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By Raffaella Di Marzio

 

Read in ITALIAN and FRENCH


John Paul II said that was keen for the Church to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes made by Christians – and men of the Church –during the course of history, as a gesture of penitence. John Paul II wished to show that the Church was not afraid to recognize the betrayals, excesses, exploitation and violence that had been committed over the centuries in the name of the Christian God; behaviour that was not in the least bit Christian-like.

On 28 July 2014 the Pope Francis returned to Caserta, following his pastoral visit on Saturday, 26 July, to meet privately with the evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, a friend from his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires. traettino

The Pontiff met the community of the Pentecostal Evangelical Church, a Church who  is growing and is characterized by a vigorous missionary dynamism. In Caserta there are the premises, currently under construction, of the Pentecostal Church of the Reconciliation. The Pope dined with the community and  returned to the Vatican in the afternoon.

Pope Francis, following the John Paul II's example, addressed sober words to pastor Giovanni Traettino and the rest of Evangelical Pentecostal community in Caserta.

He apologized to the Pentecostal community especially for what happened during the fascist period when Evangelical pastors were deported, churches destroyed and minuscule Evangelical movements were declared:

harmful to the physical and mental identity of the [Italian] race

Many clerics back then kept silent and some parish priests reported Evangelicals to the OVRA, the Italian fascist regime’s secret police. Laws and provisions were passed by Christians, by baptized people.

Francis also wants the word “sect” to be used more carefully when referring to the various new branches of the Evangelical faith.

In his speech he said:

Don't say: I am the Church and you are the Cult!

He added that Satan is the King of division between Christians. Since the beginning of the Christianism History, dividing people  was a Satan's temptation (Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report).

Although Pope's friendship with Traettino was the catalyst for his visit to Caserta, Francis wanted to visit the Pentecostal community so that he could get to know it and the new Charismatic Christian movements better.These groups are attracting an ever increasing number of people, particularly in Latin American countries.

Some Catholics, Pentecostals and Protestants opposed the Pope’s meeting with Pastor Traettino, considering it to be scandalous.

I think that Pope Francis's words are very important, but it seems that the discrimination of religious minorities is not finished in Italy. Why? Here are some examples:

- There are Catholic people, bishops and priests, who still use the word "sect" in order to stigmatize  religious minorities.

- They are still involved in continuous attempts to stop any "Intesa" (although the Italian Constitution provides that only the treaty with the Catholic Church is given the status of a "Concordat", a number of other denominations and churches have smaller concordats called "intese", which grant them similar financial and other benefits)  between the Italian State and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some years ago, many of them signed a popular petition against the "intesa" promoted by individual anti-cultists and ex-members.

- The most important counselor of the Italian Anti-Cult Squad (SAS) is a Catholic association managed by a Catholic priest.

- The experts heard by the Police and the Members of Parliament, in order to distinguish between “good religions” and  “bad cults” are catholic counsellors

- From 2000 to 2013, very influent catholic politicians have been proposing three different bills for punishing the “mental manipulation” crime. The criminalization targets most of all minority religions and, in general, spiritual associations which have ideas, beliefs and practices different from the mainstream. Even Catholic priests spoke at the Italian Parliament in favor of  a law against “mental manipulation”. They stressed that many members of religious cults (in Italian "sette") are manipulated by "cult" leaders and this manipulation leads to commit very negative actions such as murders or suicides. Moreover, they said  that the "pseudo religious cults" are increasingly common in Italy. 

The catholic campaign against “cults” is not a secret. It is spread by media, like the Italian Bishops’ television channel TV2000, and many catholic websites.  A number of conferences and meetings are organized by Catholic associations in which police and catholic “experts” speak about how to deal with  “dangerous cults”. 

I think that these are clear examples of the fact that we have not learned from past mistakes.

This is happening also in other European countries where Catholic associations, bishops and priests are specifically appointed by Police and governments in order to "monitor  the cult phenomenon" and  fight "the activities of dangerous religious groups".

I really appreciated Pope Francis’s apology. However, on the basis of this worrying situation,  I think that to apologize is not enough if one wants really to change the situation. If Pope Francis really wants to avoid the same mistakes done in the past, he should carefully  check what is happening in his Church, inside parishes, Catholic associations appointed for “studying” cults, Vatican City, and so on.

Pope Francis should not only apologize for the past, but also act for deleting any kind of prejudice and ignorance inside Catholic Church. Doing so, he could prevent other cases of discrimination against minority religions. If this doesn’t happen, Catholic people will continue to do the same mistakes they have done during the Fascist regime, when some of them asked to persecute Pentecostals.

triangolo

These days Pentecostals are no more discriminated in Italy, but there are other cases of discrimination. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses are very often stigmatized as “cult” by priests, bishops and members of Catholic associations.

It would be very sad if, in the future, another Pope should visit the Watch Tower Headquarters in order to apologize again for the same mistake. 

I hope that this apology will never be necessary. 

 


 

Reference

Vatican Insider

Press Vatican.va  (Italian)

Philippa Hitchen's report (Vatican Radio)

 

 

More information

Religious Freedom in Europe

Freedom of conscience and belief at a crossroads in Europe

Laws Against Cults and Mental Manipulation in Italy

Synthesis of the SHR 2013 Conference

They are all cults except mine