Introvigne's silence on the most important
"religious freedom" case in Italy

By Miguel Martinez

November 29, 1998.

At the beginning of November 1998, the most important event in recent years involving "religious minorities" took place in Italy. Twenty senators belonging to six parties of both the ruling centre-left coalition and the opposition presented an urgent request to the government [1] not to sign an "understanding" with the Jehovah's Witnesses, accused of "not being a religious confession, indeed actually being a business enterprise which has already swindled dozens of people".

The document says that

«they are a cult [setta] which brainwashes [plagia] its members with subliminal messages, demands behaviour contrary to the law, puts its followers who do not obey on trial and gathers confidential information for purposes of blackmail.» 
(Amedeo Cortese, "Una lobby cattolica contro i Testimoni di Geova", Il Messaggero, 15.11.98, p. 7.)

The attitude of Massimo Introvigne, the director of CESNUR, is interesting. One must remember that he:
  • has repeatedly upheld that Scientology should be recognised as a religion;

  • devoted the September CESNUR conference to the rights of "religious minorities";

  • criticises the use of the word "cult";

  • denies "brainwashing" exists;

  • claims that "behaviour contrary to the law" may be justified for religious reasons.

It should also be remembered that the Jehovah's Witnesses are the most important "religious minority" in Introvigne's own country (Muslims are more numerous than JW's, but they are nearly all foreign nationals). And never before has there has been such a serious conflict in this country about the recognition of a "new religion."

So one would expect Introvigne to react with even more passion than he did when some young Germans "threatened" not to go and see a film with Scientologist John Travolta as an actor. [2] At the time, he wrote:

«We urge the heads of the government at federal and state levels in Germany and Belgium, as well as all genuine friends of religious liberty, to take immediate action to ensure that this campaign of hate is stopped without delay.»

In the far more important case of the Italian Jehovah's Witnesses, however, Introvigne has kept silent, at least so far - seventeen days after the senators submitted their document. Of course he may well post a note on the issue (especially after we publish this essay), but we suspect that the language will be less emotional than it was when he was defending Scientology.

The reason is quite simple. Although there has been strong grass roots opposition from former members and relatives to recognition of the Jehovah's Witnesses, it is a fact that nearly all the senators who are opposing recognition of the Jehovah's Witnesses are closely connected to the Catholic Church. Not only: many belong to the CCD, the right-wing Catholic party. Now, Introvigne is a member of the board of this party, which must have conferred with him before taking this momentous decision in his very field. And before using words which Introvigne has spent years fighting against, such as "cult" and "brainwashing".

We are left wondering whether Introvigne will decided to stay on the right side of the Vatican by keeping silent, or will resign from his position in the CCD and take on the full defence of the Jehovah's Witnesses, in keeping with the ideas he expressed in September at the CESNUR conference on "religious minorities."

In either case, the outcome will be amusing.


[1] Parliamentary Question of November 12, 1998, signed by twenty italian senators: Bosi, Callegaro, Minardo, Giaretta, Zilio, Preioni, Diana Lino, D'Ali, Veraldi, Andreolli, Nava, Ragno, Cusimano, Marri, Bornacin, Fumagalli Carulli, Cimmino, Napoli Bruno, Serena and Dentamaro.

[2] See this appeal sent to German authorities on August 15, 1996, signed by directors of CESNUR Massimo Introvigne (Italy) and Rev. James Gordon Melton (USA).

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