João Teixeira de Faria is better known as "João de Deus" or "John of God." He's a Brazilian medium, healer, subject of a profile by Oprah and — as of earlier this week — accused of abusing hundreds of women.
Faria became famous for his intense methods of healing. Though he doesn't have a medical license, he performs both spiritual healing — praying intensely for believers and placing hands on them to cure their afflictions — and what appear to be actual surgical procedures without anesthesia.
Faria has been written about for years, since his practice started in 1978. But an episode of Oprah in 2010 devoted to him raised his profile exponentially.
Last Friday, four women appeared on Brazilian television to accuse Faria of abusing them when they'd come to him for assistance.
Speaking on TV Globo, three of the women described their encounters with Faria to host Pedro Bial on condition of anonymity. Dutch choreographer Zahira Lieneke Mous decided to be named, and said that during one of her trips to see the healer to be cured of the trauma of previous sexual assault, he took her into a back room and had her masturbate him. He then had her pick out a gemstone from a set and granted special treatment. She has also accused him of raping her during another session.
"I really hope I can help other women out of this shadow, because we do not need to feel ashamed," Mous said on the show. "He has to feel ashamed, and all the people who protect him so he can continue to do what he does."
She later told the New York Times in an interview that she'd "heard of John of God from a friend and had seen Oprah Winfrey’s documentary."
São Paolo businesswoman Aline Salih told local newspaper Folha de São Paulo in an article that published on Monday that a similar incident had happened to her.
On Monday, Brazilian prosecutors announced that since the program had aired, more than 200 women had come forward to say that they had also been abused by John of God while seeking treatment.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that prosecutors for the state of Goias had asked police to arrest the healer.
In a brief appearance to his followers on Wednesday, the day he normally performs his healings, he said, "I am not guilty.” According to the AFP, he left after less than 10 minutes, his staff saying he was too affected by the claims against him to work his wonders.
“We declare his innocence. We respect the right of the women to make these testimonies, but we do not recognize these testimonies as true,” Mário Rosa, a spokesperson for Faria, told the Guardian.
Alberto Toron, Faria's lawyer, in an interview with Folha de São Paulo, said that there was something amiss in just how many people were coming forward. “There were 10, now there are 20, and they’re talking about 200, which is strange,” he said. “This is something we are investigating.” Toron did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
In the 2010 Oprah episode, released in conjunction with a profile of Faria for O Magazine by then–editor-in-chief Susan Casey, Winfrey implores viewers to decide for themselves whether they believe that John of God's work is miraculous.
Among those whom Casey spoke to for her article is Dr. Mehmet Oz, a longtime Oprah collaborator who in 2005 examined Faria's claims for ABC News' PrimeTime Live. When talking to ABC, Oz was credulous about the possibility that the healer's methods work, saying that Faria's surgeries could be "an old magician's trick, but it's a pretty powerful one from a physician's perspective."
"I think the next big frontier is unlocking the doors to energy medicine," Oz, who has come under fire for his promotion of unscientific methods of healing over the years on his syndicated television show, told Casey. "It dramatically broadens our vista of opportunities to heal. The challenge we have is that energy is not as easily quantified as the surgeon's scalpel."
"If we can understand what role he's playing in reversing illness," Oz said at the time, "we should be doing that here." A spokesperson for Oz's didn't immediately provide comment.
After the profile, Winfrey herself traveled to Brazil in 2012 to meet with Faria for an episode of Oprah's Next Chapter that would air the next year. In the episode, and a written piece, she said she experienced something profound with the medium, during a period where she was worrying about the health of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), her television channel.
"I closed my eyes and sat quietly, feeling the rhythm of my breath," she wrote, having felt short of breath and a tingling sensation while watching Faria perform surgery on a woman with breast cancer. "Tears of gratitude started to flow. Gratitude for the whole journey of my life — not just everything that had gone right, but the things that had not."
“I went to Brazil in 2012 to tape an episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter that explored the controversial healing methods of John of God,” Oprah said in a statement to the New York Times. “The episode aired in 2013. I empathize with the women now coming forward and hope justice is served.” A representative for OWN didn't return a request for comment.
According to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, both articles were still live as of Sunday evening. BuzzFeed News has reached out to OWN for more information on why the pieces were removed. BuzzFeed News has also reached out to Casey's publicist regarding the articles' removal.
The scandal has yet to dissuade Faria's followers from flocking to the small town of Abadiania, where Faria runs his "healing center."
Up to 40% of Faria's visitors are from out of the country, providing a flow of cash to the town of 15,000 people, leaving some to tell reporters that they worried what would happen if John of God went out of business.
“We haven’t yet felt the impact, maybe we will next week,” a restaurant owner near the center told the AFP on Wednesday. “We want him to pay for his crimes, if he really committed any. But we don’t want the [center] to close."