AKRON, Ohio – Televangelist Ernest Angley has long controlled members of his Akron-area congregation by advising them not to have children, shunning those who leave the church and using free labor at his for-profit buffet restaurant and television station, according to a two-month newspaper investigation.
The Akron Beacon Journal published a series of articles starting last week after interviewing more than 20 former members of Grace Cathedral in the Akron suburb of Cuyahoga Falls. Some of those interviewed described Angley’s church as a cult.
A woman who answered the phone at Grace Cathedral on Monday and would identify herself only as Nancy told The Associated Press that Angley was not interested in responding to the accusations. “It’s all lies,” she said.
Several people told the Beacon Journal that they and their spouses did not have children because husbands were encouraged to have vasectomies, and that Angley examined men’s genitals before and after surgery. One woman told the newspaper she was pressured into having an abortion.
“He doesn’t want people to have kids because it would take their time and money away” from the church, Greg Mulkey, a former church member, told the newspaper.
Several former members said Angley, 93, also wanted to keep quiet allegations that teens had been sexually molested by other church members, including someone close to him.
Angley told the Beacon Journal in an interview that it wasn’t “his place” to report the accusations to authorities. And he denied that he tries to control his congregation, saying he counsels those who seek advice. It’s a “bad time” for couples to have children because of the dangers in the world, he told the newspaper.
During a church service in July, Angley discussed asking men to disrobe both before and after their vasectomies. The service was tape recorded and shared with both the Beacon Journal and the AP.
“I’ve helped so many of the boys down through the years,” Angley said. “They had their misgivings. Sure, I’d have them uncover themselves, but I did not handle them at all.”
The July service mostly focused on a former minister who claimed Angley touched him after having him undress. Angley and other church officials responded angrily during the service and said the minister was a liar, a drug addict and an adulterer. The minister did not talk to the Beacon Journal.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis told the AP that his department has received no complaints and that it’s not investigating Angley or Grace Cathedral.
Angley has long claimed to be a prophet of God and says he can heal people of afflictions. He and Grace Cathedral are fixtures in northeast Ohio and nationwide thanks to television broadcasts starting in the 1970s.
He has been widely parodied because of his high-pitched banter and a dark helmet of hair that is presumed to be a wig. Robin Williams sometimes imitated Angley in his stand-up act, and Genesis did a rock video in which Phil Collins played the role of Angley.
Angley, a North Carolina native, established a ministry in Ohio in the 1950s that became Grace Cathedral in 1958. The ministry grew with the purchase in 1984 of a Cuyahoga Falls complex that included a television studio, restaurant and a domed sanctuary. At one point, membership numbered around 3,000; it’s unclear how many members it has today.
Angley acknowledged that volunteer labor is used at Grace Cathedral’s buffet, despite a warning that the use of volunteer labor at a for-profit company is a violation of federal labor laws. That warning came after a 15-year-old girl, a volunteer worker, was stabbed to death by a male volunteer in 1999.
His ministries have drawn large crowds on mission trips to Africa and Latin America. Angley, along with his staff and equipment, are flown on a Boeing 747 he owns. One former Angley employee estimated that the ministry paid $26 million for the jet, which was supposedly purchased from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates.
Angley and his associates say all money the church raises goes toward its mission.