European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

Saluzzo or the 120 days of Sodom

Written the Tuesday, March 18th 2014 à 12:16

Article read 761 times

Article by Camillo Maffia - Agenzia Radicale. Translation from italian by EIFRF.

Source in italian

A recent episode of the TV show “Mystery” makes us think over the possible forms of looting taking place on the background of the controversial issue of “Satanic cults” and, more generally, of “religious cults”. 
I already covered the Saluzzo case, a sad story of suicides committed by teenagers, seemingly related in some way (but this will have to be ascertained through judicial proceedings) with a professor who allegedly entertained sentimental relationships with some of his female students.
In the sensationalistic attempt to fit this incident in, at all costs, to some mysterious “Satanic cults”, just because of the fact that some students were passionate readers of Anton La Vey, founder, in 1966, of the legally established Church of Satan of San Francisco, “Mystery”, attempts to shows based on no actual information the e-traits of one of the girls who committed suicide, and then turns to a medium that tries to get in touch with the soul of the deceased girl.
The show is guaranteed, and the suffering of the relatives – forced to swallow these forms of speculation on the suicide of their young daughter, sister or cousin – is a price that one must be ready to pay, because the shameful show offered by the mass media speculation on the delicate issue of “cults”, must go on, and, often, at the expense of innocent people.
After the grounded controversies on the usefulness and even the constitutionality of the Anti-Cult Squad of the State Police, Senator Alberti Casellati tabled, as first signatory, a parliamentary interrogation in which she proposes the creation of an Italian MIVILUDES (a controversial French governmental body accused by several NGOs of violations of fundamental human rights, promoter of a politics that cost France three convictions by the Court of Strasbourg), aimed at even stricter control on so called “cultic deviances”.
As of today, it is not yet clear what the “sectarian deviances” are they are talking about: not a single judiciary proceedings has ever lead, in the history of Republic, to the confirmation of the existence of one of the “psycho-cults” so imaginatively represented by the information at large. There have been, on the contrary, conspicuous compensations, like that granted to Marco Dimitri (Children of Satan) for the 400 days of illegal imprisonment he suffered, or judgments explicitly demolishing the “psycho-cult” theory, like in the case of Arkeon, because these cases of bad justice not only have a human cost, but also a financial one, and they add up to the millions of backlogged legal proceedings that should be extinguished with an amnesty which cannot be delayed any longer.
But instead of thinking of extinguishing the offenses to solve the emergency that exists in the Italian prisons, new ones are being created, launching anew the “crime of mental manipulation”; and concurrently with somebody advocating such restrictive measures against cults in Italy, in Paris, Rudy Salles, collaborator of George Fenech, member of FECRIS, even seems to be aspiring to the creation of a European MIVILUDES, in the report he submitted to the Council of Europe, already rebutted in different areas, and related to the protection of minors from sectarian deviances.
FECRIS, to which also the main anti-cult groups in Italy belongs, is the French association that arouses international concern, due to the danger it would represent to the rights of religious minorities in trying to establish a boundary line between religion and “cult”, with the purpose to fight the latter, and supporting the successful aim, also pursued by our domestic anti-cultists, to get passed in France an updated version of the crime of plagio, created by the Fascist regime to persecute the dissidents, never applied up to the Braibanti case and that, after the solitary fight of Marco Pannella and the protests of intellectuals such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia, Mauro Mellini and Elsa Morante, was abolished by the Constitutional Court in 1981, due to its manifest unconstitutionality.
The French pattern has been exported to Belgium, where, among the “dangerous cults” we also find the Sant’Egidio Community: a sort of religious McCarthyism where one can easily end up, therefore, in the “black list” of the “cultic groups”, that some would like to also apply in our country, without realizing that a greater secularism is not achieved through the stigmatization of religious groups, but through an activity of reform that first of all provides an adequate legislative framework, avoiding false secularisms and equalizing the rights and duties of religious, spiritual, non-believers or atheist groups.
The human cost of anti-cult politics has already been raised at both OSCE/ODIHR and in places where religious minorities, like Damanhur, tells stories of deep sufferings caused by blitz and raids that, since 1991, have never found this community guilty of any possession of drugs, weapons or other illegal materials, and of legal proceeding that were concluded with the acquittal of the defendants.
Even more striking levels have been reached with the Ananda Assisi case, whose members have been acquitted of the charges of enslavement, circumvention of incapable people, fraud and usury, after four years of media campaigns, the seizure of 20,000 euros and the arrest of 11 members. Without taking into account that the “fight against cults” has already brought with it actual martyrs, unfortunately, as demonstrated by the dramatic story of Don Giorgio Govoni, acquitted after 15 years from the charge of alleged Satanic practices, but deceased before seeing his name rehabilitated.
But if the human cost is clear, and should suggest to the anti-cultist companions a change of course rather than a reinforcement of their attitude, the financial cost, instead, still has to be quantified, for the fact that, despite the relevant cutbacks suffered by the police forces and three parliamentary interrogations, no government has yet told us how much does it cost and what’s the usefulness  of an anti-cult squad in a country where the cases related to “cults” indeed ended up in serious incidents of unfair justice which not only should be considered on the basis on the sufferings of the involved people, but also as a wrong answer to the fair request of safeguarding the individual against possible fraud, abuse or to facilitate the reintroduction in society of an individual after a long experience of isolation in a religious community.
Moreover, the democratic implications of the materials published by ( should be kept in consideration. This is a series of intercepted dispatches put on the net concerning a worrying intrigue between police forces and private citizens, allegedly aimed to trigger on the one hand, “anti-cult campaigns” and on the other to shut up any dissident, like it appears scrolling the worrying “behind the scene” reconstruction of the Di Marzio case.
This scholar was accused of being the “guru” of the “psycho-cult” Arkeon, because on her web site she had opened a space (then closed down by the Digos police) in which, being a supporter of an approach based on dialogue, she was enabling a confrontation between members and former members of the Arkeon community, this being after she had publicly reached the conclusion herself that Arkeon did not have the characteristics of a cultic group. The complaint lodged against this scholar was eventually shelved and the court demonstrated that Arkeon was not a psycho-cult.
Is what exposed by Libero Credo true? We cannot say, but certainly we can quantify the costs of the various judiciary operations that were prompted using the “cult” theorem and systematically culminated in the acquittal of the innocent individuals after long ordeals:  thirty years of ungrounded cases and the continued suffering by the victims of an approach that, on balance, has proven detrimental, should be sufficient not only to take a step back with regards the request to open a new MIVILUDES in Italy, but also to reconsider the course of action and the existence of the Anti-Cults Squad itself.
In an illiberal view, but not necessarily an illiberal one, which takes no account of the failures of a security approach on problems of social nature, it would be understandable that a police squad takes care of the abuses taking place in the religious sphere, once having clarified the costs in proportion to the results: but considering that in this area the greater concern is aroused by the scandal of pedophile priests in the Vatican, upon which the specific requirements of the United Nations hang, and considering also that the failure of passing over to justice the offending priests may still result in new sexual harassments of minors, it appears difficult to justify a law enforcement department that instead only deals with “cults”, to punish crime, without stepping on the feet of the great organized religions. 
Moreover, the Anti-Cults Squad has as its main contact a Catholic priest, don Aldo Buonaiuto, that Radicals should remember as one of the first to assail Beppe Englaro, under the banner of a concept of secular state that poorly suits to the referent of a police department in a democratic country. Bonaiuto himself, additionally, was under investigation in 2003 for sexual violence allegedly committed on a five years old child, case shelved in 2004;  at that time Bonaiuto was surrounded by a sane sense of civil rights protection that later on, however, decided not to note what Buonaiuto, in his capacity of consultant on the so called “cults cases”, was declaring to the press about the existence of children sacrificed in the name of Satan that never existed even in the preliminary investigation.
The conferences on “cults” with Buonaiuto as a protagonist, finally, take place in the Ateneo Regina Apostulorom of the Legionaries of Christ, the movement founded by Father Maciel that sparked one of the most serious cases of child abuse that ever occurred in the religious sphere. It’s therefore obvious that to “fight the cultic deviances”, performed at the expense of the secular State itself, indicates per se, a possible element at the basis of the outcome of such an action.
Don Aldo Buonaiuto, on the Velino of last 8th February, harshly criticized the UN Committee on the Rights of Child concerning the Holy See, not to mention perhaps that child victims of abuse by Catholic priests should be protected just as the child victims of abuse of different religious and spiritual movements, if such abuses were substantiated.
This is said reiterating that if one would ever hypothetically decide to draw a line of demarcation that sees the Catholic Church ending up, in virtue of this, along with Scientology or Sant’Egidio Community on a list of “dangerous cults”, this would occur exclusively at the expense of individual pastors who have never practiced sexual harassments, without causing, by the way, much of a benefit to the victims of abuses.
Buonaiuto is also one of the promoters of the “March for Life against Abortion”. In those days we learnt about the case of Valentina Magnanti, 28 years old, suffering from a serious genetic disease and thus forced to terminate her pregnancy in the fifth month, who was abandoned in a hospital bath to give birth to a dead fetus, because of too many objecting medical doctors, a problem that caused Italy to be condemned by the European Union for having violated the law on abortion and women’s rights. The protagonist of this avoidable tragedy said: “While I was there, overwhelmed with grief, anti-abortion activists entered with gospels in hand and with menacing voices”.
Behold, I believe that the companions of the anti-cultists, should step back and reflect on this. We share the fact that any form of religious fundamentalism is done at the expense of the fundamental rights of the person, regardless of the group pursuing it. One wonders then, how is it possible to reconcile the protection from the so-called “cults” (illiberal and fundamentalist religious movements, closed to the outside world) with the endorsement of forms of clerical extremism, both incompatible with the rule of law to lead Italy in a condition of flagrancy of crime.
In any case, if the State police turns to a priest of any denomination to assess the level of danger of members of other religious or spiritual groups, this cannot happen at the expense of secularism and religious equality. 
With the right focus on child protection, the risk is yet that of proceeding to a further erosion of the rule of the law, of taking a further step in the direction of the prevalence of the reason of State that, by its nature, has the outcome of unconditioned arbitrariness of itself: the orgy of power.
The “small Saluzzo” already shaken by questionable manipulations, would become authentic “Pasolini’s Salò” where the anal-sadistic impulse of the regime, chanting fascist nostalgia for the penal code, would end up giving vent on the weak ones that would be, overnight, defined “cult” and thus dead in the eyes of the world, stripped, subjected to raids, penal proceedings, media pillory, punished for every religious act.
The small religious community would forcedly become a nest in which the cuckoo would settle so as to establish his personal asylum where every detail has to be controlled, where any form of mental or spiritual diversity constitutes a deviance, where initiative becomes madness, where the inner revolt becomes “mental manipulation”.
The inadequacy of the French model was already made clear by the terrible story of Richard Grey, separated from his son because of his belonging to the Jewish Orthodox faith, covered by the media in April last year. 
No less serious is the case of the doctor tackled by an anti-cult association because he was a member of a Hindu group, and thus, of a “dangerous cult”, whose smear campaign found credit in institutions, so minded because indeed influenced by a model which is very dangerous to import, and who inevitably adopted the violence of such accusations, generating in the person such a suffering that lead him to commit an avoidable suicide.
But we could also mention the emblematic case, that occurred in 2003, of parents under investigation because they were targeted as members of a “cult”, were then forced to defend themselves to avoid their young daughters to be taken away from them, all while the eldest son was in hospital suffering from leukemia. They were eventually acquitted but not until after the child was already dead.
In Italy, though fortunately institutional measures comparable to those in France have not yet been adopted, we have already witnessed serious events, such as the libelous letters mailed to the school attended by the children of Vito Moccia, unfairly portrayed as the “guru” of the Arkeon “cult”, or the Osho Campus raid in 2007, affecting five defendants, acquitted after the torment of Rignano Flaminio. One can go back to the abduction, for purposes of deprogramming, of Scientologist Alessandra Pesce, this was raised in Parliament by Mauro Mellini in ’88, up to the recent incident of the pregnant girl accused of being a member of the Satanic cult  “Angels of Sodom” in 2002, and then acquitted after suffering during pregnancy.
The danger here is to go from non-existent “Angels of Sodom”, to the all-too-realistic “Days of Sodom”, because cases of ill-justice are not, when summed up, simple path errors, but alarm bells that should induce the anti-cult associations to reflect, in our view, saving for themselves the need of secularism and the need to protect the victims of abuse or violence, but without giving in to those justicialist and illiberal temptations that often corrupt the best intentions. 
Otherwise, with the end of the Era of Mania in the first fifteen years (’83 – ’89), when the work of the first anti-cult groups – ARIS and GRIS – made us witness cases like that of Pesce and Dimitri at the beginning of their fight for the reintroduction of the crime of plagio and the dissemination of the first waves of moral panic on the subject; and concluding with the next Era (’97-2013), in which a police department was born under a strong “smell” of unconstitutionality and certainly not secular, as it is  coordinated by a Catholic priest, while dramatic and ungrounded events summed up in Courts, flanked by actual media pillories; the risk is now, 2014,  that of joining, with the hypothesis of an Italian MIVILUDES, the Era of Blood. 
One cannot ignore the assessment of the results of the SAS before one can even consider the idea of a special inter-ministerial government agency; neither we can continue to ignore the weight of the documents published by Libero Credo, especially with regards to the treatment reserved to critical voices. Would the ominous scenario of connivance and pressures outlined by this unspoken Wikileaks be proven realistic, it is legitimate to assume that, would one decide to create an inter-ministerial body or legislate on a crime of mental manipulation (plagio), it would also be up to us too, then, and to all the dissidents, the irregular ones, the stubborn ones, the “eternally opposed” ones, to wear the famous blue ribbon of Pier Paolo Pasolini, along with Scientologists, Damanhurians, Satanists, Jehovah’s Witnesses (the latter already accustomed to wear identification marks from the Holocaust era), and who would be left with the eternal question to shout before the martyrdom: “My God, why hast thou forsaken us”?


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