MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: scandal in South America.
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country in both population and size, and it’s home to the world’s largest Catholic community. But mysticism is a powerful force in the country, making Brazil a hub for gurus and their many followers.
NICK EICHER, HOST: For the past 40 years, one has stood above the rest: hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have flocked to a secluded retreat center in Abadiania, Brazil. There a man who calls himself “John of God” claims he can heal diseases, even cancer.
The man’s name is Joao Teixeira de Faria. He says it’s God who heals through spirits, and he often uses misleading Biblical terminology. John the Baptist and King Solomon are among those he claims to channel while healing people.
REICHARD: Last month, authorities in Brazil issued an arrest warrant for the man. More than 300 women have come forward with accusations of sexual assault while being treated at the center, and the list continues to grow.
WORLD Radio correspondent Jill Nelson has the story.
JILL NELSON, REPORTER: He claims it’s a gift God gave him when he was a poor and troubled teenager more than 60 years ago.
AUDIO: [Sound of Faria]
Joao Teixeira de Faria says he can heal spiritual and physical ailments when one of 30 different entities enters his body. After several decades of work, his fame spread, attracting news outlets like ABC’s Primetime Live in 2005:
FARIA: A mesmerizing hour of medicine, mystery, and maybe even miracles. Who is this man called John of God and why do these people believe he’s the greatest healer in 2000 years? He says his work can cure those he touches. This actress with cancer. (‘I’m stepping into the unknown.’) This attorney with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This woman paralyzed in a car crash.
In 2010, Oprah Winfrey interviewed a doctor who had just returned from Faria’s healing center, known as The Casa. Wayne Dyer claimed his cancer was gone and cited Scripture for the miraculous:
WAYNE: Here’s a line from Jesus: ‘With God, all things are possible.’ What does that leave out? OPRAH: That leaves out nothing. WAYNE: Okay, that leaves out nothing, so that doesn’t leave out this either.
Intrigued, Winfrey visited The Casa in 2012, generating international fame for Faria.
WINFREY: John of God agreed to sit down with me under a mango tree, on the grounds of The Casa.
She acknowledged that his methods are unconventional, even bizarre.
Videos available online show him surrounded by visitors dressed in white as he used a scalpel to cut into people’s skin and scrape away at their eyeballs. Sometimes, he used forceps to reach far into nasal passages, drawing blood. All without anesthesia and little pain.
WINFREY: The first time I saw today, I was humbled by the experience.
But Oprah’s website recently pulled the series, titled “Do You Believe in Miracles?” after a dozen women in December went public with allegations of sexual assault.
Since then, more than 300 women, including four Americans, have accused Faria of sexual abuse, launching Brazil’s first major #MeToo movement. The women say Faria examined them privately and claimed the sexual acts were part of their healing.
For some, the mystery is now solved: The 76-year-old guru is no more than a fraud and perhaps a good magician. His website says his services are free, but the prescribed herbs and blessed water cost money. So do the guides and translators who work at The Casa.
But others suspect something even more sinister. Jacob Allee has a degree in Religion and Apologetics and has researched Brazil’s “John of God.” He says Faria’s methods tread on dangerous ground:
ALLEE: The Scriptures are exceedingly clear that we are not to involve ourselves with mediums and the practice of trying to contact the dead. This is said to be an abomination to God in Deuteronomy 18.
Some claim they had what’s called psychic surgery, a non-invasive procedure where spiritual entities do the work from inside your body. Wayne, the doctor Oprah interviewed, said his healing involved this method, and he was later instructed that it was time to remove the sutures. But he had none and was thousands of miles away.
WAYNE: That’s just what they call what happens when these entities re-enter your body and do whatever it is that they do. OPRAH: So you’re just going along with it. You’re saying whatever, I have leukemia so if it works, it works.
Delusion of the masses or the placebo effect may explain some positive testimonials. But Jacob Allee provides another possible explanation:
ALLEE: In Scripture we do see some cases where Satan or at least demons are involved in doing seemingly miraculous things to lead people astray. For instance in Acts Chapter 16 there’s a case of a demon possessed slave girl who has the ability to tell fortunes and who made money for her master. So when the apostle Paul cast that demon out of her, those people were very upset because they lost their income over that.
But any possible displays of demonic power are undoubtedly limited. None of the people followed by 60 Minutes Australia reported any improvements in their condition after visiting Faria. Many others reported slight improvements that didn’t last.
AUDIO: [Faria surrounded by reporters]
Officials in Brazil arrested Faria in early December. Last week, a judge ruled he will face trial on charges of sexual abuse and rape.
Faria has already served a prison sentence for practicing medicine without a license.
He denies the recent allegations.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson.