adversaries, competitors or friends?

Concerning the relations between Gris and CESNUR, also see The Coup that Failed: A Case Study in "Counter-Revolutionary" Strategy

GRIS (Group for Research and Information on Cults [sette]), is an Italian Catholic association, approved by the Italian Bishops' Conference which deals basically with "cult" related issues; originally it focused on the Watchtower Society, but today it also deals with other groups.

The President of GRIS - and the addressee of the letter we shall be discussing - is Monsignor Minuti, well known for his theological disputations against Jehovaism. The National Secretary is prof. Giuseppe Ferrari.

The national headquarters are in Bologna: the local branch in Rome is run by Dr Raffaella Di Marzio together with her husband, Alberto Amitrani.

I recently read the letter with which Dr Alberto Amitrani tenders his resignation from the National Board of GRIS (on the newsgroup it.cultura.religioni March 9, 2001, Message-ID: 000b01c0a887$ebc9dbe0$3621b4d4@cossu). This letter is circulating throughout Italy and abroad (at the last count, it had officially come into the hands of thirty-four different people), so we can consider it to be public to all intents and purposes.

In the letter - a "formal protest" and "denunciation", written "after having prayed very much" - Amitrani tenders his resignation from the National Board complaining of how Giuseppe Ferrari supposedly treated Dr Di Marzio (who has not resigned her appointment).

Prof. Ferrari is very clearly accused of being incompetent, and of having damaged Mrs Di Marzio's candidacy to the Board of Directors of GRIS using methods which Amitrani considers to be unacceptable.

GRIS is an association with pastoral aims which I have nothing to do with, so it would be undue interference on my part to discuss the conflict between Amitrani-Di Marzio and prof. Ferrari. However, GRIS is the only association in Italy involved in "cult" issues which is present throughout the country. The media get in touch with GRIS whenever there is news about "unusual" groups. And it is a fact that people - including non-Catholics - who have been abused by cults usually refer to GRIS because they know of no other association. This is why problems affecting GRIS have repercussions on everybody involved, in one way or another, with "cult" issues.

One of the topics of Amitrani's letter touches our "Critical Page" on the activities of CESNUR directly: Ferrari is accused of supposedly having damaged relations between GRIS and CESNUR.

If you are reading this page, it probably means you know about CESNUR; in any case, it is a "Centre for Studies on New Religions" run by Massimo Introvigne and "inspired" by militants of the right-wing group Alleanza Cattolica, the Italian "sister" organization of the Brazilian "Tradition Family and Property" (TFP) founded by the "prophet" Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Although upholding an extreme form of Catholic "intégrisme", with a millennialist touch due to the cult of the Virgin of Fatima, their hostility towards "secular humanism" has led Alleanza Cattolica to support the operations of certain transnational cults, in order to fight cult critics, called "the New Jacobins".

In 1998 - as we shall see in greater detail below - a lively polemic broke out on Internet between Introvigne and Amitrani-Di Marzio of GRIS.

This polemic never involved GRIS as a whole; indeed the Milan branch of the organization is still solidly controlled by CESNUR sympathizers (who all happen to be militants of Alleanza Cattolica as well), and Lorenzo Minuti has tried in various ways to patch up relations between both associations, which after all share much the same ideology.

In his letter of resignation, Amitrani appears to claim that the polemics that he and his wife engaged in with CESNUR in 1998 was a mistake, and that the couple was driven into it by Giuseppe Ferrari.

Amitrani speaks of the "APA Lie" (die APAlüge) as Pastor Thomas Gandow called it. Dr Introvigne had repeatedly claimed (even in statements before parliament committees) that the authoritative American Psychological Association (APA) had officially stated, in the name of the whole profession, that "brainwashing" had been proven scientifically not to exist (for links to various documents about the case, see here under the heading "CESNUR and Brainwashing").

Dr Di Marzio had managed to get hold of the original APA document, which did not say at all what Introvigne claimed it did: the "Memo" actually criticized the quality of one specific study on the topic, and said that further research was needed.

The APA case recently took an ironical twist: Philip G. Zimbardo, well-known cult critic and supporter of "mind control" theories, was actually elected President of the association for 2002.

Dr Di Marzio's study was the first critical work to cast doubt on the scientific reliability of Massimo Introvigne's writings (my two articles analyzing Introvigne's work on former members of New Acropolis and on New Acropolis itself, my critique of his study on "anti-cult terrorism" presented at the Association for Sociology of Religion and in the review Terrorism and Political Violence, and the short essays where I analyzed his studies on the Jehovah's Witnesses and on Jonestown all came out months, and in some cases, years, later).

CESNUR's reply to the accusation launched by Dr Di Marzio was anything but polite (as one can see from the title, The Rubbish that Ends up on Paper); however, it had little to say in terms of content.

Now let us see how Amitrani tells the story today, writing to Father Minuti:

"I am speaking of the APA case and the famous Memo, now known to everybody. At the time, we rushed forward to the charge, against what we thought to be a serious case of disinformation, or worse. You know how hard it was for us to discover the history of the events, and what risks we ran personally. At the time, your Secretary, safely hidden in the background, was full of joy because of the damage which was being inflicted on the 'adversary', not because truth had been restored."

I think this statement needs a more detailed analysis. The APA case came up just as I - entirely on my own - was beginning to take an interest in CESNUR. So I contacted the parties involved. The Amitrani's were certainly "rushing forward to the charge". But prof. Ferrari, was not only "safely hidden in the background"; he actually seemed not to be very interested in the whole matter. I know nothing of any previous disagreement between prof. Ferrari and Dr Introvigne, but it certainly seems to me that the initiative of discussing CESNUR's claims came from Dr Di Marzio and not from prof. Ferrari.

Amitrani goes on to say:

"You know we had no intention of provoking all the trouble that came from that event, and if CESNUR had not replied with 'The Rubbish that Ends up on Paper', things would probably have gone quite differently. However, they did reply, and Raffaella and I found ourselves in the midst of crossfire. We were aware of what we were doing of course, but had no idea at all of the background, which we fully understand only today."

Dr Di Marzio's husband is speaking as if the "APA Lie" had been an isolated episode. Once the truth about this single event had been made clear, "things would probably have gone quite differently." The Amitrani's seem to forget that the APA trick was part of a much larger class of CESNUR legerdemain; we need only mention the following:

  • the rather cavalier manner in which Introvigne for a long time used to introduce himself as a university professor and sociologist so he could present his opinions as "the consensus of the academic world";

  • the accusations against CESNUR's critics, alleged to be secret agents of the French government, or, alternately, of the Belgian parliament;

  • the call on US law enforcement personnel to investigate cult critics;

  • a bizarre study, followed by an article, carried out to prove that anyone disagreeing with Dr Introvigne is an "extreme terrorist" whom the authorities should take steps against.

These elements seem to be missing from Alberto Amitrani's account, where CESNUR's only failure - besides one lie - seems to have been its sarcastic reply to Dr Di Marzio.

Now, what is the background to the CESNUR case which Amitrani claims to have found out about only recently? Could it be the by now famous "1.600 links" between CESNUR and Alleanza Cattolica, and hence to the "counter-revolutionary" school of self-styled "Prophet" Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira? Or Introvigne's membership of the Lodge of Thebes? His public appeal where he compared the dissemination of critical information about Scientology, or the attempts to levy taxes from this multinational corporation, with the "darkest ages in recent European history"?

No, none of that. The real background is this: prof. Ferrari was unhappy about Introvigne's attendance at the International Conference of GRIS in the summer of 1994:

"Of course, from that moment, we started wondering what Introvigne could ever have done to be seen that way by Giuseppe. Of course (we thought) he must have done something serious."

The whole CESNUR case seems to turn into a personality conflict between Introvigne and Ferrari, with Amitrani and Di Marzio as unwitting tools of the latter:

"During the following years, we had many opportunities (with generous help from your secretary) to learn the thousands of things which this person was supposed to have done and said, and how harmful his activities were for the Association, the Church and people. As good 'grissini' [a jocular way of describing members of GRIS], of course, we could only give credit to our secretary (we had no reason to do otherwise), and this way we too later shared in what became 'open warfare' on the Web, a full-scale battle. Today, one of the few things which I would not repeat of my past is this; besides, it was a worthless waste of energy, and gave no tangible results except that of helping us to get a better understanding of the sometimes obscure way your secretary behaves."

Now, since I know how dynamic Dr Di Marzio is and how unprepossessing is the character of prof. Ferrari, I doubt one can honestly maintain that the National Secretary of GRIS manipulated the Amitrani's.

In other words, as Amitrani tells the story, the reasons which led to the dispute between GRIS and CESNUR appear to have been quite accidental. But if this is true, then obviously Dr Di Marzio must believe that CESNUR and GRIS are two organizations which a freak event set on diverging tracks, but which have basically the same aims:

"What I do not understand, do not comprehend and totally disapprove of is the fact that this 'duel' sullied relations between GRIS and Cesnur, something which, for example, was certainly far from the intentions of Mons. Marinelli [the late founder of GRIS] (as one can see from an old article which appeared in MRA [the review Movimenti religiosi alternativi] and which we purposely republished on the website of the Rome branch of GRIS)."

On our website, an article in Italian by Dana Lloyd Thomas, a scholarly esotericist, documents the ideological convergence between GRIS and CESNUR; something which Amitrani-Di Marzio seem to confirm from an opposite point of view.

This convergence has an important historical precedent: after all the "detached scholar" Introvigne was a member of the board of GRIS - a body devoted to fighting heresy - right up to 1993.

Those who deal with "cult" issues generally tend to avoid public discussion. Some rightly prefer to stay anonymous in order to safeguard themselves from slander and threats by certain organizations. Especially, with opponents who refuse to accept the most basic principles of democratic discussion, cult watchers well know that totalist organizations will jump on the slightest difference of opinion.

With GRIS, there is another factor: the very positive value of Christian charity sometimes obliges people to pretend that certain differences do not exist at all, or at least not to wash their dirty linen in public. CESNUR - where the very notion of "difference of opinion" probably does not exist - on the other hand is such an "unpublic" organization that it does not even have a magazine or any real offices (apart from the library in Turin), and its sources of funding are at least in part a mystery.

We criticize cults because the "consumer" does not know beforehand what he is being sold. Applying the same logic, it is important for cult victims to be clearly aware of how things are among those who, in one way or another, offer them help.

Regarding this, I wish to mention something which may seem at first to be a personal matter, but which goes far beyond. It is a well known fact by now that my controversy with Massimo Introvigne has its roots in certain false statements which the director of CESNUR made about me. However, the disagreement is beyond settlement, because it is not based on any kind of personal resentment on either side. Introvigne decided to attack me for what I represented: an example of the category of former members who decided to risk lawsuits from their former leaders and scorn - to say the least - from "normal" society. If I choose to run new risks today, setting up this "Critical Page", it is because Introvigne too represents a category: the category of those who systematically support the mighty against the weak.

Two days ago, skimming through a book which has just come out, I discovered that Introvigne was already slandering me three years before my site appeared, at a time when I used to think of him only as an honest scholar. In a personal letter to the author of the book, dated July 20, 1995, here is how he described me:

"he raves [farneticante] like most people who are in touch with the so-called anti-cult movements."

(Ugo Maria Tassinari, Fascisteria, ed. Castelvecchi, Rome 2001, p. 302).

It is interesting to compare these words by Introvigne with what a person who is currently an active member of New Acropolis wrote to me, commenting on my article published in this same web site:

""Since you wrote the only text I know that criticizes NA without using evident lies and with reasonable wording and arguments, you earn some respect!"

I am not upset at Introvigne's words. Since we had only met once, and for a few minutes, I hardly consider him competent to judge my character. I am upset however at his logic. At the time, he knew nearly nothing about New Acropolis - this can clearly be seen from the considerable number of mistakes he makes in the pages on the group in his book Il cappello del mago. Introvigne himself now understands that the group which he then used to call "Neo-Pythagorean" is actually "Neo-Theosophical", as he writes today (actually, it was I who suggested he change this, precisely during our only meeting). Quite simply, the Turin lawyer could not know as much about New Acropolis as a leader of the organization who had been a militant in it for fourteen years. As far as "contact" with the "anti-cult movement" is concerned, one wonders whether a beer or two with good Maurizio Antonello of the "anti-cult" group Aris Veneto is enough to transform people into "raving" madmen: what strange, hypnotic powers do these cult critics have, if they can change people like that?

The crucial fact is that Introvigne, for ideological reasons of his own, had to condemn out of hand a testimony which he was not even able to evaluate.

It is perfectly natural, therefore, that a rapprochement between GRIS and CESNUR could raise doubts. A person who has been "on the side of the oppressed" simply cannot sit at the same table as a person who has witnessed in court for the oppressors, or who calls any mention of abuse "ravings", even when he has no idea what is being talked about.

The issue of the relations between GRIS and CESNUR must not therefore be discussed privately, cutting out the people who have the most right to know.

The issue should be discussed publicly. With mutual respect, but in the open, and clearly.

Miguel Martínez
March 2001

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