Holy Week in 2005 was a crucial time in the history of the Palmarian Church, as Gregory XVII died on March 21. In later years, he had become increasingly invisible in the life of the church and only appeared in Palmar de Troya on very special religious festivities, being carried in his gestatorial chair, tiara, miter or white biretta on his head. At his death, there was no conclave as he had already named Father Isidoro María his successor. The latter was crowned on March 24, taking Peter II as his papal name (ABC March 23, 24, 27, 2005). It is not known whether he regarded himself as Petrus Romanus, the last pope in the history, according to the prophecies of St. Malachy.
In his first apostolic letters, the new pope defended his position as the true successor of Gregory XVII the Very Great who was immediately canonized (Peter II, Apostolic letters 1 and 3). Peter II never claimed to receive any private apparitions, but he had worked in tandem with Clemente since 1969, by critics often being looked upon as “the brain behind it all” or an eminence grise (ABC March 23, 24, 27, 2005). He mainly looked upon himself as the defender of teachings already promulgated by the Palmarian council and synod. Thus, he made few dogmatic definitions, but quite frequently issued apostolic letters. In the first three years of his pontificate about twenty such document were sent to the members (Peter II, Apostolic Letters).
Under Peter II, the Palmarian church became more closed and exclusive than ever before, even it was a matter of degree and not of kind. Messages about the necessity to break with the surrounding world and live according to strict Palmarian norms are present in every apostolic letter. One sign of the increasing secrecy was that digital presence of the Palmarians now became null. By the turn of the millennium, they had still managed a website, but it was not updated for a long time. Now it was closed down entirely. On a number of occasions, Peter II reiterated the idea that the Palmarian Church is the only hope in a world totally dominated by Satan. Not only the “apostates,” but also lukewarm members were accused of destroying the church from within; they were “woodworms”. Membership demanded much from an individual. They must destroy their TV sets, videos, mobile telephones and computers in order not to be infected by the “repugnant moral leprosy rampant in the world,” as the pope phrased it (Peter II, Apostolic letter 15).
The only reading material that the faithful should have access to are the documents of the church. Other books should be handed over to the church authorities to be destroyed. There are also indications that members should destroy all Palmarian material printed before 2000, when the new Palmarian Bible became a central confessional document (Peter II, Apostolic letters 2, 6 and 9-10). Collections of early heavenly messages were re-printed in the 2000s, and revised versions of the catechisms, prayer books and the Treatise on the Mass appeared in the first year of Peter II’s pontificate. According to their titles, all publications had been revised “in light of the teaching of the Palmarian Bible.” Moreover, texts on stick-paper containing new rules were distributed to members in order to be taped into existing church publications (see, e.g. PKO; PG; TM; personal communication with ex-members).
To distinguish the church from the world around, the Palmarian popes have decreed a long series of rules that members should obey. During the papacy of Peter II, the number of detailed regulations increased considerably and many of the older ones have become even stricter. From its beginning, the Palmarian church has had a strict dress code, applicable both inside and outside the church buildings. In fact, clothes have an enormously central place in the church’s teaching, as they are considered tangible signs of membership, decorum and obedience. Not to be clad according to the norm inevitably leads to excommunication. The first papal documents 1978-1980 contained rules for dressing, as did a special apostolic decree 1985, but the norms have continuously been revised and made stricter. They are now compiled in a document called “Norms of Palmarian Christian Decency” (DP; Gregory XVII, Apostolic decree October 9, 1985; NP).
For males, the dress regulations include a ban against the use of jeans and shorts, and pants should be loosely fitting and have no pockets in the trouser legs. In fact, there is a general prohibition against denim, a symbol of satanic modernism. Shirts should have long sleeves, have no printed images or texts, always be buttoned up, socks should be worn at all times and sport shoes are prohibited, as are shirts and sweaters with texts or images. Men should not have long or dyed hair and not have earrings.
Women should cover their heads both inside and outside of church. Their dresses should be longsleeved and not close fitting, and skirts should not be shorter than thirty-five centimeters above the ground and have no slits. Blouses should be buttoned up. From the age of fourteen, females must always wear dark stockings covering most of the legs. They should under no circumstance use pants or even a pajama, as it is considered men’s wear. In practice, many Palmarian women use long dark-brown or black clothing that almost reach the ground (NP).
There are many other rules that distinguish Palmarians from what they see as the total moral depravity of the surrounding world. Church members are forbidden to visit beaches or swimming pools, attend nightclubs or discos, or listen to modern music or see movies (including cartoons) where characters are not dressed in the Palmarian way. They are not allowed to vote in general elections or enter the church buildings of other denominations, nor to attend baptisms, weddings or funerals of non-Palmarians, including close relatives. Even more far-reaching is the general ban against talking to people not dressed in the Palmarian way, or non-Palmarians at large. Taking part in or looking at sports where the players are not dressed according to Palmarian norms is also banned (Peter II, Apostolic letters, 1-20, 2008-2011)
Some rules are very precise: Birthday candles are prohibited, as are Christmas trees and images of Santa Claus. Parents are not allowed to say that Christmas presents are from Santa Claus, as he does not exist, and gifts should not be given on December 25 but on January 6. If members do not conform to these norms, excommunication awaits them (Peter II, Apostolic letters).
To give an example of how the rules can be phrased, it might be illustrative to quote the ban against listening to modern music:
“Modern music, i.e. rock and all its derivatives, and suchlike, is the work of Satan himself. By means of that music, free rein is given to all man’s lower passions. Hysteria, fanaticism, drug addiction, excessive drinking and many other psychical and physical disorders are fomented. Modern music is contrary to God’s Infinite Beauty, the Sound Morals and to good taste in art. Consequently, it is a grievous peril for man; and so he is obliged to avoid all co-operation with and influence from such music, and openly reject it. It is a moral sin to have tapes or disks of that music, or to listen to it with attention. It should be born in mind that to hear is not to listen; so there is sin when, the music having been noted, it is expressly listened to. … All those who still have any disks, mobile telephones or other apparatus forbidden by the Church, should hand them in quickly to their Missionary Bishop to be destroyed. …We impose this duty under pain of excommunication reserved to Us. We hope that those who have been followers of satanic modern music beat forever in mind that this perversion is strictly forbidden by the Church” (Peter II, Apostolic letter 18, February 2, 2008).
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Palmarian church activities have in no way restricted to Spain. In the early 1980s, there were missionary bishops in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Great Britain, Nigeria but also in the United States, Canada and in various countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, particularly Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Chile and Colombia. In Oceania, there were communities in Australia and New Zealand. Some of these places had separate chapels and resident clergy. On most locations where the number of members was low, Palmarians formed so-called cenacles in private homes, and were visited by clergy on an infrequent basis. It is hard to estimate the membership in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it must have amounted to a couple of thousand (Personal communication with ex-members).
During the Palmarian church’s existence many bishops, priests, nuns and lay people have left the church voluntarily or been excommunicated, while new people have entered. Still, except for at the very beginning, most new members were children of Palmarian couples and not people coming from outside. Today the church is smaller than it used to be, and the faithful are concentrated in Spain (Palmar de Troya) and Ireland (Dublin). There are communities in other countries too, such as the United States, Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland but resident clergy there are few and far in between. Though it is hard to estimate the current membership, it is unlikely that it exceeds a thousand, bishops, priests, nuns and lay people included (Personal communication with ex-members).
No official documents show the overall member changes in the Palmarian Church. Still, for bishops, there are internal data that give a clear indication. Overall, 192 men were consecrated Palmarian bishops between 1976 and the death of Gregory XVII in 2005. During these three decades, no less than 133 have either left the order or been expelled, twenty-seven died in office, and only thirty-two bishops remained as of 2005. Thereafter the number seems to have decreased even more. The female branch of the order, which on its height included more than a hundred nuns, was probably down to thirty or forty by 2005, and the decline has continued (Personal communication with ex-members).