Obituary: Clemente Dominguez Gomez

The Independent, UK/March 23, 2005

Clemente Dominguez Gomez embarked upon the "road to sanctity" as a troubled young man, then found his mission when he proclaimed himself the true pope and declared that the Vatican had been taken over by the devil.

He declared himself successor to Pope Paul VI in 1978 with the title of Pope Gregorio XVII of the Order of the Carmelites of the Holy Face, after claiming to have received a message from the Virgin. His secretive sect aroused the fierce disapproval of the Catholic hierarchy, and was widely mocked by his compatriots.

But he accumulated riches and won acolytes, and built a "cathedral" in the village of El Palmar de Troya, near Seville. Domnguez Gmez "canonised" the dictator Francisco Franco, the Falangist leader Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, and Christopher Columbus, among others. He also "excommunicated" the Spanish royal family. Pope John Paul II was, he reckoned, "a false vicar of Christ" who had led people "towards the advent of the Anti-Christ by stages beginning with the cult of man and the cult of false gods".

Domnguez Gmez's mother confessed her son had a turbulent childhood and frequently ran away from home, and he was excused military service on the grounds of epilepsy. He worked briefly as accountant in an insurance company before seeing the light.

Four village girls from La Palma de Troya claimed in March 1968 to have seen a vision of the Virgin. Some insisted they had received messages auguring the performance of miracles. Domnguez Gmez hastened to the spot, saying he was a seer. On 30 September 1969, he claimed to see the virgin in the village near Utrera, south of Seville. A year later he declared the appearance of stigmata from which his followers claimed gushed 15 litres of blood.

In 1970, 40,000 people assembled to witness a new appearance of the Virgin, when Domnguez Gmez, now leader of the pilgrims, entered into a trance. Two years later, he bought the 12-hectare estate of Alcaparrosa, supposed site of the visions, with a donation equivalent to pounds 80,000 from an aged baroness.

He "ordained" priests and bishops and in 1974 founded his order based on the traditional Latin mass. He and his priests were imprisoned in 1976 for wearing habits without authorisation. Shortly after he was freed, he suffered a car accident that blinded him.

In January 1976 he was ordained bishop by the Vietnamese Archbishop Pedro Martin Ngo-Din Thuc in a liturgy unrecognised by the Catholic hierarchy. Bishop Pedro was introduced to Domnguez Gmez by the fundamentalist French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Funded by supporters, "Papa Clemente", as he was widely known, built a spectacular fortress surrounded by walls five metres high that he called a cathedral, rarely entered by any other than his followers. He had to suppress the word "pope" from his organisation's statutes to register it legally, and called himself henceforth "Chief of the Order of the Carmelites of the Holy Face".

His order was very active, albeit secretly. Every evening priests drove a dozen trucks from Seville into the compound, bringing nuns who covered their faces with veils and didn't re-emerge until midnight. Several hundred priests and nuns are said to have supported the organisation from all continents. In the early 1990s several of the order's "priests" were treated in hospital after having pierced their penises with rings.

Clemente Domnguez Gmez, religious leader: born Seville 29 April 1946; died Utrera, Spain 22 March 2005.

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