The family of a Wexford pensioner, whose body lay undiscovered in her home for two months, believe the public should be vigilant to "the dangers of alternative faith-based groups, sects and cults".
Bridget Crosbie (84) died of natural causes at her home in the Faythe area of Wexford town in September, but her death was only discovered when gardaí entered her home on November 20 and found her remains in a downstairs bedroom.
One of seven siblings, and originally from Foulksmills outside New Ross, Ms Crosbie was unmarried. A member of a group known as the 'Palmarian Catholic Church' - a highly secretive Spanish sect that broke away from the Catholic Church and has declared a series of its own 'Popes' - Bridget effectively was forced to cut herself off from her family when she became involved with the sect in the late 1970s, around the same time she returned to Ireland to look aft er her parents.
"Growing up, Bridget was just a typical Irish girl. She was great fun. She worked in hotels in England during the late sixties, was very popular, and then became a midwife. But somewhere along the line she became involved with this Palmarian crowd and everything changed," said a family member.
She added: "She told us she couldn't speak to us anymore because we weren't Palmarians. If we met her on the street she wouldn't even talk to us. It was heart-breaking. She had to wear a long dark dress all the time and a habit. She became isolated and no matter how many times we'd try to help her she wouldn't open her door or engage with us or her neighbours, who also tried to help. On numerous occasions we travelled to Clontarf to speak with the Palmarian leaders there but couldn't get inside the gates."
One neighbour, Sean O'Leary, said: "If you'd meet her on the street she might say hello, but when you tried to engage her in conversation she'd walk away."
It's estimated there are approximately 300 members of the Palmarian sect in Ireland with only around 2,000 members worldwide.
The group had its Irish headquarters in a house at number 38 Haddon Road, in the leafy Dublin suburb of Clontarf, but the property was put up for sale for €1.4m during the summer months.
Attempts to contact the Palmarian leaders in Ireland this week were unsuccessful.
Included in the group's long list of strict rules is the insistence that females must wear skirts no shorter than five fingers width below the knee, that attending non-Palmarian religious services such as weddings, funerals and christenings is banned, and that there is to be no social contact with any persons not dressed to the Palmarian dress code.
Amongst its more bizarre rules are a ban on watching boxing, voting, reading horoscopes, using candles on birthday cakes and visiting swimming pools and beaches. Television programmes that show people outside the Palmarian dress code may not be watched. Michael Garde, Director of Dialogue Ireland, an independent trust that works to promote awareness and understanding of new 'religious' movements and cultism in Ireland, told the Irish Independent: "We are regularly contacted by families who have seen a loved one lost to the Palmarian church. We are deeply concerned by the group and how it destroys families and isolates people, especially the elderly. There are also reports that the Palmarians are targeting younger people and students."
Mr Garde said there have been many examples of Irish people adjoined to the Palmarians selling their homes, or leaving their property to the group in their wills, with proceeds going to the 'church' which has its headquarters in the remote Spanish town of Palmar de Troya, where it has a lavish basilica behind high walls.
"Groups like the Palmarians have undue influence on people, they remove the rational capacity for people to deal with things. In Ireland, these groups have left behind a trail of hundreds of people no longer connected to society."
Bridget Crosbie's family want people in Ireland to be vigilant about these groups. A family member told the Irish Independent: "They are dangerous, they ruin lives and in our case they took our beloved sister from us. We don't want to see another family devastated by cults like the Palmarians."
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