Tales Of A Self-Proclaimed 'Pope'

Associated Press/November 5, 1982

Roman Catholic officials welcoming Pope John Paul II to this southern city anticipate no problems from Gregory XVII, the blind ex-seminarian who proclaimed himself "pope" and named Christopher Columbus a saint.

Clemente Dominguez Gomez, a 36-year-old former accountant and one-time student of theology, proclaimed himself pope in 1978 as the cardinals of the church were meeting at the Vatican to elect a successor to Pope Paul VI.

Dominguez said an apparition _ the most recent of some 50 he claimed to have seen _ told him to declare himself "chief of the Catholic Church and the only vicar of Christ on earth."

He followed his proclamation by issuing a long list of new saints including Columbus and the late Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

Dominguez's "elevation" would likely have been dismissed by the Vatican as the act of an eccentric _ except that the would-be pontiff, who is fond of being carried on a portable throne like the popes of old, had been consecrated a bishop in 1975 by an actual bishop of the church.

Dominquez started attracting attention in 1969, when he began reporting visions of the Virgin Mary and various saints.

On Aug. 15, 1970, over 40,000 pilgrims _ most of them blind or paralyzed _ converged on the dusty Seville suburb of Palmar de Troya to hear his tales at an open-air Mass.

Five years later, Ngo Dinh Thuc, a Roman Catholic bishop from Hue, Vietnam, and brother of former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, formally ordained Dominguez as a priest. Not long afterward, he proclaimed Dominguez a bishop.

Dominguez, in turn, began ordaining "cardinals" _ 30 of them, including a 17-year-old _ and organizing "dioceses" in France, Argentina and the United States.

Financial support _ some of it from aging Spanish aristocrats _ was plentiful. Dominguez even started building a multi-million dollar cathedral near Seville.

Angered by his boldness, the Vatican's envoy to Spain excommunicated Dominguez, five of his followers and Bishop Thuc, saying the ordinations were illegal under church law.

Pope Paul VI later lifted Thuc's excommunication and the bishop went to Rome to do pennance in a monastery.

But Dominguez _ called the "anti-pope" by Vatican officials _ remained defiant, naming himself pope, continuing to celebrate the Mass and rejecting the authority of the Vatican.

"We don't take Clemente Dominguez seriously here," says the Bishop of Seville, Carlos Amigo Vallejo, a 48-year-old Franciscan. "He is an anecdote, and his following is nearly nil.

"Sevillians would not tolerate any insult to Pope John Paul from this individual who proclaims himself the anti-pope," the bishop said.

Nevertheless, more than 100 people still work and live with Gregory XVII at "La Alcaparrosa," a farm 22 miles south of Seville. They refused to talk to visiting reporters and have not announced any plans in connection with John Paul's visit.

"Most of the visitors (to La Alcaparrosa) are curious tourists from the United States," says the Rev. Jose Maria Javierre, a Seville priest and theologian who has occasionally met Dominguez.

"He's a bit of a fanatic, a bit exalted, a bit crazy. But my impression is he now doesn't believe in his own role any more," the priest said.

"Pope John Paul used to ask visitors from Seville about Dominguez at first, but he now seems to have understood this is a phenomenon which cannot damage the church."

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