« I know Scientology. I have seen young people caught in a mechanism where they lose their  freedom. There, thought is devastated, a total deconstruction is carried out to later "reset" the person. This process envisages one necessary step: a total break-off from one’s own family. Scientology is a serious threat. »
((Mons. Ersilio Tonini,  April 30, 1998, Corriere della Sera [1])

« ... Scientology, with which I kindly disagree, but which I would defend to death if I had the chance to defend it. »
(PierLuigi Zoccatelli, member of CESNUR, May 9, 1998 [2])

CESNUR and GRIS are divided on Scientology

When Scientology speaks Italian, by Francesco Antonioli.  

From Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI), the Italian Bishops’ Conference.  

Tuesday, December 1st, 1998. Notes edited by Harry.  

«The big case of the movement founded by the US national Hubbard. A conference at Turin University divides Catholics. Giuseppe Ferrari, Secretary of Gris: "This conference is abetting their cause, they want to be recognized as a religion at all costs". Massimo Introvigne, Cesnur: "I do not defend them [3], but we must try to understand their appeal» 

Scientology is conquering Italy. The Turks are nothing in comparison.. In our Country, this movement is growing at an extraordinary pace. It was founded in the US by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, who died or, better yet, reached the Supreme Level in 1986, probably to reincarnate as early as possible here or on some other more developed planet (it is legitimate, since he was a science fiction writer too...). The regular followers, i.e. those who regularly buy the courses or the auditing advertised by these gentlemen, are estimated to amount to 20,000 [4]. This morning Cesnur, the Center of Studies on New Religions, which carried out a survey to count  them, organized a press conference with the US expert J. Gordon Melton and the Italian scholar Pierluigi Zoccatelli.  

Melton - author of a recent booklet titled The Church of Scientology (published by Elledici, 96 pages, It. Lira 8.000) - shall also be the leading figure in a conference which will be held tomorrow morning at the Politics Department of the University of Turin. Sociologist Luigi Berzano explains: «It is the first time that we talk about Scientology, dealing with its history, its doctrines, the reasons for its growth, in an academic context and leaving aside penal or tax problems which are undoubtedly important, but which must not distract us from other analyses». So, are they aseptic scientists? And which is the right approach to the evolution which led "Dianetics" to become a real Church, from its "treatments" to its ever greater spreading across different continents?  

When you say "Scientology" harsh controversies, lawsuits, ideological disputes immediately arise. Why? «Quite obvious - as Massimo Introvigne comments, - it's the quintessence of a US phenomenon. But the exportation has been made with the grace of a bull in a crystal shop. Very little sensitivity, little attention for rooted cultures. The time has come to reason also about their doctrine. They were the first to "land in Normandy"...». In Italy - thank to the Court of Cassation in 1997 and the Finance Ministry in 1998 - they obtained recognition as a religion. «But who is not a religion? - Introvigne insists - Mircea Eliade had found at least 126 definitions. The judges resorted to a very extensive one. When facing phenomena like Scientology, the West dramatically lacks a shared concept of religion».    

Giuseppe Ferrari, National Secretary of Gris, Group of Research and Information on Cults, which is already based in about one hundred Italian dioceses says: «But the serious problem regards the lack of legal means to define a religion. Consequently, magistrates refer to personal opinions or, anyway, to differing criteria. In coming months we want to organize an interdisciplinary conference together with a number of universities to discuss about this aspect. There is a very serious lacking of legislation, which cannot be underestimated. The faithful as well as politicians need to have a picture of the situation».  

Among Catholics, and especially between the Gris and the Cesnur, there are diverging opinions on these new movements. Often open controversies arise. «I am sorry, but those promoting conferences like tomorrow’s in Turin, may actually be lending a helping hand to Scientology  - Ferrari warns -. Furthermore, the issue is even more complicated. There is a tendency to excessively safeguard these religious movements. A statute cannot be enough to obtain "license". It must be verified whether they are claiming their own freedom now to curtail the freedom of others in the future"... In Greece and in Germany Hubbard’s followers had a few problems. There must be a reason. The question is that they use methods which are much more like a mix of marketing rather than being spiritual». That is not everything. «We are in favor of the protection of minorities too - the Gris Secretary adds - But we cannot support the rights of these movements without making the necessary distinctions. We have to go beyond slogans, otherwise there is the risk of being ridiculous.», he states, «Everything and nothing is a cult. By this line of reason, we can easily include Satanists or extemporary groups among the new religious movements, each with a host of legitimate rights...». Does Introvigne feel "sympathy" for cults? Is the Cesnur too open-minded? «Definitely not - the Turin Scientist replies. - First, I’m not a Scientology supporter [5]. I have just said at times that the theory of "brainwashing" is difficult to prove. I too believe that it is restrictive for Catholics to side with laymen stigmatizing the movement’s alleged tax evasion or its more or less cheating sales techniques. Others too use similar means, but their success is very limited. It is high time to highlight those doctrinal aspects, which I too criticize, regarding reincarnation –certainly a not secondary belief in Scientology - and gnosticism, and man’s being helped to awaken from his "numbness" and "helped" to discover the creator in him».  

In such a framework, can Catholics purchase Scientology "services"? And should legislators intervene, especially now that the scenario is changing rapidly, to limit the excesses of new religious sects, particularly in very serious cases such as moral subjugation? «Certain issues pertain to law courts and not to scientists.  In case of violations, there is a penal code», Introvigne affirms. «On the contrary, I believe law should have space to determine abuses» - Ferrari concludes. «I  do not believe that such a perspective would affect established religions. The criteria to be followed are necessarily those of fairness and the right of minorities and individuals to religious freedom».   


[1] An interview to Mons. Ersilio Tonini by Paolo Brogi, Corriere della Sera, April 30, 1998, p. 15.   

[2] PierLugi Zoccatelli, during a guest appearance in the program Notte V.I.P., "Cults, Religions and Freedom", broacast on May 9, 1998, by a small Italian TV network ("Serenissima").   

[3] On August 15, 1996, CESNUR sent an appeal supporting Scientology to German authorities. The appeal was signed by two leaders of this organization: Massimo Introvigne (Italy) and J. Gordon Melton (US). See CESNUR supports Scientology’s propaganda in Germany.  

[4] In February 1998, the Law Enforcement Department at Italian Ministry of the Interior carried out a survey on new religious movement and counted approximately 7000 scientologists and denounced Scientology for spreading exaggerated figures for promotional purposes.   

[5] For more information about the relevant controversy, which had some large surprises, please go to the general index, section: CESNUR and "brain-washing".

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