A Tale of Two Popes: Scott Corrales on the late Gregory XVII of El Palmar de Troya
- A TALE OF TWO POPES
The entire world stood still in mourning after Vatican officials,
following hours of false statements and erroneous comments by media
outlets worldwide, announced the death of Pope John Paul II. His
Holiness - whose canonization was demanded by hundreds of sign-wielding
faithful during his funeral at St. Peter's Basilica - reached millions
across the barriers of race, religion and geography. Not since the death
of Paul VI and the death of John Paul I scant weeks later had
Christendom recorded the deaths of two popes - this time within a
fortnight of each other.
Two Popes? In 2005? Don't worry. It's not a typo.
The media overlooked the passing on March 22, 2005 of the Pope Gregory
XVII - the first "antipope" since Renaissance times - at his see in
southern Spain. This controversial character presided over a thriving
orthodox catholic church (for want of a better term) that embraced the
pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass and other ceremonies and beliefs done
away with by that assembly of prelates in the 1960s. With millions of
dollars in his treasury, a monumental basilica and bishops all over
Spain and even in the United States, Gregory XVII had excommunicated
John Paul II early on, accusing the Bishop of Rome of being the true
"antipope" (one of the first items of business for the Council of El
Palmar, held in October 1980).
Before stepping into his papal slippers, Gregory XVII had been Clemente
Domínguez, better known in the media as "el papa Clemente", eternally
linked to the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at El Palmar de
Troya in the community of Utrera (Seville).
The first "antichurch" since the Papal Captivity in Avignon during the
14th century was established in 1978 with Clemente's ascension, formally
known as the Iglesia Palmariana de las Carmelitas de la Santa Faz
(Palmarian Church of the Carmelites of the Holy Visage). It was that
year, following the death of Paul VI, that this separatist church
claimed the right to be the one and true see of worldwide Catholicism.
The Palmarian Church's officials, however, were quick to deny any rumors
of Gregory XVII's passing, flatly telling reporters from Europa Press
that "no Pope has died here" and barring them from entering the
basilica. It was Mayor Manuel García who ratified that the antipope had
indeed died, after receiving confirmation from the local vital
statistics office. Mayor García limited himself to saying: "The
Palmarian Church has been 35 years [in our community] and we have always
gotten along well."
Chronicle of a Renegade Church
Thirty seven years ago-on March 30, 1968 -- southern Spain had been
stirred by the alleged apparition of the Virgin at a farmstead known at
La Alcaparrosa within Palmar de Troya: as had occurred in Ezkioga in the
1930s and in Garabandal earlier in the 1960s, four pre-teenage girls -
Ana Aguilera, Ana García, Rafaela Gordo and Josefa Guzmán - had gone out
to cut wildflowers to decorate the small altar to Our Lady of Carmen in
their school. As they accumulated their cut flowers at the foot of a
tree, they became aware of a watchful pair of eyes. A strange sensation
of peace overcame them as a lovely female face materialized around the
eyes; they fell into fell into religious ecstasy and returned home
reporting having seen the Blessed Mother.
Hundreds of townspeople reported to the miraculous tree, where miracles
soon began to occur: the enrapt features of a local woman appeared to
glow from within, as if fuelled by divine light; a man began running
around on his knees at an utterly impossible speed; another began
singing songs in Aramaic. The Virgin imparted boilerplate messages
concerning the coming of the Antichrist and the approaching Apocalypse
while communion wafers materialized on the tongues of the faithful.
Miraculous healings were also reported, most notably that of a deaf-mute
teenage boy who suddenly complained that all the noise was hurting his
ears, and no Marian apparition would be complete without the "dance of
the sun", which occurred in August 1969 over El Palmar.
Other seers soon began experiencing the same visions, among them a local
accountant named Clemente Dominguez. From that moment on, it was
Clemente who became the official seer of El Palmar de Troya, supposedly
displaying stigmata and shedding an amazing fourteen liters of blood.
Two years after the original sightings, forty thousand faithful
converged on El Palmar de Troya to witness a new round of Marian
apparitions. In 1972, a wealthy dowager bequeathed Clemente a princely
sum of money toward "his good works" and this led to the purchase of La
Alcaparrosa - the farmstead where the Marian sightings had repeatedly
An itinerant Vietnamese bishop, exiled from his country after the fall
of Saigon, found his way to El Palmar de Troya. The divine apparition
commanded him to ordain a new clergy with Clemente Dominguez at its
head, and the seer and his affiliates were promptly created priests and
bishops on January 1976 after having received minor and major orders alike.
The separatist juggernaut was already in motion: the Order of the
Carmelites of the Holy Visage was established with Spanish, Irish and
American presbyters. An enraged Catholic Church excommunicated Clemente
Dominguez and his followers; two years later, civil authorities arrested
them for impersonating men of the cloth. But the worst blow was dealt on
May 29, 1976, when Clemente and his bishops suffered a car accident near
San Sebastián in northern Spain. None of the bishops were injured.
Clemente, however, lost both eyes.
A Pope is Crowned
Upon learning of Paul VI's passing, The Palmarian Church proclaimed
itself as the true church on the strength of a message allegedly
received from Jesus Christ himself: "The reign of the glory of the
olives has commenced...the pope heralded by many mystics and many
prophecies, the pope who joins the blood of Spain with the genuine blood
of France, and the blood of the Chosen People, the Jews. He shall not
delay in wielding the sword to carry out the mission of an Emperor.
There is no other way to counteract the official election of the
Conclave in Rome, from whence shall spring the Antipope. Only the meek
and humble at heart shall acknowledge the true pope: Pope Gregory XVII."
Crowned by four of his bishops, Gregory XVII began building a cathedral
and papal palace in El Palmar - a walled compound that includes a well
of miraculous water dug at the behest of the Virgin and a tall white
cross where apparitions allegedly occurred through the early 1990s. The
Tridentine Mass was reestablished (perhaps inspired by Archbishop
Levefre, who had done the same in France that year) and 24 cardinals
ordained. Three dioceses in Spain, several in Europe, and one in the
United States constituted the Palmarian Church. The newly-minted pope
proceeded to canonize the heroes of the Spanish right-wing: the dictator
Francisco Franco was elevated to sainthood along with the Gothic king
Don Pelayo, and other deceased officials of the Franco regime soon found
themselves wearing haloes and looking down from altars.
Funding for the majestic, if garish, basilica and Gregory XVII's papal
state was secured from donations made by disgruntled Catholics around
the world, who shared his anti-communist, anti-progressive and decidedly
right-wing agenda. In the late 1970s charter flights arrived in Seville
from all over the world, according to journalist Joaquín Gómez, bearing
donations from believers. "In one month alone," he writes, "the
Palmarian Church received donations from the United States alone in
excess of a hundred million Pesetas."
As of 1998, when Gregory XVII celebrated the Jubilee of the original
apparitions at El Palmar de Troya, his secessionist church's coffers
held nearly ten billion Pesetas and over two thousand masses had been
held in the basilica that year. With his passing, the fate of the
Palmarian Church is uncertain, but if past performance is an indicator,
we can expect the coronation of a new pope in Utrera who will challenge
the rule of the "antipope" chosen by the Vatican.
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