Evolution of the situation in Italy: from the black book of Italian cults to the project Nepenthes, a film about the cultist excesses to make people aware of the problem
Caterina Boschetti, Journalist and author
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and members of FECRIS. My name is Catherine Boschetti and I am an Italian journalist. I make a special point of thanking FECRIS for having invited me to this very important event and to allow me to tell my story with respect to the cult situation in Italy.
Many of you know that, as a journalist, in 2007, I carried out an investigation and wrote a book “The Black Book of Cults in Italy”, which was sold in thousands of copies and was republished 5 times. I brought some copies here for anyone interested.
This book explains the phenomenon of destructive cults not only as seen by experts: lawyers, public prosecutors, psychologists, but also through first hand witnesses, escaped adepts and family members of victims. They vandalised my car, they tried to break into my home. I received death threats, but until now, none of my complaints met with success although we had indicated several people as suspects. Like Roberto Casarin, leader of the pseudo-Catholic movement “Universal Heart”, which has been making propaganda in the whole country for years who was only recently officially excommunicated by the Church.
Recently a major breakthrough occurred at the level of the Italian media: two important episodes which led public opinion to take interested in cults.
I refer to the arrest in Bari of the leader of the organisation Arkeon, Vito Carlo Moccia. This group had thousands of followers in our country, (one estimate: 10.000 people). In 2006, for the first time, Italian television showed a programme giving information, following testimony by the adepts who managed to free themselves, but it is only recently that Vito Carlo Moccia was arrested. The crimes committed are sadly known: criminal conspiracy, fraud, illicit exercise of medicine, violence against individuals, ill-treatment and abuse on minors, applying the art of undue influence for criminal ends. All for the money, much money…
Lorita Tinelli, president of CESAP-Italy, engaged in an exhausting legal battle with this group and fortunately, emerged victorious.
Another emblematic example is the recent arrest in Rome of Danilo Speranza, guru of the Maya sect, with more than one thousand of followers. The leader was indicted for violence on minors and their mothers, and for extorting an enormous amount of money. The investigation also revealed the attempt made by Speranza to be accredited by “Islamic” Muslim associations initially working in Naples and later in Rome.
These cases only represent the point of an frightening iceberg still submerged and little known. As a journalist I am angry with the Italian media because they are afraid. The law of silence is omnipresent and everyone is afraid of his own shadow and remains silent on this problem.
It is only after resonant lawsuits and many victims’ testimonies that they decided to speak of the question. On the other hand, the family associations are invested thoroughly while going to all the television programmes relating to the subject. Fortunately there are people who do not keep silence and who wish to tell of their strong personal experiences.
I refer to Maria Pia Gardini and her charges against “Scientology”, who cited Mrs Gardini for 2 million euro; or to Claudia V., victim since she was 21 of a so-called magician, during ten years, after having undergone abuse and violence, she found the strength to denounce him and bring a lawsuit against him.
The “magician” was condemned on appeal to 15 years imprisonment. Claudia wrote the book ““Plagiata” (Manipulated) and created, with the journalist Lisa Tormena and Matteo Lolletti, a splendid documentary on her experience entitled: “The Invisible Prison”. This film, that we will show you at the end of the conference, wants to carry a message of hope.
In the past few years, I had the opportunity of appreciating the work of Italian associations that work hard every day to help in the release of victims and to inform public opinion: therefore I would like to thank FA.VIS, of which I am member, but also ARIS-Veneto, ARIS-Toscana, CE.SAP, S.O.S Antiplagio, GRIS, “Giù le mani dei Bambini” – (Hands off the children) of Aldo Verdecchia, the association “Pope Jean XXIII”, as well asf others: your work is invaluable, unique, irreplaceable.
It is estimated that a million people are victims of cults in Italy with more than 500 more or less known groups: I do not know if these figures are reliable, but we can certainly say that the hidden part is immense and that only a limited percentage of people - recently estimated at about 5% - actually told about what they experienced in a cult.
I present myself as the Spokeswoman of the associations to condemn the absence of the Italian State in this context; even if it did create the Anti-Cult team (Squadra Anti Sette) (it seems to represents only wind), it does not tackle basic legislation.
We ask that FECRIS, NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and INGO accredited with the Council of Europe, to express its disapproval of the continual absence of the State (s) of their duty to guarantee the safety of citizens facing alternative movements. What would occur if all private associations or organizations operating in the sector, ceased providing information, assistance and comfort?
Would government organizations help? Would the Catholic church roll up its sleeves? A number of psychologists, policemen, simple people are not enough. It is really necessary to turn the page, one needs a true law!
I now hand over the microphone to Maurizio Alessandrini, president of FA.VIS, so that he can explain the progress on the Italian measures concerning a new law on undue influence.
Recommendations to the Italian Political Establishment on the social curse represented by the phenomenon of cults, abusive beliefs, undue influence and physical harassment.
Maurizio Alessandrini, President of FA.VI.S , Spokesman of the Italian Associations ARIS Vénétie, ARIS Toscane, Ce.SAP, FA.VI.S
° Lacunae in the law:
To fill the normative vacuum, which has lasted for 29 years, as regards psychological and physical undue influence and mind control. Various bills were presented: the NR. 863 and N.1644 to Parliament, and Ddl N.569 to the Senate. Next May the discussion of Ddl 569 will begin by the Commission Justice in the Senate.
°Training courses with the object of bringing legal workers, the police forces, and magistrates to a comparable level.
-Dynamics and techniques of psychophysical conditioning and their consequences, with particular reference to the psychological damage undergone by the followers, in addition to the economic damage.
-Non-respect of Human Rights and description of the offences encountered in a cultist environment.
°Information: a cultural project to prevent and inform at national level, (Home Office, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education), finalized with regard to the cult phenomenon and taking into consideration its multiple facets, to be used in institutions of higher education and universities. It will be noted that at present Italy, has not approved the recommendations of the Council of Europe in connection with cultural information and on the phenomenon of sects and abusive cults.
°The activation of a public structures (institution close to SSN) to assist victims of abuse by destructive cults, individuals (magicians, mediums, healers, etc) to reintegrate society.
°Creation of legal support centres, similar to those existing for the victims of criminal organizations and swindlers, (whose services would be remunerated according to the incomes of the victims), to help the members wishing to leave cultic organisations and who have the courage to take personal risks by denouncing the cultic organisations and imposters, although conscious of the difficulty – because of the backlog in our courts - of obtaining what they ask from the State: simply that justice should be done!
°Structures of mediation: activations of public structures of mediation with a view of a re-launching relational and emotional dialogue between members of NMRs and the members of their family not members of the cult.
°Public recognition of the social usefulness of the associations’ activities. These associations assume, inter alia, informative and preventive work which should be primarily carried out by the State, with the objective of effectively protecting the citizens. An activity that, it should be stressed, the associations often exert in situations of economic difficulty and, very often, at their personal risk. Volunteers and associations are indeed the object of smear campaigns, intimidations, threats, illicit investigations and worse: harmful behaviour, targeted by quarrels ignited against them by sectarian organizations which do not miss an occasion to point a finger at them or use any pretext like the accusation of having anti-religious objectives.
°The setting up of a Board of inquiry to investigate the tax situation and assets of the so-called cult multinationals, their international financial relations, their economic demands and the influence of these organizations in economical-financial and political circles.
°Need for a renewal of observation and monitoring of the cult phenomenon by national security services.
With regard to this subject, the Italian secret services had revealed, as from 1998, the existence of obvious threats and important aspects considered as dangerous for national security thru’ cults and pseudo-religious movements operating on the territory or of international occult groupings recording an activity of increasing propaganda and proselytism - such regroupings seem destined, in the future, to record an alarming significant growth due mainly to the ever increasing use of Internet networks. Since 2002, no investigation into the phenomenon was reported by the Services in their Semi-annual Reports on the policy of information and of safety presented to Parliament. Religious and pseudo-religious “millenium” cults await the “end of time” announced by “priests” of ancient civilizations. According to the esoteric religious theories of these latter 2012 is the time of the apocalypse, armagedon, there will be a planetary collision or the arrival of extraterrestrials who will carry the chosen followers to the new world etc. We have reasons to fear that some “Masters” victims of their own mystical madness, may encourage their own disciples to commit ill-considered gestures and auto-destruction in order “to reach higher levels of existence”. During the past 20 years, we had many examples of atrocious mass suicides. To only mention the most recent ones: from' 94 to' 97 mass suicides of the disciples of the Solar Temple (Canada, France, and Switzerland), with 74 victims, among whom 7 children. In March' 97 in the United States, in concomitance with the passage of comet Hale Bopp, the Master of “Heaven' Gate” pressed 39 people “to give up their own body” (suicide) so as to be ready to be transported in the new celestial extraterrestrial world on a vessel flying in the comet’s wake.
°We ask that European summits should be held at least once a year by the Ministries of the Interior (Home Office) of all E.U. countries to discuss result of investigations into the cult/sectarian phenomenon in the respective countries and to propose concerted actions.
Thank you Maurizio.
So if today my book, after five editions and many emails , was withdrawn from the catalogues of the booksellers, one must raise some questions. I did not receive any adequate answer, except for a banal “is not sold any more”. It's a pity that people continue to ask me for it and I am sure that somebody took care to “withdraw” my books from the bookstores. I ceased asking myself questions, because when it concerns cults nothing is surprising.
For that reason I decided not to stop. Today, we are here to present an ambitious project. Paolo Doppieri, film director is here at my side, we launched the realization of a film on the phenomenon of cults.
Soon you will be able to see a few minutes of a thriller: “Nepenthes - Memories of follower”, which is in preparation - although this film does not take as a starting point any real story and does not refer to any particular cult, it aims to be an international occasion to speak with the general public about this social plague.
It is not a documentary but of a captivating black film which aims to make people understand cultist dynamics and the violence that one can undergo in cults, to inform and open the eyes of young people on the risks and dangers, but also to inform and open the eyes of families who see a beloved being changing day after day.
We hope that soon you will be able to see this film in all the cinemas of all the countries here present. Therefore, if somebody knows of people who might be interested by such a project, please introduce them to us. We would be very grateful to you. That would mean that we reached the target and touched millions of people with our film. Thank you all, Paolo Doppieri, the film producer will take over from here.
About the Project “Nepenthes”
Paolo Doppieri (Film Director), Italy
Nepenthes is a film project that aims to tell a truth as seen through the eyes of a mother and the words of a daughter. It’s a very obscure truth known just by few people concerning “destructive cults”.
Although this matter represents a widespread and rife phenomenon, it's still often trivialized by cinema and television worldwide. Maybe because it's nearly unknown to the average person.
As far as I'm concerned, a short time ago I believed that cultism was all about Satanism or thereabouts, and I thought that "follower" stood for misfit kids or naive, aged people.
Then I ran into the "Black Book of Italian Cults" by Caterina Boschetti, so I understood the shocking vastness that the phenomenon has reached both on the Italian and the international scene.
I have been gathering information for months. I was looking for a good story suitable for the cinema. This story has now a name: Nepenthes.
It's named after a particularly deceitful carnivorous plant, that attracts victims thanks to its beauty and flavour. Then the plant engulfs the victims and slowly starts to swallow them just before they realize there's no escape.
Besides, Nepenthes is also an ancient Greek drug used to relieve pain and wipe out memory. That's exactly what a cult often does.
Actually Nepenthes is the story of a young English woman – Anna, who lives in Italy – who discovers that her teenage daughter – Sara – has been mentally subjugated by a powerful esoteric cult. The only way to save her is to enter her secret world.
I believe that movies should entertain the audience and at the same time open people' eyes in view of informing the new generations.
Nepenthes wants to be a modern visionary movie that drags the viewer through a spiral of uneasiness, void, doubt and tension that reflects the incredulous mood of those approaching cults for the first time.
Just like me, and Caterina before.
 FA.VI.S - Associazione Nazionale Familiari delle Vittime delle Sette, Italy