The Palmarian Church: New Rome or Fanatical Sect?

By Maria Hall.

 

Cathedral

On a hilltop on the plains of Andalucía in Southern Spain, the huge gothic basilica of Palmar de Troya stands forever alone – a symbol of yet another sect which had distanced itself from mainstream Catholicism. An imposing wall surrounds the basilica, reminding the world of its isolation, not only religious but actual. Carmelite priests and nuns live in silence within the walls, cut off from the world, yet dedicated to praying for its conversion. No one associated with the sect from the early days, back in the 1970s, would have envisaged such a stark building, such a degree of separation from reality or such an uncertain future.

Cathedral and wall
Cathedral and wall

On the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, while many Catholics throughout the world remained confused, a small group of traditionalists had gathered around Clemente Dominquez Gomez, a visionary associated with the alleged apparitions of Palmar de Troya in the province of Seville.

The apparitions at Palmar de Troya began in 1968, when four children from the local village said that Mary, the Mother of God, had appeared to them on a hillside as they picked flowers for a school altar. News of Mary’s appearance spread like wildfire and, soon, other villagers were accompanying them to the place where Mary had supposedly appeared, under a Lentisco tree. As the crowd grew, others experienced wonderful ecstasies too – seeing visions, hearing heavenly messages, and smelling exquisite perfumes. Clemente allegedly received the stigmata, like Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), the Italian Capuchin monk, and Saint Francis of Assisi.

A group of ardent believers sought acknowledgment and approval of the apparitions from the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Seville, Cardinal Jose Maria Bueno y Monreal. Many of the alleged heavenly messages were transcribed and presented to him. However, he harshly condemned them – without making any inquiries or examining the seers – as superstitious and damaging to the Faith. Since he was acting contrary to Church law, some believers resolved to double their efforts to promote the apparitions.

One small group went so far as to travel through Europe and South America, talking about Palmar de Troya and showing slides to interested people. They even visited Pope Paul VI in Rome. On one of these journeys Clemente was involved in a serious car accident. He received horrendous injuries to his face and eyes, and both eyes were removed, leaving him completely blind.

Thanks to a large donation from a wealthy Spanish dowager, Clemente was able to buy the hillside on which the first apparitions took place. Plans were quickly drawn up for the construction of the basilica, and foundations were laid on the site of the original alleged apparitions.

In 1975 Clemente, believing that God had spoken to him in a vision, formed the Order of the Carmelites of the Holy Face (of Jesus). Although the Order didn’t have official approval from Rome, it claimed to be faithful to Pope Paul VI who was considered to be a prisoner in the Vatican – a rumour that had been circulating in traditional circles for several years. Convinced that punishment and war were inevitable if mankind did not repent, and if Catholic priests did not return to the right path and denounce heretical doctrine, Clemente encouraged priests and nuns to leave their religious congregations and join his Carmelite Order in Seville.

In 1976 Ngo Dinh Thuc, an elderly Vietnamese Archbishop, ordained Clemente and his friend, Manuel Alonso Corral who was a lawyer, to the priesthood. After their ordination he made them bishops, together with three other priests associated with the group. More ordinations followed. Although they were subsequently excommunicated by Pope Paul VI, Thuc considered that since the Church was in The Last Times, mandatory authorisation from Rome was not required. Thuc also believed that the Pope secretly supported Clemente and his followers.

When Pope Paul VI died in 1978, Clemente had a vision of himself being crowned Pope by Jesus. He claimed that Jesus had transferred the Papacy from Rome to Palmar de Troya. Clemente took the name Gregory XVII and the motto prophesied by St Malachy, ‘De Gloria Olivae’. He immediately established a College of Cardinals. The newly elected Pope in Rome, John Paul I, was considered by him to be an anti-pope.

The spirituality of the Palmarian Church is based on traditional Catholic practices: the Latin Mass, the Rosary, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, and The Stations of the Cross; however, as the years pass, Palmarian liturgy and theology veer further from traditional Catholic practice.

When Clemente died in 2005, so did his prophecy. Since that time, there have been two more popes: Peter II and the reigning Gregory XVIII.

The Basilica at night
The Basilica at night

Today it is difficult to see a future for the Palmarian Church. Their congregation has dwindled from thousands to a few hundred worldwide, their priests and nuns are aging and dying. And many believers – including the Carmelites themselves – have been excommunicated for disobeying petty rules. Families have been torn apart, generations destroyed, inheritances given away.

The basilica stands cold and proud on a remote hilltop, clinging to unfulfilled prophesies. It is seemingly self-sufficient with solar panels and wind generators, and a small holding of sheep and cows protected by razor wire and guard dogs. One wonders about the psychological implications of such imprisonment, not only for the Carmelites but also for the believers, scattered all over the world who, by their very Faith, are separated from normal life and all friendship outside of their religion – family or otherwise.

I was a member of the Palmarian Church from 1981-1990, and a Carmelite nun at Palmar de Troya from 1982-1990.

 

 

Maria Author smallMaria Hall was born into an Irish Catholic family in Auckland, New Zealand. After leaving school she completed a Bachelor of Music at Auckland University and a Diploma of Teaching at Auckland College of Education, before studying Theology and Scripture at Chanel Institute (Auckland) and Yarra Theological College (Melbourne, Australia). She entered the Order of the Carmelites of the Holy Face in Palmar de Troya, Spain in 1982. In 1990, she returned home to New Zealand. She has written a memoir, Reparation – A Spiritual Journey, about her experiences. Visit her website at www.mariahallwriter.com and her Facebook page. Follow her on Twitter at @MariaHallWriter.

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  • Arlene Adamo

    I’ve never heard of this before but I found this article on the group.

    http://www.nick-rider.com/blog/palmar-de-troya/

    If true, it would certainly fit into the category of fanatical cult.

  • https://manwiththemuckrake.wordpress.com Denis E.

    Why did you leave the Order? Could the money that was spent on the buildings have been put to better use such as a hospital, school or library!