Monday, July 6, 2015

Brittmarie Janson Perez, "On False Prophets and Parallel Churches: Kiko Arguello and His Neocatechumenal Way"

Today, another exhaustively researched essay by Brittmarie Janson Perez, which I'm happy to share with you here. This one focuses on the role of Kiko Arguello and his group the Neocatechumenal Way in organizing the massive "pro-family," anti-gay demonstration held in Rome on 20th June. As Colleen Baker noted several years ago on her Enlightened Catholicism blog, Arguello's Neocatechumenal Way is yet another example of the influential fascist strand of Spanish Catholicism (Opus Dei being another) that seemed to capture the imagination of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — and which has done much to try to identify Catholicism at this point in history with macho-heterosexist, misogynistic, and homophobic ideas resistant to the rights of women and gay people. Here's Brittie's outstanding essay:

On False Prophets and  Parallel Churches: Kiko Arguello and His Neocatechumenal Way 

Brittmarie Janson Perez

It appears that for a charismatic leader to get the Vatican's seal of approval in the time of John Paul II, all he required was to round up a mass of fanatic followers, wave wads of money at top hierarchs and, especially, say the right words. The current "open sesame" appears to be fervent opposition to what the Vatican calls "gender ideology."

Take the case of Spanish artist and singer Kiko Arguello and his Neocatechumenal Way (NC). With the fervent endorsement of John Paul II and the acquiescence of Benedict XVI, Kiko has fashioned his own doctrine, iconography, liturgy, and music. All of these differ notably from those of the Catholic Church.

In his own country, the newspaper El País has described Kiko Arguello as the closest thing Spain has to a Tea Party telepreacher: "Like North American pastors, with speeches seasoned by fear, he is overdramatic and apocalyptic." In fact, Kiko could well play Gounod's Mephistopheles. With piercing eyes and a goatee, he dresses in black as if he were a man of the cloth, sometimes wielding a gigantic cross with mysterious symbols on it.

On 20 June of this year, Kiko was the keynote speaker at a massive "Family Day" demonstration in Rome's piazza San Giovanni of which he is said to have been the promoter and main sponsor. The backdrop of the podium had the following slogans: "Let us Defend Our Children," "STOP GENDER in schools." The demonstration's stated objectives were to oppose Italian bills — Cirinna and Fedeli — permitting same-sex marriage as well as efforts to make school children aware of cultural biases that perpetuate machismo, racial discrimination, and the bullying of homosexuals. In fact, the demonstration was against  same-sex marriage with being gay depicted as a disease trasmitted by contact that threatens to infect the children of heterosexual couples.

Addressing the demonstration, Kiko rambled, sometimes incoherently, interlarding Italian with Spanish, his mother tongue and, playing his guitar, led the demonstrators in song. Two segments of his long speech got him into trouble. In the first, Kiko evoked sparks when he said that the Family Day gathering had not been endorsed by secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) but had the support of Pope Francis: "The Holy Father is with us." To this, Ivan Maffeis, director of the CEI's national communications office, immediately objected, affirming that Arguello had made a gratuitous and grave slip, incorrectly pitting the Pope against CEI's general secretary, Nunzio Galantino.

Although Kiko has highly placed friends in the Vatican who had quietly endorsed Family Day, some of Kiko's supporters were furious at Galantino. Notable among these was Lorenzo Penotti, who asked for Galantino's head "with the same conviction as one would ask for the head of a mangy dog that has dug its teeth into a human being. We want one to be punished so as to educate a thousand, before we have to do it ourselves."

Pope Francis, who seems to have fallen for the "gender ideology" watchword, may have seen the light, for on 25 June, on the same day that Penotti asked for the head of Galantino, his homily was against false prophets, false Christians, false pastors who do not listen to the flock and who speak their own words rather than God's. Previously, on 19 May 2013, Francis warned that parallel ways are dangerous. In fact, Francis had been present at one of Kiko's performances after which complaints were made that Kiko, running the show, used Francis as a prop.

Another part of Kiko's 20 June speech — which caused even more waves — was his comment on the murder of women. In a country plagued by machismo where, according to official statistics, one third of Italian women report being victims of serious domestic violence, and where femicide has been called an epidemic, Kiko Arguello made an oblique justification of femicide: 

There are so many cases of this kind and it is said that this kind of violence is caused by the male-female duality, but it is not so for us. This man, for us, killed the little girls because of another reason. If this man was an atheist, secularized, does not go to mass, nobody recognizes his personhood. He has only his wife who gives him a role, "You are my husband," and in this way he is nourished by the love of the woman. But if the woman abandons him and goes off with another woman, this man can make an unimaginable discovery because this woman has withdrawn from him the state of being loved, and when the state of being loved is withdrawn, it is hell. This man feels a death inside so profound that his first instinct is to kill her. Second, because the pain he feels is almost mystical, sidereal and horrible, he falls into an eternal black hole and thinks: "How can I make my wife understand the harm she has done me?" He kills the children. Because hell exists. Sociologists are not Christians and they do not know Christian anthropology. The problem is that we cannot live without being loved, first by our family, then by friends in school, then by the girlfrend, and finally by our wife.

"The delirious Spanish mystic has blamed women for femicide at Family Day," ran the headline of one of the many critical reactions in the Italian press. Italy's Huffington Post showed how, to suit himself and make the points covered in the preceding excerpt from his speech, Kiko had twisted the case of a man who had murdered his daughters in Switzerland. Though NC spokesmen argued that Kiko had been misinterpreted and withdrew his speech from YouTube, the damage had been done: Italian media and blogs had already captured and transmitted to the world this part of Kiko's speech.

On 28 June, Il Fatto Quotidiano carried a full-page and illustrated exposé of Kiko and his Neocatechumenals with text by Italian sociologist Marco Marzano, who, having written a book on the subject, was probably the sociologist to whom Kiko referred in his femicide passage. Marzano believes that Kiko is setting up a parallel church in defiance of Francis. Noting the privileges given by John Paul II to Kiko and Carmen Hernandez, co-founder of the Neocatechumenals, Marzano said that when allowed to enter a parish, NC takes over. Priests submissive to Kiko's dictums play a secondary role, chiefly as enablers to get NC into the  parishes. With banners advertizing "Catechesis for  Adults," initially parishioners are not informed that they are being targeted by the Neothecumenal way. Kiko Arguello's name is not mentioned.

Marzano further commented that a Catholic would hardly recognize the NC mass which is held in parish churches late Saturday night employing a special table with no cross or tabernacle. Though Benedict XVI insisted that NC masses be open to all Catholics, this requirement has been largely ignored by the movement. As the NC does not believe in transubstantiation, communion is distributed informally to seated devotees. The NC versions of "confession," called "scrutiny," are communal, directed by NC catechists in the presence of other catechumens. Prodded by catechists, they must share with the community all details of their intimate personal lives, their sins, their foibles, their finances. Even priests are subject to communal scrutiny. Marzano points out that the compromising information thus obtained is used to deride cathecumens and even to blackmail those who might want to quit NC.

Catechists are especially interested in couples' sex lives. The overarching  focus is on couples being "open to life." No effort at birth control is acceptable, for large families are a sign of fidelity to the Neocatechumenal Way. Marzano notes that he is not surprised that Kiko blames femicide on women. Kiko is "allergic to women," he said; their role is seen chiefly as producers of more babies for the NC. Carlotta Zavatiero, who has written a book on the various reactionary groups which are seeking to rein in Pope Francis' revolution, says NC radically condemns contraceptives, gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, leftist Jesuits, priests who do not hand over their parishes to NC, and uncooperative monsignors: in sum, all those who do not think like Kiko Arguello.

Second only to NC catechists' interest in sex and reproduction is their focus on the cathecumens' monetary contributions, voluntary but sometimes extracted by group pressure. It appears that the immense amount of money thus collected permits Kiko Arguello to fund his seminaries and his Domus Galileae, his magnificent temple on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Jerusalem overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There, the emphasis is on the Jewish roots of Catholicism, as Cardinal Sean O'Malley has noted: 

The Domus Galilaeae has become quite a point of contact with the Jewish faith, in great part because Kiko Arguello, one of the initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, has always emphasized the Jewish roots of Catholicism. Therefore, the Jewish people have found themselves at home there.

Though NC has been defined by some as a cult, many cardinals, archbishops, and bishops have fallen for Kiko Arguello. Dazzled by his success, they don't seem to have bothered to study the Neocatechumenal Way. In fact, though Kiko's road upward has met with a few snags — objections or reservations — by popes Benedict and Francis, he has blythely ignored them. As for his followers, how can one argue with catechists who claim that Kiko has seen and touched Christ, and catechumens who say catechists are angels sent by God to help them? 

Zavattiero tells a story she heard in NC circles: Kiko is deadly ill and a group of his followers come to tell him that they are building a pantheon in Galilee to bury him as a patriarch. Kiko smiles and tells them: "Brothers, don't worry about the three days that I will be dead."


1. On Francis and Kiko Arguello: 

2. Early criticism of Arguello's doctrinal and liturgical errors: 

Father Enrico Zoffoli, "The Neocatechumenal Way," Christian Order (April, 1995) 

Sandro Magister, "Quella strana messa che il papa non vuole," Chiesa 

Stefano Caredda, "Neocatechumenal Way: another approval. There’s always something wrong, though," at the website, Is the Neocatechumenal Way Roman Catholic?

3. Criticism of Arguello in Spain: 

Joaquín Gil, "Los 'kikos' exhiben músculo neocón," El País

4. On the 20 June Family Day demonstration in Rome: 

Robert Mickens, "Letter from Rome," Commonweal (subscription paywall)

Salvatore Cannavò, "Family Day, Bigotti ma tanti: invasione di neocatecumenali," Il Fatto Quotidiano (pdf file)

Roberto de Mattei, "Il sombrero di Kiko sulla manifestazione del 20 giugno," Corrispondenza Romana

5. On the Italian Episcopal Conference's objection: 

6. Lorenzo Penotti's comment: 

"Vogliamo la testa di mons. Galantino," La Voce di don Camillo website 

7. On Vatican promoters of Family Day: 

Marco Palombi, "Insegnanti di religione contro Morte Nera del Gender," Il Fatto Quotidiano 21 June 2015 (no online link available)

8. Pope Francis's homily against false prophets: 

María Fernanda Bernasconi, "Papa: No a los pastores que hablan demasiado y escuchan poco," Radio Vaticano (English-language text from same source, "Pope: Worldly pastors talk too much, listen little")

9. On Kiko Arguello's use of Pope Francis as a stage prop:

10. On the plight of Italian women: 

Elisabetta Povoledo, "A Call for Aid, Not Laws, to Help Women in Italy," New York Times 

11. Kiko Arguello's comments at 20 June Family Day in Rome:

"Kiko e il femminicidio," Informare per Resistere

12. Criticism of Kiko Arguello's speech: 

Furio Colombo, "La famiglia e in pericolo, Ma la colpa non e dei gay," Il Fatto Quotidiano

13. Commentary on Arguello and NC by sociologist Marco Marzano: 

Marco Marzano, "Catecumenali, la Chiesa poco cattolica che sfida Francesco," Il Fatto Quotidiano 

14. Carlota Zavatiero's commentary on NC:

15. Cardinal O'Malley's blogs on his trips to the Domus Galilaeae: 

"Visiting the Holy Land," Cardinal Seán's Blog 

 "On Pilgrimage to the Holy Land," Cardinal Seán's Blog 

16. On Pope Francis' reservations about NC: 

Sandro Magister, "Tre tirate d’orecchie del papa a Kiko e Carmen", L'Espresso 

17. On Neocatechumenal Way as a cult: 

Charles White, "The Way shows signs of a cult or sect," Cult Education Institution website

The photo of Kiko Arguello appears at many websites, with no indication of its original source. 

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