AFTER studying in Rome for nine years, Antonio Della Gatta was ordained as a priest in 1969. Later, he served as the rector, or head, of a seminary near Naples, Italy. While there, after much study and meditation, he concluded that the Catholic religion is not based on the Bible. He spoke with Awake! about his spiritual journey.
Please tell us about your childhood.
I was born in Italy in 1943. I grew up with my brothers and sisters in a small village where my father was a farmer and a carpenter. Our parents raised us to be good Catholics.
Why did you want to become a priest?
As a boy, I loved listening to the priests in church. I was enchanted by their voices, as well as the impressive rituals. So my heart was set on becoming a priest. When I was 13 years of age, my mother took me to a boarding school that prepared boys for future, more-advanced studies for the priesthood.
Did your training involve Bible study?
Not really. When I was 15, one of my teachers gave me a copy of the Gospels
You became a rector. Did that involve teaching?
My work was mainly administrative. But I did teach classes on the decrees of the Second Vatican Council.
Why did you start doubting the church?
Three things troubled me. The church was involved in politics. Misconduct among the clergy and parishioners was tolerated. And certain Catholic teachings did not seem right. How, for example, could a God of love punish people forever after death? Also, does God really want us to repeat prayers hundreds of times with a rosary? *
What did you do?
With tears streaming from my eyes, I prayed for guidance. I also purchased a copy of the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, which had recently been published in Italian, and began reading it. Then, one Sunday morning as I was hanging up my robes after Mass, two men came to the seminary. They introduced themselves to me as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We talked for more than an hour about the Bible and what it says about the identifying marks of true religion.
What was your impression of the visitors?
I admired their conviction and the ease with which they referred to passages in a Catholic edition of the Bible. Later, another Witness, named Mario, began visiting me. He was patient and faithful
What did the other priests think of those visits?
I invited them to join in our discussions, but none took Bible study seriously. I, however, enjoyed it. I was learning wonderful things, such as why God tolerates evil and suffering
Did your superiors try to dissuade you from studying the Bible?
In 1975, I visited Rome several times to explain my views. My superiors tried to change my thinking, but none used the Bible. Finally, on January 9, 1976, I wrote to Rome stating that I no longer considered myself a Catholic. Two days later, I left the seminary and took a train to attend my first meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which turned out to be an assembly involving several congregations. Everything was so different from what I was accustomed to! Each Witness had a Bible and followed along with the speakers as they discussed various topics.
What did your family think about all of this?
Most of them bitterly opposed me. I found out, however, that one of my brothers was studying with the Witnesses in Lombardy, a region in northern Italy. I went to see him, and the Witnesses there helped me to find work and a place to live. Later that year, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At last, I feel truly close to God
Do you have any regrets?
Not at all! At last, I feel truly close to God, because what I know about him is based on the Bible, not philosophy or church tradition. And I can teach others with conviction and sincerity.