It takes about one-and-a-half hours to drive from the center of Rome to the tiny town of Viterbo, Italy. With reporter Delia Gallagher, photojournalist Claudio, and our driver, Alfredo, we made our way through the hills of this ancient Etruscan town on our way to see a man with a very controversial cause.
Luigi Cascioli is suing the Catholic Church. He says he wants them to show proof that Jesus Christ actually existed.
As we drive up the road to his old stone house, my first impression is that this lifelong atheist is not at all what I expected. I'm not sure why. Perhaps as a Roman Catholic I thought he'd have horns and a tail? Instead, a robust, friendly septuagenarian approached the car to welcome us, accompanied by his dog, Pluto.
He says he has dedicated his life to bringing down the Catholic Church, and he's spent years of his life researching his subject. He says there was, in fact, no Jesus, but a military man named John of Gamala who lived in the time of Christ. And, he claims, it was the gospel writers who turned that mere mortal into the character of Jesus, a figure powerful enough on which to base an entire religion.
Cascioli's lawsuit is based on two points of Italian law. One makes it illegal to "abuse the popular credulity." The second outlaws impersonating another person. The chain-smoking, former construction worker speaks only Italian, and he doesn't mince words. He calls the Catholic Church leaders "con men," and says "they take advantage of the popular belief."
He began his case in 2002, suing a local Viterbo priest, Father Enrico Righi. He says he chose Father Righi because the law prevents him from suing the Pope, who is a head of state. But his case was rejected by the Italian courts time and time again. So why is Luigi Cascioli so interesting now? Because the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to consider hearing his case.
That means, at some future date, leaders of the Catholic Church may be called upon to present hard evidence that there once was a man named Jesus Christ. The question is, in this age of DNA testing and CSI drama, how do you prove a man existed more than 2,000 years ago using nothing but the written word?