The Vatican Report: Sects or New Religious Movements: A Pastoral Challenge*
In response to the concern expressed by Episcopal
Conferences throughout the world, a study on the presence and activity of
"sects," "new religious movements," [and) "cults" has been undertaken by the
Vatican Secretariat for Non- Believers and the Pontifical Council for Culture.
These departments, along with the Secretariat of State, have shared this concern
for quite some time.
As a first step in this study project, a questionnaire (cf.
Appendix) was sent out in February, 1984, to episcopal Conferences and similar
bodies by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in the name of the
forementioned departments of the Holy See, with the aim of gathering reliable
information and indications for pastoral action, and exploring further lines of
research. To date (October, 1985), many replies have been received by Episcopal
Conferences on all continents, as well as from regional Episcopal bodies. Some
replies included detailed information from particular dioceses and were
accompanied by copies of pastoral letters, booklets, articles, and studies.
It is clearly not possible to summarize the vast
documentation received, and which will need to be constantly updated as a basis
for a constructive pastoral response to the challenge presented by the sects,
new religious movements, and groups. The present report can only attempt to give
a first overall picture, and is based on the replies and documentation
This report is divided as follows:
2. Reasons for the spread of these movements and groups.
3. Pastoral challenges and approaches.
5. Invitation from the 1985 Synod.
6. Questions for further study and research.
7. Selected bibliography.
1.1 What are "Sects"? What Does One Mean by "Cults"?
It is important to realize that there exist difficulties in
concepts, definitions, and terminology. The terms sect and cult are
somewhat derogatory and seem to imply a rather negative value judgment. One
might prefer more neutral terms such as new religious movements, new
religious groups. The question of the definition of those movements or
groups as distinct from church or legitimate movements within a church is
a contentious matter.
It will help to distinguish sects that find their origin in
the Christian religion from those which come from another religious or
humanitarian source. The matter becomes quite delicate when these groups are of
Christian origin. Nevertheless, it is important to make this distinction.
Indeed, certain sectarian mentalities and attitudes, i.e., attitudes of
intolerance and aggressive proselytizing, do not necessarily constitute a sect
nor do they suffice to characterize a sect. One also finds these attitudes in
groups of Christian believers within the churches and ecclesiastical
communities. However, these groups can change positively through a deepening of
their Christian formation and through the contact with other fellow Christians.
In this way they can grow into an increasingly ecclesial mind and attitude.
The criterion for distinguishing between sects of
Christian origin, on the one hand, and churches and ecclesial communities,
on the other hand, might be found in the sources of the teaching of these
groups. For instance, sects could be those groups which, apart from the Bible,
have other "revealed" books or 'prophetic messages,' or groups which exclude
from the Bible certain proto-canonical books, or radically change their content.
In answer to Question I of the Questionnaire, one of the replies states:
For practical reasons, a cult or sect is sometimes defined
as 'any religious group with a distinctive worldview of its own derived from,
but not identical with, the teachings of a major world religion. As we are
speaking here of special groups which usually pose a threat to people�s freedom
and to society in general, cults and sects have also been characterized as
possessing a number of distinctive features. These often are that they [groups]
are often authoritarian in structure, that they exercise forms of brainwashing
and mind control, that they cultivate group pressure and instill feelings of
guilt and fear, etc. The basic work on these characteristic marks was published
by an American, Dave Breese, Know the marks of Cults (Victor Books, Wheaton,
Whatever the difficulties with regard to distinguishing
between sects of Christian origin and churches, ecclesial communities or
Christian movements, the responses to the Questionnaire reveal at times a
serious lack of understanding and knowledge of other Christian churches and
ecclesial communities. Some include among sects churches and ecclesial
communities which are not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Also, adherents of major world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) may find
themselves classified as belonging to a sect.
1.2 However, and apart from the difficulties mentioned,
almost all the local churches do see the emergence and rapid proliferation of
all kinds of �new� religious or pseudo-religious movements, groups, and
practices. The phenomenon is considered by almost all responses as a serious
matter, by some as an alarming matter; in only a very few countries does there
not seem to exist any problem (e.g., in predominantly Islamic countries).
In some cases the phenomenon appears within the mainline
churches themselves (sectarian attitudes). In other cases it occurs outside the
churches (independent or free churches; messianic or prophetic movements), or
against the churches (sects, cults), often establishing for themselves
church-like patterns. However, not all are religious in their real content or
1.3 The phenomenon develops fast, and often quite
successfully, and often poses pastoral problems. The most immediate pastoral
problem is that of knowing how to deal with a member of a Catholic family who
has been involved in a sect. The parish priest or local pastoral worker or
advisor usually has to deal first and foremost with the relatives and friends of
such a person. Often, the person involved can be approached only indirectly.
In those cases when the person can be approached directly in order to give him
or her guidance, or to advise an ex-member on how to reintegrate into society
and the Church, psychological skill and expertise is required.
1.4 The Groups that are Most Affected
The most vulnerable groups in the church, especially the
youth, seem to be the most affected. When they are �footloose,� unemployed, not
active in parish life or voluntary parish work, or come from an unstable family
background, or belong to ethnic minority groups, or live in places which are
rather far from the Church�s reach, etc. they are a most likely target for the
new movements and sects. Some sects seem to attract mainly people in the
middle-age group. Others thrive on membership from well-to-do and highly
educated families. In this context, mention must be made of university campuses
which are often favorable breeding grounds for sects or places of recruitment.
Moreover, difficult relations with the clergy, or an irregular marriage
situation, can lead one to break with the church and join a new group.
Very few people seem to join a sect for evil reasons.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity of the sects is to attract good people and good
motivation in those people. In fact, they usually succeed best when society or
Church have failed to touch this good motivation.
1.5 The reasons for the success among Catholics are
indeed manifold and can be identified on several levels. They are primarily
related to the needs and aspirations which are seemingly not being met in the
mainline Churches. They are also related to the recruitment and training
techniques of the sects. They can be external either to the mainline Churches or
to the new groups: economic advantages, political interest or pressure, mere
An assessment of these reasons can be adequately done only
from within the very particular context in which they emerge. However, the
results of a general assessment (and this is what this report is about) can, and
in this case do, reveal a whole range of �particular� reasons which as a matter
of fact turn out to be almost universal. A growing interdependence in today�s
world might provide us with an explanation for this.
The phenomenon seems to be symptomatic of the
depersonalizing structures of contemporary society, largely produced in the West
and widely exported to the rest of the world, which create multiple crisis
situations on the individual as well as on the social level. These crisis
situations reveal various needs, aspirations, and questions which in turn call
for psychological and spiritual responses. The sects claim to have, and to
give, these responses. They do this on both the affective and cognitive
level, often responding to the affective needs in a way that deadens the
These basic needs and aspirations can be described as so
many expressions of the human search for wholeness and harmony, participation
and realization, on all the levels of human existence and experience, so many
attempts to meet the human quest for truth and meaning, for those
constitutive values which at certain times in collective as well as, individual
history seem to be hidden, broken, or lost especially in the case of people who
are upset by rapid change, acute stress, fear, etc.
1.6 The responses to the Questionnaire show that the
phenomenon is to be seen not so much as a threat to the Church (although many
respondents do consider the aggressive proselytism of some sects a major
problem), but rather as a pastoral challenge. Some respondents emphasize that,
while at all times preserving our own integrity and honesty, we should remember
that each religious group has the right to profess its own faith and to live
according to its own conscience. They stress that in dealing with individual
groups we have the duty to proceed according to the principles of religious
dialogue which have been laid down by the Second Vatican Council and in later
Church documents. Moreover, it is imperative to remember the respect due to each
individual, and that our attitude to sincere believers should be one of
openness and understanding, not of condemnation.
The responses to the Questionnaire show a great need for
information, education of believers, and a renewed pastoral approach.
2. Reasons for the Spread of Those Movements and Groups
Crisis situations or general vulnerability can reveal
and/or produce needs and aspirations which become basic motivations for turning
to the sects. They appear on the cognitive as well as on the affective level,
and are relational in character, i.e., centered upon "self' in relations
with "others" (social), with the past, present and future (cultural,
existential), with the transcendent (religious). These levels and dimensions are
interrelated. These needs and aspirations can be grouped under nine major
headings, although in individual cases they often overlap. For each group of
�aspirations" we indicate what the sects seem to offer. The main reasons for
their success can be seen from that point of view, but one must also take into
account the recruitment practices and indoctrinational techniques of many sects
(cf. below 2.2).
2.1 Needs and Aspirations
2.1.1 Quest for Belonging (sense of community)
The fabric of many communities has been destroyed;
traditional lifestyles have been disrupted; homes are broken up; people feet
uprooted and lonely. Thus the need to belong.
Terms used in the responses: belonging, love, community,
communication, warmth, concern, care, suppor4 friendship, affection, fraternity,
help, solidarity, encounter, dialogue, consolation, acceptance, under- standing,
sharing, closeness, mutuality, togetherness, fellowship, reconciliation,
tolerance, roots, security, refuge, protection, safety, shelter, home.
The sects appear to offer: human warmth, care and support
in small and close-knit communities; sharing of purpose and fellowship;
attention for the individual; protection and security, especially in crisis
situations: resocialization of marginalized individuals (for instance, the
divorced or immigrants). The sect often does the thinking for the
2.1.2 Search for Answers
In complex and confused situations people naturally search
for answer, and solutions. The sects appear to offer: simple and ready-made
answers etc) complicated questions and situations; simplified and partial
versions of traditional truths and values; a pragmatic theology, a theology of
success, a syncretistic theology proposed as "new revelation"; 'new truth" to
people who often have little of the "old" truth; clearcut directives;
a claim to moral superiority; proofs from "supernatural" elements: glossolalia
trance, mediumship, prophecies, possession, etc.
2.1.3 Search for Wholeness (Holism)
Many people feel that they are out of touch with
themselves, with others with their culture and environment. They experience
brokenness. They have been hurt by parents or teachers, by the church or
society. They feel left out. They want a religious view that can harmonize
everything an( everybody; worship that leaves room for body and soul, for
participation, spontaneity, creativity. They want healing, including bodily
healing (African respondents particularly insist on this point).
Terms used in response: healing, wholeness, integration,
integrity harmony, peace, reconciliation, spontaneity, creativity,
The sects appear to offer. a gratifying religious
experience, being saved, conversion; room for feelings and emotions, for
spontaneity (e.g., ii) religious celebrations); bodily and spiritual healing;
help with drug or drink problem; relevance to the life situation.
2.1.4 Search for Cultural Identity
This aspect is very closely linked with the previous one.
In many Third World countries the society finds itself greatly
dissociated from the traditional cultural, social, and religious values; and
traditional believers, share this feeling.
The main terms used in the responses are:
inculturation/incarnation, alienation, modernization.
The sect appears to offer: plenty of room for traditional
cultural/religious heritage, creativity, spontaneity, participation, a style of
prayer and preaching closer to the cultural traits and aspirations of the
2.1.5 Need to be Recognized, to be Special
People feel a need to rise out of anonymity, to build an
identity, to feel that they are in some way special and not just a number or a
faceless member of a crowd. Large parishes and congregations,
administration-oriented concern and clericalism, leave little room for
approaching every person individually and in the person's life situation.
Terms used in response: self-esteem, affirmation, chances,
The sects appear to offer: concern for the individual;
equal opportunities for ministry and leadership, for participation, for
witnessing, for expression; awakening to one's own potential, the chance to be
part of an elite group.
2.1.6 Search for Transcendence
This expresses a deeply spiritual need, a God-inspired
motivation to seek something beyond the obvious, the immediate, the familiar,
the controllable, and the material to find an answer to the ultimate questions
of life and to believe in something which can change one's life in a significant
way. It reveals a sense of mystery, of the mysterious; a concern about what is
to come; an interest in messianism and prophecy. Often the people concerned are
not aware of what the Church can offer are put off by what they consider to be a
one-sided emphasis on morality or by the institutional aspects of the Church.
One respondent speaks of �privatized seekers�:
Research suggests that a surprisingly large proportion of
the population will, if questioned, admit to having some kind of religious or
spiritual experience, say that this has changed their lives in some significant
way and most pertinently add that they have never told anyone about the
experience ... Many young people say that they have frequently known
difficulty in getting teachers or clergy to discuss, let alone answer, their
most important and ultimate questions.
Terms used in the responses: transcendence, sacred, mystery,
mystical, meditation, celebration, worship, truth, faith, spirituality,
meaning, goals, values, symbols, prayer, freedom, awakening, conviction.
The sects appear to offer: the Bible and Bible education; a
sense of salvation, gifts of the Spirit; medication; spiritual achievement.
Some groups not only offer permission to express and
explore ultimate questions in a "safe" social context, but also a language and
concepts with which to do so, as well as the presentation of a clear, relatively
unambiguous set of answers.
2.1.7 Need of Spiritual Guidance
There may be a lack of parental support in the seeker's
fancily or lack of leadership, patience, and personal commitment on the part of
church leaders or educators.
Terms used: guidance, devotion, commitment affirmation,
The sects appear to offer: guidance and orientation through
strong, charismatic leadership. The person of the master, leader, guru, plays an
important role in binding the disciples. At times there is not only submission
but emotional surrender and even an almost hysterical devotion to a strong
spiritual leader (messiah, prophe4 guru).
2.1.8 Need of Vision
The world of today is an interdependent world of hostility
and conflict, violence and fear of destruction. People feel worried about the
future; often despairing, helpless, hopeless, and powerless. They look for signs
of hope, for a way out. Some have a desire, however vague, to make the world
Terms used: vision, awakening, commitment, newness, a new
order, a way out, alternatives, goals, hope.
The sects appear to offer: a "new vision" of oneself, of
humanity, of history, of the cosmos. They promise the beginning of a new age, a
2.1.9 Need of Participation and Involvement
This aspect is closely linked with the previous one. Many
seekers not only feel the need of a vision in the present world society and
toward the future; they also want to participate in decision making, in
planning, in realizing.
The main terms used are: participation, active
witness, building, elite, social involvement
The sects appear to offer: a concrete mission for a better
world, a call for total dedication, participation on most levels.
By way of summary, one can say that the sects seem to live
by what they believe, with powerful (often magnetic) conviction, devotion, and
commitment; going out of their way to meet people where they are, warmly,
personally, and directly, pulling the individual out of anonymity, promoting
participation, spontaneity, responsibility, commitment .... and practicing an
intensive follow-up through multiple contacts, home visits, and continuing
support and guidance. They help to reinterpret one's experience, to reassess
one's values and to approach ultimate issues in an all-embracing system. They
usually make convincing use of the word: preaching, literature, and mass media
(for Christian groups, strong emphasis on the Bible); and often also of the
ministry of healing. In one word, they present themselves as the only answer,
the 'good news' in a chaotic world.
However, although all this counts mostly for the success of
the sects, other reasons also exist, such as the recruitment and training
techniques and indoctrination procedures used by certain sects.
2.2 Recruitment, Training. Indoctrination
Some recruitment, training techniques, and
indoctrination procedures practiced by a number of the cults, which often are
highly sophisticated, partly account for their success. Those most often
attracted by such measures are those who, first, do not know that the approach
is often staged and, second, who are unaware of the nature of the contrived
conversion and training methods (the social and psychological manipulation) to
which they are subjected. The sects often impose their own norms of thinking,
feeling, and behaving. This is in contrast to the church's approach, which
implies full-capacity informed consent.
Young and elderly alike who are at loose ends and are easy
prey to those techniques and methods, which are often a combination of
affection and deception (cf. the "love bombing," the "personality test," or the
'.surrender"). These techniques proceed from a positive approach, but gradually
achieve a kind of mind control through the use of abusive behavior-modification
The following elements are to be listed:
--Subtle process of introduction of the convert and his
gradual discovery of the real hosts.
--Overpowering techniques: love bombing, offering "a free
meal at an international center for friends," "flirty fishing" technique
(prostitution as a method of recruitment).
--Ready-made answers and decisions are being almost forced
upon the recruits.
--Distribution of money, medicine.
--Requirement of unconditional surrender to the initiator,
--Isolation: control of the rational thinking process,
elimination of outside information and influence (family, friends, newspapers,
magazines, television, radio, medical treatment, etc., which might break the
spell of involvement and the process of absorption and feelings and attitudes
and patterns of behavior.
--Processing recruits away from their past lives; focusing
on past deviant behavior such as drug use, sexual misdeeds; playing upon
psychological hang-ups, poor social relationships, etc.
--Consciousness-altering methods leading to cognitive
disturbances (intellectual bombardment); use of thought-stopping cliches; closed
system of logic; restriction of reflective thinking.
--Keeping the recruits constantly busy and never alone;
continual exhortation and training in order to arrive at an exalted spiritual
status, altered consciousness, automatic submission to directives; stifling
resistance and negativity; response to fear in a way that greater fear is often
--Strong focus on the leader; some groups may even
downgrade the role of Christ in favor of the founder (in the case of some
3- Pastoral Challenges and Approaches
A breakdown of traditional social structures, cultural
patterns and traditional sets of values caused by industrialization,
urbanization, migration, rapid development of communication systems,
all-rational technocratic systems, etc., leave many individuals confused,
uprooted, insecure, and therefore vulnerable. In these situations there is
naturally a search for a solution., and often the simpler the better. There is
also the temptation to accept the solution as the only and final answer.
From an analysis of the responses, some symptoms of the
pathology of many societies today can be listed. Many people suffer from them.
They feel anxious about themselves (identity crisis), the future (unemployment
the threat of nuclear war). Questions about the nature of truth and how it is to
be found, political uncertainty and helplessness, economic and ideological
domination, the meaning of life, oneself and others, events, situations, things,
They suffer a loss of direction, lack of orientation, lack
of participation in decision making, lack of real answers to their real
questions. They experience fear because of various forms of violence, conflict,
hostility: fear of ecological disaster, war and nuclear holocaust; social
They feel frustrated, rootless, homeless, unprotected;
hopeless and helpless and consequently unmotivated; lonely at home, in school,
at work, on the campus, in the city; lost in anonymity, isolation,
marginalization, alienation, i.e., feeling that they do not belong, that they
are misunderstood, betrayed, oppressed, deceived, estranged, irrelevant not
listened to, unaccepted, not taken seriously.
They are disillusioned with technological society, the
military, big business, labor, exploitation, educational systems, church laws
and practices, government policies.
They might have learned to want to see themselves as
conscientious "doers,' not worthless drifters or self-seeking opportunists, but
often do not know what to do or how to do it.
They are at a loss at various 'in-between" times (between
school and university, between school and work, between marriage and divorce,
between village and city).
They become empty, indifferent or aggressive, or they may
In summary, one could say that all these symptoms represent
so many forms of alienation (from oneself, from others, from one�s roots,
culture, etc.). One could say that the needs and aspirations expressed in the
responses to the questionnaire are so many forms of a search for �presence� (to
oneself, to others, to God). Those who feel lost want to be found. In other
words, there is a vacuum crying out to be filled, which is indeed the context in
which we can understand not only the criticisms toward the church which many
responses contain, but foremost the pastoral concerns and proposed approaches.
The replies to the questionnaire point out many deficiencies and inadequacies in
the actual behavior of the church which can facilitate the success of the
sects. However, without further insisting on them, we will mainly emphasize the
positive pastoral approaches which are suggested or called for. If these are
acted upon, the challenge of the sects may prove to have been a useful stimulus
for spiritual and ecclesial renewal.
3.1 Sense of Community
Almost all the responses appeal for a rethinking (at least
in many local situations) of the traditional parish-community system; a search
for community patterns which will be more fraternal, more �to the measure of
man� more adapted to people�s life situation; more basic ecclesial communities;
caring communities of lively faith, love (warmth, acceptance, understanding,
reconciliation, fellowship), and hope; celebrating communities; praying
communities; missionary communities; outgoing and witnessing; communities open
to and supporting people who have special problems; the divorced and remarried,
3.2 Formation and Ongoing Formation
The responses put string emphasis on the need for
evangelization, catechesis, education and ongoing education in the faith -
biblical, theological, ecumenical - of the faithful at the level of the local
communities, and of the clergy and those involved in formation. (One reply
advocates� reflective courses� for teachers, youth leaders, clergy, and
religious.) This ongoing process should be both informative, with information
about our own Catholic tradition (beliefs, practices, spirituality, meditation,
contemplation, etc.) about other traditions and about the new religious groups,
etc., and formative, with guidance in personal and communal faith, a deeper
sense of the transcendent, of the eschatological, or religious commitment, of
community spirit, etc. The church should not only be a sign of hope for people,
but should also give them the reasons for that hope; it should help to ask
questions as well as to answer them. In this process there is an overall
emphasis on the centrality of Holy Scripture. Greater and better use should be
made of the mass media of communication.
3.3 Personal and Holistic Approach
People must be helped to know themselves as unique, loved
by a personal God, and with a personal history from birth through death to
resurrection. "Old truth" should continually become for them "new truth" through
a genuine sense of renewal, but with criteria and a framework of thinking that
will not be shaken by every "newness" that comes their way. Special attention
should be paid to the experiential dimension, i.e., discovering Christ
personally through prayer and dedication (e.g., the charismatic and born again"
movements). Many Christians live as if they had never been born at all! Special
attention must be given to the healing ministry through prayers, reconciliation,
fellowship, and care. Our pastoral concern should not be one-dimensional; it
should extend not only to the spiritual, but also to the physical,
psychological, social, cultural, economic, and political dimensions.
3.4 Cultural Identity
The question of inculturation is a fundamental one. It is
particularly stressed by the responses from Africa, which reveal a feeling of
estrangement from Western forms of worship and ministry which are often quite
irrelevant to people's cultural environment and life situation. One respondent
Africans want to be Christians. We have given them
accommodation but no home ... They want a simpler Christianity,
integrated into all aspects of daily life, into the suffering, joys, work,
aspirations, fears, and needs of the African ... The young recognize in the
independent churches a genuine vein of the African tradition of doing things
3.5 Prayer and Worship
Some suggest a rethinking of the classic Saturday
evening/Sunday morning liturgical patterns, which often remain foreign to the
daily life situation. The word of God should be rediscovered as an important
community-building element. 'Reception" should receive as much attention as
'conservation.' There should be room for joyful creativity, a belief in
Christian inspiration and capacity of "invention,' and a greater sense of
communal celebration. Here again, inculturation is a must (with due respect for
the nature of the liturgy and for the demands of universality).
Many respondents insist on the biblical dimension of
preaching; on the need to speak the people's language; the need for careful
preparation of teaching and liturgy (as far as possible done by a team,
including lay participation). Preaching is not mere theorizing,
intellectualizing, and rnoralizing, but presupposes the witness of the
preacher's life. Preaching, worship, and community prayer should not
necessarily be confined to traditional places of worship.
3.6 Participation and Leadership
Most respondents are aware of the growing shortage of
ordained ministers and of religious men and women. This calls for stronger
promotion of diversified ministry and the ongoing formation of lay leadership.
More attention should perhaps be given to the role that can be played in an
approach to the sects - or at least to those attracted by the sects - by lay
people who, within the church and in collaboration with their pastors, exercise
true leadership, both spiritually and pastorally. Priests should not be
identified mainly as administrators, office workers, and judges, but rather as
brothers, guides, consolers, and men of prayer. There is too often a distance
that needs to be bridged between the faithful and the bishop, even between the
bishop and his priests. The ministry of bishop and priest is a ministry of unity
and communion which must become visible to the faithful.
In conclusion, what is to be our attitude, our approach to
the sew? Clearly it is not possible to give one simple answer. The sects
themselves are too diverse; the situations - religious, cultural, social - too
different. The answer will not be the same when we consider the sects in
relation to the �unchurched," the unbaptized, the unbeliever, and when we are
dealing with their impact on baptized Christians and especially on Catholics or
ex-Catholics. Our respondents are naturally concerned mainly with this last
Clearly too, we cannot be naively irenical. We have
sufficiently analyzed the action of the sects to see that the attitudes and
methods of some of them can be destructive to personalities, disruptive to
families and society, and their tenets far removed from the teachings of Christ
and his church. In many countries we suspec4 and in some cases know, that
powerful ideological forces, as well as economic and political interests, are at
work through the sects, which are totally foreign to a genuine concern for the
"human" and are using the "human" for inhumane purposes.
It is necessary to inform the faithful, especially the
young, to put them on their guard and even to enlist professional help for
counseling, legal protection, etc. At times we may have to recognize and
even support appropriate measures on the part of the state acting in its own
We may know too from experience that there is generally
little or no possibility of dialogue with the sects; and that not only are they
themselves not open to dialogue, but they can also be a serious obstacle to
ecumenical education and effort wherever they are active.
And yes, if we are to be true to our own beliefs and
principles - respect for the human person, respect for religious freedom, Nth in
the action of the Spirit working in unfathomable ways for the accomplishment of
God's loving will for all humankind, for each individual man, woman, and child,
we cannot simply be satisfied with condemning and combating the sects, with
seeing them perhaps outlawed or expelled and individuals "deprogrammed" against
their will. The "challenge" of the new religious movements is to stimulate our
own renewal for a greater pastoral efficacy.
It is surely also to develop within ourselves and in our
communities the mind of Christ in their regard, trying to understand "where they
are" and, where possible, reaching out to them in Christian love.
We have to pursue these goals, being faithful to the true
teaching of Christ, with love for all men and women. We must not allow any
preoccupation with the sects to diminish our zeal for true ecumenism among all
5. Invitation From the 1985 Synod
5.1 The extraordinary synod of 1985 called to celebrate,
assess, and promote the Second Vatican Council, gave certain orientations
concerning the renewal of the church today. These orientations, which address
themselves to the general needs of the church, are also a reply to the needs and
aspirations which some people seek in the sects (3.1). They underline the
pastoral challenges and the need for pastoral planning.
5.2 The final report of the synod notes that the world
situation is changing and that the signs of the times must be analyzed
continually (11, D7). The church is often seen simply as an institution, perhaps
because it gives too much importance to structures and not enough to drawing
people to God in Christ.
5.3 As a global solution to the world's problems, the
synod's invitation is to an integral understanding of the council, to an
interior assimilation of it, and putting it into practice. The church must be
understood and lived as a mystery (11, A; cf. 3.1.6) and as communion (11, B;
cf. 4.1; 4.6). The church must commit itself to becoming more fully the sign and
instrument of communion and reconciliation among men (1, A2; cf. 4.1; 3.1.6).
All Christians are called to holiness, that is, to conversion of the heart and
participation in the trinitarian life of God (11, A4; cf. 3.1.1; 3.1.5). The
Christian community needs people who live a realistic and worldly holiness.
Since the church is a communion, it must embody participation and
co-responsibility at all levels (11, C6; cf. 4.6; 3.1.9). Christians must accept
all truly human values (11, D3) as well as those specifically religious (IL DS)
so as to bring about enculturation, which is "the intimate transformation of
authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and in the
various human cultures" (11, D4; cf. 3.7.4; 4A). 'The Catholic Church refuses
nothing of what is true and holy in non-Christian religions. Indeed, Catholics
must recognize, preserve, and promote all the good spiritual and moral, as well
as socio-cultural, values that they find in their midst (11, DS). "The church
must prophetically denounce every form of poverty and oppression, and everywhere
defend and promote the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person"
(11, D6; cf. 3.2).
5.4 The synod gives some practical orientations. It
stresses spiritual formation (11, A5; cf. 3.1.7; 4.2), commitinent to integral
and systematic evangelization, and catechesis to be accompanied by witness which
interprets it (11, Ba2; cf. 3.1.8; 3.1.3) precisely because the salvific mission
of the church is integral (H, D6; cf. 4.3) securing interior and spiritual
participation in the liturgy (H B6; cE 3.1.9; 4.5); encouraging spiritual and
theological dialogue among Christians (fl, C7) and dialogue "which may open and
communicate inferiority"; fostering concrete forms of the spiritual journey such
as consecrated life, spiritual movements, popular devotion (IL A4; cf 3.1.7),
and giving greater importance to the word of God (U, Bal), realizing that the
Gospel reaches people through witness to it (U, Ba2).
6. Questions for Further Study and Research
N.B. Where possible, the study and research should be
undertaken in ecumenical cooperation.
6.1 Theological Studies
a) The different types of sect in the fight of Lumen
Gentium, No. 16, Unitatis Redinlegratio and Nostra Aelaie.
b) The "religious" content of ,esoteric,, and "human
c) Christian mysticism in relation to the search for
religious experience in the sects.
d) The use of the Bible in the sects.
6.2 Interdisciplinary Studies
(Historical, sociological, theological, anthropological.)
a) The sects and the early Christian communities,
b) The ministry of healing in the early church and in the
c) The role of the prophetic and Charismatic figures
(during their lifetime and after their death).
d). The sects and "popular religiosity,"
6.3 Psychological and Pastoral Studies
(It is in this field that most work seems to have been done
a) Recruitment techniques and their effects.
b) After-effects of sect membership and deprogramming.
c) Religious needs and experiences of adolescents
and young adults and their interaction with sexual developnien4 in relation to
d) Authority patterns in the se= in relation to the lack of
a need for authority in contemporary society.
c) The Possibility or impossibility of "dialogue" with the
6.4 Sects and the Family
a) Reactions in the family to sect membership,
b) Family breakups or irregular family status in reaction
to the attraction of the sects.
c) Sect membership and the solidity of the fancily; family
pressures on children of sect members.
d) Family patterns and conjugal morality in the sects.
6.5 Women in the Sects
a) opportunities for self-expression and responsibility
(cf., sects founded by women).
b) inferior position of women in different types of sect:
Christian fundamentalist groups, Oriental sects, African sects, etc.
6.6 Acculturation and inculturation of sects and
their evolution in different cultural and religious contexts: in traditional
Christian cultures, in recently evangelized cultures, in totally secularized
societies or those undergoing a rapid process of secularization (with its
diverse impact on Western and "non-Western" cultures). Migration and the sects.
6.7 A comparative historical and sociological study of
youth movements in Europe before World War 11 and youth membership in
contemporary cults and sects.
6.8 Religious freedom in relation to the sects:
ethical, legal, and theological aspects. Effects of government action and other
social pressures. Interaction between political, economic, and religious
6.9 The images of sects in public opinion and the
effect of public opinion on sects.
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* This report, originally released on June 11, 1986, is
reprinted with permission from the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians. Text
in italic type reflects emphases in the original.
Reprinted from: Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No.