Gaston Tremblay (Gregory XVII, 1968-2011) was born in Rimouski, Quebec 1928 into a rather poor family. His father died when he was young, and his mother became a nun. At age sixteen, Tremblay moved to Montreal to join the Brothers of St. John, the Hospitalers. There he was renamed Brother Jean and worked with terminally ill patients. Around 1947, he began to receive apparitions, and in 1949, he claimed to have seen the face of a future pope in a vision.
A little later, he had yet another vision indicating that he was going to found a new religious order, whose members would live a very simple life in the style of the Early Church. He also asserted that Christ told him: “you will become a priest, but one like me when I walked the Calvary” and “you will become a bishop, but your miter will be a crown of thorns”. On his twenty-fourth birthday, in 1952, Tremblay left the Hospitalers to form a community of his own.
After a meeting with Archbishop Léger of Montreal, Tremblay was permitted to found the Community of Jesus and Mary. The archbishop believed in the veracity of his visions and somewhat later when he was made cardinal, he managed to secure a blessing of the community from Pope Paul XII. Together with a few other men, Tremblay settled in Rivière de les Praires, where the group lived in radical poverty, claiming to preach the gospel like the apostles. He took a new religious name: Jean-Gregoire de la Trinité. After a couple of years, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome and continued to receive visions of Christ and the Virgin. In 1958, the community decided to leave its original site and acquired a farm near St. Jovite, where they began to build a monastery.
In 1961, Tremblay met Michel Collin, Pope Clement XV, at the airport in Montreal. They saw the resemblance between their beliefs and agreed to merge the communities, Tremblay accepting Collin as the true pope. In fact, he claimed that Collin was the man he had seen in his papal vision, twelve years before. In 1962, Tremblay travelled to France to be ordained a priest and consecrated a bishop by Collin. Later, he was made a cardinal, and the pope ceded the title of superior of the order to him. In the following years, an increasing group of people joined the Canadian branch, and Tremblay ordained a number of men and women to the priesthood.
At this time, the activities at St. Jovite were denounced by the local Roman Catholic ordinary, but the community continued to grow rapidly and drew people from Canada and the United States. In 1964, the Canadian branch had ninety full-time members. The relation between the Canadian and the European branches of the church became increasingly restrained.
On 10 September 1968, Tremblay asserted that he had been elevated to the papacy by means of a mystical coronation, taking the name Gregory XVII (or John Gregory XVII). Nevertheless, even in the future, he would most often be referred to as Father Jean-(Gregoire) de la Trinité. He thus claimed to have replaced Pope Clement. As a diplomatic gesture, and realising the hard facts, Clement XV agreed that the keys of St. Peter had been passed onwards to Brother Jean. At least partially, Clement concurred with the claims of the new pope, but at the same time did not announce that he had stepped down. In fact, he designated another successor. As had been the case during the reigns of Pius XII and John XXIII, there were two popes at the same time between 1968 and 1974, but in this period, both belonged to the Apostles of Infinite Love.
The religious order that Tremblay led was called the Order of Magnificat of the Mother of God. It forms part of the Apostles of Infinite Love, also known as The Catholic Church of the Apostles of the Last Times. The order consists of male and female religious, lay celibate or married people living at the monastery – and tertiaries. Some of the priests were consecrated bishops and during the pontificate of Gregory XVII, there was a twelve-member College of Cardinals. All members of the order follow a common rule, which the movement believe to have been dictated by the Mother of God at La Salette in 1846.
Just as the Renewed Church in Europe, the Canadian church ordains women to the priesthood, though there are differences between male and female priests. Women only say Mass at all-female religious services, and unlike males, they have to kneel when saying the Mass. Moreover, only older and experienced nuns are ordained priests, while young men, just having entered the community can become priests.
In the 1970s, the Apostles opened up missions in different parts of Canada: Ontario, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, and not least at several places in the Quebec province. But they also established themselves in the United States, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Ecuador. There were also small groups of members in South Africa, France and Italy. According to Michael Cuneo, in the mid-1990s, when he studied the church, there were 300 members living in the mother house in St. Jovite.
The church and the order were founded to preserve the traditional Catholic faith, which they thought was seriously threatened by the Vatican II and the post-conciliar developments. They were against the liberty of religion and wanted to form a theocratic society beginning at St. Jovite. Prophecies foretold the appearance of a Great Monarch in the last times and Pope Gregory appointed a member of the St. Jovite community, Louis Douziech king of France.
The pope at St. Jovite was very critical of Paul VI and asserted that one of the U.S. cardinals bribed members of the conclave to elect such a modernist. Pope Gregory was critical of the new mass order, too, but on the other hand, he was in favour of a simplified liturgy. The Apostles of Infinite Love celebrate mass according to a simplified Tridentine rite but in the vernacular. The St. Jovite pontiff was much more positive of John Paul II than of Paul VI, but still believed the Pole was an antipope, as the vast majority of the members of the conclave were heretics. He thought that though John Paul II was a man of good will, there was no chance reforming the Roman Church.
The teachings of the Apostles are explained in a number of texts. In 1975, seven years after becoming pope, Gregory XVII published a long encyclical called Pierre parle au monde, which includes his comments on the recurrent sins of humanity and the modern age, and a very harsh criticism of the post-Vatican II church developments. In an almost thousand-page long book called Tu es Pierre, printed in the early 1990s, Catherine St-Pierre explains the papal claims of Gregory with references to a wide array of prophecies and other texts. Through its editorial house, Éditions Magnificat, the Apostles have also published a large number of other texts by the pope, a Catechism, a long series of pious books in the apocalyptical vein, as well as a journal called Magnificat.
The Apostles of Infinite Love is a closed community and a number of ex-members give testimonies of abuse. Many of them were born or grew up at St. Jovite and left as young adults. In the community, children were separated from their parents, often not meeting them more than a couple times a year, and then only for short periods of time. The girls were raised by nuns and the boys by male religious. The children were also divided according to age groups and therefore did not meet their siblings very often. Some ex-members testify that children often were beaten, otherwise mishandled and humiliated by male and female religious. Not much time was given to education and instead, they had to perform hard physical work from an early age.
Throughout the years, the Apostles of Infinite Love has been involved in a series of legal processes, and on no less than four occasions the police have raided the community at St. Jovite. In the mid-1960s, the Canadian authorities judged that the community was an unsuitable context for children to live in, and therefore took custody of all minors they could find there, forty in all. Still, at least fifty other children were hidden from the police. After further investigation, however, the authorities came to a different conclusion, and the children were handed over to the community again.
Criticism against the leaders of the group continued through the years, and in 1978 Pope Gregory was arrested, accused of having hidden three children, whose mother belonged to the community. Their father, who did not belong to the Apostles, had been given custody of them but was not allowed to meet the children. In 1980, Gregory was sentenced to two years in prison for kidnapping but was released already in March 1981, after only five months behind bars.
Much later, in 1999, there was a huge police raid at St. Jovite, when authorities brought away twenty children to be questioned about abuses. The pope was arrested, accused of sexual abuse of minors from the late 1960s until 1985. In the last couple of years, at least sixteen former members had filed complaints, and throughout the years the authorities had gathered a lot of evidence. Still, after having studied the evidence, the persecutor decided that the case would not hold in court, particularly as most of the crimes should have been committed many decades ago. Moreover, older evidence material related to the Apostles had disappeared from the archives. Thus in 2001, the charges against the pope were dropped, but now there is a law that hinders children from living in a cloistral community.
Finally, in 2003, an ex-member sued various leaders of the community for destroying his life. The accuser lived in the community from his birth in 1970 until he turned sixteen. The charges included physical and psychical abuse and lack of proper education. He claimed that it had been impossible for him to adjust to the world outside the closed community, and this had meant that he ended up in drug addiction and criminality. Citing a number of circumstances, the judge dismissed the case as he did not find the claimant credible.
Gregory XVII died at the hospital in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts on 31 December 2011. The group is currently led by Father Mathurin de la Mère de Dieu, originally named Michel Lavallée, who does not claim to be the pope.
There is, however, a man who belonged to the Apostles of Infinite Love between 2003 and 2006, who asserts that he was divinely elected pope and king in 2005. After making his claims public, he was expelled from St. Jovite. According to his testimony, in a vision to him, God took the papal tiara from Pope Gregory and the crown from King Louis, to give them to the young man. The claimant took the papal name Leo XIV and does not reveal his birth name or the name taken when joining the Apostles. He was born in 1975, lives in Montreal and calls his group L’Église Catholique de la Nouvelle France, the Catholic Church of New France. He seems to be active only through his website and refers to himself as a kind of a hermit.
The Order’s webpage: http://www.magnificat.ca
Pope Leo XIV:s webpage: http://www.eglisenouvellefrance.org
Catherine St-Pierre. Tu es Pierre, St-Jovite: Éditions Magnificat, 1994.
Jean Côté, Père Jean de la Trinité: Prophète parmi les hommes, St-Jovite: Éditions Magnificat, 1991.
Michael W. Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Antoine Delestre, Clément XV, prêtre lorrain et pape à Clémery, Nancy-Metz, Presses Universitaires de Nancy-Éd. Serpenoise, 1985.
Jean-Gregoire XVII, Pierre parle au monde, St. Jovite: Éditions Magnificat, 1975
Ernest Milá, “Rivales del Palmar de Troya”, infokrisis.blogia.com, 22 April 2011.
Magnificat, vol. 37:1-2 (2012), [Special issue on Jean-Gregoire XVII].
Bernadette Rigal Sellard, “Le future pape est québecois: Gregoire XVII”, in: Bernadette Rigal Cellard (ed.) Missions extremes en Amérique du Nord: Des Jésuites à Raël, pp. 269-300, Bordeaux: Édition Pleine Pages, 2005.
Canadian documentary: “Les Apôtres de l’Amour Infini”, http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xckgkf_les-apotres-de-l-amour-infini-1-de_news
Canadian documentary: “Reseaux Clandestin, Les Enfants des Sectes”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0dBM195De8
Documentary by Marie-France Guerrette: “Mon père, le roi” http://www.onf.ca/film/mon_pere_le_roi