Legal and Juridical Aspects of Satanism

Authored By: Lucia Musti


Lucia Musti
Deputy District Attorney, Tribunal of Bologna, Italy


Even a minimal legal analysis of the phenomenon of sects relative to Italy requires reflection on a few principles established by the Constitution of the Italian Republic, the so-called Fundamental Charter, and found in articles 17, 18 and 19.

Basically, by Italian law citizens have a right to assemble "peaceably and without arms", they have the right to associate freely, without authorization, for purposes that are not forbidden to individuals by Italian law. They have a right to profess their own religion, in any form, alone or with others, to publicize it and to worship in private or in public, as long as these rites are not immoral.

With this premise, it follows that sects as such do not concern the Court system; a contrariis, the intervention of the Court is necessary when a sect, whether satanic or not, commits, through its founders, priests or adherents, acts that are punishable by law, i.e., crimes. When such a situation occurs, the investigative and repressive machinery of the State is inevitably set in motion, through the combined action of the Criminal Investigation Department (Polizia Giudiziaria) and the Court. This intervention is justified by a basic principle of our code, meant to guarantee the right of equality among all citizens, according to which the public prosecutor is obliged to take penal action, obviously, if it appears that a crime has possibly been committed.

The illegal aspect of sects includes for the most part, several types of crime that, by summa divisio, we can divide into patrimonial crimes, sexual crimes and, more generally, crimes pertaining to the sphere of personal liberty, and crimes against respect for the dead.

Sects engage in fraud and subterfuge

The least common denominator in the above-mentioned categories is the correspondence between the actual behaviour that occurs and the normative provision or legislative paradigm envisaged by our system of fundamental penal law. The positive assessment by the public prosecutor that this correspondence exists requires that the investigative and repressive procedures referred to above be initiated.

Satanic sects carry out their illegal activity of a so-called economic nature by the perpetration of fraud, that is, by actions consisting of deceit and/or subterfuge on the part of an agent who leads the offended person into error, inducing him to dispose of his estate in a way that brings unjust profit to the swindler.

The crime of fraud is a psychological consequence of the offer, made by the sect, of magical practices for achieving a great variety of objectives in the areas of love, the family, work, etc.

Very frequently the fraud is followed by more serious crimes, such as extortion accompanied by violence and threats, forcing the victim to do or obtain something that realizes an unjust profit for the agent, with corresponding damage to the offended person.

This type of crime occurs whenever the victim, upon discovering that he has been tricked, refuses to pay the agreed sum for the magic promised but not received. In these circumstances, the dangerous nature of the sect is revealed by the violent demand for a sum of money, causing in the subject a true and proper situation of metus towards the Satanists.

In this regard, it must be emphasized that those who belong to a satanic sect are people of great weakness. Often the subjects are young in age, including minors, who are still maturing and, for the most part, are "orphans with a family", that is, lacking adequate family support. Even when they are of age, their personalities are underdeveloped and above all, they lack even a minimum of appropriate values.

Fear of sects hinders criminal investigations

This intrinsic, overall weakness of those who come into contact with a sect implies, as the other side of the coin, greater criminal potential for the sect itself, which, as a consequence, has the advantage in carrying out its dangerous illegal activity.

The weaknesses of its members, as noted above, which makes them easy prey to Satanists, has an important negative consequence for further investigation. Since we are dealing with persons tied to a sect by a very strong bond (at times even an oath of blood), co-operation with the Court, and, in general, with investigative bodies is reduced to a minimum, which impedes the course of the investigation and the collecting of evidence to be used against Satanists. To have been the victim of a crime, obviously, is not enough to persuade such weak individuals to file the necessary complaints with the investigative authorities. Thus, with regard to the investigation of Satanism, we face a true and proper omertà (silence), similar to what is found in Mafia-related crimes, with absolutely negative consequences for conducting the investigation.

The intimidating power of the membership bond, and of the condition of subjection and its resulting silence, for committing crimes, a phrase taken from art. 416 bis of the Penal Code (Mafia-related association), also seems to apply to Satanism, when one considers the particular condition of the members, who are tools in the hands of the Satanists, as mentioned above.

Other types of crime traceable to a sect have to do with personal sexual freedom, in the sense that during the rite it is necessary to perform certain sexual acts with consequent ejaculation in order to establish a relationship with Satan. The victims of such actions are usually women, very often made incapable of understanding and willing by taking adulterated drinks or stupefacients, or they are minors, even of a tender age. These latter have a particular significance in satanic rituals, in that the painful mistreatment of a child, who by definition is pure and close to God, means causing suffering to God himself and, thus, giving pleasure to Satan.

Obviously in these cases, whenever there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, the intervention of the Criminal Investigation Department and the Court begins immediately, since we are dealing here with serious felonies.

Another type of crime that can be committed by Satanists is included in Book II of the Italian Penal Code as "crime against respect for the dead" (delitto contro la pieta dei Defunti). In particular, we refer to article 407 (desecration of a grave), 408 (disrespect for graves); 409 (disrespect for a corpse); 411 (destruction, elimination or removal of a corpse). The use of corpses is essential to satanic ritual. Therefore, these cases also involve the repressive and punitive intervention of the Court.

Although in Italy no alarming manifestations have occurred, such as the mass suicide of members, nevertheless the phenomenon of sects involves a serious danger because of the deleterious effects they cause to their adherents and for the crimes which naturally result from the activities of the sects themselves.

In view of this situation, the author thinks that the weightiest task is not that of the Court and the Criminal Investigation Department, whose role is limited to investigation and repression, but is rather that of the family and of society, which must in some way provide support for young people and, in general, for those in difficulty, in order to avoid the useless and damaging recourse to satanic sects.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 February 1997, page 10

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