Italian Schismatic Sect Incurs Excommunication

Group centered on the worship of an alleged apparition of the Child Jesus has received latae sententiae excommunication.

The statue of St. Peter holding the keys, outside St. Peter's Basilica.
The statue of St. Peter holding the keys, outside St. Peter's Basilica. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

SORA, Italy — An Italian sect centered on the worship of an alleged apparition of the Child Jesus, which is gathered around the son-in-law of the seer, has been found guilty of schism and received a latae sententiae excommunication.

The news was communicated in a June 5 statement from the Diocese of Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo, where the sect is based.

The group, the Universal Christian Church of the New Jerusalem, is based in Gallinaro, a town in central Italy located 15 miles southeast of Sora. There, Giuseppina Norcia reportedly saw an apparition of the Child Jesus in 1947. This was followed by subsequent apparitions in 1974, and her family built a chapel on the site the following year.

The June 5 statement from the Sora Diocese stated that “the group called the ‘Child Jesus of Gallinaro’ or ‘New Jerusalem’ is committed to spreading false religious doctrines and teachings that distort the Bible and are outside the truth of the sacred text.”

The statement also notes that “the doctrinal position of the group is clearly against the Catholic faith, as it obliges the faithful not to receive sacraments, to disapprove of the Pope’s teaching and authority, not to entertain relations with priests and their parish communities, and not to observe ecclesiastical discipline.”

The Sora Diocese stated that the group “established the self-styled ‘Universal Christian Church of the New Jerusalem’” and stressed that “all the faithful of the diocese must be informed” of the consequences of “this very grave abuse, which underwent an examination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

The abuse constitutes schism, a crime whose penalty is automatic, or latae sententiae, excommunication.

“In order to safeguard the integrity of faith, ecclesial communion and the pastoral action of the Church for the people of God,” the diocese stated that the initiatives of the “self-styled new Jerusalem” are “completely against Catholic doctrine and have nothing to do with the grace of faith and salvation” that “Christ entrusted to the Church founded on the rock of the apostle Peter.”

The diocese also stated that “all the faithful who [attend] this ‘self-styled church’ are punished with latae sententiae excommunication, for the canonical crime of schism.”

The group established itself as the “Universal Christian Church of the New Jerusalem” in October 2015, and it was with this act of schism that its members will have excommunicated themselves.

The sect was founded by Samuele Morcia, the son-in-law of the seer Giuseppina Norcia. Morcia took over the prayer groups dedicated to the “apparition” after Norcia’s death on July 5, 2008, and turned them into a sect based on a cult of personality. He claimed that Norcia had transferred to him her capacity to receive messages and prophecies from Christ.

The group holds that Gallinaro is the “New Jerusalem,” and it has attracted tens of thousands of worshippers from across Italy. Many prayer groups have spread, dedicated to the worship of the supposed apparition of the Child Jesus.

Morcia promoted the building of a chapel in the shape of an ark and launched a nonprofit organization, the Casa Serena del Bambin Gesù, to raise the necessary funds.

Its balance sheets have never been published, though, according to Italian tax data, it collected 305,000 euros ($346,000) between 2006 and 2012. Some 2,500 Italian taxpayers have opted to give to the nonprofit.

An earlier statement from the Sora Diocese noted that “no approval from the competent ecclesiastical authority” had been given to the worship of Gallinaro.

The document also stated that “facts presented as extraordinary or supernatural cannot be considered so, given their origin, nature and content.” The vicars of the diocese also stressed that “the phenomenon is watched” because it can open to “a certain religious fanaticism and contamination contrasting with Catholic teaching.”

They added that the designation of Gallinaro as the “New Jerusalem” is “totally unacceptable and pastorally concerning, because of its millenarian content.”

The statement hampered the gathering of faithful from around the diocese, yet “Gallinaro worship” continued to develop in neighboring dioceses.

For example, a December 2015 statement from the Diocese of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno, more than 100 miles away, warned its faithful that the group was “incompatible with the Catholic faith.”