(plus "The Catholic Question," by the Cornerstone staff)
By Gary Metz
Is your name on a Vatican hit list?
Is the Catholic church preparing a 20th-century Inquisition? Yes! says Alberto Rivera, who claims to have been an espionage agent for the Catholic church.
Alberto's testimony, entitled Alberto, is a "runaway best‑seller" published by Chick Publications, and is part of the "Crusader" comic book series. With the great success of Alberto, Jack Chick has now released a sequel entitled Double‑Cross.
Who Is Alberto Rivera and what is his message? Alberto tells us his story as follows: Spanish born, he was placed in a Jesuit seminary at the age of seven where he was trained for the priesthood. His Instructors taught him how to Infiltrate and destroy Protestant churches and aid the ecumenical movement. He claims he destroyed numerous Christian churches throughout the world. Then he was ordained a Jesuit priest and became a bishop. He says he worked with notable "Jesuit spies" such as Kathryn Kuhlman and Jim Jones. Because of his experience he was ordered to join the ecumenical forces under the Pope. There he says he learned that the Catholic church had secretly joined forces with the Communists, the Masons, the Illuminati, and the charismatic movement. The hypocrisy of It all was too much for him. He began to expose what Rome was planning. For this he was committed to a sanitarium. There, on the verge of death, he was converted. Since he knew too much. the Catholic church wanted him dead, but mysteriously he was released and helped out of Spain. He then rescued his sister, a nun, from death In a British convent. He now claims to be running for his life, hunted by Jesuit assassins.
The story has created tremendous controversy: the Christian Reformed Church, Zondervan Publishers, and the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board have banned it front their bookstores. As a result of the negative response to Alberto, Jack Chick has published a special, free promotional tract In its defense. In that tract, Jack Chick states that Christian bookstores are being Infiltrated by undercover Catholic propaganda teams who pressure the owner until he "compromises with Rome and pulls Alberto out of the store." This Is compared to "the few totally committed Gospel book stores" who carry his books "because they see it is the only effective soul winning book to win Catholics that's published today."
In support of the book's truthfulness, on January 30, 1980, Alberto Rivera issued a sworn statement defendIng his allegations. Rivera declared, In part, " 'Alberto' is a true and actual account, and I will face a court ot [sic) law to prove the events actually took place. I hereby challenge anyone who would refute or try to prove the facts and information in this book are untrue." Recently, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has asked the California Attorney General's office to investigate Jack T. Chick and Alberto Rivera for "false advertising and consu. mer fraud."
Is Alberto's story true? No! Our intensive investigation reveals his police record, his investment schemes, his bad check‑writing, his contradictory testimony, his fabricated educational record, and his reported family abuse.
Alberto Rivera, also known as Alberto Romero, has a history of legal entanglements. He is currently Involved in a court action In Southern California, accused of fraud. According to Cesar Ramirez, he gave Alberto over $2,000 to Invest In some property in Huntington Park, California. The property was never purchased. When Mr. Ramirez asked for his money back, Alberto gave him a donation slip for $2,0001 Ramirez has now sued him to recover his money.
In 1965, a warrant for his arrest was issued in Hoboken, New Jersey, for writing bad checks. He also left debts in excess of $3,000.
In October, 1967, Alberto went to work at the Church of God of Prophecy headquarters In Tennessee. Alberto began collecting funds for a college in Tarrassa, Spain. When the Church of God of Prophecy wrote the college to see if he was authorized to collect funds on their behalf, the church received the following reply: the college had given him a letter to collect funds, but only for the month of July. The school later discovered that while he "claimed to be a Catholic priest ... he had never been one." They reported he left debts which he had drawn in the name of the parish of San Lorenzo, and that the Spanish police were seeking him for "authentic swindles and cheats." Finally, they said no funds he raised had ever reached the college.
In a letter to the Department of Justice, Rev. Charles Hawkins of the Church of God of Prophecy stated Alberto's bank had contacted them because he had written a check to Delta Air Lines on a closed account. In 1969 two warrants were issued against him in DeLand and Ormond Beach, Florida. The first was for the theft of a Bank‑Americard. The criminal Investigation division of the Bank of America reports he charged over $2,000 on the credit card. The second warrant was for the .'unauthorized use of an automobile." Alberto abandoned the vehicle in Seattle, Washington. From there he moved to Southern California.
Alberto's account of his conversion is contradictory. In 1964 while working for the Christian Reformed Church, he said he was converted from Catholicism in July of 1952. Now he maintains it was in 1967. While speaking at the Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California, Alberto pinpointed his conversion at 3:00 in the morning on March 20, 1967. He says he immediately defected from the Catholic church. However, five months later, in August of 1967, he was still promoting Catholicism and the ecumenical movement in a newspaper interview in his hometown of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Another discrepancy involves his three month stay in a sanitarium. In Alberto, he says he was placed in a sanitarium in 1965 for exposing the Catholic church. This would put his "conversion" and release from the sanitarium no later than April, 1966. The book Alberto lists his release as September, 1967. Alberto doesn't reveal what happened during those one and a half years. However, in the newspaper interview in Las Palmas (August 1967), he said he had been doing ecumenical work in Tarrassa, Spain, during the previous 6 months (Feb.‑Aug. 1967). This is the time he was supposed to be in a sanitarium for exposing Rome's ecumenical plot!
Alberto's claim to have been a Jesuit priest and bishop are denied by the Catholic church. They state that the document he exhibits as proof of his priesthood is little more than a form letter giving permission to travel abroad. The document was fraudulently obtained. Alberto's accounts of his ordination are contradictory. In 1967 when Alberto was visiting his family in Las Palmas, he said he had been ordained a priest in Costa Rica; in 1978, while at the Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California, he said he was ordained In Las Palmas.
Alberto now claims that he was once a Jesuit bishop. None of his format associates remember this being part of his testimony until the early 19703. Former associate Rev. Wishart (once a pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Fernando), who questioned Alberto about this, reported that Alberto admitted that he had never been ordained a bishop, but used the title for prestige. He continues to call himself the bishop of his own church, the Hispanic Baptist Church (Oxnard, CA).
After Alberto allegedly escaped the Catholics in Madrid, DoubleCross devotes nine pages to the rescue and conversion of his sister "Maria," a nun, from a convent in London. Alberto was in London during the time mentioned in the comic (Sept. 1967), but was staying at a Catholic monastery rather than the YMCA described in Double‑Cross. Rev. Delmar Spurling (Church of God of Prophecy) picked him up at the monastery, and attests that Alberto had only one sister in London: her name wasn't Maria, she wasn't a nun, and didn't live in a convent, but in a private London home as a maid. Alberto stayed with Church of God of Prophecy members for approximately a month until his return to the U.S.
DIPLOMA MILL DEGREES
Alberto commands great respect from many with his alleged numerous degrees including an N.D., a D.D., a Th.D., a Ph.D., and a master's in psychology. However, he is ambiguous when asked where he received these degrees. Alberto attended a seminary in Costa Rica (the Seminario Biblio Latinamericano) with a friend from Las Palmas, but he did not graduate. That friend, Rev. Plutarco Bonilla (a respected Christian leader in Central America), said that Alberto never finished high school in Las Palmas and that he was in the seminary's program for non‑high school graduates. The school in a letter said they were forced to expel Alberto for his "continual lying and defiance of seminary authority," The known chronology of his life does not allow time for him to have achieved the academic status he claims. When Rev. Wishart pressed Alberto concerning his degrees, Alberto admitted receiving them from a diploma mill in Colorado. This ended their relationship. Pastor Rassmussen (Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California) also asked Alberto to substantiate some of his claims by submitting to a lie detector test. Alberto said he would: three limes appointments were made for him, three times he failed to appear.
Alberto's past family relationships have been described negatively by those who knew them. He met his first "wife" in Costa Rica while working with the Methodist church. Rev. Bonilla says that Alberto was living there with a woman in the late 1950s but they weren't legally married: Alberto said God ordained their marriage. Alberto later claimed in an employment form that he and Carmen Lydia Torres were married on November 25, 1963. Their son Juan was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in September, 1964, where Alberto was working with the Christian Reformed Church. A supervisor at the time, Rev. Edson Lewis, said that Alberto physically abused both Carmen Lydia and Juan. Less than a year after his birth, in July, 1965, Juan died in El Paso, Texas, where his parents had fled, after they wrote bad checks in New Jersey.
His marriage relationship to Carmen Lydia was further complicated as described in the letter by Rev. Charles Hawkins (Church of God of Prophecy In Tennessee) to the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter stated that Alberto and Carmen Lydia's wedding was scheduled in Tennessee in 1968, but that Carmen Lydia missed the wedding, staying in Puerto Rico instead.
Alberto then went to Puerto Rico and returned to the States with a new son, Alberto. Carmen Lydia followed them a few months later. This is according to former associate and roommate Rev. Daniel Abrego, who added that Alberto had left Carmen Lydia in Mexico when he returned to Spain in 1966. It is difficult to determine the whereabouts of the child Alberto today, but Rev. Abrego claims he was placed in a welfare home in Tennessee. They didn't have a child with them when they went to Florida in 1969.
Alberto and Carmen Lydia had still another son, Luis Marx, early in 1969. While they were in Florida, their hosts said Luis Marx was mistreated. What happened to Luis Marx is unknown, but when Alberto left Florida for Seattle with the car and credit card. they no longer had the child with them. What happened to Carmen Lydia after Seattle is also unknown, but Alberto remarried in 1977 to Nury Frias, a woman, from the Dominican Republic. Whether he was ever legally married to and/or divorced from the other woman is unknown. At any rate, it is extremely damaging to Rivera's credibility to discover that he had two children (Juan and Alberto) in America during the time he was supposed to be a celibate priest in Europe!
PAST AND PRESENT
Alberto Is known to have been affiliated with: the Methodist church, the Church of Christ, the Christian Reformed Church, the Church of God of Prophecy, and various Pentecostal and Baptist churches, as well as the controversial Universal Life Church. He has formed a number of organizations: Agapesofia Oikoumene, the Catholic Apostolic Church, the Hispanic Baptist Church (of Oxnard), and most recently the Antichrist Information Center. While Alberto claims the Antichrist Information Center is a tax‑exempt, non‑profit organization, the IRS denies It. He has also requested in his newsletter that donors not send cash because the Knights of Columbus postal employees are opening his mail.
He now lives in Ontario, California, he owns a church in Oxnard, and a service station‑grocery store in Northern California, as well as some undeveloped properties. He is gathering funds for an alleged hide‑away retreat for expriests and nuns and is asking for $110,000 more to complete this project.
What does Jack Chick think about this? It's hard to find out, because he has made it a policy not to speak with reporters. But when he was finally reached by phone at his home, he said that he had never met a more godly man than Alberto, and that he knows Alberto's story is true because he ,.prayed about it." Jack says he expects his own life to be taken by Jesuit assassins.
When we reached Alberto by phone, he also refused to meet with us. (Alberto has an office in the Chick Publications headquarters.) He claims that any wrongdoings prior to his conversion In 1967 were done under the orders of the Catholic church, and any wrongdoings since his conversion are fabrications by the conspirators.
As we have seen, Alberto's story Is fraudulent, as was the story of John Todd, another Jack Chick protege, who said the witches are taking over the world (see Issue 148 of Cornerstone). Alberto has skillfully created a closed, paranoid defense system which makes it difficult to corner him on specific issues. He can always dismiss any accusation as part of the Jesuit plot.
Is Jack naive or is he publishing these stories because they are big sellers? It's impossible to know what his motives are, but after the John Todd fiasco, he should have withdrawn those publications and should have been much more careful before publishing another sensationalistic testimony.
How should we respond? First, we need to be more discerning about what we read and what stories we promote. We should not succumb to "last days paranoia." God has promised to bring us through every situation. Last, we need to pray: for Christians who have accepted his story and are now suspicious of other Christians, for Jack Chick that he will be more responsible with his publications, and for Alberto that he will truly repent and follow Christ. *
Gary Metz has written several articles for Cornerstone ‑ "Conspiracy or Conspirator?: The John Todd Story" in Issue 48; "Angels on Assignment: Fact or Fiction?" in Issue 50; and "is Christianity a Cult?" and "Jimmy Swaggart" (regarding contemporary Christian music) in Issue 51. In addition to this article, which was funded by and researched initially for Cornerstone, the information in "The Alberto story" will be found in an upcoming issue of Christianity Today, Gary is currently working with a research organization in California.
If you have any further information about Alberto Rivera, or it you desire additional clarification regarding his story, please write to: Gary Metz c/o C.A.R.I.S. P.O. Box 1783 Santa Ana, CA 92702
The Catholic Question
Alberto Rivera's fraudulent claims underscore a sad fact: many Protestants have as distorted a view of Catholics as whites earlier in the century had of blacks. The black man was caricatured as having "lotsa rhythm and little‑a brains," while the Catholic is portrayed as an automaton who is in unquestioning bondage to church authorities.
In understanding Catholics, we must dispense with the picture of a pre‑Reformation "Mother Church." The Catholic church today is an amalgamation of 'traditional, liberal, and evangelical theology.
Vatican 1/ (1962‑1965) had much to do with this. No longer were Protestants "accursed"; we became "separated brethren." Some priests openly denied papal infallibility (an official church doctrine) but were barely even chastised for it. Liberal theologians made an impact, though there were limits to Catholic elasticity. (Theologian Hans Kung, after echoing the teachings of Karl Barth's neo‑orthodox theology, recently was forbidden to teach.)
As the decade of the sixties progressed, and mainline Protestant churches were brought to new life by a latter‑day Pentecost, a parallel movement occurred within Catholic circles. Called "the charismatic movement," Its effect became so strong that Cardinal Joseph Suenens was chosen by Pope Paul VI as a sympathetic overseer.
For a time, the names "Catholic" and "Protestant" became secondary to the fervent mutual experience of God's grace. It was common to see Protestant/Catholic prayer groups and Bible studies spring up over night. Evangelicals' eyes widened at the sight of Catholics toting a large study Bible wherever they went, a Bible as well marked as their own.
Our relationship towards Catholicism should not echo the left and right, to and fro, veering of society's opinion. The conservative swing of our country, as positive as it is, In many respects comes with the potential for a reactionary pride totally absent from Scripture. It is this pride, the naive arrogance of "being right," that would erect walls between us and our Catholic brothers and sisters. This "spirit of the age" is one which discourages innovation and reaching out, encouraging retreat and fortification.
We needn't accept Catholic doctrine to embrace Catholic Christians. Let us be informed concerning our doctrinal differences and use that intelligence in a good way. A spiritually aware Catholic will be as honest as any one of us and won't brush doctrine aside.
As one Catholic priest, Father Kenneth Ryan, writes: "There can be no true and complete unity in Christ until we know Christ as he really is ... Doctrine is important because it is truth, and love which is not based on truth will hardly endure."
Protestants should understand the Reformational truths of the primacy of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of the believer. Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation (the idea that in communion, the bread and wine in actuality become the blood and body of Christ), the sacrificial nature of the Mass (Christ, in one sense, again is sacrificed for our sins), the exalted role of Mary, and the intercessory role of the Saints all must be subjected to Scriptural scrutiny by the Protestant believer.
To deliberate concerning our faith is not a denial of truth; it is an affirmation of it. In short, we must agree with evangelical author John Stott, who says, "I find myself hoping and praying that evangelicals worldwide will take more initiatives to develop friendly conversations with Roman Catholics based on common Bible study. It would be tragic indeed if God's purpose of reformation were frustrated by our evangelical stand‑offishness."
In conclusion, we cannot be the judge of our brother's motives for staying in, or coming out, of the Catholic church. All Catholics are not born‑again Christians, and the large majority of charismatic and evangelical Catholics have elected to remain within their church as a seed of hope, much like those evangelicals who are attempting to renew the mainline Protestant denominations. God requires nothing more or less of us for them than our support, our friendship, and our prayers.