Wherever there is a spiritual group that opposes allegations of abuse or crime of any kind, CESNUR is on hand. For example, the well-known study centre is currently very present in the Japanese media, where its founder Massimo Introvigne is defending Reverend Moon's Unification Church to the hilt against accusations that it is in any way connected to the assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, CESNUR's credibility is being questioned because of this wealthy non-profit association's alleged links to Alleanza Cattolica, the traditionalist Catholic group of which Introvigne himself was a leader, and to the counter-revolutionary organisation Tradition, Family and Property of the Brazilian Plinio Correa de Oliveira. The following excursus will attempt to shed light on this aspect and the resulting paradox, namely that an association originating from conservative Catholic circles defends cults that are far removed from Catholicism.
a) Ousset and La Cité catholique
In 2011, Introvigne writes an article in 'Cristianità', the magazine of Alleanza Cattolica, on the 50th anniversary of Jean Ousset's major work, "Pour qu'Il règne":
[...] Giovanni Cantoni, who knows and appreciates Ousset and Pour qu'Il règne, opts for Corrêa de Oliveira's Revolution and Counter-Revolution when choosing a reference manual for his association. The latter is short and sums up counter-revolutionary doctrine in the form of a thesis. The lavish richness of Pour qu'Il règne not only makes it a less handy resource, but - by accompanying each thesis with numerous historical references - it runs the risk of remaining tied to a particular developmental phase of historiography, fatally ageing in this respect.
In practise, according to Introvigne himself, de Oliveira's work served as a "manual" for the followers of AC.
A little later, however, he adds:
[...] Ousset's name thus remains little known in Italy, even if some Italian Alleanza Cattolica members came into contact with him in the 1970s. In that decade, the Lausanne congresses, for which Ousset was the main animator for a long time, were an important date for Alleanza Cattolica members.
In a personal communication Introvigne affirmed to me that Ousset's teaching was as important to AC as that of de Oliveira. It will then be interesting to explore the other tributary of CESNUR’s river.
Jean Ousset was a member of Action française. This is a far-right nationalist and monarchist movement that supports the House of Orleans. During the German occupation of France, Ousset fully adhered to the Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain - he later said he had nothing to apologise for. This was a satellite state of the Third Reich.
On 29 July 1946, Jean Ousset founded the Centre for Critical Studies and Synthesis with Denis Demarque and Jean Masson, and later became the leader of La Cité catholique, a counter-revolutionary Catholic association whose aim was not active politics but pre-politics.
Their organisation was based on the infiltration of the elites, who were the only ones capable of leading the reconquest of a society in difficulty. Its members formed autonomous 'cells': small groups that met to study the work of the Master and spread his ideas in their respective circles (soldiers, students, leaders, etc.).
The Cité catholique consisted of a small but highly motivated core of militants rooted in the Grandes écoles, those still forming the ruling class, and in the armed forces, especially the cavalry and navy, the traditionally "legitimist" (loyal to the monarchy) sectors. The cité catholique approach provided the frame of reference for the new doctrine, as the far-right group identified 'subversion' as the root of all evil and the enemy of civilisation. Subversion (of the Christian order, natural law and the Creator's plan) had its origins in the French Revolution. It was no coincidence that the organisation's journal, 'Verbe', described itself as a civic training organ for the counterrevolution.
The elaborations of the Cité catholique inspired an association that had been founded a few months earlier in Madrid under the protection of Franco's fascist government, the OAS (Organisation armée secrète). The OAS was a French clandestine paramilitary organisation active during the Algerian war and had as its slogan 'French Algeria or death'. It caused about 1,500 deaths in fifteen months through terrorist attacks of unprecedented cruelty. After the Evian Agreement between the French government and the Algerian Liberation Front became known, the OAS decided to attempt an assassination on De Gaulle, considered a traitor. This last gasp of action failed and the organization dispersed.
The proximity of Catholic traditionalism to murders and terrorist attacks may seem strange, but here lies the most interesting aspect. In Catholic circles linked to the military hierarchies, for example, the practice of torture in Algeria was considered worthy of absolution on the basis of the thought of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. Louis Delarue, chaplain of a unit deployed in Algeria, said that one had to choose between two evils, and making a bandit who deserved the death penalty suffer temporarily was the lesser one.
Probably the best justification is provided by St Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of the double effect: "The evil produced by an action directed towards the good does not invalidate the morality of the action itself".
So we are dealing with the following key elements: elitism, pre-politics (work of cultural influence on the elite), counter-revolution and justification of reprehensible actions through philosophical explanations (especially St Thomas). We will return to these elements.
The main representatives of the OAS, including the various members of the Citè catholique who belonged to it, will find hospitality and scope for their theories among the coup regimes of Latin America.
b) Plinio Correa de Oliveira and Tradition, Family and Property
It is precisely in Latin America that we find the other Alleanza Cattolica reference: Plinio Correa de Oliveira and his Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). It is well known that the TFP is waging the same struggle against modernity, which de Oliveira defines not as "subversion" but as "revolution".
De Oliveira argues that Christianity has undergone a dramatic spiritual decline since the fifteenth century (the "revolution"), due to the spread of social egalitarianism and moral liberalism, which put an end to the righteousness that had characterised mediaeval society. What is needed is the complete restoration of Christian civilisation through the reintroduction of social hierarchies and aristocratic titles and the dissolution of the socialist parties. De Oliveira was the bearer of a program for the 'restoration of order', which was described as a return to a
Christian civilisation, austere and hierarchical, fundamentally sacred, anti-egalitarian and anti-liberal.
The actions of Tradition, Family and Property are essentially political: in Brazil, for example, the organisation was very active in land reform in the 2000s. It sided with the big landowners, the fazendeiros, against the sem terra (landless) movement; this struggle was accompanied by a fight against gun control.
According to the historian Orlando Fedeli, who was a member for thirty years, Tradition, Family and Property would be a millenarian and gnostic cult. Indeed, it would have an external doctrine and a secret teaching reserved for the highest levels of knowledge.
De Oliveira's 'esoteric' teachings, which can also be read in the journal 'Dr Plinio' edited by Monsignor João Scognamiglio Clá Dias, focused on the 'metaphysical superiority' of the nobility, especially the South American landed gentry. One can see how this faithfully traces both the Platonic hierarchy and the Gnostic idea of salvation reserved for the 'spiritual' alone (and condemnation partly for the 'psychic' and entirely for the 'ilical'). The anti-egalitarianism of the TFP generates in the activists a contempt for class, a taste for luxury and idleness.
In the Joyeux report on the TFP school of Saint Benoit, we read that hardness of heart and a blatant hatred of ordinary people characterise the daily behaviour of the majority of TFP activists. Everything that is luxury, splendour and idleness is seen as counter-revolutionary and triggers a sense of pride that comes from feeling that one belongs to a destined elite. Indeed, since the revolutionary mentality is characterised by a virulent glorification of pauperism, the TFP acts by systematically affirming the opposite.
To understand De Oliveira's elitism, one only has to know that he never supported 'integrism', the Brazilian version of fascism, because he considered it too 'interclass' and 'socialist' and little open to the demands of the metaphysical superiority of the landed aristocracy.
The result of this thinking is authoritarian-conservative in politics, liberalist in economics and gnostic-millenarist in the spiritual realm.
a) Alleanza Cattolica, backbone of Catholic reaction
On these conceptual bases, Giovanni Cantoni founded Alleanza Cattolica. He was the son of a veteran of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, a collaborationist regime of Nazi Germany that existed in northern Italy between September 1943 and April 1945. The regime, wanted by Adolf Hitler and led by Benito Mussolini, had the task of governing part of the Italian territories still militarily controlled by the Germans after the armistice and Italy's unconditional surrender to the Allies.
Giovanni Cantoni inherited from his father the rejection of the myth of the "Resistanza" (the civil resistance of the Italian people against Nazi fascism) and found his cultural models in the idealistic philosophy of Giovanni Gentile, in the neo-pagan mysticism of Julius Evola and the esoterism of Renè Guenon. According to the scholar Franco Ferraresi, Evola's thought can be considered one of the most systematic "anti-egalitarian, anti-liberal, anti-democratic and anti-popular systems of the 20th century". Cantoni was also highly critical of the Italian "Risorgimento" (a nineteenth-century political and social movement that led to the consolidation of various states on the Italian peninsula into a single state), which was seen as the Italian version of the French Revolution.
As insider Roberto De Mattei writes, "Alleanza Cattolica was the backbone of Catholic reaction in Italy in the decade 1970-1980". We must not be fooled by the statement that AC makes in describing itself as an organization that aims to spread the "social doctrine of the Church". The superficial impression of the reader is that the promotion of social doctrine has to do with solving social problems such as economic inequality, exploitation, and so on. No. When AC speaks of "social doctrine", it is really about political doctrine. In other words, social doctrine means the indications that believers should act according to the principles of "natural morality" in the public sphere.
The association thus includes members of the reactionary right. Besides promoting Catholic principles and fighting against abortion, divorce and the normalisation of homosexuality, Alleanza Cattolica was dedicated to spreading revisionist interpretations of the history of the Italian Risorgimento and apologising for the various "insurrections", i.e. popular Catholic uprisings against liberal and democratic revolutions (Vendée in France, Sanfedistas in Italy, Cristeros in Mexico, etc.).
It is interesting to take a quick look at some of the other eminent AC exponents:
Agostino Sanfratello assisted Cantoni in the first days. He later founded another traditionalist Catholic group, the "Lepanto Foundation", and was one of the main activists of the "Fraternity of St. Pius X", a "sedevacantist" group founded by the excommunicated French Bishop Lefevbre. Sanfratello was the mentor of Roberto Fiore who was one of the founders of Terza Posizione, a far-right movement. Fiore was convicted by the Italian judiciary in 1985 of the crime of subversive association and armed gang. Fiore was protected by MI6 as a "British intelligence agent" during his years on the run. The 1991 European Commission of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia confirmed his association with MI6 since the early 1980s. Fiore is also the founder, with Sanfratello, of the political movement "Forza Nuova", on whose lists Sanfratello himself stood in 2003.
The original group that founded Alleanza Cattolica included the historian Roberto De Mattei. He described himself as "mainly a disciple of Professor Plinio de Oliveira" He is known for vehemently rejecting the theory of evolution. He stated that "the personal existence of Adam and Eve is part of the Church's magisterium." This, according to de Mattei would be "one of the many reasons why a Catholic cannot accept Darwin's theories." He is then known to have asserted that natural disasters are divine punishment. In addition, he claimed that the "contagion of homosexuality" was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. In February 2014, Mattei's monthly radio show, Radici Cristiane (Christian Roots), was cancelled by the director of “Radio Maria” because of Mattei's "increasingly critical stance on the pontificate of Pope Francis". He was, incredibly, vice-president of the CNR (National Research Council) and, less strangely, president of the Lepanto Foundation, founded by Sanfratello. Among de Mattei's various works is a biography of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
Other prominent members include Piero Vassallo, author of an essay in defence of the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg. In 1975, Vassallo also became secretary of the International Association “Filippo II”. Vassallo, who died in 2022, was a member of the fascist party Forza Nuova, of which he was also national president.
Lawyers are well represented within the AC. They include Benedetto Tusa and Mauro Ronco. One was responsible for a number of heinous episodes of "squadrismo" (acts of collective violence for political ends) in Milan, the other was a member of "Europa 70", a group of young people close to the movement known as “the silent majority". Later, they were both in the courtroom at the trial for the fascist massacre at Piazza Fontana in Milan. One was defending Giancarlo Rognoni, leader of the terrorist group Ordine Nuovo in Milan in the 1960s, accused of helping Delfo Zorzì to smuggle the suitcase containing the explosives into the bank where the massacre took place; the other was defending Carlo Maria Maggi, one of Ordine Nuovo's main representatives in northern Italy, considered to be the "theoretician of the massacres".
However, The most famous lawyer in AC is Massimo Introvigne. He joined Alleanza Cattolica in 1972 and soon became the most active member of the association, one of the main signatories of the magazine “Cristianità”, the official organ of AC, and in 2008 even succeeded the founder Cantoni, who had suffered a stroke, in the official capacity of "Reggente Vicario", but who actually led the organisation (Cantoni retained the title of Regent only in an honorary capacity). Introvigne continued the tradition of insurgent apologetics by founding the Centre for Counter-Revolutionary Studies (CESCOR) in Turin. Its website is full with texts by Plinio de Oliveira. In 1988, only three years after the TFP had been declared by the Brazilian bishops as not being in harmony with the Catholic Church and the association had published a pamphlet against the myth of brainwashing, denouncing the conspiracy of communists and psychiatrists against religion, Massimo Introvigne, a lawyer who until then had never dealt with "cults", founded the Centro Studi Nuove Religioni (CESNUR).
b) CESNUR, the counter-revolution with the mask
This is a well-known research centre for "new religious movements" that claims to be "independent of any religious or denominational organisation". Although Introvigne has often responded to criticism of the dubious neutrality of a centre for the study of religions whose main representatives are members of Alleanza Cattolica (e.g. Pierluigi Zoccatelli, Marco Respinti and Andrea Menegotto) by saying that CESNUR has nothing to do with AC and works avalutatively and scientifically, it was Introvigne himself who declared in 1993:
Thus, the activists of Alleanza Cattolica, together with others, founded and operate CESNUR, the Centre for the Study of New Religions [... ...] within the framework of an apologetic response that never fails to return to the larger framework of the dramatic struggle between evangelisation and anti-evangelisation, and thus, in the language of the Catholic counter-revolutionary school from which Alleanza Cattolica draws its inspiration, between revolution and counter-revolution, a framework whose thematic representation constitutes one of the main objectives of the association.
In "La questione della nuova religiosità", by Massimo Introvigne, published by Cristianità, 1993 (ISBN 88-85236-14-6)
“The Catholic counter-revolutionary school from which Alleanza Cattolica draws its inspiration” and that constitutes the framework of the activity of CESNUR is that of Ousset and de Oliveira.
We know that at a certain point in time it was useful for the TFP to work with representatives and associations of American conservatism such as Paul Weyrich and the Council for National Policy (CNP). This is a secret organization described by the New York Times as "a little-known club of a few hundred of the country's most influential conservatives" who meet three times a year behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference.
Weyrich and other CNP members actively collaborated with Plinio de Oliveira's Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). See here.
On the cover of the American edition of de Oliveira's 1993 book “Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocations of Pius XII” appear the overwhelmingly positive reviews of two members of the Council for National Policy. One is by Weyrich himself, the other by Morton C. Blackwell.
Around the time that the Brazilian bishops' conference accused the TFP of not being in communion with the Church of Rome, de Oliveira and his followers held a vision that saw Christian America as the only counter-revolutionary force capable of responding to European secularism, the fruit of the French Revolution, and the 'marxistization' of the Latin Church, which had gone so far as to criticise tradition.
Even its European sisters, such as Alleanza Cattolica, took the same stand, uniting their efforts in the fight against secularism with the world of American neo-conservatism and embracing the defense of religious freedom. It is remarkable that even today Massimo Introvigne describes French secularism as a consequence of the Jacobin terror (revolution, subversion') of which FECRIS and MIVILUDES would be the heirs. He writes in an article dated 9 May 2023:
After 240 years, the anti-religious mentality of a certain France has still not completely disappeared.
Certainly, the vast majority of French citizens have for generations abandoned the forma mentis that animated the Jacobin terror regime and have moderated their attitude towards religions. Apparently, however, residues of that mentality still lurk in certain areas of French society.
This seems to be the case with the MIVILUDES (Mission Interministerielle de Vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectarie) [...]
Emanuele del Medico writes in relation to Alleanza Cattolica:
The goals set by this 'counter-revolutionary apostolate' concerned above all the struggle against secularism, the rewriting of historical memory and the control of the ideological production of the Italian right through the creation of a narrow intellectual elite from which the future ruling class would later emerge. The 'establishment of Christ's kingship also over human societies' would be expressed in the restoration of traditional hierarchies within the framework of a society of order in which religion would once again assume a dominant role in social control and the legitimisation of economic and political power [...] The underlying project is not so much to raise the flag of Catholic traditionalism, but to establish a hyper-conservative neoliberal right modelled on the United States. To advance its politics of entrism, the group makes use of a number of organisations, in addition to the magazine 'Christianity' and its eponymous publishing house, which seem to have nothing to do with each other but are run by its men. One example is Cesnur (Centre for Studies on New Religions) headed by Massimo Introvigne, one of the five 'advisors' to the Catholic Alliance Synod.
Bold by me. Ultimately, AC and CESNUR are pursuing the neoconservative project by approaching it from an elitist vision and pursuing a policy of cultural influence rather than direct political action. So, political influence (pre-politics), elitism and counter-revolution. Always the same recipe!
c) The neocons and the doctrine of double truth
It is therefore interesting to take a look at the roots of the idea that Introvigne and his people pursued so passionately, namely the American neoconservative movement. Leo Strauss is, rightly or wrongly, considered their inspiration. He was convinced that all great writers wrote in a form dressed up for the common people, an 'exoteric' form, and that it was necessary to find the clues to the 'esoteric' truth between the lines. This truth, reserved for those who could bear it, like the disciples chosen by the Master (whom he renamed 'hoplites'), consisted in the nihilistic realisation that the only truth is nothingness and that all moral principles are empty and meaningless. The 'essoteric', external message, on the other hand, consisted precisely in these 'natural moral values'. The authentic philosopher must despise the beliefs of the people, but in public he must pretend to believe in the myths and illusions concocted for the use of the masses, he must conceal this contempt, and in fact make himself a vociferous advocate of the moral values suitable for the masses: religion, democracy, justice.
Once again, lessons reserved for the chosen ones, elitism, counter-revolution. We have now left the field of political influence for the effective politics.
Strauss, who adopts an anti-egalitarian and aristocratic perspective similar to de Oliveira, goes into polemic with modernity and democratic concepts by explicitly revisiting the Platonic 'noble lie' and affirming the necessity of using religion as a rhetorical tool to manipulate and control the masses. It is the doctrine of 'double truth', whose first legitimisation is by a thinker very dear to certain elitism, Plato. In his 'ideal city', the aristocracy of spirit and thought is legitimised to use deceit for moral, educational and political purposes.In the book III of the Republic Plato writes:
[...] God, when he formed you, mixed gold into the generation of those among you who are capable of exercising power, so that they are the most valuable; into that of the guards, silver; iron and bronze into that of the peasants and craftsmen.[...] the city will perish when it is protected by a defender of iron or bronze.
The members of TFP feel they are made of gold, probably also those of AC. Thus, in highlighting the duplicity of CESNUR, its being a front office of a traditionalist Catholic organisation and, at the same time, a centre that produces actions in favour of cults further away from Catholicism, we are not just talking about the trivial lie of the mercenary hired by the cults, but also about that of the chosen ones legitimised to the noble lie and the double truth.
It is not surprising that they find it morally practicable to resort "ad usum populi" to the noble lie of professing the values of the democratic and liberal society that they inwardly despise. That they despise these values is clear from the oft-quoted genealogy of CESNUR. That it is a legitimate imposture to pose as defenders of religious freedom can be understood by considering the Platonism inherent in this genealogy.
The unconventional warfare expert Jeffrey M. Bale of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies points to this duplicity of CESNUR, describing it as the foremost case of organisations that outwardly promote political and religious agendas in the name of religious and democratic freedoms but "are in reality intended to shield extremist, totalitarian, anti-democratic groups from scrutiny, criticism, and potential government crackdowns, and more generally to resisting or even roll back against <<secular humanism>>, liberalism, and modernism in the West".
For the Italians, an excellent example of this double truth can be seen along the AC-CESNUR line: In 1994, the founder of Alleanza Cattolica, Cantoni, wrote an appeal entitled 'Let us stop the mass Radical Party'. He was referring to a well-known Italian political movement, the Radical Party founded by Marco Pannella. This party was characterised by the promotion of strong liberalism both in the economic field and in civil rights (divorce, abortion, homosexuality, liberalisation of the drug trade, etc.). According to Cantoni, all progressive and secular parties formed a 'mass Radical Party' to which Catholics had to respond. The Radical Party thus became the embodiment of the enemy. Years later, Cantoni's heirs joined forces with members of the Radical Party to defend religious freedom. In 2012, for example, the president of CESNUR, Luigi Berzano, published a volume against the proposed law on the crime of mental manipulation, whose most prominent contribution was that of Mauro Mellini, who was one of the most prominent names in the Radical Party. Other contributions included those of Massimo Introvigne, then leader of Alleanza Cattolica, in addition of CESNUR, and Fabrizio d'Agostini, a leading exponent of Scientology and founder of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB). This is the same organisation whose scientific committee includes Introvigne's wife and whose founders include a member of the Radical Party, a certain Camillo Maffia.
If the remark "the end justifies the means" seems trivial and disrespectful to the subtlety of Introvigne's thought, the logic of these traditionalists, who are waging a war against secularism in the company of the paladins of secularism, is perhaps better described by the aforementioned doctrine of the double effect of St Thomas Aquinas: "The evil produced by an action directed towards the good does not invalidate the morality of the action itself".
When a law against mental manipulation was passed in France in 2001, Introvigne wrote a "manifesto" with advice on how to fight it. Point 1 Is titled Try to understand the law in the French context and makes it perfectly clear that the defense of religious freedom that CESNUR proposes is still perfectly framed in the counter-revolutionary project. In fact, the author writes that a good starting point for understanding French law is the awareness that "the French are really persuaded that extirpating religious belief is both desirable and possible." It is to this theoretical conspiracy that CESNUR reacts. They are fighting against Robespierre.
Point 2 Is titled Support Domestic and European Litigation and there is no need for any explanation.
In point 4 (Do not feed the wolves) he wrote:
[...] even the less palatable movements accused of pseudo-crimes such as "brainwashing" or "being a cult" should be vigorously defended. No matter how much we dislike them, [...]
Therefore, it can be concluded that the reason why traditionalist Catholics, who are anti-ecumenical by nature, pursue the liberalisation of the religious market is based on an elitist conception that legitimises the use of lying to the people as a rhetorical tool of manipulation for the sake of a good that is considered superior. False benevolence towards even abusive cults (St. Thomas takes care of that anyway) is a tool to fight Jacobinism, i.e. French-style secularism, in other words, the “revolution” (or “subversion”, if you prefer Ousset).