LONDON — A decision to allow Satanists to perform their rituals in the British Armed Services has been widely attacked.

Naval technician Chris Cranmer, 24, has been allowed to register as a Satanist by the captain of HMS Cumberland, based at Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth. The captain has agreed to give him space to use as a “ritual chamber.”

Cranmer will be able to dress in a black robe in front of an altar and use items including candles, a gong, a bell and a model phallus. The commanding officer also agreed he can have a Church of Satan funeral if he dies in action.

Cranmer told The Sunday Telegraph that he became interested in Satanism nine years ago, when he “stumbled across the Satanic Bible,” written by Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey.

“I then read more and more and came to realize I'd always been a Satanist, just simply never knew,” the sailor said. “If I were asked if I were evil, I would say Yes — by virtue of the common definition. But if you asked my friends and family, it would be a resounding No.”

Cranmer, who is now lobbying the Ministry of Defense to make Satanism a registered religion in the armed forces, belongs to the Church of Satan, which was founded in San Francisco in 1966. Adherents live by the Nine Satanic Statements, which include “Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence,” “Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek” and “Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification.”

Catholic Bishop Thomas Burns, bishop for Great Britain's military diocese and a former sailor himself, said opposition from shipmates could make it difficult for Cranmer to practice Satanic rituals on board despite having received official permission.

“He would need the approval of his colleagues because there is no privacy on a ship, no private place where he could celebrate a ritual,” the bishop said.

“I find it contradictory to his job that he might want to call down evil on those he serves with. The expression of any religion or faith should be a harmonious experience. Its validity must be called into question if it becomes divisive or disruptive,” Bishop Burns said.

Ann Widdecombe, a Catholic member of Parliament and a former British cabinet minister, said she was “utterly shocked” by the Royal Navy's decision. “Satanism is wrong,” she said. “Obviously, the private beliefs of individuals anywhere, including the armed forces, are their own affair, but I hope it doesn't spread.”

Added Widdecombe, “The Navy should not permit Satanist practices on board its ships. God himself gives free will, but I would like to think that if somebody applied to the Navy and said they were a Satanist today, it would raise its eyebrows somewhat.”

A spokesman for the Royal Navy said, “We are an equal-opportunities employer, and we don't stop anyone from having their own religious values. Chris Cranmer approached his captain and made a request to be registered as a Satanist. The captain said this decision was entirely up to the individual and that he is a good lad, a good worker.”

But Admiral Sandy Woodward, former commander of the South Atlantic Task Groups in the Falklands War, expressed disbelief. “My immediate reaction is, good God, what the hell's going on?” he said. “This sounds pretty daft to me.”

Horrific Murders

Concrete evidence about the influence and activities of Satanists in Britain is hard to come by. However, elsewhere, Satanists have been involved in a number of horrific cases in recent years. In one case in Poland in 2000, two teen-agers were found murdered after a Satanic sacrifice.

In 2002, a German couple who killed a man by stabbing him 66 times in a Satanic ritual were jailed for murder. Daniel and Manuela Ruda never denied killing their victim, but argued it was not murder because they were acting on the devil's orders. The decomposing body of a man was found in the couple's flat with a scalpel protruding from his stomach and the sign of the devil carved into his chest.

And earlier this year in northern Italy, police arrested three men who stand accused of ordering the murder of at least five youths in the area around Milan since 1998. Police said the killings were all linked to Satanic practices.

At least two priests have been murdered by Satanists in the past decade.

In 1996, Father Jean Uhl, a parish priest in France, was stabbed 33 times by David Oberdorf, who told police he was possessed by the devil and had a “Satanic flash” before the killing.

And last July in Chile, Father Faustino Gazziero de Stefani was slain by a 25-year-old man moments after celebrating Mass in Santiago's cathedral. Witnesses said the assailant, Rodrigo Orias Gallardo, knelt beside Father Faustino after killing him and invoked Satan's name.

Selfish Religion?

For the Royal Navy to place Satanic practice, which has evil as its objective, on par with Christianity, which has good as its objective, will be seen by many as yet another glaring example of how Britain has abandoned its Christian roots in favor of moral relativism and secularism.

Doug Harris, director of the Reachout Trust, an evangelical Christian ministry, said, “I do think that we must look to see the quality of life we are advocating and the potential end results of such beliefs.”

At the very least, Harris said, following the tenets of the Church of Satan seems to produce a selfish person who lacks the team spirit required in military service.

Said Harris, “At the same time, Satanists appear to have little regard for others and certainly would not want to see people forgiven for things they have done wrong. There also is another concern as to whether the following and practice of such a faith can open up a door to supernatural evil and therefore have a far-reaching effect on the lives involved.”

Greg Watts writes from London.