Arguments Heard in Court Battle over Christ's Existence

A challenge against a parish priest's assertion that Jesus Christ existed pushed forward as an Italian judge heard arguments Friday to determine whether the case should be tried.

Luigi Cascioli, a 74-year-old atheist, is suing the Roman Catholic Church for deceiving people for 2,000 years with the existence of Jesus Christ. The accusation targeted Fr. Enrico Righi, who had written in a parish bulletin that Jesus Christ was a historical figure born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

Arguments were made Friday in a brief, closed-door hearing before Judge Gaetano Mautone. Reports say the judge is expected to decide quickly.

Accusing the Catholic Church of inculcating facts that are just inventions, Cascioli claimed Righi's assertion violated two Italian laws - "the abuse of popular belief" and "impersonation."

"The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud," said Cascioli's attorney, Mauro Fonzo, according to the Associated Press.

Arguing on the opposite end, Righi's attorney, Severo Bruno, told reporters, "Don Righi is innocent because he said and wrote what he has the duty to say and write."

Rather than an assertion of a historical fact, Bruno argued that the small-town priest's written note of Jesus' existence was "an expression of theological principles."

While Cascioli agreed that “it would take a miracle to win” his case in Roman Catholic Italy, he said his ultimate goal is to accuse the church of "religious racism" in front of the European Court of Human Rights.

"When somebody states a wrong fact, abusing the ignorance of people, and gains from that, that is one of the gravest crimes," said Cascioli.

The former-seminarian said he filed the complaint in September 2002 as an attack against the Church.