More than 200 women accuse famous Brazilian spiritual healer of sexual abuse

Prosecutors received flood of complaints against João Teixeira de Faria in country’s first major #MeToo scandal

João Teixeira de Faria is escorted by supporters upon arriving at the the Dom Inácio de Loyola house in Abadiânia.
João Teixeira de Faria is escorted by supporters upon arriving at the the Dom Inácio de Loyola house in Abadiânia. A spokesman for De Faria, said he denied the accusations. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

More than 200 women have accused Brazil’s most famous medium and spiritual healer of sexual abuse in a case that is becoming the country’s first major post-#MeToo scandal.

João Teixeira de Faria, 76, known as João de Deus, or John of God, has attended Brazilian presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer, pop stars and celebrities. But in television interviews broadcast on Friday, four women alleged sexual abuse – and then the floodgates opened: prosecutors have now received more than 200 complaints.

Patrícia Otoni, one of five prosecutors on a taskforce established on Monday in the state of Goiás, where the alleged abuses took place, said some of the allegations “are over 10 years old” but that others were “more current”.

Another prosecutor, Luciano Miranda, told Brazilian TV that potential crimes included rape and sexual abuse.

De Faria denies the charges and a spokesman said he was being tried by the media in an atmosphere of hysteria.

Since 1976, De Faria has performed healing ceremonies and “spiritual surgeries” at the Dom Inácio de Loyola house in Abidiânia, a town of 15,000 people 100km from the capital, Brasília.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come each year, including some of the most famous actors – mediums, healers and spiritualists are revered in Brazil, a country teeming with religions.

In 2012, De Faria was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. While the attendance is free, he often prescribes “medicines” sold in the same centre, which accepts donations.

In allegations so far reported in Brazilian media, women claimed De Faria took them into a private room then abused them.

Dutch choreographer Zahira Lieneke Mous, 34, first revealed the abuse she alleged had happened four years ago on Facebook. Last Friday she described it to TV Globo’s Pedro Bial on his chatshow, which also broadcast interviews with three other women whose identities were hidden.

Mous claimed she had gone to De Faria looking to cure a sexual trauma and was taken into a private room and made to masturbate him. Afterwards, she said she was given a gemstone. She said she returned to the house and was given special privileges. On another occasion, she alleged De Faria raped her. She said she hesitated in coming forward out of fear. “We don’t have to feel ashamed. He needs to feel ashamed,” she said.

On the same show, American “spiritual guide” Amy Biank, who took groups of foreign visitors to see Abidiânia in the early 2000s, claimed she had entered a room where a kneeling woman was being forced to perform oral sex on De Faria. After she reported what she had seen to employees, she received death threats, she said.

Mário Rosa, a spokesman for De Faria, said he denied the accusations and there should have been an investigation before allegations were broadcast on primetime television.

“We declare his innocence. We respect the right of the women to make these testimonies, but we do not recognise these testimonies as true,” he said.

André Pacheco, 42, a Rio businessman on his seventh visit to Abidiânia since De Faria cured a depression, said that buses of people were still arriving at the centre.

“I have not met anyone in the city who has pointed the finger and said, he is guilty,” he said. “Mr João is a very powerful medium.”

On Wednesday De Faria appeared at the Dom Inácio de Loyola house, where a queue of expectant visitors awaited him along with a melee of reporters. He said he was innocent, local media reported, and stayed just 10 minutes.