By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Police are investigating accusations by over 200 women that a self-proclaimed Brazilian faith healer, who became a celebrity after appearing on a show hosted by Oprah Winfrey, sexually abused them while they were seeking spiritual guidance and treatment.
Prosecutors have requested the arrest of João Teixeira de Faria, known as “John of God”, from a court in Abadiania, a small town in central Brazil where he has his spiritual centre, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
Since the first accusation was aired on television on Friday, 258 women – some of them foreigners – have come forward accusing Faria of abuses, according to the prosecutors’ office for the state of Goias where Abadiania is located.
Faria, who became internationally famous when Winfrey broadcast a report on his psychic healing methods in 2013, maintained on Wednesday that he is innocent, in his first comments since the scandal began. He denied the accusations and said he would comply with the law.
The first accusation was made on a TV Globo programme on Friday by Dutch choreographer Zahira Maus who said Faria sexually assaulted her. Globo TV spent three months investigating the story and interviewed a dozen other women who said they had been abused by the healer.
Faria’s fame has been boosted by supposedly miraculous surgeries he claims to have performed with his hands and without anesthesia.
Winfrey said in a statement that she visited Faria’s centre in 2012 to explore his controversial healing methods for an episode of “Oprah’s Next Chapter” that aired the following year, she said.
“I empathize with the women now coming forward and hope justice is served,” she said.
The scandal has shocked the town of Abadiania, whose economy has become dependent on the tourism brought by Faria’s healing centre, which opened in 1976. Thousands of Brazilians and foreigners flocked there but the industry has now come to a halt.
Some followers of Faria have rejected the accusations and harassed reporters who descended on the town on Wednesday for the first public appearance of the healer since the scandal broke, receiving him with loud cheers and applause.
“Brothers and my dear sisters, I thank God for being here. I want to comply with Brazilian law. I am in the hands of the law,” he told them in a brief appearance. “John of God is still alive,” he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Shumaker)