by Miguel Martinez

When Introvigne used to hate "cults" and like "apostates"  

Alleanza Cattolica radically changed its views on cults at the end of 1985. Rather more difficult to establish is whether Introvigne did too, for the simple reason that Introvigne hardly ever touched the issue before that year. However, we have seen how AC and Introvigne are virtually synonymous: AC's current line on "apostates" and the use of the word "setta" (sect or cult) are today identical with Introvigne's, and no writing by Introvigne before 1985 shows the slightest deviation from the party line on any of the issues he did deal with at the time; so I believe we can freely compare writings on the subject by Introvigne today with those by AC authors before 1985. In any case, there is an article by Introvigne himself, previous to the great shift of the mid-Eighties. In 1985 he wrote one of his first essays on what he definitely would not have then called a "New Religious Movement", the Jehovah's Witnesses. (I Testimoni di Geova: un profetismo gnostico in Quaderni di Cristianità, Spring 1985, p. 20 ff.). The opening paragraph of this nineteen-page article speaks for itself: 

"A privileged witness: Raymond Franz 

Literature on the Jehovah's Witnesses already includes the often worrying testimonies of people who have left this cult [setta] to join the Catholic Church, like Günther Pape, or some Protestantic group, such as William J. Schnell, George Terry, Richard Cotton, John Bevins or William Cetnar. The book Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, published in the United States in 1983, however, offers for the first time the testimony of a member of the Governing who, after having been part of the Governing Body - the supreme government of the Jehovah's Witnesses, considered to be the channel for communication between God and his people - left the organisation and took a critical attitude towards the cult [setta]"

The word "setta" (like the rather offensive "protestantico") occurs again twice in the following paragraph, and many more times in the text. On the following page (p. 21), Introvigne has something quite kind to say about what he would doubtless later have labelled as the "atrocity story" of a "professional enemy":

"Therefore, on May 22, 1980, Raymond Franz resigned from the Governing Body, to which he had belonged for nine years, and discovered he had to start a new life, without any personal experience or academic deree, since he had devoted all of his previous existence to activity as a full-time Jehovah's Witness."

On p. 22, we even read the following:

"The personal events of Raymond Franz' life have an interest which goes beyond the individual case of the author of Crisis of Conscience, since they bring out the cultic spirit [spirito di setta] which inspires the entire organisation of the Jehovah's Witnesses and which drives them to strike out systematically and ferociously against any inside dissenter, without feeling the need to provide arguments or explanations. His is certainly a partial view; however, on the basis of the documents which he presents any reader with some experience of law will find it hard not to share the conclusion that 'every right is on the side of the accusers, and the accused have no rights at all"

Introvigne tells us what the "cultic spirit" (spirito di setta) is all about:

"On the contrary, the law and the court system inside the Jehovah's Witness organisation, show the cultic spirit in its most typical character, which consists of denying explanations to members and in imposing decisions which have no rational motives and are not argued rationally" (p. 23)

The cultic spirit and totalism go hand in hand; Introvigne compares Jehovah's Witnesses with Communism and National-Socialism:

"Gnostic totalitarianism - as the organisation Raymond Franz describes 'from the inside' shows - appears no less clearly in the cult [setta] of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the structure of which is a seminarium and a model of totalitarian organisation, basew on millennialist beliefs, which claims to grow and impose itself on the world by constantly increasing its 'converts" (p. 38)

We have already seen what Introvigne now has to say about "apostates". Nine years later, Introvigne, writing in the right-wing daily Il Secolo d'Italia (Massimo Introvigne, "I nuovi movimenti religiosi", Secolo d'Italia, 22 nov. 1996), would say:

"Just because of the totally offensive meaning which the word 'cult' [setta] has taken on, a synonym for public opinion with a socially dangerous group, university studies on this issue have by now largely abandoned it, replacing it with the more neutral expression 'new religious movement' and 'new religion'" 

Introvigne of course is quite right on the perils of a loose use of the term: in its pre-CESNUR days, Cristianità used to speak of "la setta comunista" and even "la setta abortista".

Just like the more recent version, the early Mr Introvigne was not working separately from his organization. Not long before Introvigne's attack on the "Jehovah cult"; the March-April 1984 issue of Cristianità devoted a full page to a meeting "also promossa by Alleanza Cattolica", on "A cultic [settaria] presence in Sicily: Jehovaism", and held in Palermo. Introvigne of course, not yet being an expert on the issue, was not among the speakers. "Apostates" plaid a leading role in the meeting:

"Testimonies of pain for so many victims of Jehovaism, and a feeling of liberation for having left the Jehovaist organisation, were expressed by three former members of the cult [setta], who, describing their own stories, showed how it is always the weakesst who fall into the trap of psychological suggestion, of a new Manicheism and of feelings of hatred for all those who are not, and above all for those cannot be, initiated" 
("Una presenza settaria in Sicilia: il geovismo", in Cristianità, March-April 1984, p. 8)

In another conference (again, Introvigne is not listed among the speakers), held in Massa Carrara in 1983 "to deal with the expansion of the cult", Alleanza Cattolica pointed out how Jehovah's Witnesses use their theology for purposes of practical exploitation:

"One interesting feature of the 'practice' of the Jehovah's Witnesses is how they manage to finance their propaganda operations: having laid down the principle that the follower belongs entirely to the association, they have succeeded in setting up a publishing venture which can count on virtually free labour, with some very obvious advantages in terms of profit!". 
 ("Un convegno di studi sul geovismo", in Cristianità, April 1983, p. 12)

On April 25, 1985, as Cristianità proudly referred under the usual heading of "the good fight" (Cristianità, May 1985, n. 121, p. 13), AC organized a meeting in Matera on "Catholic Truth and the Jehovaist cult" (Verità cattolica e la setta geovista). Speakers included Ernesto Zucchini, later involved in CESNUR; but also

"The testimonies of two former members of the cult [setta]: Dr Achille Aveta, who some years ago left the Jehovah's Witnesses, an organisation which he had belonged to since his childhood, denouncing in the doctrinal forgeries and the totalitarian nature of the Jehovaist structure, and Dr Walter Palmieri, whose speec showed the difficulties in the path back to Catholic truth for those - and they are many - who leave the cult [setta]"

In the afternoon, a professor of law touched an issue which Introvigne would find untouchable only a few years later: the legal aspects of the rules of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In the June-July 1985 issue of Cristianità, Alleanza Cattolica was still organizing meetings denouncing Satanic cults ("Il demoniaco luogo teologico, fenomeno sociale, categoria storica", in Turin, June 11, 1985; although Introvigne lives in Turin, he is not mentioned in the article).

"The journalist Gianluigi Marianini presented the results of his inquiries into the worrisome presence of Satanists in Turin [] and showed how an increasing number of people are led into Satanic cults [sette sataniche] from apparently harmless astrological circles, through magic and spiritualism" 

Any reader of Introvigne's writings will recognize all the marks of the "anti-cult movement" - "sensationalizing journalists", "confusion between different kinds of new religions" and the "abusive use of the term cult" - in one paragraph.

Introvigne, apparently not yet an "expert" on such matters, was not a speaker at either of these meetings. 

Only a few years later, Introvigne could proudly boast that he was one of the few non members to be regularly invited to attend black masses in Turin (Maria Grazia Cutuli, "Il diavolo è fra noi", Epoca, 28.9.93),. 

Perhaps rightly, the scholar Introvigne in recent years defended the Catholic pentecostal-charismatic group Renewal in the Spirit against the accusation of being a cult (Cristianità, n. 269, Sept. 1997, p. 9); however, in the same issue of the same magazine, the believer Introvigne holds the introductory speech at a convention of the same organization, called "When the Son of Man Returns, Will He Still Find Faith in the World?"

Things were quite different back in 1977, when the May issue of Cristianità devoted an article to the same group. The author of course was not yet Introvigne, but Pellegrino Costa.

The quotation marks in the title say everything: "'Catholic' pentecostalism - towards 'tribalization' of the Church?" ("Tribalization" being an oblique reference to Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira's notion that the Church in Latin America was being "tribalized" by progressive missionaries). Typically, the essay starts out with the words:

"In the third Italian edition of the essay Revolution and Counter-Revolution, the author, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, identifies 'Catholic' pentecostalism as one of the symptoms of the Fourth Revolution inside the Church" 

Catholic pentecostals are compared to a long list of ancient heresies and associated with the US drug culture of the '60s. Finally, they are diabolical:

This, in brief, is the pentecostal doctrine: destroying reason and rejecting the guidance of the Church, however, means falling prey to imagination and to diabolical deception, which is always present. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the devil can act on man's imagination and outside senses, can operate prodigies thanks to the excellence of his angelical nature, and can induce perceptible tenderness and sweetness in order to lead uncautious souls to perdition. Pentecostalism, with its irrational manifestations and superstitious rites, certainly favours this operation by the devil on its followers" (p. 7)

Very obviously, an enormous change in Introvigne's thinking took place somewhere between 1985 and 1988, when Introvigne was already expressing the same conspiracy theories about the "anti-cult" movement he still holds today.