Don Mario Mazzoleni published a book "A Catholic Priest Meets Sai Baba" (1994 Leela Inc.). In this he later wrote an 'Afterword' with the sub-title "Farewell, Mother! The History of an Excommunication". The first publication of his book was in September/October of 1991. According to his US editor, former publisher and devotee Jack Scher of Leela Press Inc., his Afterword was not included in the Italian edition. Though he died prematurely from heart failure in 2001, his 'written legacy' remains and it is quite fair to examine it freely and critically.
Note: In the following, I follow the text of Mazzoleni's 'Afterword' accurately and carefully, though admittedly not "religiously" so as to project all of his own opinions and evaluations arising in his text.
Mazzoleni wrote that he realised when he wrote the book that there would be a reaction by the church hierarchy. His aim was to awaken some interest, of whatever kind, in Sathya Sai Baba who is announcing a time of redemption for our ailing human race. Mazzoleni did not imagine that the Church would have recourse to such anachronistic measures as excommunication. [Neither had he surely envisaged the interest presently shown here in part of his book.]
In his 'Afterword', Mazzoleni greatly dramatised what occurred, referring to "a very beautiful, but rather bitter film by Lilian Cavani, called Galileo. He wrote that he tried to put himself in the place of the 16th Century heterodox priest Giordano Bruno, when he was condemned and burned alive. He was moved deeply by "the chilling screams of that monk, enveloped in flames", asking himself if he too would be capable of facing the stake? He tells that he trembled at the very thought that he might give in, if even only mentally. But he also reflected that a fire kills you in a few minutes - terrible but brief minutes, and mused on what would happen to him if, to escape being burned by those flames, he consumed himself in the fire of betraying the Truth? He concluded that to be "the most disgraceful death sentence: no remedy, not even Time, could ever lessen it or even ease its pain."
He claims that the Italian press gave a lot of attention to his excommunication, mostly with what he saw as the usual superficiality, confusing the issue in his view by "mixing up the Divine with the so-called Indian gurus". The Catholic press unanimously condemned him, he claims, and encouraged people "to morally lynch the sinner".
He reports that the Vatican was careful to avoid giving him a regular trial. He states he had dealings with only Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and that the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome. Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Holy Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the only body with the qualifications to judge his case, was evidently not even consulted. He had expected that the Pope would be asked, claiming to know that the Pope (John Paul II) was inflexibly reluctant to allow anyone to leave the priesthood.
The sentence which declared him to be a "heretic," and the subsequent condemnation, were issued with a rapidity that surprised him, wrote Mazzoleni. He stated that no legal defense was allowed, or even suggested, for the "defendant" (who in Canon Law is termed delinquens, that is, a "delinquent" or "culprit"). He bemoans the fact that it was decided to avoid a legal procedure, though he notes that a judge in an ecclesiastical court told him that this way he was spared many humiliations and psychological pressures.
(Note: That Mazzoleni makes such a to-do about this is a telling fact, for members of the Sathya Sai Organisation who express any doubts or criticisms are dismissed by their superior office-bearers and sometimes without even being informed, and find it out at second hand from other members!)
Mazzoleni asserted that, although the Church had excommunicated him, he continued to love Her as his Mother, even without the return love that any son, no matter how degenerate, should be able to expect from his mother. The only judgement that he said he loved with awe and respect was God's. He claimed to know that he had acted in His presence with a pure conscience, and that everything that he had written and said flowed from a great love for Truth.
This is fair enough from Mazzoleni's subjective viewpoint, though how far away from the truth of the matter he was only others can judge as the hidden facts and wider truth about Sathya Sai Baba become more surely known.
He writes of his reaction to the Pontifex of the Roman Church having rehabilitated Galileo some months previously, and apologized to scientists for the errors of the past. Mazzoleni thought about all the documents, all the trial-transcripts, all the condemnations that were issued against that eminent astronomer, musing on who knows when the world will ever see first-hand what was actually written and said, not only about Galileo, but also about all the other people who ended up burned or tortured or exiled? Thinking about this, Mazzoleni notes that decided it was proper to write some historical notes about his case, so that anyone interested can know what actually happened.
It seems that some inflated sense of self-worth (what Sai followers deplore as 'ego') taints the self-image Mazzoleni projected in the above, implicitly comparing his position to that of Galileo! [Note: I do not speak of him being self-important without experience of it, because -as the national delegate from Norway - I attended an annual European Sathya Sai Organisation meeting at Mother Sai House, Divignano, Italy, in 1992, where Don Mario Mazzoleni was also present. There he held a kind of mass-cum-bhajan with Communion plus vibuthi (wearing his priestly robes) and also dominated a committee of devotees with his views and was remarkably insensitive to any suggestions he did not make or support himself. However, he could not dominate the meeting as a whole because he had not been selected for any office in the Sai Organisation by Sathya Sai Baba, so he was subject to the leadership of the then Central Coordinator, Bernhard Gruber, and others in the Sai Organisation hierarchy.]
Mazzoleni also points out that the Vatican authorities were so concerned with spreading the news that after four months they spread it again, as if it were brand new, through all the national press, and even in Switzerland.
Monsignor Roberto of the episcopal see of Bergamo, Amadei, who had been his professor of Church history when he was studying theology (1965-1969) called him to a meeting. After a few initial pleasantries, Roberto reportedly spoke to Mazzoleni about the book. Mazzoleni notes he was told, among much else, that he was upholding some ideas which are not in line with those of the Church, such as a distinction between Jesus and the Christ . He was told that the Christ, for the Church, is Jesus Christ, and there cannot be anyone else. He was also told that Roberto could not agree with his opinion in which he was putting Christ and Sathya Sai Baba on the same level!
He was told that God cannot contradict Himself, that if He has revealed that He has come as saviour only in Jesus Christ, He cannot break His word. The conversation reportedly continued a long time on this theme, which is too theologically convoluted and, frankly, boring to consider further here.
A few weeks later, Mazzoleni stated, in the Catholic daily L'Eco di Bergamo (allegedly supported by the Curia), that two articles appeared one after the other, which refuted various points made in his book. They were apparently written by a priest who taught at the diocesan Seminary and was the first official response on the part of the clergy.
On the 24th of May Mazzoleni received a registered letter by express mail from the Vicariate of Rome, which he transcribed as follows:
Rome, May 18, 1992. Prot. N. 447/92.
The Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar-General of His Holiness John Paul II for the Diocese of Rome, seeing that - the Bishop of Bergamo has informed the Vicariate of Rome, in a note of December 17, 1991, that the writings, the public declarations and the - to say the least - disconcerting ideas upheld by the Priest don Mario Mazzoleni in regard to the Indian teacher Sai Baba, whose convinced follower he declares himself to be, excite significant astonishment and scandal among the faithful; - the priest, on November 23, 1990, dedicated the book entitled A Priest Meets Sai Baba to "the Catholic Church," a book which, though it begins with the praiseworthy intent of seeking the action of the Spirit of God in every man and in every religious experience, ends up disavowing the truths of the Catholic faith;
- an attentive reading of the book reveals that the author has lost his Catholic faith in the Holy Trinity and in Christ as the Only Savior, and, especially in the letters addressed to a friend (pp. 210-213 and 216-217), the unicity of Christ the Savior is expressly denied; - the assertions moreover that accept Sai Baba's claim to be a divine incarnation, that defend his works, miracles, sayings and doctrines, are grave affirmations against the faith; - the public declarations of don Mario Mazzoleni have caused confusion and scandal because of the fact that they come from a priest who continues to exercise his ministry in the name of the Catholic Church; - since the good faith of the writer shows clearly from the tenor of the book's dedication, it is all the more necessary to call the priest back from error with an urgent request to cease causing scandal and to return to the doctrine of the Church, invites the Priest Mario Mazzoleni to retreat from his heretical doctrinal positions, to cease causing scandal, to explicitly retract his errors within the suitable time of three months; with the warning that if the retraction is not forthcoming the Cardinal will have to proceed to declare excommunication latae sententiae [in the broad sense] for heresy according to Canon law 1364, and subsequently to bar the priest from the exercise of the power of his office, until he returns to the Catholic doctrine.
He further invites the same priest to a personal interview on the subject in his office at the Vicariate of Rome on the day June 3, 1992 at 10 a.m., or else on June 6, 1992, at 12 noon.
Camillo Card. Ruini Vicar-General
Mazzoleni says he was not so excessively upset by this, despite the gravity of his situation. He thought the cardinal's invitation to a meeting seemed like a good opportunity to speak to him about his experience, and to make Sai Baba known to these men. This he wrote had always been his only dream as a Catholic priest. He made an appointment for June 3, the anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII.
He wrote that he felt very much at ease; having no fear, and inside himself constantly Bringing his thought to "Him who holds all the threads of history". Little good did these overwrought ideas do him, of course, as soon transpired.
He then describes the meeting and his thoughts about the Cardinal at length. He had transcribed in a letter to the Cardinal the various things that he wanted to say when he met him and ended up saying exactly what he had written. The letter is virtually only propaganda for Sathya Sai Baba, his "miracles" and "teachings".
Mazzoleni wrote another letter to the "Most Reverend Eminence" and - though he had written it himself - then thought it significant that the date of the letter coincided with the holy day of Gurupoomima, the day devoted to one's Teacher. Sai Baba has often explained that that Master is inside the heart of each of us. Mazzoleni was gratified by the coincidence, and tells that he left with serenity for the East. However, such superstitious interpretations of signs in trivial events is as universal with Sai followers as is not treading on the cracks in the pavement with some small children.
Mazzoleni claims that no one had told Sai Baba about his situation, However, he could surely not know this with any certainty and it seems very unlikely, considering that Sai Baba's informers are everywhere in the movement and thousands of people write letters to Sai Baba, which he very often takes by hand from the writer.
Mazzoleni obviously found some solace in that he tells that Sai Baba bestowed "many attentions and particular favors" on him and also "created a ring for me, as if to consolidate our relationship, and He put it on his left hand. Obviously He knows everything, as He demonstrated to me on numerous occasions." What was obvious to Mazzoleni would be questioned by persons who reckon that they do not know everything themselves, therefore are i no position to judge that Sai Baba "knows everything". This presumption is more deeply questioned by those who have studied deeply and systematically most of Sai Baba discourses (as I can reasonably claim to have done, despite all), where he exhibits massive ignorance of many matters even a modern high school student known better... especially physics, the history of religions and the origins of many words.
Needless to say, Mazzoleni avoids stating whether the ring has a diamond in it, as Sai Baba usually claims, nor would he have had it assayed, as this is taboo for followers to do (because such a gift is taken by nearly every devotee as a sign of the highest Holy Grace, never to be questioned or doubted!)
Upon returning to Italy, Mazzoleni reports that expected to find the decision from the Vatican, but there was no registered letter in his mail and the silence amazed him and unnerved him a little. Thursday, September 24, the fateful letter arrived, reportedly a fully formal decree, printed on a sheet twice as large as the protocol, and on a yellowish parchment; at the top, in the centre was the coat of arms of cardinal Ruini in orange ink. Mazzoleni tells that the decree repeated exactly the text of the preceding letter, with only a few additions.
The condemnation Mazzoleni received was: excommunication latae sententiae for heresy, in accordance with Canon law 1364, with the penalties established in Canon law 1331. The decree reportedly concludes with the following declaration: "The above-mentioned disciplinary actions shall be in effect until the priest, with the grace of the Lord, retreats from his obstinacy and insubordination in accordance with Canon law 1347, section 2."
An excommunicated priest is barred from performing any of the rites or acts one is authorized to perform through having been consecrated by one's religious order. A "suspended" priest can never celebrate mass, hear confessions, or administer any sacrament, though he can receive them (i.e. taking communion, going to confession, etc...) But excommunication, Mazzoleni tells, is a formal action by which the superior authorities forbid a person " 1) to take part in any way as a minister in celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice or any other ceremony of public worship; 2) to celebrate sacraments or holy rites or to receive sacraments; 3) to exercise any function in any ecclesiastical offices or ministries or duties whatsoever." In the event that the "guilty party" should not obey the aforesaid measures, "he must be driven away, or else the liturgy must be interrupted, unless some grave situation prevents it" (Canon law 1331).
In Mazzoleni 's case of excommunication for "heresy," he was considered an outcast in every sense. An excommunicated priest loses any right to any kind of financial support, severance pay, any compensation or benefits, and is thus suddenly deprived of any income. Mazzoleni also notes, melodramatically, that until just a few centuries ago, he would have ended his earthly existence inside a spectacular bonfire in the town's main square.
Mario Mazzoleni died in September 2001, reportedly from a heart condition he had been suffering for 7 years. This was sad as he was only in his mid-50s. One may wonder why he received no 'divine help' to achieve his heartfelt aims in promulgating was his "God" Further, or why he was NOT cured by Sathya Sai Baba, despite all. Another case of an apparently close devotee who Sai Baba did not protect. But, of course, on Sai devotees' usual assumptions that Sai Baba is behind these deaths as a deliverance from whatever, it will be seen as a blessing and a boon by an unfathomable Avatar whose ways can never be rationally or otherwise explained. This is far from being an isolated instance. Other instances will be recorded in a subsequent posting.