Spanish 'true Pope' sect leader dies

Madrid, Spain -- The leader of a secretive Spanish sect who said he was the true Pope and that the Vatican was controlled by the devil has died, a town hall official said on Tuesday.

Gregorio XVII, 58, was the leader of a self-styled church whose followers believed he would be crucified before a kind of apocalypse would take place.

Gregorio believed God crowned him after Pope Paul VI’s death in 1978 and he rejected changes made to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s, such as saying mass in local languages rather than Latin and dialogue with other branches of Christianity.

Information packages handed out at the vast cathedral-like complex show pictures of Gregorio, who lost his eyes in a car crash, with bleeding hands, forehead and torso similar to the wounds of Christ on the cross.

Sainthood for Franco

The sect, based in the southern Spanish town of El Palmar de Troya but with members from as far away as the United States, conferred sainthood on former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

A townhall official said Gregorio had died, although she could not confirm when. A local police officer said the bells at the vast walled church complex had been ringing for about an hour on Tuesday morning.

Officials at the church declined to comment on reports of Gregorio’s death and whether anyone would succeed him.