"This is why militants of Alleanza Cattolica, together with others, founded and still inspire
CESNUR, the Centre for the Study of New Religions."
Massimo Introvigne, La questione della nuova religiosità, 1993, p. 49

The CESNUR Case 

massimo introvigne In the USA, neo-conservative think tanks - dedicated to changing the way the world views itself, through studies on military, cultural, religious and economic issues - have been successfully promoting a mentality based on the justification of inequality and on total freedom of enterprise, as opposed to all other human rights.

Not all think tanks of the new international right, however, come from the US. One of them, for example, comes from Italy. It is called CESNUR, the "Centre for the Study of New Religions". It puts itself across as a non denominational and non partisan study centre, whereas actually it is a militant organization, which draws its inspiration from a self-styled "counter-revolutionary" ideology. Although run by Catholic fundamentalists, CESNUR promotes a kind of ecumenism among transnational enterprises which preach global free market; as we can see, CESNUR brings together admirers of the Inquisition and supporters of Scientology, Catholic extremists and esoteric Freemasons.

CESNUR was set up in Turin, Italy, in 1988. From a legal point of view, there is "CESNUR Italy" and "CESNUR International", both however run by the same person, Mr Massimo Introvigne. In recent years, CESNUR has also set up autonomous branches in France and in the USA.

CESNUR calls itself an "international network of scholars who study new religious movements" and claims to be "independent from any religious group, movement, denomination or association". (1)

So it comes as a surprise to see that CESNUR Italy is synonymous with another political-religious organization, Alleanza Cattolica. However, surprises do not end here: Alleanza Cattolica started out as the Italian branch - or "sister organization" - of an extremely controversial and fanatical Brazilian organization, Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). Although Alleanza Cattolica is independent in terms of organization from TFP, it boasts of following the "counter-Revolutionary magisterium" of the eccentric founder of the TFP, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Now, every leader of CESNUR Italy proudly styles himself a "militant" of Alleanza Cattolica, starting with the founder, Massimo Introvigne and his right-hand man, PierLuigi Zoccatelli, but also including Ermanno Pavesi, Andrea Menegotto, Aldo Carletti, Paolo Di Giovanni and Marco Albera. At the same time, the whole organization of Alleanza Cattolica works unceasingly to promote Massimo Introvigne's association in every possible way: each "militant", in his own field does whatever he can to promote CESNUR's activities.

"[TFP] upholds the need to recover the values of the privileged classes, of the families of high lineage, families of good origin, due to their titles and their traditions." 
(Cardinal Bernardino Echevarria Ruiz in Cristianità, January 1996, p. 17)

In a message to the Dutch scholar Anton Hein, Introvigne gave a few explanations about how CESNUR is funded. Introvigne boasted of earning a great deal of money from his own job (in a recent article in La Stampa he was among the top tax payers in one of Italy's richest cities) and also of coming from a very rich family himself; at the same time, other important sources of funds for CESNUR, according to Introvigne, are the Mormon lawyer Michael Homer (more about him below) and PierMarco Ferraresi,"a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Turin, but also from a wealthy family and an important shareholder in the main corporation his family controls". Introvigne forgets to mention that Ferraresi also happens to be a well-known militant of Alleanza Cattolica (where his field is to provide ideological justification for private property, especially in large quantities, from a point of view which he calls "free market right wing", based on the ideas of the British author Colin Clark).

CESNUR International (oddly enough, not CESNUR Italy) has been recognized as a "legal person" by the Piedmont Regional Government (by decree 150-11310). Whatever the structure of the various shell corporations may be, decisions are actually taken by a small group of people:

  • Massimo Introvigne, millionaire lawyer, militant and leader of Alleanza Cattolica and a member of the Central Committee of the right-wing Catholic party CCD(2). He is also a member of the technical and scientific committee of the Nova Res Publica Foundation, whose task is to "enrich and extend the political action" of Berlusconi's party Forza Italia. We can get a better grasp of what Introvigne thinks by reading how the Nova Res Publica Foundation claims to be based on the teachings of US ideologue Michael Novak:

    "Novak is an extraordinary figure on the scene of world culture… more than anybody in the last quarter of a century, he has contributed to showing the common roots, the common present and common future of Christianity and capitalism."
    (on the web site of Forza Italia)

  • Gordon Melton, pastor of the Emanuel United Methodist Church of Evanston, Illinois, USA. Melton has repeatedly appeared as a witness for the defence in trials involving the controversial multinational Scientology (for example, in 1981, he upheld the "fully religious" nature of Scientology, providing as evidence of his knowledge of the topic the fact that he once attended a wedding and a "Sunday service" of the group). For the Methodist pastor, the defence of the most controversial organizations has often turned into good business. For example, in 1995 Melton and his friend, James Lewis, set up "AWARE" - Association of World Academics for Religious Education - to defend the Japanese killer-cult Aum Shinrikyo. The cult, which had just carried out the mass murder in the Tokyo subway, paid the scholars in advance. The carried out their job with great loyalty: without understanding a word of Japanese, they landed in Tokyo and came to the conclusion, as James Lewis wrote, that:

    "As an expert on world religions, I was already dismayed by much of the press coverage I had seen. AUM Shinrikyo was being relentlessly demonized by the media as an "evil cult."."
    Melton has written several books directly ordered and paid for by several groups, including the Ramtha School of Enlightenment; the same groups then distributed the books themselves. Some years ago, the Moon cult did the same with a book by Introvigne in Italy.

  • Eileen Barker, an English university professor, with life-long ties of friendship with the Unification Movement of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the murderous World Anticommunist League. Although some years have gone by, one does feel a bit startled to read that the German cult scholar, Pastor Haack, managed to document no less than eighteen "study trips" to various tourist locations by Professor Barker, entirely paid for by the Korean multinational.

These three are flanked by:

  • PierLuigi Zoccatelli, who when he was young, was a member of the Crowleyite "Temple ov Psychick Youth", but is currently a militant of Alleanza Cattolica and a full time CESNUR employee.

  • Jean-François Mayer, who comes from the French-Swiss "New Right", formerly of Opus Dei, and currently a Christian Orthodox. He works as a security policy advisor for the Swiss government.

  • jean-francois mayer eileen barker

    Jean-François Mayer with Eileen Barker

  • Michael W. Homer, a lawyer from Salt Lake City and an important leader among the Mormons, well known for their right-wing political commitment. As a young man, he spent time as a missionary in Italy. Just to make the CESNUR web a bit more complicated, one can add that whereas Melton belongs to CESNUR International, Homer runs a small outfit called CESNUR USA.

  • Antoine Faivre, a French esotericist who works at the Religious Sciences Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, an outpost of the French New Right. He publishes a magazine called Aries. This magazine, which today appears as an academic publication, actually started in the esoteric circles of La Table d'Émeraude and Archè-Edidit. Faivre is the president of the association "CESNUR France".

  • Olivier-Louis Séguy, another lawyer, is the secretary of CESNUR France. Séguy works in close touch, both inside and outside CESNUR France, with the lawyer Jean Marc Florand, who defends the Watchtower Society in trials, and who organized the meetings of the Watchtower Society at the French National Assembly on November 26th, 1993 and November 24th, 1995 (see L'événement du jeudi-4 del 10/11/96). Florand è is an unusual personality: in 1996, he set up the Observatoire national d'étude sur les sectes, in order to fight the French Parliament committees of investigation into cults. Oddly enough, Jean-Marc Florand and his assistant, Louis-Edmond Pettiti, have both been directors of the Association des juristes catholiques, considered to be very close to Opus Dei. In 1994, Florand unexpectedly broke with the association, and started devoting a large part of his time to defending the rights and the associations of homosexuals. Incredibly, at the same time as he was writing the legal text "Homoséxuels, 101 réponses pratiques" (1994), he was also publishing some studies on the liturgy which appear to have been very much appreciated among the "Lefebvrian" milieu which he also belonged to (L'Âge d'or de la chasublerie, 1992). If the picture is sufficiently confused, one need only add that according to the usually very well informed journalist Serge Faubert ("Les cathos au secours des sectes", L'Evenement du jeudi, June 13-19, 1996), both Séguy and Florand took part for many years in conferences organized by the xenophobic Front National party. No surprise then to find both Séguy and Florand highly praised in a web site belonging to Scientology.

  • The third director of CESNUR France is Prof. Roland Edighoffer (University of Paris-III-Sorbonne-Nouvelle), who is also an editor of Aries. Edighoffer is a well known historian of Freemasonry, much appreciated among the more traditionally-minded lodges.

What is the meaning of CESNUR?

This list of adventurers involved in a great deal of unlikely business sounds so complicated that at a first glance, all one can make out of it is that CESNUR is certainly not what it makes it itself out to be. But what is it really?

One thing that does appear is that several originally quite different interests seem to converge together. The original project involved the self-styled "Counter-Revolutionary right-wing" Catholics of Italy; but it was later extended to other sectors: from some Anglo-Saxon "research mercenaries" to a French New Right, having quite different features from the Italian Catholic extremists.

The combination of right-wing extremism, Catholic intégrisme and esoteric interests is something typically French; and this world is certainly quite close to the more conservative lodges. According to the usually well-informed magazine Faits & Documents (n. 27, 15.5.97, p. 5), the whole leadership of the French branch of CESNUR - Faivre, Séguy and Edighoffer - are not only scholars who study Masonry, but are also members of the Grande Loge Nationale de France. This mystically minded and conservative lodge is the only one to be recognized by British Freemasonry. Its members are obliged to declare their absolute faith in a "revealed god", and any members who attend lodges accepting atheists or women. The lodge almost disappeared in the 1960's, when the US military personnel left France, but it grew again quickly, also thanks considerable financial help from the USA. At least until many scandals broke out in 1999, the GLNF was the Masonic group with the largest membership. However matters may be, Antoine Faivre was a writer for - and according to Faits & Documents also the director - of the official magazine of the GLNF, Les Cahiers de la Loge Villard de Honnecourt. On his own Internet page, Freemason Patrick Negrier of the GLNF, a scholar of Patristic studies at a Benedictine Abbey (here again we find an unexpected juxtaposition of apparently differing elements), boasts of having organized a conference to commemorate the author and esotericist Serge Hutin, attended by "eminent philosophers, esotericists and Masons", such as Marie-Magdeleine Davy, Antoine Faivre, Roland Edighoffer, Jacques Fabry, Robert Amadou, René Alleau, Jean-Pierre Bayard.

The third strain of CESNUR has to do with the US neoconservative movement. Introvigne - who has always been very much involved with the US - has for years been indicating the "neo-cons" as a model for creating a European right. This may be a slightly less romantic model than the Crusades dreamed of by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, or the esoteric and Indoeuropean fantasies of certain Frenchmen, but it is definitely far more efficient, being based on close partnership between a large number of religious enterprises and a large number of business enterprises, whose main enemy is the "secular state".

This explains something which always leaves people confused, at least in Italy: why does the offshoot of an extremist Catholic movement like CESNUR fight so strenuously against all those that Introvigne collectively labels as "anti-cult movements, ranging from the US A.F.F. to the Italian CICAP (3)? Introvigne accuses all such movements of fomenting "religious intolerance", of using barbarous methods ("deprogramming") and of basing themselves on "brainwashing" theories. Such accusations are largely false - for example, virtually no "deprogrammings" have ever taken place in Italy, and none have taken place in the US for many years; the term "brainwashing" was invented in the '50s to describe extreme forms of physical coercion, and is no longer used today.

CESNUR is especially virulent - as we can see in other articles on this website - against the testimony of former members of "cults", in certain cases even deliberately lying in order to discredit them.
Introvigne, sociologist or lawyer? Massimo Introvigne - still today the head of CESNUR - practices as a lawyer with the Jacobacci & Perani
(4) study; his speciality is patents and copyright. Until our web site opened, he often styled himself as "professor" and "sociologist". Actually, he started teaching in 1994, for one week a year, at the Regina Apostolarum Athenaeum in Rome, a private organizatin belonging to the "Legionaries of Christ" and not recognized as a "Pontifical University" (5), a job which he seems to have been gently ejected from a couple of years ago.

Previously, he had also taught for two years at an Institute of Religious Sciences belonging to the Diocese of Foggia; the archbishop of Foggia, Mons. Giuseppe Casale was also President of CESNUR, until some time ago, but he seems to have closed off all relations since.

Tradition, Family and Property

Alleanza Cattolica, as we saw, claims to be based on the "magisterium" of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908-1995), "a man of faith, thought and action", spiritual leader of the very rich organisation T.F.P., Tradition, Family and Property, active in "25 countries and 6 continents".
T.F.P., which recently underwent a split, is one of the most extreme movements ever to have arisen in Latin America. Its founder presented himself as "the preeminent philosopher" of such a doctrine and the author of "15 books and over 2,500 in-depth essays and articles". In his militant essays, which range from In Defence of Catholic Action and Revolution and Counter-Revolution to The Church in the Communist State: an Impossible Coexistence, he openly calls for setting up a world-wide 'Christian' regime based on Medieval hierarchy and repression.

"The sacred slavery to the Virgin [...] This consecration is of an admirably radical nature. It includes not only the material belongings of man, but also the merits of his good deeds, his life, his body and his soul. It has no limits, since the slave, by definition, owns nothing. In exchange for this consecration, the Virgin works inside her slave in a marvellous fashion, setting up an ineffable union with him" 
(Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, La devozione mariana e l'apostolato contro-rivoluzionario, in Cristianità, the official magazine of Alleanza Cattolica, Nov.- Dec. 1995, p. 15.)

T.F.P. has repeatedly been called a "cult" by those whom Introvigne would label today as "anti-cult movements" hostile to religious experience in general, although in the past, a few years before the establishment of CESNUR, he expressed - several times and with a certain intensity (6) - opinions quite similar to those he currently opposes, ridicules and fights against.

"During its 23rd plenary assembly, the Council of Brazilian bishops approved a note concerning the 'Brazilian Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property', advising Catholics not to join the above mentioned Society […]. Its esoteric character, its religious fanaticism, the personality cult of the founder and of his mother […] can absolutely not be approved of by the Church" 
(Osservatore Romano, July 7, 1985, p. 12, n. 408, weekly Spanish edition quoted in Tradizione Famiglia Proprietà: Associazione cattolica o sètta millenarista?, Rimini 1996, frontispiece)

In 1984 the local T.F.P. branch was outlawed in Venezuela, accused by a special parliamentary commission of being a "cult [...] of the far right [...] which warps the minds of young people, turns its members into fanatics and brainwashes them".

"The TFP cult, at least in Brazil, maintains a paramilitary structure of warrior-monks, called the 'sentinels of the West', who go through tough paramilitary training and wear a habit with a chain as a belt (they learn to use this as a weapon), high military boots, they make vows of silence and regularly practice flagellation. This 'army' is made up of highly fanatic and violent young people." 
(Pepe Rodríguez, El poder de las sectas, 1989, Ediciones B. pp. 233, 245, 246)

In the years immediately following, the dynamic and undoubtedly capable Massimo Introvigne established CESNUR, launching an unceasing campaign, often in the pages of the official magazine of Alleanza Cattolica "Cristianità" (in the column "The Good Fight"), and quickly becoming, together with J. Gordon Melton and Eileen Barker, one of the most important cult apologists in the world. T.F.P. in the meantime continues to uphold the same views as CESNUR, views which share several features with the visionary propaganda of groups like Scientology  - "that there is a worldwide 'anti-cult conspiracy' manipulated by 'psychiatrists and Communists. Unluckily, T.F.P. was recently named in a list of destructive cults drawn up by the French Parliament.

"The eminent leaders of the American New Right, Paul Weyrich (left) and Morton Blackwell (centre) together with the president of the USA T.F.P., John Spann" 
(Bollettino delle 15 TFP, n. 6)

Miguel Martínez


(1)This and the following, from the web site of CESNUR.

(2) Materialien zur Konferenz Streitfall Neue Religionen Internationale Tagung, Marburg/Lahn, 27. bis 29. März 1998 Veranstalter: CESNUR - Center for the Study of New Religions, Turin; REMID - Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst e. V., Marburg .

(3)A body devoted to research and information, the Italian partner group C.S.I.C.O.P., Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

(4) The Jacobacci & Perani Lawyers' Study, see here. Oddly enough, Dr Introvigne's name does not appear in the List of Lawyers of Turin.

(5) From a note signed by His Excellency Mons. Michael L. Fitzgerald, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, prot. n. 2291/96, Vatican City.

(6) Look here.


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