See My new book on the Palmarian Church is now available by Magnus Lundberg.
Lundberg, Magnus. A Pope of Their Own: Palmar de Troya and the Palmarian Church.
Series: Uppsala Studies in Church History, volume 1.
Uppsala: Uppsala University, Department of Theology, 2017.
In 2018, fifty years will have passed since the first reports of Marian apparitions in El Palmar de Troya in Spanish Andalusia. It will also be the fortieth anniversary of the coronation of the seer Clemente Domínguez Gómez as Pope Gregory XVII, and the consequent foundation of the Palmarian Catholic Church. Still, placing the papal tiara on his head was only seen as a human act of confirmation. He asserted that Christ himself had crowned him just after the death of Pope Paul VI.
This book provides a broad overview of the history of the apparitions at El Palmar de Troya and the church that became its main result. It also includes a more systematic analysis of the church’s increasingly unusual doctrines and rituals. Through the study, I try to answer two underlying questions: First, which factors contributed to the foundation of the Palmarian Church? Second, how has the church survived and developed through its four decades of existence?
The book can be bought in paper form, which makes study much easier, but Dr Lundberg has graciously provided us with a free pdf version.
Even more recently, in my article on American religion, I discussed what became in the eyes of secular authorities the conventional characteristics of a “cult” or “sect” as opposed to a “recognised” religion that respects fundamental human rights to freedom and self-determination. On reading through parts of this book, I wondered what became of the many bishops, religious and laity who had been a part of this machine. Some returned to the Roman Catholic Church as laymen, others continued as independent traditionalist clergy and others still would have lapsed into atheism or agnosticism. A person in that state usually does not want to be contacted or questioned. It is often the same for ex-seminarians, who have almost become other personalities since their change of life for the better of the worse. It certainly happened to me after my leaving the Institute of Christ the King, which is a legitimate Roman Catholic community of priests and sisters. I still have lurid dreams about Gricigliano twenty-five years later! Such experience in life makes or breaks, bringing us to a certain “self-reliance” and “transcendentalism” or to the mental illness of the hag-ridden.
Palmar de Troya is (and perhaps by design) an absolute caricature of post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism with the cult of the Pope and a whole devotional structure supported by remnants of a liturgical life. Perhaps it is easier for this religiosity to be waved off by someone brought up in the north of England, with public school religion and a rationalist family background. I do tend to be more sceptical than credulous – and this is healthy, but what becomes of the “sense of wonder”, awe and openness to experience?
This book by someone who has studied this Spanish phenomenon, nurtured in the sun-baked sands of Andalusia for years, is illuminating and sensitive. The tone is academic, not polemical, which makes this work that much more cogent and compelling. His blog Magnus Lundberg – Church and Mission Historian needs to be followed regularly, and I have nothing but the highest esteem for this academic, cut from the same cloth as Dr Jean-François Mayer in Switzerland, whom I met many years ago at my alma mater.
Sooner or later, Palmar de Troya will go out with a bang, attacked by Spanish police with guns, or with a whimper in the wake of a massive fiscal inspection. The cathedral will become a museum of the monumento a la demencia humana – or perhaps a retreat house of the Archdiocese of Seville, or a theme park for children eating ice cream. In any case, I empathise with those credulous folk whose lives were ruined by joining something so sulphurous, and on the other hand wonder if they didn’t get what was coming to them for being so uncritical before committing themselves to something that was so obviously a cynical fraud from the beginning. Rome handled it too badly by fulminating canonical sanctions rather than a pastoral approach – but that is another problem.
Coming from a priest in a very small and minority Church, as I am, the message is not so much to stick with the mainstream, but to discern the motivations of the leading authorities in a given Church and their respect of fundamental human rights like freedom and intellectual integrity. We all have lessons to learn, and especially the acquisition of a critical spirit and above all self-reliance.