For many years I have devoted much time to research about the Palmarian Church, a traditionalist group with its centre in southern Spain, with has roots in the Catholic Church, which has developed increasingly different teachings built on private revelations. For a detailed study, see my research report (2015).
In the last months, there have been unexpected and great changes in this very closed group. The extremely strict dress code for members has been liberalized and there are even reports that nuns, who used to be entirely covered, are not using veils anymore. A truly remarkable development.
In early April 2016, I received information from several unrelated sources that the Palmarian pope Gregory XVIII was about to step down from the papacy. In my report, written in mid-2015, I wrote the following about him:
“After six years in office, Peter II died on 15 July 2011. His successor was Bishop Sergio María, the former military officer Ginés Jesús Hernández Martínez (b. 1959), who after briefly attending a Roman Catholic seminary had become a Palmarian bishop in 1984. After the death of Father Elias María, in 1997, he became “number three” in order and as Secretary of State under Peter II, he had been “number two,” and was publically named his successor on March 3, 2011. The new Palmarian pope was crowned on July 17, taking the name Gregory XVIII. At that occasion, he also canonized his predecessor. By his side, he has a Swiss Secretary of State, Bishop Eliseo María. Shortly after the coronation, Gregory XVIII convened a new Palmarian Council to begin in January 2012 (SHP, El Correo de Andalucía, 30 July 2011; Mayer 2011).
During the pontificate of Gregory XVIII, the Palmarian economy seems to have improved considerable. He seems to be at least as good a fundraiser as Manuel Alonso was in the first decades. After a decade-long long standstill, the works on the cathedral speeded up considerably. In early 2013, the Andalusian press claimed that the church’s monetary influx had increased much and that the order had opened up of missions in France, Switzerland and Vietnam, while supporters in the United States and Germany also provided large sums. Photos from 2014 and 2015 show a finished basilica, the façade embellished with a series of new statues, St. Francisco Franco with his halo at the center. The construction work that began in 1978 is thus finished (El Correo de Andalucía, July 30, 2011; ABC, March 11, 2013; Andalucesdiario.es, July 11, 2013; El Mundo, October 7, 2014; ABC, January 3, 2015).
Though there seems to be new money at Palmar, the number of members remains very low. At one of their big religious feasts, on January 1, 2015, journalists were allowed to enter. One of them mentioned that only twenty nuns were present, less than a fifth of the members that there used to be when the church was at its strongest. It is a clear indication of a continuing membership crisis. Still, due to the great secrecy it is very difficult to get a clear image of the state of things (El Mundo, October 7, 2014; ABC, January 3, 2015).”
After writing the report in 2015, I have seen papal documents that indicate changes in the “moral teachings” of the Palmarians, particularly as regards the dress code and to some extent the way to interact with non-Palmarians. Nevertheless, the ban against contacts with “apostates”, that is, former Palmarians, remain: Palmarians should not, in any way, have contact with ex-Palmarian family members. For me, however, it has been difficult to know the exact nature of the changes. Are so many people leaving or being excommunicated that a “liberalization” is necessary to retain some members? Is the church even changing into a more “normal” traditionalist group to attract outsiders?
Lately, Pope Gregory established a new group of body guards, a numerous group that followed him around. This is an indication that he felt threatened. When pope Gregory XVIII now is leaving, reportedly to live together with a woman in an Andalusian town, he will be succeed by Swiss Bishop Eliseo Maria, whom he assigned in 2011. Many questions remain and nobody knows what this succession will mean for the future of the secretive group, which have destroyed so many people’s lives and broken so many families.