We had a series on Chick tracts a while back, but there was one subject left that I wanted to append to that series, but couldn’t, because the article I needed was no longer available. That article, by Brian Onken, was titled, “Alberto: The Truth About Alberto,” and it appeared in vol. 4, #2 of Forward magazine. If that name seems unfamiliar, it’s because that was the title of the Christian Research Journal in its first few years of publication, back when Walter Martin was at the helm of CRI. But now, thanks to Elliot Miller, the editor of the Journal, I was able to look at a copy of this article and make some notes (as an aside, it may well be the only copy left in the country!).
Onken’s article was about two Chick comics, “Alberto” and “Double Cross,” that supposedly relate the history of Alberto Rivera, who is Jack Chick’s chief source for anti-Catholic material. In pursuing the claims of these comics, Onken at first tried to contact Rivera, without success. He then tried to contact Chick, but was told that "Jack Chick would make no reply whatsoever and that he was not answerable to any man, and that the comic books could stand on their own." I think that response stands on its own, though not the way Chick thinks it does.
Onken then made phone contact with Rivera, who said "he would not waste time in what he termed 'personal carnal justification'." Rivera then said that CRI was in apostasy, that Walter Martin was an "undercover agent for the Vatican," and that if CRI wanted answers, they could get them "in a court of law." It’s rather interesting that anyone who seeks to question Chick ends up being a Vatican employee. Needless to say, this is merely the same sort of psychological ploy used by all conspiracy theorists – such as the Zeitgeist movie, or 9-11 truthers, who take informed dissent as further proof of a cover-up.
Next, Onken did some checking with the Catholic Church, to see if Rivera had indeed been part of it. No record was found of Rivera as a bishop or as a Jesuit. More recent Chick comic editions provide a photo of Rivera allegedly at work as a Catholic priest, but why not play their own game and say that’s part of their cover-up? But it need not be – see below.
The recent comics also provide alleged testimonies from two former Catholics. One, named Clark Butterfield, is reputedly an ex-priest. His alleged biography, Night Journey from Rome to the New Jerusalem, was published by Chick, who is alleged to have been called out of Catholicism in 1978 and died in 1981 – or, some say, murdered in 1981, though Chick itself doesn’t say this.
Onken then offered a listing of errors in the two comics:
Onken contacted the seminary and a former classmate of Rivera’s, who apparently did attend the school. To that extent, Rivera does seem to have told a partial truth; he may well have been a priest, but notably, the photos provided by Chick do nothing to prove he was a bishop or a Jesuit. The classmate, in any event, said that "Rivera's account of the events at the seminary was nothing more than a fraud." There was a hunger strike, but Rivera had nothing to do with it, and it had never made the papers as Rivera claimed and was also not related to any Jesuit conspiracy.
The seminary, too, affirmed the hunger strike, but said it was and is still Reformed, not a part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Onken also contacted the pastor of the Protestant church Rivera attended (apparently undercover) in Spain. Rivera claimed to have turned it in to authorities, but the church was not meeting clandestinely as claimed, and had a government permit.
As a response to all of this, Onken further noted that on May 29, 1981, Rivera went on KBRT in Los Angeles, where he said that Walter Martin was "working for the Vatican." He later was met personally by Martin and Onken and when confronted by them, he said he no longer thought Martin was working for the Vatican. However, the same evening at a speaking engagement, he reiterated the earlier claim and added that Martin’s name “was on a secret Jesuit list." He then published a booklet, “A Call for Total Separation,” allegedly addressing points made by Onken, but all the booklet did was use reprinted material from the Alberto comics, plus provide a supposed Jesuit oath. As a final humorous note, Rivera repeatedly referred to CRI as the "Christian Research Center" in his statements.
In an ironic twist, the article closes with a remark made by Rivera at First Baptist Winter Springs, Florida – a town not far from me – on September 13, 1981. Rivera said that Martin “is dealing with the same accusations, slander, spreading them all over. The president of the so-called, you can imagine the title of this organization, the Christian Research Center. Well, I don't see nothing of Christianity there, much less of research."
I’d say that such a statement actually better fits Rivera more accurately than CRI.