Media Highlights “Satanic Sects” Claim in Pope John Paul II Reliquary Theft

The Telegraph reports on the theft of a reliquary containing a piece of cloth stained by the blood of Pope John Paul II; the item was removed from the Church of St Peter of Ienca (link added):

…”It’s possible that there could be Satanic sects behind the theft of the reliquary,” said Giovanno Panunzio, the national coordinator of an anti-occult group called Osservatorio Antiplagio.

“This period of the year is important in the Satanic calendar and culminates in the Satanic ‘new year’ on Feb 1. This sort of sacrilege often take place at this time of year”

The quote appears to have been derived from Italian media; Panunzio also claims that there’s a thriving market in stolen religious artefacts among Satanists:

Il mercato dei simulacri religiosi nelle sette sataniche è fiorente e i simboli sacri senza un particolare valore artistico, ma unici, vengono pagati anche decine di migliaia di euro. 

However, Italian reports also note that the artefact may actually have been taken by a “devotee” of the late Pope.

By “Satanic new year”, Panunzio presumably means the pagan spring festival of Imbolg, which takes place at the start of February: “Satanism” is usually imagined (to the distress of actual neo-pagans) as a strange hybrid of elements taken from pre-Christian European religion and the self-conscious inversion of Christian symbolism and ritual. However, Panunzio does not substantiate his claim that the theft fits a pattern of a sacrilege that “often takes place” in the run-up to February, and I’m sceptical of the existence of a “thriving market” in stolen religious goods. If “Satanists” have indeed stolen the item, which is far from certain, it’s most likely that the culprits are juveniles for whom “Satanism” is simply a way to be transgressive.

Details on Panunzio in English are scarce; he is described as a “devout Catholic” living in Sardinia who opposes psychics and other manifestations of what he sees as “superstition”. It seems that his line of attack is primarily rationalistic, but that he also sees such phenomena in terms of “Satanism”.

UPDATE (1 February): The BBC reports that three men have been arrested, and it appears that the theft was a simple burglary:

The cloth was found in separate pieces in a garage of one of the three men arrested in connection with the theft.

It has been put back together with only a few filaments of gold missing… The three suspects apparently threw the cloth away, not realising its value.

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