By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (04.07.2019) – Since its creation in 2015, the body of the Catholic Church in charge of monitoring ‘cult-like deviations’ in its midst addressed 163 cases according to its report dated 12 June 2019, announced Mgr Alain Planet, Bishop of Carcassonne, at a press conference held last month.
These cases concern both new and old groups (healing, charismatic or traditionalist), religious congregations, movements, and individuals (13 priests) claiming to belong to the Catholic Church. No name has been made public because the “victims” of these cases do not always want their names to be made public, Bishop Alain Planet said. A number of cases have been dealt with internally and warnings have been circulated about some people and some groups, according to Bishop Alain Planet.
The Catholic bureau in charge of this mission receives complaints and forwards them to the prosecutor’s office when there is a violation of the law. When there is no such violation, it listens to the victims, collects their testimonies, and provides individual assistance.
« The head of a Catholic association was recently tried by a correctional court for mind control (emprise spirituelle) and this is a disaster as it can be experienced as a rape by the victim », Bishop Planet said.
According to Sister Sorlin, a member of the Catholic bureau, the deviations are always the same whatever the group or the person: worshipping the founder, separation from the outside world, disembodiment, sense of guilt, etc.
The identifying criteria are developed in a « Documents Épiscopat » about cult-like deviations in Catholic communities (n°11 – 2018), published by the Church of France as a part of its information and prevention campaign.
A Follow up of the Call of Lourdes
The body « Dérives sectaires » within the Bishops’ Conference of France stems from the « Appel de Lourdes », recalled Bishop Planet. In 2013, a group of about 40 victims and relatives of victims of abuse in the Church, wrote to the bishops who had gathered in a plenary session about cult-like deviations within Catholic institutions.
Two years later, in the aftermath of this call, a bureau which was already working on sensitive issues inside deviating Catholic communities was officially put in place with a mandate to identify cut-like deviations and a bishop at its head. The bureau works in collaboration with MIVILUDES, AVREF (Aide aux Victimes des Dérives de Mouvements Religieux en Europe et à leurs familles) and the CORREF (Conférence des Religieux et Religieuses de France).
This bureau depends on the presidence of the episcopate. On 9 December 2019, the CORREF (Conférence des Religieux et Religieuses de France) will devote a full day of reflection on spiritual abuses in the Catholic Church.
This bureau comprises of a president and six other members, including two nuns.
Stigmatization and non-stigmatization
In December 1995, in the aftermath of several collective suicides and massacres with a religious dimension in the world (Guyana, USA, Canada, Switzerland, France…), a Parliamentary Commission in France published a controversial report stigmatizing 173 non-Catholic religious and belief communities as harmful and dangerous. This had a catastrophic impact on many of these law-abiding and peaceful movements and their members.
Following this report, an “Observatoire interministériel sur les sectes” was established in 1996 and in 1998, the Government developed a new inter-ministerial organization, the “Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes” (MILS) which were widely criticized for their stigmatization and discrimination policies by the international human rights community, the OSCE and the successive UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief. Later on, the MILS was replaced by the “Mission interministérielle de lute contre les derives sectaires” (MIVILUDES) but the stigmatization of dozens of groups did not stop.
In 2005, then Prime Minister Jean-Pierre released a circular saying the list of cults was obsolete, had no legal foundation and should not be used as a reference any more. However, in the meantime, the French media had largely amplified the biased picture of the groups and contributed to the shaping of their negative image in society.
Until the worldwide scandals of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the parliamentary institutions dealing with “cults” were giving the impression that there were no cult-like deviations in the Catholic Church. Noteworthy is the MIVILUDES is not stigmatizing the Roman Catholic Church and apologies for stigmatizing small religious and belief groups does not seem to be on its agenda.