Against Satanic Panics > Italy

Italy's recent Satanic panic - and its impact on the Roman Catholic Church worldwide

(Attention: scholars of new religions)

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. Two waves of panic in Italy
  2. The Catholic Church's response:  demons and exorcism
  3. Manifestations of the scare:  censorship and pop-cultural paranoia
  4. The crimes that sparked the 2004 scare
  5. Earlier Italian Catholic worries about Satanism (1996)
  6. "Sects and Satanic Cults" (1997)
  7. General Catholic fear-mongering in 2004
  8. Italian stories about Satanism in 2006

  1. Two waves of panic in Italy
  2. There seems to have been quite a panic about Satanism in Italy in 2004 and 2005. I am not sure to what extent it is still continuing.

    Unlike the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's, which began in the U.S.A. and revolved around a bunch of alleged horrific crimes that most likely never even happened at all, the recent Italian panic was sparked by some real-life murders that were discovered in 2004 - and which, apparently, were mistakenly seen as representative of Satanism. (See my page about The "Beasts of Satan" in Italy.) There's no doubt that the murders themselves did happen, nor am I aware of any reason to doubt the guilt of Andrea Volpe. However, the alleged "Satanic ritual" aspects of the murders are questionable. And, apparently in a bid for clemency, Volpe is reported to have told some pretty wild tales, e.g. claiming to be afraid of an alleged higher-up Satanic group that supposedly ordered his group to perform human sacrifices. Of course, the mass media have blamed the murders on "Satanism."

    Earlier, there was another wave of worry about Satanism among Italian Catholics back in the mid-to-late 1990's. I'm not yet sure what triggered the earlier scare, other than perhaps a belated echo of the American "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare.

    On this page I'll talk about the deleterious effects of the scare - including an increased fear of all non-Christian religions and spiritual practices, not just Satanism - and I'll comment on some articles by Italian Catholic writers.

    There are also some public Satanist groups in Italy, about which I personally don't know much at all. As far as I can tell so far, the public Satanist groups in Italy - like most public Satanist groups elsewhere - are for the most part law-abiding.

    So far, I've found very little skeptical commentary about Italy's Satanism scare. The best I've found so far is some blog entries in Bartholomew's notes on religion: Researching religion in the news: Italy an Unhealthy Climate for Satanists, 07 January 2005, and More on Italian Satanism, 10 January 2005, by Richard Bartholomew.

    Because the Vatican happens to be in Italy, the Italian Satanism scare has most likely had a disproportionate impact on the worldwide Catholic Church's perception of Satanism and other nonmainstream religions. Certainly it has had an impact on the Church's attitudes regarding demons and exorcism.

  3. The Catholic Church's response:  demons and exorcism
  4. It seems that whenever there's a Satanism scare in Italy, the Vatican responds by paying more attention to demons and exorcism.

    Most of the news articles I've seen about the 2004 scare have talked about it in conjunction with the Vatican's new (as of February 2005) course on "Satanism and exorcism," which is said to be a response to the alleged danger of a recent growth of Satanism. (See my collection of links to articles about Exorcism, the Vatican, and the recent Italian Satanic Panic on my page about Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism.)

    Similarly, the Vatican responded to the mid-to-late 1990's scare by publishing an updated ritual of exorcism in 1998. Later, when the new ritual was translated into the vernacular in 2001, Italian bishops talked about it in conjunction with their ongoing "concern over what they see as a resurgence of Satanism, fortunetelling, witchcraft and black magic" (Satanism on the Rise, say Italian Bishops, Zenit, May 18, 2001)

    The Vatican's new "Satanism and exorcism" course is being taught at the Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum," which is run by a controversial conservative religious order called the Legion of Christ. (For more information about the Legion of Christ, see this collection of links on my page about Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism.)

  5. Manifestations of the scare:  censorship and pop-cultural paranoia
  6. Worries about Satanism and about demons translate inevitably into worries about all sorts of other things too.

    Italy's 2004 Satanism scare is being used as an alleged reason to censor people who don't even have anything to do with either Satanism or the metal music scene. According to the news article Veil falls over Italy's soothsayers by John Hooper, The Guardian (UK), Thursday March 10, 2005, Tarot readers and other claimed prophets are no longer allowed on daytime TV in Italy, and the article ties this prohibition to "debate about the alleged spread of devil worship among young people," even though the article also admits, "The fortune-tellers and astrologers who sell their services on minor TV channels have nothing to do with devil worship." (The article also mentions more relevant reasons for banning soothsayers on TV, namely "to combat any kind of exploitation of superstition or credulity among members of the public," and a statement that some soothsayers "have been caught up in scandals involving the deception or extortion of clients.")

    At least the above-linked article mentions "debate" about "the alleged spread of devil worship." Most other online news articles I've found concerning Italy's Satanism scare have conveyed the impression (albeit only vaguely, and without citing sources) that it's an established fact that Italy is in imminent danger of being engulfed by a vast wave of juvenile murderers in the name of Satan.

    Among Christians, including Catholics, an increased emphasis on demons and exorcism leads inevitably to an increased fear of all non-Christian spiritual practices. For some recent Roman Catholic examples, see my page about Mexico's Roman Catholic hierarchy and exorcism, vs. New Age and traditional healers.

    All the "We're not Satanists" disclaimers in the world will not stop conservative Christians from associating non-Christian spiritualities - especially the more "magical" spiritualities - with demons and/or with Satanism. Even in the eyes of those relatively few conservative Christians who are well-informed about the beliefs of Pagans, occultists, etc., these other spiritualities are necessarily tied to demons and to Satanism in the following ways: (1) All people who deal with spiritual powers other than the Abrahamic God are believed to be dealing with demons, at least unwittingly, regardless of whether they believe in demons, and regardless of whether they believe in Satan. (2) "Mind-expanding techniques are meant to reveal to people their divine power .... This exaltation of humanity overturns the correct relationship between Creator and creature, and one of its extreme forms is Satanism." (Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the "New Age", an official Vatican statement by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2003.)

    Worries about demons and about all non-Christian spiritualities are likely to create, in turn, a climate of fear around all sorts of innocent popular activities such as reading Harry Potter books. Even before the Beasts of Satan murders, the Catholic Church's best-known exorcist was warning against the Harry Potter books back in 2002. Father Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, repeated his warning in 2006. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has also warned against the Harry Potter books - albeit only informally, not in an official statement. (For details and documentation, see my page about Roman Catholic opposition to the Harry Potter books.)

    Of course, there are also the inevitable worries about metal music. According to the news story Investigating the 'death metal' murders by Sam Bagnall, BBC News, November 23, 2005:

    One priest, Don Aldo Buonaito, has set up a helpline for parents and children worried about satanism.

    He has also called for death metal music to be banned. "If music makes itself an instrument of nefarious deeds and death it should be stopped," he says.

    The worst potential danger of a Satanism scare is the possibility of law-abiding Satanists, Pagans, occultists, metal fans, goths, and potentially lots of ordinary mainstream people too being accused of crimes that they did not commit - as happened to lots and lots of people here in the U.S.A. in the 1980's and early 1990's. (See my collection of links on The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" Scare.) So far, I'm not aware of any instances of this sort of thing happening in Italy. I'm not aware of any good reason to doubt the guilt of the Beasts of Satan murderers themselves, nor am I yet aware of any other alleged crimes in the name of Satan that may have occurred in Italy since then. But my awareness of goings-on in Italy is far from exhaustive, so I would very much appreciate any information (with sources) from anyone knowledgeable.

    Although I'm not yet aware of any false criminal accusations, both the most recent panic (2004) and the earlier scare (late 1990's) have had plenty of other deleterious consequences, as we have seen.

  7. The crimes that sparked the 2004 scare
  8. The recent panic seems to have been triggered mainly by a series of murders committed by some members and associates of the "Beasts of Satan" metal band. For information about the "Beasts of Satan" murders, see my collection of links to news articles about The "Beasts of Satan" in Italy. See especially The Devil's Workshop? Vatican Cranks Exorcism Mill Amidst Sensationalist Headlines, Religious Rivalry, on the American Atheists site, February 21, 2005. This article questions the alleged Satanic ritual aspects of the murders.

    Also contributing to Italy's Satanism scare, apparently, was the 2004 murder of an Italian Catholic missionary priest by a Devil-made-me-do-it killer in Santiago, Chile. For some news articles about the murder in Chile, see my page about Rodrigo Orias Gallardo and the murder of Father Faustino Gazziero D’Estefani in Chile.

  9. Earlier Italian Catholic worries about Satanism (1996)
  10. Even before the "Beasts of Satan" murders became public knowledge, there was some fear-mongering in Italy about Satanism. Here are some articles about Satanism, primarily Italian Satanism, which were published back in 1996 in the Catholic Newsletter 30 Days (published in Newton, New Jersey, USA).

    Both of the above articles, especially the second one, make quite a few historical claims about Satanism and occultism in Europe, primarily in Italy, plus quite a few claims about Italian Satanism itself. I'd love to see an independent evaluation of those claims by some less Christian-biased scholar of new religions.

    The "Satanism" described in the above articles seems quite different from Satanism as commonly practiced here in the U.S.A. In Giovanni Ricciardi's article, there is quite a bit of worry about Satanists profaning consecrated hosts as part of a Black Mass:

    The presence of a consecrated host to be profaned is an essential element in their rites. And curiously, Efrem del Gatto, the charismatic leader of the most famous satanic "church" in Rome, the Luciferian Confraternity, has stated that the hosts are supplied by willing Catholic priests. The point he wants to make is that they are not stolen.

    The Black Mass has long been a mainstay of anti-Satanist propaganda, but is not nearly as important in most forms of real-life Satanism. Among most American Satanists, at least, the Black Mass plays only minor role. (See my page about the Black Mass on my Theistic Satanism site.) And most American Satanists would disdain the idea that a consecrated host is essential to the rite.

    Perhaps Italian Satanists are different. But I'm wondering whether the Black Mass, complete with consecrated hosts, really plays such a big role in Italian Satanism these days, or whether Ricciardi is exaggerating - or whether, perhaps, Efrem del Gatto might be pulling the public's leg just to be shocking and get publicity. Ricciardi does not report any actual incidents of priests or anyone else being caught waylaying a bunch of consecrated hosts, nor does he say that any priests have actually been caught joining "Satanic sects"; he just seems to be relaying rumors and hearsay. Ricciardi does mention the "sale" of alleged consecrated hosts - but how does he, or the customer, know that these hosts-for-sale aren't fake? He also writes about the precautions one church has taken to make sure that no hosts get stolen. An unnamed priest is quoted as saying, "Not that anything unpleasant has happened, but we want to do our best to prevent anything happening to the Eucharist." This quote suggests that there have not been any actual incidents, but just talk - perhaps, I would suspect, mainly by kids who enjoy shocking the older folks.

    I would appreciete feedback from anyone knowledgeable about Satanism in Italy.

  11. "Sects and Satanic Cults" (1997)
  12. I found the above-discussed 30 Days articles on the website of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), where I also found Sects and Satanic Cults, a six-part series of articles originally published in L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, in 1997. I won't take the time to respond to these articles on every point, but I'll discuss a few highlights.

    A few of the articles associate Satanism with all manner of crime. If we suppose that at least some of these "experts" are being honest and have actually done some independent research (an assumption which should not be taken for granted), then it should be noted that their research (pre-1997) most likely suffered from the same sampling errors as any other pre-Internet-era research on Satanism, namely that, outside of a few public, law-abiding Satanic churches, the only other Satanists likely to come to the public's (or a researcher's) attention were those who had either gotten into trouble with the law or gotten written about by their shrinks in psych journals. Naturally these would tend to be the more pathological sorts and would naturally tend to give researchers a very bad impression of solitary and informal-group Satanists. As I've noted elsewhere, the gay community had a similar public relations problem before the gay rights movement came along. Gays too were assumed to be either criminal or crazy.

    At least one of the "experts" doesn't just seem to be suffering from a sampling error but seems to be talking totally out of his ass. One of the articles in the 1997 EWTN series, Satanism From a Psychological Viewpoint by Eugenio Fizzoti, makes these claims:

    What are the personality characteristics of those who are devoted to divinities with satanic features?

    The first consists in a clearly masochistic tendency, manifested by a weak temperament, by the inclination to self-deprivation, by the need to feel weak and impotent, by the voluntary renunciation of all sense of freedom and personal responsibility.

    Whoa! The above is utterly contrary to the ideals of most forms of Satanism, which stress freedom, strength, and taking responsibility for the consequences of one's own actions. Where is Fizzoti finding these folks??? Admittedly, Satanism does have its share of hypocrites just like any other religion, but still....

    Fizzoti goes on to make various other totally off-the-wall generalizations about the personalities of theistic Satanists, including an alleged "profound sense of guilt" and "relentless drive to act in negative and self-destructive ways." He then says:

    The fourth and last factor is the orientation towards death and dead objects, which is an expression of a longing for a continual transformation of self, society and the surrounding world into a cemetery or an automated factory. The use of black funeral curtains in the meeting hall, the presence of skulls and terrifying images, the wearing of hoods during ritual actions, the sacrifice of animals and, unfortunately, sometimes also of humans, are the more vivid proofs of this necrophilic tendency.

    It's true that a lot of Satanists - not just the criminals amongst us - do tend to be fond of macabre imagery. But the point is not "a continual transformation of self, society and the surrounding world into a cemetery or an automated factory." Rather, the point is to face down one's fears, with the aim of becoming a stronger person.

    Fizzoti's series of outrageous claims about Satanists is preceded by a mention of Erich Fromm, whose Anatomy of Human Destructiveness I read a long time ago; I was never favorably impressed. Says Fizzoti:

    In this case it is useful to refer, as interpretive criteria, to a few concepts developed by the famous psychologist Erich Fromm. Investigating the human relationship to various types of religion, Fromm shows that some people manifest towards the divinity an attitude of absolute dependence, of blind and irrational obedience, of a passive acceptance of any norm. As a result, they think of themselves as inept and wretched creatures, capable of acquiring a certain strength only to the extent that a supreme and unchallenged power reaches out to them.

    Sounds to me more like a common Christian attitude - especially common among the more extreme evangelical sorts - than like a typical Satanist attitude.

    To be fair to Fizzoti, I should ask: exactly whom is he referring to as "those who are devoted to divinities with satanic features"? I've assumed that he means theistic Satanists in general, plus maybe "Left Hand Path" Pagans.

    But perhaps he actually meant to refer not to theistic Satanists in general but only to those who commit violent crimes in the name of Satan? If so, then if he has actually done real research on people in the latter category, and if his generalizations are at all genuinely characteristic of most people in that category, then perhaps his findings may be an illustration of some of the vast differences between most criminals-in-the-name-of-Satan and most Satanists in general (or at least the ideals that most Satanists aspire to). And indeed it does seem, for example, that Devil-made-me-do-it murderers tend not to take responsibility for their actions.

    Now for a brief look at some of the other articles in the "Sects and Satanic Cults" series:

    In Phenomenon of Satanism in Contemporary Society, Giuseppe Ferrari appears to have done a smattering of Internet research, and he appears to have glanced at some of Anton LaVey's books (or perhaps just at quotes from LaVey's books in other books?), but he certainly does not appear to have read them very carefully. For example, he says, "The black mass, which can be said to be the principal rite of every satanic group, is described by La Vey both in The Satanic Bible and in The Satanic Rituals." But, in both those books, it is clearly stated that the Black Mass is not the principal rite of the Church of Satan. The Black Mass is seen as psychodrama to be performed only occasionally. The CoS's principal rite is a different one spelled out in The Satanic Bible. The Black Mass isn't the principal rite of most other Satanic groups either.

    The opening paragraph of Ferrari's section on "Satanic rites, symbols and practices" concludes with the sentence, "It is not to be excluded that during the satanic rites some groups even reach the point of perpetrating acts of outrage or profanation of corpses, physical violence on minors, and even of ritual homicide." He neglects to mention that this sort of thing is extremely rare amongst people with a serious interest in Satanism.

    Elsewhere in the article, Ferrari says, "There are also groups that do not intend to present themselves as satanic and which claim, for example, to practise pagan rites for the purpose of entering into harmony with the occult forces of nature, but which in fact show aspects which permit their being included within the variegated world of satanism." He doesn't say which Pagan groups he's talking about -- does he mean all modern Pagan groups, or just certain ones? Nor does he say why he considers them to be Satanist.

    Near the end of the article, Ferrari says, "Among the various questions posed with regard to the phenomenon of satanism is that of the possibility of seeing it as an explicit action of the devil, by means, for example, of the diabolical possession of those who participate in satanic rites. I believe that this action of the devil is carried out not so much through the manifestation of preternatural phenomena, as with the fomenting of an extreme aversion with regard to God, Jesus Christ, Our Lady, the Church and all holy things. The possible cases of diabolical possession, found in those who participate deliberately in satanic activities, are to be classified as cases of an active rather than passive type, since it is the persons themselves who offer themselves voluntarily to the devil."

    Ferrari apparently doesn't want to admit that there are all manner of perfectly understandable human reasons why someone might have "an extreme aversion with regard to God, Jesus Christ, Our Lady, the Church and all holy things" -- especially if the person has had a suffocatingly strict Christian upbringing, or if the person has been harmed by conservative Christian-endorsed social/cultural pressures such as anti-feminism and homophobia.

    Speaking for myself, when I became a Satanist, I didn't develop more of an aversion to Christianity than I had before. If anything, I've calmed down about it over the years, though I still do regard the growth of the more hardcore forms of Christianity as a serious threat to the freedoms of the rest of us.

    Ferrari is presumably a scholar. He's identified at the top of the page as "National Secretary of the Organization for Research and Information on Sects" and "Editorial Director of the journal Religioni e sette nel mondo." But I have to wonder: Does Ferrari fear he might get demon-possessed if he were to read The Satanic Bible too carefully?

    Let's turn now to An Anthropological View of Satanism, in which Andrea Porcarelli says:

    In conclusion we would like to make some critical remarks both with regard to every form of sensationalism, especially typical of the media (which sometimes make use of the devil and Satanism, naming it deliberately or mistakenly only to increase their own ratings) as well of those authors who define the phenomenological category too narrowly so that to speak of Satanism in the strict sense, they require a true and explicit veneration of Satan understood precisely as the adversary of the God of the Bible, excluding from the group of satanists those who invoke Satan to make use of him instead of to serve him. It is clear that, if understood in this way, Satanism in fact would hardly exist, nor could certain founders of sects which define themselves as Satanist be legitimately called so.


    On the other hand, it seems difficult even to hypothesize a complete and total substitution of God with Satan as the object of that adoration which is prescribed by the first commandment. This is because, as St. Thomas observes (cf. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 78, a. 1), he who chooses evil never chooses it "in itself" and "in so far as" it is bad, but always because (erroneously or sinfully) some semblance of good (in so far as one is dealing with an adulterated, depreciated, materialized good...) is seen in it. Consequently, we are led to think that even the adoration of Satan understood in a personal sense, as a matter of fact and despite more or less sincere declarations, is never a pure adoration as though it were a sort of contemplation of the evil of Satan as such. Perhaps we can think of it as a kind of perverse veneration of the devil, in which one hopes to gain certain benefits from him, or to use him as a model for the rebellion against God which the Satanist himself hopes to achieve. The desire for this rebellion is therefore the true subjective drive of the attitude proper to the various forms of Satanism: whether it prefers to conceive of Satan as a real person (perverted spiritual being and perverter of the Christian faith), or it conceives of him as an impersonal reality with characteristics that oppose him to the Christian concept of God (matter and energy), or it simply uses him as a consciously anti-Christian symbol for the exaltation of the self. The true object of adoration for the man who gives himself to satanic practices remains always and in any case his own ego, with its disordered desire to create a completely earthly happiness without recourse to the help of God, but counting only on his own natural abilities, or at the most on those of someone ready to offer himself as an accomplice to such a humanly desolate and perverse scheme.

    Porcarelli is correct that it would be impossible for anyone to consistently venerate "evil." Those of us who venerate Satan as a deity do not, as a general rule, see Satan as the "Principle of Evil." Rather, we disagree with Christianity's moral value judgments on various issues. Most of us also reject the very idea that one's morality/ethics should be dictated by a god. See Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism) on my Theistic Satanism site.

    Porcarelli may feel that such an attitude is "humanly desolate and perverse." Whatever. In my opinion, that's just name-calling.

  13. General fear-mongering in 2004
  14. Also on the EWTN site I found the following articles that were written in 2004, in the wake of the Italian "Beasts of Satan" murders:

    I also found the following very alarmist articles purporting to tell parents how to keep their kids from being attracted to Satanism:

    About the Zenit interview with Carlo Climati, I've posted some commentary on my page about Carlo Climati.

    Now for some comments on Sabrina Ferrisi's interview with Father Gabriel Amorth and Father Mitch Pacwa:

    Father Mitch Pacwa, a Jesuit priest and host for a series on EWTN, believes that another major factor is the desire for friendship.

    "There are some kids who are kind of misfits," he said. "They feel different from the rest. Other kids don't like them, which adds to the problem. Somebody from a Satanic group will seek them out and recruit them."

    The desire for friendship is so strong, Father Pacwa said, that these youths are amazed that anyone is even paying attention to them when they are recruited.

    One of the most dangerous cases is when an adult recruits an adolescent. "If an older woman befriends an adolescent boy, which is not unusual, she seduces him," Father Pacwa said. "What usually happens is that the seductive partner says, 'I know you like what we did. I have photographs to prove it.' She blackmails him. Then, the group will up the ante. And say 'Okay, now let's kill a cat.' And it goes on from there."

    What specific groups is he talking about? I've never heard of any adult-led Satanist group that has tried to recruit young people in such a manner. No doubt there do exist gangs of teenagers who dare each other to do ever-more-outrageous things, but most of these are unlikely to have a serious longterm interest in Satanism. No doubt there also exist child molesters who use Satanic trappings a means of trying to frighten their victims into keeping quiet.

    Earlier in the article, Father Amorth is quoted as saying, "These groups get together and disband very easily." Later, the author of the article contradicts this statement by saying, "Once youths become involved in Satanic groups, it becomes difficult to leave."

    The remainder of this article contains more of the same nonsense as the Carlo Climati interview. (See my page about Carlo Climati.)

  15. Italian stories about Satanism in 2006

Back to Against Satanic Panics