The late 1990s and early 2000s was a very turbulent time in the Palmarian church, filled with secessions and expulsions. The crisis had to do not only with the new teachings of the church, but also with the behavior of the pope and other leaders. In a 1998 sermon, Pope Gregory XVII commented on the situation, claiming that the group of true believers would be even smaller in the near future
“There will come terrible times, worse than the ones which have lived through until now. In fact we are already living in these terrible times. The apostasies by friars, nuns and lay people are frequent. In other cases We have had to expulse people. One has to be either inside or outside. One cannot have one foot inside the Church and the other outside. One has to have both feet inside the Church (Gregory XVII, Sermon 20 July 1998; my translation).
The pope’s morals became an apple of discord. In 1997, Gregory XVII apparently made a public statement, confessing that he had had sinned against the vow of chastity during his time as the leader of the order. According to many former members, including bishops, homosexual relations between clerics in the higher strata had been common. Despite the very clear teachings of the church, these acts were in no way counteracted by the main leaders, quite the contrary. On the same occasion, Pope Gregory also confessed to immoderate drinking and eating habits. Even if it has not been possible to find a written document with the confession, in a sermon three years later, the pope made clear reference to his earlier aberrant behavior, but claimed that he had mended his ways:
“One could accuse Us … of scandals related to the excess of drinking and to some aspects related to chastity: this is true, this is true. But in these last years, from October 1997, three long years, you should know for certain, that We, as far as We know, We have not committed a cardinal sin of any kind”” (Gregory XVII, Sermon October 27, 2000; my translation).
Gregory XVII had made public confessions earlier in this pontificate, too. In fact, in one of his official pontifical decrees from 1980, he confessed that he has been committed to 30 gluttony and was guilty of numerous acts of unchaste behavior. In this context, he saw his blindness as a blessing that helped him counteract his sinful urges (DP 27). The five-volume Sacred History or the Palmarian Bible (SH), printed in sections between 1999 and 2000, and in a complete edition in 2001, became another very serious point of discord.
A result of the Palmarian synod, the Bible further developed the church’s earlier teachings. It was a thorough and very detailed reworking of the biblical books, many parts are not included at all, based on the continuous private revelations to Gregory. The goal of the revision was to establish the true meaning of the texts, exactly as the divine author had conceived them, taking away the numerous errors introduced by humans during millennia. This made it very different from traditional Bibles. Sacred History also contains a treatise on the Trinity, a large set of rules, known as the Palmarian Morals and a history of the popes (Gregory XVII, Sermon July 20, 1998). When the new Bible was made public, the faithful were ordered to destroy their traditional Bibles and only read the Palmarian version. Criticism against this development led to further secessions and excommunications (Personal communication with ex-members).
Interestingly enough, at the time of the secessions and expulsions by the turn of the millennium, there was one feature of papal religious behavior that changed. Not since the Palmarian Council was inaugurated in 1980, when teaching had become more formalized and institutionalized, had Gregory XVII fallen into public ecstasy, receiving heavenly messages before the eyes of the faithful. Still, after 2000, it happened again. For example, there is a video recording showing the pope’s entry in the Basilica in Palmar de Troya on January 1, 2001. Under a canopy and surrounded by bishops, he is falling in ecstasy for a couple of minutes, kneeling, smiling and making the sign of the cross, thereafter waking up, looking bewildered. Images of this and other ecstasies just after the turn of the millennium were distributed to the faithful (see, e.g. a leaflet with the title “Cristo está con su vicario” (Christ is together with his Vicar) with photos of the ecstasies on January 1, 2001 and a leaflet with photos of an ecstasy on February 21, 2002).
These public ecstasies were certainly a way to present evidence for that Christ and the Virgin was on Gregory’s side in the Palmarian schism, thus defending his papal authority. According to the pope, the faithful members of the visible church under his absolute rule were about to enter the Ark of salvation, whose doors soon would be closed.
In a sermon on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his papal election in 2003, he stated Gregory XVII is now in Noah’s Ark as the new Noah, the apocalyptic Noah. The only thing that is lacking is that Christ says, “Close the door to the Ark”, and not 31 as it used to rain [in the time of Noah], but according to this age, this era, as God’s way to punish this misled humanity (Gregory XVII, Sermon August 6, 2003; my translation).
In a 2005 apostolic letter, the themes of martyrdom and isolation from non-Palmarians are central. The Palmarian faithful must be willing to give his or her life for the church (bloody martyrdom), but every day should be characterized by heroic fulfillment of the will of God, even if outsiders will persecute and ridicule them (un-bloody martyrdom). According to the pope, the church once again was being forced to live in the catacombs. These “spiritual catacombs” are the Palmarian teachings and morals that distinguish the faithful from the fallen world. In their view, the church militant is minuscule, but it consists of the only people that obey the divine (and papal) will.
To remain faithful Christians, church members were ordered to break with non-Palmarian family members (in particular, “apostates” who had left the church), and contact with people at work or in school should be kept to an absolute minimum. [I]t is essential that we valiantly break with all that can stain our souls.
“If the integrity of our Palmarian Catholic Faith so requires, we should break valiantly with our own family, however close and dear they may be to us, with our friendships and with many other things around us. In brief, we must dispense with all that combats our Faith, God’s Law and Church dispositions that is if we truly wish to be Palmarian faithful. … See how His Holiness Pope Gregory XVII, zealous guardian of souls, ever on the watch and wide-awake, is further modelling and purifying our Christian lives, and ever further straightening the way we are to follow, with the aim of isolating us from the worlds seductive depravities” (Gregory XVII, Apostolic letter January 24, 2005; my translation).
All contact with ex-members was thus strictly forbidden, and photos and other memorabilia of them should be burnt. Many former Palmarians, who have grown up in the church, but left as teenagers or young adults testify that they can meet their Palmarian parents, siblings or old friends on the street, but that not even their parents greet them. They also hang up the phone when trying to call them and do not answer any letters. If the family members who still belong to the church would interact with exmembers, they would be automatically excommunicated. The total shunning of “apostates” is thus an absolute rule, and there are many testimonies about this way of acting that make the life of former Palmarians even more difficult (Personal communication with ex-members)