Lurid anti-Catholic comic books produced by California fundamentalist Jack Chick have been denounced as "a fraud" by the influential evangelical Protestant magazine Christianity Today.

After investigating the background of Alberto Rivera, whose purported experiences as a Jesuit allegedly assigned to infiltrate and subvert Protestantism are presented in Chick's in comic-book style, Christianity Today portrays Rivera as a sometimes evangelist and fund-raiser with financial troubles that have interested police in Spain, California, New Jersey and Florida.

Because Christianity Today is the most influential journal in the evangelical wing of American Protestantism, its denuciation of the hate-filled comics substantially reinforces Catholic complaints against the books, which have has a brisk sale in evangelical bookstores.

Christianity Today reported that Rivera was expelled from the evangelical Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in Costa Rica for "continually lying and defiance of seminary authority," according to a letter from the school quoted by the magazine.

Although he claims to have several academic degrees, including three doctorates, Rivera "never finished high school" and was in the seminary's program for non-high school graduates, Christianity Today said.

The magazine traced Rivera, a native of the Canary Islands, in a variety of jobs, some related to Protestant churches, in New Jersey, Texas and California during the time he maintains he was a Jesuit in Spain.

Christianity Today, which has ready access for its research to the vast network of evangelical Christianity throughout the world, said Rivera, when approached for an interview about discrepancies in his life story, "posed so many restrictions before the would agree that a legitimate interview was not possible."

Chick followed the original comic book version of Rivera's life, "Alberto," with a sequel, "Double Cross." In it, Rivera contends that Jim Jones, who ordered the mass deaths of followers in Guyana three years ago, was secretly a Jesuit; that the Vatican maintains a computerized file containing the name of a forthcoming inquisition, and that the late charismatic healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, was a secret agent of Rome.

He also contends that at one point he rescued his sister from a convent in England where she was at the point of death from flagellation. In knocking down the Chick books, Christianity Today reported, among other things, that Rivera did have a sister in England -- not in a convent, however, but working in a private London home as a maid.