RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — More than 200 people have come forward with complaints of sexual abuse by a Brazilian faith healer, authorities said Wednesday.
The accusations against Joao Teixeira de Faria, who uses the name Joao de Deus in his practice, began last week after several alleged victims spoke on a Globo News television program of sexual violence going back years. One young man interviewed said de Faria sexually assaulted his mother, who visited the spiritualist looking for a cure for her terminal cancer.
“There are so many victims that the team assigned to deal with the case is overwhelmed taking statements,” said Ana Cristina Arruda from the prosecutors’ office in Goias. “It’s still too early to know the full scope of the situation.”
Many of de Faria’s alleged victims say he molested them as children under the pretense of spiritual healing and that the abuse went on for years.
The spiritual healer, who denies wrongdoing, attracted followers from throughout the world to a retreat in the small town of Abadiania. His treatments, sometimes on video for an outside audience, could involve small incisions, opening nostrils with scissors or scraping an eye without antiseptics.
Visitors included former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, football player Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima and model Naomi Campbell.
In 2012 Oprah Winfrey traveled to visit de Faria to record a special for her talk show, Super Soul Sunday. She told Brazilian media at the time that the experience was overwhelming.
“It was so strong that I had to sit down because I felt like I was going to pass out,” she told Band TV Goiania.
Videos and articles related to de Faria are no longer available on Oprah.com.
However, a cached version of an article by Winfrey says that the healer helped her face the stress of having recently laid off 30 people in March of 2012.
“Just a week before, I’d been almost at the point of giving up,” wrote Winfrey.
In 2010, a teenager girl accused de Faria of sexual molestation for inappropriate touching. A court cleared de Faria of the charge, finding a lack of evidence.
De Faria appeared briefly in public on Wednesday morning, visiting a complex where he conducts spiritual healing and making a short statement to local media. Surrounded by bodyguards, the healer affirmed his innocence and added that he was making himself available to Brazilian authorities.
“Joao de Deus is alive,” said the healer to applause.