As we have seen, already in the beginning of the 1970s, Clemente Domínguez claimed that Pope Paul VI would be succeeded by both a true pope and an antipope. At that time, his claims were quite general, but later he stated that he would become the next pope after the death of Pope Paul, and that he would be named Gregory XVII. Heavenly messages from 1971 and 1972 asserted that due to the masonic and communist infiltration in the church, there would soon be a great schism. After the death of Pope Paul VI, the followers of the true pope would be forced “down in the catacombs”, as the heretics led by the antipope would persecute them (MC, messages February 8, April 5, September 27, 1971; March 9, May 9, and September 5, 1972). In 1976, the messages became even more concrete and it is implied that there would be a time when the Catholic Church would not be Roman anymore (MC, messages April 4 and August 4, 1976).
As for the status of Pope Paul VI, the Palmarian stories changed over time. Some claimed that he was drugged or held a prisoner in the Vatican and was replaced by an actor, and that he needed to be rescued. Other messages asserted the he was already “mystically present” at Palmar de Troya through bilocation. At the same time, it was claimed that Paul VI would soon arrive there in person to lead his faithful episcopal college, thus escaping the masonic and communist curia of Rome and all the bishops who had apostatized since the council (MT, messages 1971-1978; Alfaro 1975). These were not original Palmarian ideas, but first appeared in 1969 in locutions to a Mexican nun, María Concepción Zúñiga López, the founder of Franciscan Minims of the Perpetual Help of Mary and held by the large Mexican traditional “Holy City,” known as Nueva Jerusalén, founded in 1973. Similar ideas also appeared in the heavenly messages to Veronica Leuken at Bayside in 1975 (Laycock 2015:122-24; on Nueva Jersalén, see Leatham 2003).
Pope Paul VI died on August 6, 1978. According to the Palmarians, he was poisoned to death. At that time, Clemente was in Bogotá together with a group of bishops trying to recruit new friars. A couple of days before, they had been detained by the Colombian immigration office, and they were waiting to be extradited from the country (El Tiempo 3 Aug 1978). Just hours after the demise of Paul VI, Clemente claimed to have become pope not by conclave election, but by direct divine intervention. Everything was prepared for the event and Clemente had already become the vice-vicar of Christ, according to an apparition at the beginning of 1978. At the mystical coronation on August 6, Christ himself placed the tiara on Clemente’s head in the presence of St. Peter, St. Paul and the recently deceased Pope Paul VI, saying:
“My dear son, my very beloved Vicar: This is the fulfillment of the prophecies. The martyr of the Vatican [Paul VI], the sublime martyr, has died. He was forced towards death, by permission of the Most High. In this way he has been set free from his prison. Now he reigns with me. He has undergone all his purgatory during his pontificate. His was a pontificate full of sorrow and bitterness. He was cruelly martyred by my enemies; and these enemies are members of the Roman curia. Now he rejoices in heaven with great glory as reward for his life of martyrdom during his pontificate. Now he will become the great intercessor of the Order of Carmelites of the Holy Face. He is filled with joy because he never committed the error of condemning the Order of Carmelites of the Holy Face. In his heart, he has always approved the Order, he approved the episcopate of Palmar de Troya and he always saw this episcopate as the continuation of Holy Church. Thus he has died in great happiness, knowing that the Church will continue on by means of Palmar de Troya (HP, message August 6, 1978)”
The papal election was confirmed by a long series of other apparitions, featuring a host of saints. Clemente, Father Fernando, took Gregory XVII as his papal name, the name of “Great pope of the end times.” His motto would be “The Glory of the Olives,” which was mentioned in the so-called Prophesy of the Popes by St. Malachy (HP, message August 6, 1978). This work was published for the first in 1595, but attributed to a twelfth-century Irish archbishop and has great importance for many Catholic apocalyptic groups.
Having returned to Seville, on August 9, Gregory XVII proclaimed that the Holy See had moved from Rome to Palmar de Troya. Due to its apostasy, the Roman era of the church was over. He declared Pope John Paul I (1912-1978; r. 1978) and, later, John Paul II (1920-2005; r. 1978-2005) antipopes and precursors of the Antichrist (HP 9 Aug 1978; see also DP 9 and 24-25). The Holy Catholic Apostolic Palmarian Church was established. The Virgin appeared to instruct the pope that nothing of this should be made public at this time and that he should be rather invisible in the church’s life, only appearing infrequently before the faithful. In fact, not much was written in the press at the time. Gregory XVII decided that a consistory should be held, where he elected twenty-four cardinals, finally, on the night of August 15, four Palmarian cardinals placed the tiara on his head at a ceremony (HP, messages August 9, 15 1978).
Exactly one year after the translation of the Holy See from Rome to Palmar de Troya, on August 9, 1979 Gregory and a group of bishops sat in a minibus outside the Sanctuary of the Miraculous Medal in Paris. There, the Virgin Mary gave an unusually long message to him, twenty closely written pages in some editions. As to confirm the move of the Holy See and Gregory’s position, she told him:
“My son: now you can see how rotten and corrupt the official church, the Roman Church is. Through her fornication she has become the Great Whore. It is she who is in pact with the enemies of Christ. It is she who respects all religions. It is she who preaches truths and lies at the same time. This Roman church is now nourished by a beast, the usurper John Paul II—the true church is no longer Roman. The true church is Palmarian, as you have preached yourself, assisted by the Holy Ghost. It is no longer possible to be Roman [Catholic], as the Holy See has been moved by the order of Christ (MT, message August 9, 1979; my translation).”
John Paul II was “the Apocalyptic Goliath”, who would be conquered by “the Apocalyptic David”, Gregory XVII. The long message from the Virgin is very interesting, revealing much about the Palmarian self-understanding and the nascent conflicts between church representatives in different countries.
Pope Gregory did not only claim universal spiritual power, but universal temporal power, too: he would become the emperor of the coming Hispanic-Palmarian Empire and great caudillo of the faithful warriors in the fight against Antichrist and the conquest of Russia. This empire would be Hispanic, as Spain had been faithful to Christ and the Virgin on many occasions through history. In fact, Spain was identified as the Second Israel, and Gregory XVII claimed that he had “Jewish blood in his veins” and that Judaism was Spain’s original religion (MT, message August 9, 1979; cf. DP 26).
Long parts of the message from the Virgin include denunciations of Irish Palmarians, who wanted Irish leaders, too. The Virgin defended the position of the pope and his two closest men, both Spaniards. These brothers-in-arms were, of course, Father Isidoro María, his old friend Manuel Alonso and Father Elias María, Carmelo Pacheco. The Virgin described them as a perfect team: the pope as the head and the others as his right and left arms. They were “three apocalyptic bulls who attack heretics with their mystical horns”. After Latin, the Virgin considered Spanish the most eminent language. It should be the order’s official language and she ordered all Palmarian Catholics to study it, so that they would be able understand the church teachings, though many documents were translated into other languages. Still, the profoundness of the doctrine could only be grasped in Spanish, an almost divine tongue. That was a matter of controversy, especially since the pope claimed that English was mainly a Protestant language and had been much used to denounce true Catholic faith throughout the centuries (MT, message August 9, 1979).
Sedevacantism and Alternative Popes
Gregory XVII was neither the first nor the last modern person to become an “alternative” pope. Towards the end of the 1960s, shortly after Vatican II, some traditionalist dissenter groups claimed that the modern Roman Catholic Church had fallen so far from orthodoxy that the Roman pope could not be the true pontiff. These groups asserted that Pius XII was the last true Vicar of Christ; thereafter, the Holy See had been vacant, the position called sedevacantism.
Early proponents of this view were Francis Schuckhart from the United States and Joaquín Saénz y Arriaga. A variant of this thesis is known as sedeprivationism, which was developed by French theologian Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauries. This thesis implied that the popes from John XXIII onwards “materially, but not formally” had become popes. With time, these groups generally consecrated bishops of their own, often with direct or indirect help of Archbishop Thuc (Introvigne 2009; Introvigne and Zoccatelli n.d. a). The Palmarians differed from sedevacantists and sedeprivationists in that they believed Paul VI was a true pope, though made powerless by the curia. They also believed that the Holy See did not become vacant after his death, because the Palmarian pope was divinely chosen shortly after his demise.
Since the late 1960s, dozens of men have claimed to be elected pope either through divine intervention or through conclave, but most of them have had very few adherents. With the possible exception of Canadian Gaston Tremblay (1928-2011), who as leader of the Apostles of Infinite Love also called himself Gregory XVII, there is no doubt that the Palmarian popes have had the largest following. Still, the Canadian Gregory did not consistently refer to himself as the pope, it was certainly not as central for him as for his Spanish namesake. His church, based in St. Jovite outside Quebec, but with many members in the Francophone Caribbean adheres to an apocalyptical Catholicism rooted in the apparitions at La Salette, but completed with numerous apparitions to their pope. Still, it has some unexpected features as the church ordains women to priesthood (Cuneo 1997; Introvigne 2009; Introvigne and Zoccatelli n.d. a). Obviously, the Palmarians did not want anything to do with the Canadian Gregory and his group. For them, the only true pope and the only true church was at Palmar de Troya. See my report on Modern alternative popes 2015