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Fr. Guido Sommavilla: the surprising link between Vassula Ryden and Pseudo-Catholic Spiritism


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In 1997, Italian priest Fr. Guido Sommavilla, S.J. took public stance in favour of Mrs Vassula Ryden. His intervention can be found in her official website: http://www.tlig.org/en/testimonies/churchpos/cdfresources/sommavilla/. This text continues to circulate widely among her followers. However, many ignore who was the late Fr. Sommavilla, his liking for the pseudo-catholic Italian group named Movimento della Speranza (Movement for Hope) and his involvement in the case of Giampiero Campana, a young man who committed suicide and then allegedly "communicated"  with the living through automatic writing.


Movimento della Speranza

The founding of the Movimento della Speranza has its roots in the dramatic events surrounding the Moneta family of Genoa (Italy). Their son Francesco died at the age of 24 (in 1976) after a serious illness. A year later, his mother developed an interest in parapsychology and came in contact with a medium, who asserted that she could receive messages from the dead through automatic writing. Francesco allegedly started sending messages to his mother. The Moneta couple was convinced that it was indeed their son Francesco, because they considered that the handwriting and the signature of the messages received by the medium were identical to those of their deceased son.

In 1981, the mother published a book titled Tu sei tornato (You have returned), where she told about her experience and reproduced the messages. People all over Italy contacted her and shared similar experiences. In 1987 the Monetas organized a "congress" and created the Movimento della Speranza. Although the document presenting the Movement says that it is an "aconfessional group with an ecumenical religious inspiration", its members describe themselves as "convinced and practicing Catholics". Their congresses in fact always end with a Mass celebrated by Catholic priests.

The group's objective is to promote a form of communication with the netherworld that would be acceptable for Catholics. The means they propose are "telescrittura" (similar to ouija boards), automatic writing, different kinds of devices that register voices, etc. They assert that the communication with dead persons is a "new revelation" which confirms the divine Revelation and gives us more information on the after life, therefore confirming that there is a life after death. According to them, it is not spiritism, since many people have returned to the Catholic faith because of these messages.

Several Italian Bishops have warned against the Movimento della Speranza and its teachings. In March 1993, the Bishop of Alessandria advised the faithful not to participate in the Movimento's congress and clarified that no priest had been authorized to celebrate the Mass at the end of the congress. In April 2000, the episcopal conference of Emilia Romagna published a pastoral note reconfirming the condemnation of spiritism and warned that the Masses celebrated by the Movimento's priests were illicit. In June 2001, again three Italian Dioceses took pastoral dispositions in order to warn the faithful about the errors spread by different groups, among which the Movimento della Speranza.


Father Guido Sommavilla, s.j.

In 1996 Fr. Guido Somavilla (author of philosophy and theology books, known for his translations of several of Hans Urs von Balthasar's works, as well as his comments to the J.R.R. Tolkien novels), published Di là qualcuno ci scrive (Someone is writing to us from beyond - Edizioni Dehoniane). It is a presentation of the messages from Giampiero Campana, a young man who had committed suicide. The case is very similar to that of the young Moneta. Giampiero's messages had also been received by a medium through automatic writing. Fr. Sommavilla argued in favour of the phenomenon's authenticity and orthodoxy based on the following points:

-        The graphological study of the messages, which allegedly confirmed that the handwriting reproduced by the medium was that of the late Giampiero Campana (the medium's "normal" handwriting was totally different);

-       He considered that the messages contained nothing contrary to Catholic doctrine;

-        The messages included very personal details of the Campana's family life, details that the medium could not have known (allegedly);

-        "Giampiero" himself asserted that it was not a case of spiritsim, because it was  "God Himself" who allowed him to communicate with the living through the medium;

-        The "good fruit" of the messages: Giampiero's mother, thanks to this communication with her son, found again a "fervent Christian faith" and became "her parish priest's most important assistant".


An interesting detail is that a few months before Giampiero committed suicide, he had innocently participated with some friends in a spiritism session, and after that he had never been the same. A few months later, he committed suicide.

Those who are familiar with Vassula's case will have noticed the parallelism between the arguments in favour of Giampiero's messages received through the medium, and Jesus' messages received through Vassula: different handwriting, nothing allegedly contrary to Catholic doctrine, theological contents that allegedly go beyond Vassula's knowledge, "God Himself" confirming that He chose to communicate through Vassula, the "good fruit" of conversions.

It is not surprising that Fr. Sommavilla recognized in Vassula the same characteristics of Giampiero Campana case, which he had considered authentic, although it is quite evident that it is a case of spiritism.

In 1998, Fr. Sommavilla participated as a speaker in the Movimento della Speranza Congress that took place that year in Cattolica (a town near Rimini). Another invited speaker was Vassula Ryden, as indicated on her own website (www.vassula.org/it9809.htm ). We also found an intervention by Fr. René Laurentin, what is quite unfortunate but not a complete surprise.

The Movimento della Speranza is the typical pseudo-Catholic group which under a Christian disguise promotes New Age practices and beliefs. Several experts who have observed these types of groups (Marie-France James, Fr. Mitch Pacwa s.j., Fr. François-Marie Dermine o.p.) consider that Vassula's group should also be considered as New Age group.

Those who wish to go deeper (and who can read Italian), might want to consult the Pastoral Dispositions published by three Italian dioceses in 2001 (http://www.cesnur.org/2001/disp_past.htm ). A good book on the matter of spiritism (essential for the discernment of cases such as Vassula's and the Movimento della Speranza) is "Spiritismo: cose dell'altro mondo" by Andrea Porcarelli, Edizioni San Paolo, 1998.

Fr. Guido Sommavilla passed away a few years ago. His book on the Campana case is very difficult to obtain (the publishing house no longer exists). In 2000, a second part of the Campana messages were published with a short preface by Fr. Sommavilla, in which he confirmed his positive view of the phenomenon (Un suicida dall'aldilà raconta, Edizioni Segno, 2000).


Maria Laura Pio - 16/08/2006

Translation to English: January 2014