ROME—Plinio Correa de Oliveira is almost as peculiar in death as he was in life. Dr. Plinio, as he is still known by his devout followers, was a right-wing Catholic figure who founded the ultra conservative Tradition, Family and Property Association, known in Catholic circles as the TFP.
In the early 1960s, he famously came to Rome to protest the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to modernize the Catholic Church in a changing era. He called such attempts at renewal “a point in history as sad as the death of our Lord” and handed out propaganda with similar sentiments.
In death, Dr. Plinio is said to be in close contact with Satan, who supposedly can be channeled by Brazilian exorcists. He also apparently rules the so-called afterlife to such an extent that his followers are convinced he controls climate change and is working toward the death of Pope Francis, according to Andrea Tornielli, who writes the Vatican Insider blog, and has published a series of articles outlining this saga worthy of a Dan Brown bestseller.
By getting rid of Pope Francis, some of the doctor’s followers believe, the way would be open for the Catholic Church to elect a more conservative leader in line with their more traditional practices.
After Dr. Plinio died in 1995, the TFP broke into two groups. One retains the TFP name and supports the recent claims of dubia or doubts launched against Pope Francis, which are supported by American Cardinal Raymond Burke. The other group, known as the Heralds of the Gospel, was founded by Monsignor João Scognamiglio Clá Dias and allegedly takes part in cult worship.
The extent of Plinio’s supernatural proclaimed by Dias (or at least the extent to which his followers exalt him for that perceived power) is the subject of a new inquiry by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, according to Tornielli.
Specifically, Dr. Plinio’s followers led by Dias are said to be using rogue exorcism practices in which they actually communicate with the devil possessing people rather than chasing him out, as the standard accepted practice in Catholic exorcisms dictates.
According to Catholic sociologist Massimo Introvigne, who has studied Dr. Plinio’s life work, the Heralds of the Gospel form “a sort of secret and extravagant cult,” with its trinity composed of “Plinio Correa de Oliveira, his mother Donna Lucilia, and Monsignor Clá Días himself.”
And that sort of devil worship is understandably a problem for the Catholic Church. On June 12, Clá Dias resigned as head and founder of the Herald of Gospels, although Tornielli says he will stay on in what appears to be a consultant-like role.
"In leaving this assignment I cannot—as I do not wish—before God, to renounce my father's mission,” Dias wrote in his resignation letter, according to Tornielli. “And therefore I will continue to be available to each one, as God made me a living model and guardian of this charism given to me by the Holy Spirit.”
Particularly damning for the cult-like group is a series of videos on the internet that show exorcisms using practices not authorized by the Catholic Church. They include purported conversations between the exorcists and the devil, which is a no-no in standard exorcism procedures. (Yes, exorcism as such remains a staple of the faith and authorized practitioners are not only recognized but recommended by Pope Francis.)
“Woe to the exorcist if he loses himself behind curious questions, which the ritual expressly forbids, or if he lets himself be led into a discussion with the devil as he is the master of lies,” Tornielli says, quoting the words of the Church’s most famous exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth.
In one passage from a video seen by The Daily Beast, Dias asks one of his minions to read from a transcript that was purportedly jotted down by an observer at one of the rogue exorcisms encompassing what appears to be dialogue between the exorcist and Satan.
The conversation was stilted, as one might expect with the struggle for the possessed person’s soul, but the gist was that Plinio was randomly “breaking people's computers so that they can’t go on the internet” and that he is changing the climate and was “therefore the author of the climate change, and the increase of heat. It is Plinio who does everything,” according to the devil as channeled through the exorcist. Then, the devil predicts that a meteorite will crash into the Atlantic ocean. “North America will disappear,” he warns.
The devil then turns to the fate of Pope Francis, which Tornielli was able to transcribe and translate from the somewhat distorted video. “The Vatican? It's mine, mine!” the devil says to the exorcist, according to Tornielli’s transcript. “The pope does whatever I want, he's stupid! He obeys me in everything. He is my glory, he is willing to do everything for me. He serves me.”
Then the devil, again as channeled by the exorcist for the Heralds of the Gospel, predicts that the pope will perish, not during a voyage, but at the Vatican. “The pope will die falling,” the exorcist’s transcript says quite clearly.
While much of the Heralds of the Gospel work seems, well, fanciful at best, the Vatican’s investigation is very serious. The Vatican could censure the group or strip it of the blessings of the Catholic Church, which would likely not actually stop them, but instead just push them farther underground. Or it could try to corral them back into the fold and hope they stop having sympathy for the devil.