Saturday 17th may 2008

By Raffaella Di Marzio


In the first fragment I hinted to my difficulty in understanding the demand for help coming from people whose relatives were not affiliated to “cults” but were members of catholic groups. I felt uneasy in those situations and I didn’t’ know how to behave.

What had to do catholic associations with the abuses lamented by the relatives?

This question gained a dramatic value for me when an unprecedented massacre took place in a group which, even deviating along the years from the catholic praxis and doctrine, anyway had catholic roots and was also led by priests.

It was the fringe catholic “Movement for the Restoration of God’s Ten Commandments” which spread in Uganda. Inside the movement, on 17th March 2000, it happened the most serious massacre ever happened in a religious movement, even more serious than the People’s Temple bloodshed in Jonestown. Near 1000 people died, half burned alive inside a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

I was particularly shocked by the impressive number of children died in the burning of a church, I felt the need to understand more deeply what had happened and once again I realized the need to overcome my ignorance in the issue.

A couple of years later I had the chance to do it. I knew that a Degree Course in Historical-Religious Sciences had been created at La Sapienza University in Rome and I decided to apply. The course also included the study of the typical African religions and of the transformations induced by the Christian evangelisation during the colonization. Once the moment arrived, I decided to choose as subject for my graduation theses in Historical-Religious Sciences the case of “Movement for the Restoration of God’s Ten Commandments”.

After the diffusion of the news and the shocking images broadcasted by the TV showing tens of burned bodies and common graves full of human corpses, the tension had risen once again and the quarrels between “defenders” and “prosecutors” of the cults had sharply increased. The Uganda Commission for Human Rights too wrote an impressive report on the massacre entitled “The Kanungu Massacre”.

Personally I was already in a different and more “moderate” position than in my first years of work. In 2000, indeed, it was more than six years since I started dealing with cults, I had gained a certain experience and I had studied a lot. My ideas were starting to distinguish from those of other people who had been for me a kind of “master”, examples to follow that, in any case, I will never end thanking because I could benefit of their experience. And by experience I mean everything, mistakes included, contrasts and sometimes also fights. Everything’s been useful, nothing got lost.

Despite this process was already started, that was the moment when I got conscious and accepted these sad facts:

- cult deviations, abuses and mental manipulation can ALSO happen inside catholic movements;

- it’s no sense “fighting” the cults as they were separate entities from the world of the “good ones”;

- there are no “good” and “bad” religions because what matters is the way people interpret and practice them;

- two persons declaring the same religious faith can be one a saint and the other a killer; both can justify their actions on the basis of the same “faith”;

- mental manipulation happens in any social group and it’s not a feature of “strange” religions;

- if physical or psychological abuse happens in a catholic group it’s not less serious than if it happens in a cult”;

- new born catholic movements show “sectarian” features which must be smoothed, corrected and sanctioned from those who have the responsibility;

- a religious group in which faith is lived in a very intense and involving manner can be NOT a “cult”; its members can be perfectly aware of doing actions apparently “absurd” to third parties and not approved by their parents: this does NOT mean they are plagiarized.

It was time for me to work to fill this gap. I absolutely had to deepen my study of cult deviations taking place in the catholic world: their causes, the potential remedies and the actions taken by the hierarchy to limit the phenomenon.

The Gospel is not a dead letter. So I could not afford to ignore these words:

“He further told them a proverb: Can a blind man guide and direct a blind man? Will they not both stumble into a ditch or a hole in the ground? A pupil is not superior to his teacher, but everyone when he is completely perfected will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye but do not notice or consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Brother, allow me to take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye” (Luke, 6, 39-42).

Since that moment an horizon opened to me, whose borders I can’t see yet. I started collecting official documents in which the catholic hierarchy handles the phenomenon of cult deviations in the catholic world and the positions taken by several Episcopal conferences and individual bishops. The pseudo-catholic cults (called in the academic context “catholic fringe movements”) became one of the fields of study which, since then, I decided to deepen further.

I made available to anybody part of my studies and my researches on the Portal SRS:


Some papers I wrote under the direction of PierLuigi Zoccatelli and Massimo Introvigne can be read in the book “Religions in Italy”:


If you have courage, a lot of patience and time available then I wish you: Good study! Comments, questions or clarifications on the issue are welcome as my research continues...


The contents of this article are unprofessional translations of those included in the italian website www.dimarzio.it.

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