'Antipope' not on John Paul's Spain itinerary

United Press International/October 28, 1982

Clemente Dominguez says he is "pope" of the "real" Catholic Church. Spanish church officials say he is a charlatan.

The story of Dominguez, who at 36 has set up his own church, consecrated his own cardinals and canonized his own saints, reads like a tale of Medieval intrigue.

Technically, Dominguez, who has taken the name "Pope Gregory XVII," is the 38th antipope in the church's history, although his name does not appear as an antipope in the Catholic Almanac or other Catholic information volumes.

The last "recognized" antipope died in 1451.

In El Palmar de Troya, a small white-washed village just outside Seville, Dominguez is building his own "Vatican City," a small walled-off compound that includes a basilica and an "apostolic palace."

Pope John Paul II will visit Seville Friday as part of his 10-trip to Spain that began Sunday and concludes Nov. 9, but has no plans to see Dominguez.

Spanish church officials believe Dominguez's "church" is partly financed by rightist forces in Spain who yearn for the return of a Francoist regime.

Dominguez, in fact, has made the late Spanish dictator and thousands who fought with him in the Spanish Civil War saints of his church. He has excommunicated King Juan Carlos and Spanish politicians who favor democracy.

Dominguez was an accountant in 1969 when several peasants in El Palmar de Troya claimed to have a vision of the Madonna. He claimed to have visions himself. Within months Dominguez was claiming that sick people would be cured if they came to the site of the visions.

Thousands from around the world flocked to the village looking for cures -- and bringing money to Dominguez.

"He took advantage of the situation," said a priest who investigated Dominguez for the Spanish church.

"He wanted to make El Palmar de Troya another Lourdes or Fatima but it was clear from the start that he was a very good actor and was only interested in money."

At first the local church just watched as Dominguez hosted ever-growing pilgrimages to the site. By 1971 the church had declared the apparitions not authentic and prohibited Catholics from attending services there.

When the Seville archbishop refused Dominguez's request for priests to start a religious order, Dominguez, who had been expelled from a seminary, started his own church.

In 1975, he persuaded South Vietnamese Archbishop Pedro Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc to ordain him a priest and then consecrate him a bishop.

The Vatican quickly excommunicated both Dominguez and Thuc. Thuc later repented his action and the Vatican lifted his excommunication.

Dominguez began ordaining his own priests. Many, according to Seville church officials, were disturbed young men who had been expelled from regular seminaries.

When Pope Paul VI died in 1978, Dominguez declared himself pope and took the name Gregory XVII. He declared all popes from John XXIII onward "illegitimate" because of their support of reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council.

"At first he was just a clever charlatan and a thief, but after Pope Paul died ... we think he went insane and started believing in his own lies," a church source in Seville said.

"He's a very good talker and he attracts disillusioned and disturbed men, many of whom were expelled from seminaries or the priesthood for various reasons,'' the source said.

Dominguez set about building his own church, making priests, bishops and cardinals out of men with little or no seminary training. One of his cardinals is not yet 20, a Spanish church official said.

Church officials say Dominguez, who lost his eyesight in a 1979 car accident, lives with about 60 "priests, bishops and cardinals" and has tried to set up churches in other countries.

Several requests for a meeting with Dominguez were turned down by his aides, who told a reporter, "His holiness does not grant audiences to the press."

Although Spanish church officials say Dominguez is not a threat to established church authority, the Archbishopric of Seville was concerned enough to distribute a 32-page booklet of documentation of the Dominguez case last year.

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