When serial pedophile and former doctor for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team Larry Nassar was sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison, more than 150 women of all ages came forward to share their horrific stories of abuse.
They bravely told of how they endured years of trauma and how they had been silenced. For Olympian McKayla Maroney, unfortunately, it had been no different.
The now 25-year-old went dark on Instagram in September of 2017; the next month, she shared her harrowing story about Nassar’s abuse, starting from age 13 and even up until she was competing in the Olympics in 2012.
“It happened in London before my team and I won the gold medal, and it happened before I won my silver,” she said in a Twitter statement, before detailing a night in Tokyo where she thought she’d die. Maroney continued to speak out against the former doctor who abused her “hundreds” of times and labelled him a “monster.” “He would work on me for like an hour and a half,” she told NBC News in April of 2018. “And just like full abuse… And I’d be crying.”
Then in January 2019, Maroney’s father Mike suddenly died while trying to detox from opioid painkillers. “He went to a hotel randomly one day and was like ‘I’m going to quit’... His best friend took him, and he died trying to detox, quit from pain pills,” Maroney said, explaining she was completely unaware of his addiction. “He could have just gone to a rehab place and done it right. He didn’t and he passed away.”
Maroney finally reemerged and returned to Instagram in September 2019, citing Nassar’s trial and her father’s death. “I’ll definitely talk about it more, but for now I’ll just say that even on the worst days, I knew I had so much to be thankful for,” she wrote. “I have the most supportive family, and friends, and u guys are part of that. blessed to have u, and happy to be back.”
Nothing about the accompanying selfie looked unusual save a peculiar accessory: a large silver pendant necklace from the Church of the Master Angels (CMA).
The church is mysterious in nature and is relatively new, only officially formed in 2017. Its clunky and outdated website is filled with mumbo-jumbo phrases, making it difficult to understand exactly what CMA is.
It describes itself as “a unitary, non-denominational, faith-based community Church” that welcomes “all seekers of truth, cosmic awareness and soul-realization, regardless of belief, tradition, creed, or religious affiliation that promotes the selfless worship of God through the teaching of God’s Masters, Angels, and Holy Saints.”
On the website, members can receive free blessings and remote healings, plus they have access to video workshops. It hawks various supplements, such as phytoplankton droplets, and sells vague audio “repair” prayers for $200. The geometric pendants that Maroney wears can cost up to $2,000.
Similar to Scientology, the church offers courses—the most advanced being the “elite” course. Participants pay around $10,000 to attend a gathering held at the church headquarters, a few miles outside of Boone, North Carolina. CMA also has a hub in Los Angeles, where Maroney lives.
The four-day developmental training includes “preparation and installation of the apparatus for beginning remote scanning ability of matter and energies” and “preparation and installation of the apparatus and angelic assistance.” It’s advised that for two months before the course, one should reduce one’s meat intake, avoid alcohol, and completely cut out eating pork and shellfish and taking recreational drugs.
The shining star of the church is Master John Douglas, an elusive figure who is praised as a “prophetic minister, spiritual healer and extraordinary teacher.”
Douglas is from Australia and details about him are scant, but he claims to have had a “clairvoyant awakening” at 9 years old that enabled him to be able to see the frequencies of “thoughts, emotions, desires, weaknesses, beliefs, [and] karmic governance.”
“It has allowed me to analyze and discover and experiment and find the real causes of disease in the body,” he previously said.
A handful of books have been dedicated to his “Angelic Reformation” healings and people claim he’s cured them of Morgellons and Lyme disease, anxiety, and even cancer. Douglas did not respond to request for comment.
Maroney’s ties with the church are murky. In fact, if it wasn’t for Maroney wearing the church’s pendant, which claims to reduce “the negative effects of electromagnetic radiation, negative thoughts, and negative emotions,” her involvement would be hard to spot.
But she follows the church’s Twitter page and was once pictured attending an event hosted by Douglas, smiling and wearing a floral lei necklace while surrounded by four other attendees in a photo posted in January 2019. “Aw, my angel friends,” she commented.
Maroney reportedly put a link to CMA’s YouTube channel in her Twitter bio in August 2019, according to an internet sleuth who runs a blog dedicated to investigating the church. He also claims he stumbled upon a Twitter fan page called “WeLuvMasterJohnDouglas” that was allegedly run by Maroney.
Maroney also appeared to go on fellow CMA member Renata Maniaci’s podcast in February of 2020 to talk about how she had met Douglas four years prior. In episode 40 around the 7:30-minute mark, a woman who identified herself as “McKayla” said, “I used to be a gymnast, trained 8 hours a day all the time, was in the Olympics.”
“It didn’t make sense for me go from being a high-energy, hard-working person to thinking I was crazy,” the woman continued. “Who am I now? Am I lazy? What’s wrong? You go to doctors and they tell you you’re making it up. A big part of being sick was the mental toll it took on me. I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
“I also knew there was something missing in my life spiritually,” she added. “Ever since I was young, I wanted to meet some sort of guru. It was crazy that I ended up meeting a friend in Long Beach and she told me, ‘I think this Master John guy can maybe help you, he works with angels.’ And I was like ‘I love angels!’”
There is also a statement reportedly signed by Maroney in March 2020 where she praised Douglas’ work and credits him for giving her life back.
“I don’t know if I can put into words what Master John has done for me,” the post reads. “My life only gets better because of Master John… Thank you never seems like enough. So I listen to all the tools, (his CDs) to try and be the best person I can be. To honor him, and make him proud. We love you Master John. Thank you!”
While Maroney did not reply to requests for comment, Dr. Christopher Hartnett, chairman of CMA International Foundation, confirmed Maroney was a member of the church when contacted by The Daily Beast.
During a 10-minute tirade, he said raising questions about CMA was “imposing on a church” and claimed an article could ruin members’ lives, pushing for the story to be dropped.
“We protect our people,” he said. “The church has not done one negative thing to anybody. Is there any person in the church complaining? It’s people outside the church.”
“We help people, we pray for people,” Hartnett said at another point in the conversation. “Nobody heals anybody except for God… the angels heal. We pray for people, that’s all. Show me one person that says they were prayed on and wasn’t healed. Well, then they didn’t deserve to be healed by God, but I can’t even find one. Most of them get healed.”
Hartnett was adamant that CMA is free and that “nobody has to come here and pay money.” When it was pointed out that the elite course costs $10,000, Hartnett described it as a donation, saying it’s “nobody else’s business.”
“Elite courses are for people who have been healed… They don’t have to take the elite course, it’s a free choice,” he said. “It’s a donation that goes to help perpetuate this around the world.
"They do it because they want to help the cause. There’s nothing wrong about paying money to come to something that the money is going to be used to perpetuate goodness, why is that bad?”
Hartnett became defensive when asked about the pendant Maroney wears, saying “that necklace, just so you know, is a Metatron and Metatron is the angel that protected Christ while he was on Earth. So now you are going to talk about it? Jeez, talk about devils.”
At one point, Hartnett raised his voice and asked, “Do you consider yourself a woman? Do you consider yourself a good woman?”
While Maroney might be the church’s most prominent member, CMA has never publicly recognized her membership. The only other notable member linked to the church is the inventor of the sex toy Fleshlight, Steve Shubin.
A former employee posted a review of Shubin’s company on Glassdoor, writing that while a perk of working there was getting “an amazing discount” on “fantastic products,” the main con was that Shubin was allegedly part of the “cult.” Shubin’s wife confirmed to The Daily Beast that they are members of CMA, but denied it was a cult.
Hartnett maintained the church doesn’t like to promote itself and likes to be private. In fact, a section of the website that is dedicated to those who have graduated from its elite training course must have a password to access it.
CMA’s website and social media pages rarely include photos of members, with a majority of the posts being informational messages about services and quotes from Douglas.
The only way to spot members is on its YouTube channel, which includes about a dozen testimonial videos from followers who claim to have been healed from various pains, conditions, and diseases after meeting with Douglas.
Member Allen McEuen claimed that Douglas had cured him of HIV after the leader “went into my body with his Godly vision and he saw things about HIV that modern medicine didn’t know.”
“So, with that vision, and his ability to kill viruses, he was able to go into my body and kill the HIV virus and everything that was associated with it and completely cleanse my body from HIV,” McEuen claimed. “From that day forward, I stopped taking the meds. It’s been over three years now and I have a perfect bill of health.”
Another member, Jan Casebolt, said she was diagnosed with Cardiac sarcoidosis, a rare cardiovascular disease where white blood cells form in heart tissue, which left her reliant on a wheelchair.
Describing her constant pain, she said she decided to meet with Douglas before a scheduled surgery. “He closes his eyes, and you know really homes in on me,” she said. “Within a matter of moments, he says, ‘Ah, I see what the problem is. There’s two bacteria hiding in your white blood cells and they are causing your illness.’ He just performed a blessing over me. And within two minutes, I felt the pain leaving me.”
But while CMA prides itself on healing through prayer and sells products that are supposed to help cure members from various ailments, the website is plastered with medical disclaimers that the church’s “products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.”
For leading cult expert and former Sun Myung Moon follower Steven Hassan, PhD, CMA has all the warning signs of an emerging cult.
The director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center said he hadn’t come across CMA before, which he found odd considering Douglas’ spectacular claims of healing.
“He makes these extraordinary claims, and alarm bells go off,” Hassan said. “He’s a renowned theologian, by whom? He’s a noted practitioner of Angelic Reformation, what is that?”
Upon listening to some of CMA’s free workshop videos, he said Douglas talks in an “authoritative, hypnotic manner, making assumptions and claims that are very alarming to me, but are very representative of authoritarian cult leaders.”
“In my line of work, when someone is claiming extraordinary things, they need extraordinary proof,” Hassan said. “Where’s the scientific study? It’s all self-referential. As someone who has studied hypnosis, I know the power of suggestion, especially if you accept the authority figure, it’s more likely you’ll be hypnotized. That’s how the mind works. A lot of people want to believe, so it’s known as the placebo effect that kicks in. I have no problem using mind power, but when they claim to be master healers and have zero credentials, alarm bells go off.”
Hassan said these types of leaders often go after vulnerable people, those who have dealt with abuse, trauma, or the death of a loved one. In the wake of a worldwide pandemic, economic hardship, and deep political divides, Hassan said these have the potential to make even more people vulnerable to exploitation.
The price of a $2,000 pendant and $10,000 training courses also made Hassan suspicious. “I’m reminded of so many other cults that would sell jewelry that was blessed by the master,” he said.
“One thing about psychology is that when people do a behavior that’s a big deal, whether it’s more money they spend, the more they start justifying how great it is. If you are a cult leader, you want your followers to do bigger and dramatic things to keep them involved.”