THE VATICAN REPORT
SECTS OR NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS: A PASTORAL CHALLENGE
May 3rd, 1986
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 Promoting Christian Unity, the Secretariat for Non-Christians, the
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 include 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
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 exists 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 . The question of the definition of
those movements or groups as distinct from or 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 . 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 of Christian
origin, on the one hand, and ,
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 1 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,
(Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1985).
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 and rapid of
all kinds of "new" religious or pseudo-religious movements, groups,
and practices. The phenomenon is considered by almost all responses
as a , 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 (). In other cases it occurs outside
the churches (independent or free churches; messianic or prophetic
movements), or against the church-like patterns. However, not all
are religious in their real content or ultimate purpose.
1.3 The phenomenon develops fast, and often quite successfully, and often
poses . 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 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 more 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 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 curiosity, etc.
An assessment of these reasons can be adequately done only from
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 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 effective 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 to
sincere believers should be one of openness and understanding, not
The responses to the Questionnaire show a great need for
information, education of believers, and a renewed pastoral
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 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 . 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 feel
uprooted and lonely. Thus the need to belong.
Terms used in the responses: belonging, love, community,
communication, warmth, concern, care, support, friendship,
affection, fraternity, help, solidarity, encounter, dialogue,
consolation, acceptance, understanding, 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 individual.
2.1.2 Search for Answers
In complex and confused situations people naturally search for
answers and solutions. The sects appear to offer: simple and
ready-made answers to 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 and 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, reconcilation, spontaneity, creativity,
participation. The sects appear to offer: a gratifying religious
experience, being saved, conversion; room for feelings and emotions,
for spontaneity (e.g., in religious celebrations); bodily and
spiritual healing; help with drug or drink problems; 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,
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 people.
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
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 or 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
Terms used in the responses: transcendence, sacred, mystery,
mystical, meditation, celebration, worship, truth, faith,
spirituality, meaning, goals, values, symbols, prayer, freedom,
The sects appear to offer: the Bible and Bible education; a sense of
salvation; gifts of the Spirit; meditation; 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 family or
lack of leadership, patience, and personal commitment on the part of
church leaders or educators.
Terms used: guidance, devotion, commitment, affirmation, leadership,
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, prophet,
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 better.
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 new era.
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
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 techniques.
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
-- Distribution of money, medicine.
-- Requirement of unconditional surrender to the initiator, leader.
-- 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 aroused.
-- 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, the
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 conflicts, manipulation.
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
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 become
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 vacu-*fj um
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, the marginalized.
3.2 Formation and Ongoing Formation
The responses put strong 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, of 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 psychological, social, cultural,
economic, and political dimensions.
3.4 Cultural Identity
The question of inculturation is a fundamental one. It is
particularly stressed on 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 declared:
Africans want to be Christians. We have given them accomodation but
no home. . . . They want a simpler Christianity, integrated into
all aspects of daily life, into the suffering, joys, work,
aspirations, fear, and needs of the African. . . . The young
recognize in the independent churches a genuine vein of the African
tradition of doing things religious.
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 moralizing, but presupposes the
witness of the preacher's life. Preaching, worship, and community
prayer should not necessarily be confined to traditional places of
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
sects? 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 group.
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
suspect, 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 sphere.
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
And yet, if we are to be true to our own beliefs and principles --
respect for the human person, respect for religious freedom, faith
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 religous 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 Christians.
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 be analyzed continually
(II, 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 (II, A; cf. 3.1.6) and as
communion (II, 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 (I, 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 (II, 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 (II, C6;
cf. 4.6; 3.1.9). Christians must accept all truly human values (II,
D3) as well as those specifically religious (II, D5) 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" (II, D4; cf. 3.7.4; 4.4). "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
sociocultural, values that they find in their midst" (II, D5). "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" (II, D6; cf.3.2).
5.4 The synod gives some practical orientations. It stresses spiritual
formation (II, A5; cf. 3.1.7;4.2), commitment to integral and
systematic evangelization, and catechesis to be accompanied by
witness which interprets it (II, Ba2; cf. 3.1.8; 3.1.3) precisely
because the salvific mission of the church is integral (II, D6; cf.
4.3) securing interior and spiritual participation in the liturgy
(II B6; cf. 3.1.9; 4.5); encouraging spiritual and theological
dialogue among Christians (II, C7) and dialogue "which may open and
communicate interiority"; fostering concrete forms of the spiritual
journeys such as consecrated life, spiritual movements, popular
devotion (II, A4; cf. 3.1.7), and giving greater importance to the
word of God (II, Ba1), realizing that the Gospel reaches people
through witness to it (II, Ba2).
6. Questions for Further Study and Research
N.B. Where possible, the study and research should be undertaken in
6.1 Theological Studies
a) The different types of sect in the light of , No.
16, and .
b) The "religious" content of "esoteric" and "human potential"
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 sects.
c) The role of the prophetic and charismatic figures (during their
lifetime and after their death).
d) The sects and "popular religiosity."
6.3 Interdisciplinary Studies
(It is in this field that most work seems to have been done already)
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 development, in relation to the
d) Authority patterns in the sects in relation to the lack of a need
for authority in contemporary society.
e) The possibility or impossiblity of "dialogue" with the sects.
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 family; 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 responsiblity (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 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.
in Europe before World War II and youth membership in contemporary
cults and sects.
6.8 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 and the effect of public
opinion on sects.
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