Against Satanic Panics > Timely topics
To scholars and journalists:
Topics of timely interest
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- Signs of a budding new Satanic panic?
- What forms will the new Satanic panic take?
- Current manifestations of a budding new Satanic panic
- Suggested research topics
- Signs of a budding new Satanic panic?
Alas, the Satanic panic of the 1980's and early 1990's has been limping back to life lately. There has recently been a resurgence of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" allegations. (See my pages about the Lewis case, the Hosanna Church case, and the Gerald Robinson case.)
The "Satanic ritual abuse" (SRA) scare, in the specific forms it most commonly took back in the 1980's and early 1990's, is not likely to return in full force. "Recovered memory therapy" has been discredited to a large extent (though not completely). And, given how many of the multi-victim multi-offender (MVMO) child sex abuse convictions of the 1980's were overturned, it's unlikely we'll see a huge number of them again. It is especially unlikely that we'll see very many more childcare center SRA cases.
However, by "Satanic panic," I mean more than just 1980's-style SRA allegations. There are reasons to expect a bigger resurgence of other forms of Satanic panic, includng:
- SRA allegations against Roman Catholic priests - at least as individuals, if not MVMO. These days it would seem that Roman Catholic priests, rather than daycare center employees, have become the mainstream scapegoats du jour, as a reaction against previous unfair protection of Catholic priests against accusations of child sexual abuse. (Many traditionalist Catholic writers have alleged that the Church hierarchy has been infiltrated by a conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles." The idea that there are lots of "Satanic pedophiles" in the Catholic priesthood has been endorsed even by some official Catholic spokespeople such as Jeffrey Grob, Associate Vicar for Canonical Services in the Archdiocese of Chicago.)
- A large-scale growth of general cultural paranoia and hostility toward nonmainstream religions and subcultures, including the possibility of people being wrongly accused or convicted of crimes due to police or jury bias on account of the defendant's nonmainstream religion or lifestyle. (In the Lewis case, two of the people arrested were Pagan, and police ignorance about Paganism was apparently a factor in the arrests.)
- More cases, like the Gerald Robinson murder case, in which SRA allegations lead to highly questionable convictions for other crimes.
These and other forms of Satanic panic are likely to escalate in the near future, given the following recent developments:
- The Vatican's new course on "Satanism and exorcism," to be taught once or twice each year. In February 2005, the Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum," run by the Legionaries of Christ, began teaching a course for clergy and seminarians on "Satanism and exorcism." Online news articles about the course are full of claims about Satanism, often unsourced, many of which sound to me pretty wild. (See my collection of links to news articles about Exorcism, the Vatican, and the recent Italian Satanic panic on my page about Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism.) The most noteworthy point is that two very powerful institutions with worldwide influence - the Vatican itself and the Legion of Christ - are now promulgating fears about Satanism.
- Italy's recent Satanic panic, triggered by the "Beasts of Satan" murders. In May 2004, the bodies of two long-missing teenagers were found in the woods of Somma Lombardo, northwest of Milan, Italy. It was determined that they had been murdered by members and associates of the Italian "Beasts of Satan" metal band, allegedly as part of a "Satanic ritual." (See my collection of links to articles about The "Beasts of Satan" murders in Italy.) In this case I'm pretty sure that at least one of the defendants (Andrea Volpe) is indeed guilty, though the alleged "Satanic ritual" aspects of the murders may be questionable. The case has given a huge boost to anti-Satanist fearmongers. In just about every news article I've seen about the Vatican course on "Satanism and exorcism," the course is said to be a response to the "Beasts of Satan" murders. (See my page about Italy's recent Satanic panic - and its impact on the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.)
- The murder trial of Father Gerald Robinson, especially Jeffrey Grob's testimony, which will likely be seen by many people as giving credence to the SRA allegations that led up to Robinson's arrest. Moreover, based on remarks by Grob to the press before the trial, it appears that traditionalist Catholic paranoia about "Satanists in the Catholic hierarchy" is now seeping into the hierarchy itself. (Quite a few traditionalist Catholics have blamed clergy pedophilia on an alleged conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" supposedly infiltrating the Catholic clergy. See the section on Traditionalist Catholics vs. the alleged "Satanists" in the Vatican on my page about The lunatic fringe. See also The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare - it's BAACK! - The alleged conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" in the Catholic clergy on my Theistic Satanism website.) Apparently Grob - and perhaps others in the Catholic hierarchy? - have come to believe the SRA allegations that have surfaced as part of the clergy pedophilia scandal. I wouldn't be surprised to see a full-fledged anti-"Satanism" witchhunt (as well as an anti-gay witchhunt) within the Catholic Church soon. Indeed an article on the Court TV site has confirmed that the Robinson trial has given a huge boost to SRA allegations involving the Catholic clergy. (See my comments on the Court TV article.)
- The explosive worldwide growth of demon-obsessed forms of Christianity these past several decades, at the expense of more moderate forms of Christianity. (See my pages of links to articles about The growing number of Christians of kinds which inherently fear demons, Satanists, witches, occultists, and Pagans and Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism.)
- The massive number of paranoid conspiracy theorists on the Internet. Nearly all conspiracy theorists are firm believers in SRA among other things, differing only on whether the top dogs (or top lizards?) in the grand worldwide "Satanic" conspiracy are Jewish bankers, European royalty, 33rd-degree Masons, the Council on Foreign Relations, or space aliens. For the most part, the ideas of conspiracy theorists aren't taken seriously by anyone important - at least here in the West. Nevertheless, the apparent sheer growth in the number of grand-conspiracy believers does not bode well. And some of them do manage to influence more-respectable folks.
- A new anti-Satanist scaremonger who has emerged, within the past several years, here in the United States - Dawn Perlmutter, a seemingly much more sophisticated and urbane reincarnation of the Christian-oriented "occult crime experts" who used to give police-training seminars back in the 1980's. She has managed to get a lot of people to take her seriously. Her website lists papers in an online academic journal, and she has even managed to get a book of hers published by CRC Press, a major scientific publishing company - despite her utterly unscientific approach. I've devoted an entire section of this website to debunking Perlmutter's claims and critiquing her online academic papers. So far (as of May 2006), I'm not yet aware of any other anti-witchhunt commentator besides me who has paid any significant attention to her.
In Dawn Perlmutter's wake, long-discredited SRA scaremongers such as Ted Gunderson have been getting occasional airtime again on network TV too.
- The recent growth and transformation of Satanism itself, thanks to the Internet. From 1969 until the mid-1990's, most new Satanists became Satanists by reading Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible and recognizing their own views therein. These days, a new Satanist's first encounter with Satanist writing is more likely to be via the Internet. Thus the Satanist scene has become a lot more varied, with many more people embracing non-LaVeyan forms of Satanism - although most Satanists today are still influenced by LaVey to some degree, at least indirectly. And the Satanist scene has probably grown in absolute numbers too.
Both Satanism's growth and its diversification have given the anti-Satanists more to yell about. Satanism's diversification also means that some of the old answers to the the anti-Satanists' claims are now out-of-date, because it's now a lot harder to define what "real Satanism" is. Hence the need for up-to-date research on real-life Satanism.
Even the idea of "recovered memories," although now in disrepute, is by no means completely dead. As recently as 2005, there are still occasional convictions for serious crimes on the basis of little more than one person's "recovered memories." (See, for example, The Passion of Father Paul Shanley by JoAnn Wypijewski, Legal Affiars, October 2004, and Comments on the Shanley Trial by Bob Chatelle. See also "Recovered memories" and the courts: recent non-SRA cases on my page of comments about S.M. Elliot's blog The Devil Appears.)
What forms will the new Satanic panic take?
If there's another major Satanic panic here in the U.S.A., what will it be like? Most likely, it won't feature child care centers or "recovered memories."
Insofar as it involves false criminal accusations, most of them will probably be more like the 1993 "West Memphis Three" case, in which three Arkansas teenagers were convicted of murdering three eight year old boys, allegedly as part of a "Satanic ritual." Many people now believe that the teenagers were convicted on very flimsy evidence, by a jury that was biased against the defendants due to sensationalistic media coverage plus the prosecutor's focus on the alleged ringleader's personal eccentricities. (See my collection of links about The "West Memphis Three" case.)
I expect also to see a lot of SRA allegations against Roman Catholic priests. A lot of people are justifiably angry about the Catholic Church's pedophilia coverups. Unfortunately, such anger can easily translate into people being too quick to conclude that particular Catholic priests are guilty of particular crimes. (See Sexual Abuse by Clergy: A "Perfect Panic" on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.)
I expect also to see more real-life crimes using Satanic trappings, inspired by all the scaremongering. I expect also to see a lot of mass media overreaction to teenage pranks - thereby giving the culprits exactly what they wanted.
Besides criminal accusations, whether true or false, the new Satanic panic will most likely involve attempts to limit the freedoms of religious minorities, plus general cultural paranoia, including crusades against popular children's literature such as the Harry Potter books. It will also - almost certainly - be used an excuse to promote general social conservativism, including anti-feminism and homophobia.
Current manifestations of a budding new Satanic panic
For current manifestations, see the following sections of this website:
- Recent anti-Satanist scaremongers and debunkers
- Recent criminal cases and accusations
- Recent retractions and other recent news on some older alleged "Satanic" crimes
- Instances of general cultural paranoia and intolerance toward nonmainstream religions and subcultures, related to anti-Satanist scaremongering
- Italy's recent Satanic panic - and its impact on the Roman Catholic Church worldwide
See also the following pages, on other sites, containing some specific news stories I haven't yet discussed elsewhere on this site:
- The people who believe that Satanists might eat your baby by Damian Thompson, Telegraph (U.K.), 22/03/2002
- School officials fear satanic crimes; DPS has its doubts by Tracey Eaton, The Dallas Morning News (Texas), via the Denton Record-Chronicle, USA, Apr. 15, 2005, about a recent panic about "Satanic" child murder in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas
- On the blog Cabinet of Wonders: Scottish Satanic Abuse, Thursday, March 2. 2006, and More Satanic Panic, Saturday, April 8, 2006
See also the following pages, on other sites, containing collections of recent news stories:
- News items (1996 to now) on: ritual abuse, Satanic ritual abuse (SRA), multiple personality disorder (MPD), recovered memory therapy (MPD), etc. on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- News tracker : Satanic and/or ritual abuse and News tracker : False Memory Syndrome on ReligionNewsBlog.com
Suggested research topics
Investigative journalists and religion scholars may be interested in the following topics, among others:
- What, exactly, is the Vatican teaching about Satanism in its new course about "Satanism and exorcism" at the Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum"? How do the Vatican's claims compare with the reality of today's Satanist scene - and with the reality of whatever else the course may present as being linked to Satanism, correctly or not?
The use of "Satanism" scares by conservative and traditionalist Catholics. The Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum" is run by the ultra-orthodox Legion of Christ. (The Legionaries and another controversial conservative religious order, the Opus Dei, have become increasingly influential both within the Catholic Church and in secular politics, especially in Latin America. For more information about the Legion of Christ, see the websites listed here in my collection of links about Exorcism, the Vatican, and the recent Italian Satanic panic on my page about Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism.) Meanwhile, some ultra-conservative Catholic writers, including Malachi Martin, have for many years alleged a conspiracy of "Satanists" within the Vatican itself. Some have blamed both Vatican II and the clergy pedophilia scandal on an alleged conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" within the Catholic clergy.
- What really went on with the "Beasts of Satan"? I've seen a lot of media hype and hardly any critique so far. The one skeptical article I've seen is The Devil's Workshop? Vatican Cranks Exorcism Mill Amidst Sensationalist Headlines, Religious Rivalry, on the American Atheists site, February 21, 2005. This article questions the alleged Satanic ritual aspects of the murders.
- In the Gerald Robinson murder trial, why did Jeffrey Grob, the Chicago archdiocese's "expert on Catholic ritual," claim that only a "priest, nun, or seminarian" would have knowledge of certain very well-known Catholic symbolism? I smell a story here....
- Any further developments in the West Memphis Three case, which has been going through a long series of appeals.
- The many other probably-innocent people who were convicted of alleged "Satanic" crimes during the witchhunts of the 1980's and early 1990's, and who are still in prison, forgotten about, due to lack of money for appeals. There are probably many such people who, unlike West Memphis Three, were never fortunate enough to attract mass media publicity by someone championing their innocence. It would be highly desirable if someone could try to track them all down, document their cases, and, if possible, begin raising money - at long last - for at least the most obviously innocent ones.
- Other, more recent questionable criminal cases. See Recent criminal cases and accusations.
- Various nonmainstream subcultures and their differing responses to Satanic panics.
- What is real-life Satanism like these days? The Satanist scene has grown and mutated quite a bit recently, thanks to the Internet. Most of the publicly-available scholarly information about Satanism was generated during or shortly after the last Satanic panic and is now grossly out-of-date. For anyone who wishes to debunk the new Satanic panic, it will be desirable to have up-to-date scholarly information about real-life Satanism. So, original up-to-date research on Satanism itself would definitely be timely. For a list of suggested research topics on Satanism itself, see To scholars of new religions: Suggestions for research on Satanism on my Theistic Satanism site.
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