Wednesday 21 February 2018

'He was a broken man' - grieving brother describes torment after alleged death of Irish man at controversial Palmarian Church

Palmarian Church in Spain. Picture: Facebook
Palmarian Church in Spain. Picture: Facebook

Meadhbh McGrath

An Irish man has paid tribute to his brother who allegedly died at a compound belonging to a controversial fringe religious group in Spain.

His brother, known in the Palmarian Church as Tobias, returned to Spain last week, where he reportedly suffered a heart attack and died, according to his sister Terry and brother Carl.

After learning of their brother’s death, the siblings contacted RTE Radio One’s Liveline to describe how Tobias had been affected by his time in the church.

Carl said that their mother had been a member of the Palmarian Church for “at least 35 years”.

“She’s been involved for as long as I can remember. She’s been totally consumed by it more and more as the years have gone by. It destroyed our family,” he said.

“It tore the whole family apart, we didn’t behave like normal families. Our mother and father fought constantly over it, our father wanted our mother to leave and it was dreadful really, it had a very negative effect on everyone in our family.”

Read More: 'He never should have gone' - Sister's heartbreak as Irish man allegedly dies at controversial Palmarian church in Spain

He described how their family home was “covered” in religious statues and paintings.

“Every spare piece of wall had a holy picture on it, there were statues and shrines everywhere, it was extreme. They were constantly appearing in the house and our father would throw them out when he came home,” he said.

Carl has been living in Australia for six years and explained that he hadn’t spoken to his mother regularly in years due to a new rule in the church preventing members from speaking on the phone.

“I was home lucky enough recently and got to catch up with the family, but other than that I haven’t spoke to her for years. To go to meet her before that, I had to dress in a particular way and meet in a particular place. The whole thing is on their terms,” he said.

He also recalled the dramatic impact the church had on his brother when he became a member.

“When he went in there, he was a fit young man, he was a happy-go-lucky kind of fella, we spent a lot of time together,” he said.

“The day he came back, I was crushed. He was destroyed. When he came back into the house he was a broken man, there was very little resemblance to the man who went out there.”

Following a 22-year absence from the church, Tobias made the decision to return to the church last week, and Carl said that despite his best efforts he couldn’t dissuade him.

“When he left all those years ago, it was so sudden, I think he was thrown out because he had a breakdown.

“They didn’t want anything to do with him for 22 years, and then all of a sudden they asked him to go back and he just felt a duty to go back there. I did try to reason with him and spoke to my parents about why he shouldn’t go, but he went.”

The Palmarian Church is a highly secretive Spanish sect that broke away from the Catholic Church in the 1960s and has declared a series of its own 'Popes'.

It's estimated there are approximately 300 members of the Palmarian sect in Ireland with only around 2,000 members worldwide.

Carl’s sister Terry told the show that Tobias had a number of medical conditions, including arthritis and schizophrenia, which she claimed he had developed during his time as a member of the church.

On Tuesday, she reiterated her concerns that her brother’s death from a heart attack could have been prevented, and expressed her fears that an autopsy may not be carried out to establish the full facts of her brother’s death.

While she has not been in contact with her parents since learning of Tobias’s death, she said she believes they are on their way back to Spain today to attend his funeral within the church.

“My father is devastated, he feels guilty that he accompanied him there in the first place,” she said.

Carl added: “Terry called me yesterday and told me what had happened. I knew he’d gone back out there and we were all very concerned about that, but none of us ever thought this would happen. We thought he’d be back within a week.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is aware of the case and is providing consular assistance.

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