Rio De Janeiro: More than 200 women have come forward in Brazil to accuse an internationally celebrated self-proclaimed spiritual healer of sexually abusing them, according to media reports and police complaints received Tuesday.
The accusations against Joao Teixeira de Faria, 76, better known as "Joao de Deus" ("Joao of God") include allegations he made women perform sex acts during one-on-one sessions in which he claimed he was using his supernatural powers to cure them.
Faria, whose reputation reaches far beyond Brazil, counts followers in the United States - where American television celebrity and producer Oprah Winfrey did a show on him in 2013 after visiting him the previous year - as well as Europe and Australia.
Brazilian television network Globo TV and its associated newspaper O Globo reported allegations last week from a dozen women dating back over the past eight years.
One woman, a Dutch choreographer identified as Zahira Leeneke Maus, told Globo TV that Faria had raped her.
Hundreds come forward
Faria's healing center, in the small town of Abadiania, close to the capital Brazilia, did not respond to attempts by AFP to get comment on the allegations.
Globo's G1 news website on the weekend cited a statement from Faria's press service saying he had used his powers to treat thousands of people over the past 44 years and "he vehemently rejects (allegations of) any improper practice during his treatments."
Since the initial reports, many other women in Brazil have come forward to lodge complaints with police against Faria.
Prosecutors in the state of Goias, in which Abadiania is located, said Tuesday they had 78 complaints from women saying they were victims of the spiritual healer.
More complaints were also being lodged in other states. In the state of Sao Paulo, a prosecutor told media that more than 200 complaints had been received.
The allegations have resonated through Brazil, where "Joao de Deus" had been broadly respected and admired.
Three Brazilian presidents had sought his services: former leftist leaders Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff, who had both battled cancer; and current President Michel Temer, before a prostate operation.
Several foreign and Brazilian media outlets have done critical investigations into Faria's claims of healing. Some uncovered previous allegations of sexual abuse and other improprieties for which Faria has never been prosecuted.
The fresh allegations come amid a global reckoning of alleged sexual misconduct by powerful men against women under the #MeToo campaign.
They threaten to decimate the prosperity Abadiania has enjoyed from the many thousands of believers who each year flocked to see Faria.
The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper quoted the town's mayor saying he feared that the tourism industry in Abadiania could collapse as a result.
He said the spiritual healer had attracted nearly 10,000 visitors each month, 40 per cent of them from abroad.