Brazil issues arrest warrant for faith healer 'John of God'

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian judge on Friday issued an arrest warrant for a famed Brazilian faith healer who has been accused of sexual abuses by more than 200 women in what prosecutors say could be the worst serial sex crimes case in the country’s history, authorities said.

João Teixeira de Faria, known as “John of God”, became a celebrity when Oprah Winfrey broadcast a report of his healing methods in 2013.

He drew thousands of Brazilians and foreigners to the spiritual center he has led since 1976 in Abadiania, a small town in the central Brazilian state of Goias where a court authorized his arrest.

State prosecutors told Reuters they have taken statements from more than 30 women who say they were sexually abused or assaulted while seeking spiritual guidance or psychic healing from him.

“More than 230 women have contacted us by email and another 50 by telephone,” said prosecutor Luciano Miranda. “If their stories are proven, this will be the worst sex crime case that Brazil has had.”

The alleged victims include women from the United States, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Bolivia, he said.

Faria denied the accusations on Thursday when he visited his center and spoke to a crowd of followers. He said he would comply with the law.

Faria, 76, could face charges of rape, with a prison sentence of 10 years if convicted, and rape of a vulnerable person, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

Dutch choreographer Zahira Maus on a TV Globo program on Friday alleged 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.

His 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 center in 2012 to explore his controversial healing methods for an program that aired the following year.

“I empathize with the women now coming forward and hope justice is served,” she said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Laís Martins; editing by Diane Craft