Pastor of bankrupt Wilsonville church, husband near plea deal

Mary and Edward Morrissey agree to repay $10.7 million, but she won’t be charged, and he faces federal prison

Charismatic pastor Mary Manin Morrissey and her husband, Edward Morrissey, onetime leaders of a Wilsonville church that collapsed last year amid charges of financial improprieties, are nearing a deal with federal prosecutors that will send Edward Morrissey to prison for three years or more.

Edward Morrissey, 57, intends to plead guilty to one count of money laundering, said his lawyer, Michael Levine of Portland. Federal prosecutors are recommending that he be sentenced to 36 months in federal prison.

Mary Morrissey, 55, will not be charged with any crimes under the pending deal, said Levine and Steve Ungar of Portland, who represents Mary Morrissey. The Morrisseys have both signed a consent decree with state securities regulators agreeing to repay $10.7 million to creditors.

Mary Morrissey will be required to channel 25 percent of her disposable earnings into a restitution account to repay congregants who lent money to her church and investors in New Thought Broadcasting, an ill-fated media company founded by Edward Morrissey.

Mary Morrissey played an active role in persuading parishioners to loan their personal funds to her former church, the Living Enrichment Center. The Wilsonville church, which at one time boasted more than 4,000 congregants, sank last summer under the weight of heavy debt and growing anger and suspicion among members.

Living Enrichment Center filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2004 to liquidate the church’s remaining assets.

Mary Morrissey will declare personal bankruptcy in the near future, Ungar said. But she has agreed not to try to have her financial obligation to former churchgoers and New Thought Broadcasting investors discharged in her bankruptcy, he said.

Neither Mary nor Ed Morrissey was available for comment. In a written statement, Mary Morrissey apologized to her congregants.

“I am very sorry that somewhere between dreams and reality and faith and logic, I lost my perspective and, without meaning to, led people whom I care for deeply down a risky financial road that would eventually end in bankruptcy for the church and myself,” the statement said.

“I take full responsibility for this. It happened during my leadership and while I served as senior minister.”

The deal with prosecutors and state regulators incensed some former Living Enrichment Center members who said Mary Morrissey is getting off too easy. Some remain perplexed about what happened to the millions of dollars of members’ money that flowed through the church.

“The message was extremely inspiring,” said John Trudel of Newberg. “Here’s a woman who started this church from her living room and grew into an organization with thousands of people. But while this beautiful thing was being built, money was being diverted. I would like to know where and by whom.”

Trudel and his wife made two loans totaling $100,000 to Mary Morrissey in 2000 and 2002. The terms of the loans called for the first to be repaid in a year, the second within 75 days.

Although the Trudels received interest payments for a while, the principal remains outstanding.

Ungar, Mary Morrissey’s lawyer, said his client had no knowledge of the extent of the financial chaos at her church. And she also has cooperated fully with federal and state investigators, he said.

“Mary had no criminal intent,” Ungar said. “She is accepting full responsibility for all of the losses that these people have suffered. But she did not engineer a plan to steal money to deceive anyone. She herself believed in good faith that her husband and others had configured legitimate plans for the church to dig its way out of its financial problems.”

Others said they remain loyal to Mary Morrissey and were happy to hear of the settlement.

“I’m relieved that it is coming to an end,” said Marty McCall, former vice president for operations at the church. “She is still my spiritual teacher.”

A good deal of the parishioner money went to New Thought Broadcasting, which Edward Morrissey created to help take the Living Enrichment Center message to the masses.

Much of the money went to “enterprises that Ed tried to set up,” said Levine, Edward Morrissey’s lawyer. “Some of it, undoubtedly, was spent unwisely.”

Edward Morrissey suffers from bipolar disorder and was in a California treatment center last spring when the church’s financial problems first publicly surfaced. His “serious mental impairment” contributed to the financial disarray, Levine added.

“Mary was unaware that Edward Morrissey was making misstatements (and) serious mistakes of judgment,” Levine said.

The nondenominational church she founded more than 20 years ago was aligned with the New Thought movement, a set of ideas stemming from mid-19th-century U.S. philosophers who emphasized the power of thought. The teachings and example of Jesus Christ were central touchstones, but the church also drew from other religious leaders.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Oregonian, USA
Apr. 6, 2005
Jeff Manning

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday April 6, 2005.
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