Being successful in their fund raising endeavors, in 1974, Clemente and Manuel could eventually acquire the apparition site: the 15,000 square meter estate of Alcaparrosa and could thus physically control the site and develop the cult as they wished. After the purchase, they built a somewhat more elaborate shrine. It was a kind of hangar, covered in plastic, where images of Our Lady, The Holy Face, St. Joseph, Padre Pio and Saint Ferdinand were kept. They also constructed a high wall around the church compound, and housing for pilgrims was bought or built nearby (Alfaro 1975; Vidal 1976:103; El País May 12, 1976; Molina 2006:71-78, 100-04).

The Palmarians’ steps towards greater institutionalization followed the normal procedure for modern Marian apparition movements. In their analysis of thirteen European and North American cases, David G. Bromley and Rachel S. Bobbitt observe that the process involve “mobilizing the key resources necessary for organizational viability: a stable location and financial base, organization and leadership, a network of supporters, and a means of systematizing the revelatory process and ritual observances” (Bromley and Bobbitt 2011:14). Nevertheless, the degree of institutionalization of the Palmarian movement would soon become unusual.

In a vision to Clemente on November 30, 1975, ten days after the death of General Franco, the Virgin Mary and Christ announced the forthcoming foundation of a new religious order that would replace all the existing ones, providing a synthesis of them. The idea to found a new order had been present in the heavenly messages, at least since 1974, and the members of the new order were seen as the Apostles of the Last Times (MC, message November 30, 1975; Alfaro 1975; Vidal 1976:130-32). This expression was used in the eighteenth-century prophesies of Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, popular in Catholic apocalyptic and millennialist circles (Introvigne 2011). The members were also referred to as the Cross Bearers, a name used in the end-time messages from Ezkioga.

The new Palmarian order, the Carmelites of the Holy Face, was indeed founded on December 22, 1975. It included four classes of members: priests, brothers, sisters and tertiaries, laypeople, all wearing a brown habit and a scapular with images of the Holy Face of Christ and Our Lady of Palmar (MC, message December 22, 1975). Not surprisingly, Clemente became the general of the Order. The Palmarians, however, still lacked priests of their own. Of course, Archbishop Bueno of Seville would not ordain any for them, but to be able to claim apostolic succession was necessary for a group as theirs. A traditionalist bishop had to be found.

The solution to the ordination problem came with Vietnamese Archbishop Pierre-Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc (1897-1984), by then living in Italian exile. After one of the Vatican II sessions, he had been unable to return to his home country, where his brother, South Vietnamese president Ngô-dinh-Diem, had been killed, as was another brother, a powerful provincial leader. After a solid education in Europe, including three doctorates, Thuc was consecrated bishop in 1938 and became archbishop of Hue in 1960. While living in exile in Europe, he was replaced in Hue and instead made titular archbishop of Bulla Regia, but served as an assistant pastor in a small Italian town, upset and bewildered by the changes in the post-conciliar church (Beltrán y Bachero 1989:420-21. On Thuc, see also, Ruby 2002).

Thuc came to Palmar de Troya through the mediation of Maurice Revaz, who taught canon law at the Society of Pius X’s seminary in Ecône. Revaz convinced Thuc that he was elected by the Virgin to save the Catholic church from perdition. With short notice, the Vietnamese prelate therefore travelled to Seville and Palmar de Troya, where he arrived on Christmas Eve 1975 (Molina 1996:100-04). In his autobiography written in the late 1970s, Thuc claims that Revaz came to his home in Arpino just saying: “Excellency, the Holy Virgin sends me in order for me to send you to central Spain immediately to render her a service. My car is ready for you at the parsonage’s door and we will depart immediately depart in order to be there for Christmas.” According to his own testimony, Thuc then answered “If it is a service that the Holy Virgin required, I am ready to follow you to the end of the world, but I must inform the priest because of the Christmas Mass and must pack my bag” (Thuc [l976] 2006).

An interesting question is what type of relationship there was between the Palmarians and the Society of Pius X at the time. Individual members of the Society seem to have been attracted by the antimodernist messages from Palmar, and an Argentinean editorial connected to them printed a collection of messages together with a very positive evaluation (Alfaro 1975).

This, however, does not prove a clear connection on the organizational level. Still, according to Noël Barbara, a French sedevacantist priest who reportedly had talked about the matter with Archbishop Lefebvre himself, Revaz and an English-speaking priest had come to Ecône directly from Palmar de Troya in order to speak to the archbishop. They asked if the prelate was willing to come to the site, where the Virgin was waiting for him, and whether he could consecrate a number of episcopal candidates that she had chosen. In short, Lefebvre did not want to go to Palmar de Troya, but suggested that they should approach Archbishop Thuc instead, explaining: “He is orthodox and he is not at present occupied. Go and seek him out. He will most certainly agree with your request” (Barbara [1993] 2006:67-68). According to this testimony, it was Lefebvre himself, who pointed the Palmarians in Thuc’s direction.

In the last days of 1975, Archbishop Thuc was present in Seville and Palmar de Troya, celebrating Tridentine masses. On New Year’s night, 1976, he ordained Clemente Dominguez, Manuel Alonso, and two other men to the priesthood. Archbishop Bueno of Seville knew about Thuc’s presence and intentions and tried to contact him, hoping to convince him not to ordain any Palmarians, but to no avail (Letters from Bueno, published in ABC January 2, 15, 1976; Letter from Thuc, January 1976 in Vidal 1976:144-49).

The priestly ordinations, however, was just the prelude. Clemente claimed to have received various messages from the Virgin telling him that the church had an urgent need for traditionalist bishops (MT, message December 25, 1975; MC, message January 10, 1976). Less than two weeks later, on January 11, 1976, Thuc consecrated five of the Palmarians, once again including Clemente and Manuel. The other three were Roman Catholic priests who had served in Spain, Ireland and Sweden, respectively (Beltrán y Bachero 1989:422; Boyle 2007). With the episcopal consecrations, the Palmarians had secured their much sought-after apostolic succession and could start making bishops of their own. About a year after the first consecrations, the Virgin appeared announcing that Clemente from now on should be called Father Fernando and from the very beginning, it was clear that he was the primate of the new and growing episcopal college (MC, message January 20, 1977).

Ecclesiastical Response to the Consecrations

While the local hierarchy had been slow to comment on the apparitions, their reaction to the ordinations and consecrations was immediate. When informed that the ordinations to priesthood, in fact, had taken place, Bueno declared them illicit (ABC, January 2, 1976; answer from Thuc, January 1976 in Vidal 1976:144-49). Following the episcopal consecrations, he declared them irregular and all those involved to be suspended a divinis and thus barred from performing any clerical acts, while again denouncing the purported apparitions at Palmar de Troya (Bueno’s pastoral exhortation, dated on January 14 was published in ABC January 15, 1976).

The papal nuncio, Luigi Dadaglio, went to Seville where he on January 15 declared the Palmarian bishops and Archbishop Thuc excommunicated from the time of the consecrations (ipso facto) in the absence of necessary licenses from the Holy See and the ordinary (Letter from the nuncio in Vidal 1976:150-51). In September 1976, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome declared the clerics suspended ipso iure (according to Canon Law), but made no clear statement about whether the consecrations were invalid or substantially valid though illicit. The most probable interpretation is that the Congregation regarded them as valid but illicit (Sacred Congregation 1976; Beltrán y Bachero 1989:423-24).

Sometime after the excommunication, Thuc changed his mind and was reconciled with Rome, but later he consecrated bishops for other traditionalist groups, and was excommunicated once again (Beltrán y Bachero 1989:425). The numerous bishops who today claim their apostolic succession from Thuc, “Thuc-ites,” are very diverse, including both Palmarians, sedevacantists, Old Catholics and independent bishops. Still, the status of the Thuc consecrations is a matter of discussion in traditionalist circles, not least because of his Palmarian ordinations and the fact that he reconciled with Rome on several occasions. In a declaration from 1982, he defended the sedevacantist position and regretted his role in the Palmarian affair, but at his death in 1984 it seems that he once again was in communion with John Paul II, though some traditionalists claim that the proofs are falsified. It is, however, safe to say that the last decade in Archbishop Thuc’s life was eventful and bewildering and that he probably consecrated more than a dozen bishops (For the Thuc line of succession, see Boyle 2007).

In the months after the consecration of the Palmarian bishops, the Andalusian and national press continuously covered the rapidly unfolding series of events, and no less than six journalistic books about Palmar de Troya were published within a year (Alonso and Canales 1976; Barrios and Garrido Conde 1976; Cebolla López 1976; Gómez Burón and Martín Alonso 1976; Lama 1976; Vidal 1976). At this early stage, it was still possible to interview representatives of the church, and Manuel Alonso remained the main spokesperson. Soon, however, it became increasingly difficult to get access to the Palmarian hierarchy, and the media’s interest faded away after 1976. Only a few journalists continued to have some contacts with the leadership for a couple of more years (Molina 2006).

Two events later in 1976, however, would interest the Andalusian press. On March 11, the Palmarian bishops, no less than twenty-six at the time, were detained by the police for wearing the traditional black cassock, without being Catholic priests. Clemente and Manuel had to spend one night in jail. This legal process was described in detail in the newspapers (ABC March 13, 18, 19, 20, 23, 1976; April 7, 14, 15, 1976; cf. Vidal 1976: 164-168). As consequence of the legal process, the Palmarian prelates went in exile to France for three weeks. For a short period, they ceased to use the cassock, but later wore it again, obviously without any problems as they were legally regarded as clerics, though illicitly ordained (ABC April 8, 30 and May 1, 1976; cf. Vidal 1976:168-74).

Another exception from the decreasing interest was the news about a car crash involving Palmarian bishops in late May 1976. In the accident, the windshield broke and glass splinters severely hurt Clemente’s eyes. He became blind as his eye globes had to be removed at hospital, and the expression “the blind seer” was coined. Still, he was convinced that the Virgin would restore his sight (ABC May 30 ,1976; cf. Cebolla López 1976; Vidal 1976:177-82; Molina 2006:127-32).

After the foundation of the Order, the institutionalization of the Palmarian movement was rapid. By 1976, they had already developed a quickly growing ecclesiastical hierarchy, and in less than two years, they consecrated ninety-one bishops. Most of them were from Ireland (twenty-five percent) and Spain (twenty percent), but there were also French, English, Australian, Austrian, Yugoslavian, Swiss, Nigerian,Argentine, Canadian, Hungarian and German bishops. Several were from the United States and some from Canada (Beltrán y Bachero 1989:429, cf. Boyle 2007).

The normal procedure in this period was that Clemente claimed to have received a private apparition from the Virgin or Christ, asking him to consecrate more bishops. In the messages, it was also clearly pointed out who should be made bishops. An effect of this modus operandi was that males who entered as friars in the Carmelites of the Holy Face could become bishops within months, weeks or even days (see, e.g. MC message January 27, 1976).

A small minority of the consecrated Palmarian bishops (fifteen percent) were or had been Roman Catholic priests, others had attended seminary, while most were laymen with little or no theological education. According to Clemente, referring to heavenly messages, the church was in a state of emergency and there was no time for a lengthy education. The age span in the group of the first ninety-one bishops was between sixteen and seventy-three years, while most were in their twenties or thirties (ABC November 22, 23, 1976; Beltrán y Bachero 1989:422, 426-29).

At this time, the Palmarians did not consider themselves a separate church but as among the few true adherents of the Roman Catholic church. Still, they thought that they needed to create a college of bishops, faithful to what they regarded as traditional Catholicism. That would save the church from total perdition in the end-times (MC, message January 27, 1976). Though the Palmarians consecrated numerous bishops, a number of them left the order almost immediately, sometimes within a couple of months. Some of them went by their own choice; others were excommunicated and literally thrown out on the street (Molina 2006:119-24).

Among many other things, Clemente’s frequent visions implied constant changes in the outward appearance of the clergy. They changed their religious habit on several occasions. Sometimes the messages dictated that clerics should have tonsure and grow beards; later they were ordered to shave. These rapid changes can be observed in photographs from the time (Molina 1996).

The growing number of clerics and nuns were housed in several large buildings that the group acquired or rented in central Seville from 1976 onwards. One of the houses became the headquarters of the order and other buildings were separate convents for men and women. In the headquarters, a former hotel, there were more than twenty altars, and mass was celebrated on each of them several times a day. From Seville, members of the order travelled on a regular basis to the apparition site in Palmar de Troya (ABC November 23, 1976).

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