The medium João de Deus was given his great international accolade by Oprah Winfrey. The then queen of American television flew in 2012 by private plane to the heart of Brazil for the healer to lay hands on her and attend one of his spiritual surgeries, operations with rudimentary instruments and without anesthesia with which he claimed to heal. He attracted millions of faithful who for decades gave him fame, power and money until the bomb exploded at the end of 2018. A talk show The Brazilian revealed that five women accused him of sexually abusing them based on faith. Those five were just the beginning. João de Deus, 79, was tried and sentenced to 64 years in prison after being denounced by more than 500 women and girls, including one of his daughters. Recently released, the documentary series John of God, cure and crime (Netflix) analyzes his career and his descent into hell.
More than 200 women accuse the famous Brazilian ‘spiritual healer’ João de Deus of sexual abuse
João Teixeira de Faria – known as João de Dios, imposing with his 1.80 height, slim – created a kind of sect around himself and built an immense fame in his country that, over the years, was much more beyond the borders of Brazil. He claimed to cure the sick and the hopeless thanks to the spirits of deceased people who took control of his body, made him go into a trance and channeled their energies through him in interventions that he practiced before hundreds of witnesses with scissors or kitchen knives.
Thousands of people say that it restored them to health. “I am not the one who cures in surgeries, entities do it, in addition to God. I am only an instrument of Him ”, he declared in an interview with the magazine Look one year before his arrest. Casa Don Ignacio de Loyola called his office, opened in the seventies. A small and remote city, Abadiania, in the unpopulated interior of Brazil, near the capital, was the center of operations for João de Deus. Both he and his followers were always dressed in white.
Spiritism is the third faith with the most official followers in Brazil. His nearly four million followers believe in reincarnation, karma, and the healing power of energy transmitted by spirits.
The four chapters of the docuseries give voice to several women who had the courage to denounce the most admired and powerful spiritualist in Brazil. That man who was believed to be a kind of saint became their executioner. Unscrupulous, he used their faith in him and his methods to attack them. The medium made those women desperate to save themselves or a relative believe that what happened between them alone in his office was an essential part of the treatment. If they refused to submit to the will of the spiritual leader, the disease would not be defeated. The threats worked.
The Netflix series also includes footage of his lurid techniques to work so-called miracles, as well as interviews with prosecutors who investigated the sex crimes. Several of his former collaborators also speak, including a woman who claims that, already evicted by the doctors, she was cured by João de Deus, who inserted scissors into her nose to remove what was imprisoning her brain. They and other volunteers keep the clinic open to pilgrims. The documentary never addresses whether the practices that gave it so much power were fraudulent or not.
Country of superstitions
To understand why hundreds of thousands of people made a pilgrimage to Abadiania and the influence that the medium acquired, it is important to know that Brazil is an extremely fertile ground for all kinds of religious and spiritual beliefs. Syncretism and superstitions are deeply ingrained. Astrologers and seers are consulted by all kinds of people. And spiritualism is so widespread in Brazil that it is the third faith with the most official followers after the Catholic Church and the Evangelicals. His nearly four million followers believe in reincarnation, karma, and the healing power of energy transmitted by spirits.
The day after the premiere on Netflix, at the end of August, the healer returned to jail after spending the last year in one of his houses under house arrest due to the pandemic. The official reason for being incarcerated again is several new complaints against him.
The one on the international platform is not the first series on the scandal that shocked Brazil almost three years ago. Globo, the powerful Brazilian media group that uncovered the first complaints, premiered last year In the name of God, which captures the results of 18 months of journalistic investigations into the case in a six-part documentary.
Even the tiny Abadiania pilgrims by bus or private plane 5,000 people a week in the hope that superior forces channeled through João de Deus would cure terminal cancer, blindness or multiple sclerosis. He was so respected that even front-line politicians or wealthy businessmen flocked to him.
The healer did not charge a fee, but he gladly accepted donations. He and his followers drove the growth of the city. They soon became the main economic engine. Hostels, restaurants, taxi drivers … Their work depended on the spiritual operations. The sect leader created an empire around the spirits, accumulating wealth and power, which contributed to the suspicions that arose that he abused women and girls were quickly neutralized.
It was during her visit to Abadiania that Winfrey nearly fainted after witnessing how she intervened in front of everyone. It was not the first meeting between the two. She had already interviewed him on her show, which undoubtedly boosted the worldwide fame that he had until he was arrested and led to a growing wave of international pilgrims, and donors.
The case of the Brazilian spiritual leader demonstrates the powerful effect of the MeToo movement, which, from the denunciations that the most powerful producer in Hollywood was also a sexual predator, became a powerful global phenomenon that gave thousands of women the courage to raise up the voice against their aggressors.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.