. But then the message turns dark.
Talone-Sullivan said that Mary told her Satan is conducting a direct attack on the world's children through abortion and AIDS. She describes a "purification" that is about to unfold, an event that Mary told her is not the end of the world, or the final coming of Jesus Christ to judge the world.
"Our Lady said the loss of faith within the church is at hand," she said in the video. "And that the days ahead will be increasingly difficult. We are about to enter a period of great difficulty, one filled with tribulations and trials and really a great test of faith is coming."
Talone-Sullivan, a pharmacologist, and her husband, a doctor who had a practice in Emmitsburg, have both relinquished their careers to establish Mission of Mercy, a clinic in a converted recreational vehicle that travels daily in Western Maryland.
Talone-Sullivan said the archdiocese has placed no restrictions on the couple's charitable endeavors. But many in their organization are concerned that the action will have an adverse effect on contributions. Mission of Mercy relies solely on donations. Its annual fund-raising gala is Sept. 23 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
Staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.