The Vatican Report: Sects or New Religious Movements

Cultic Studies Journal, 1986, Volume 3, Number 1, pages 69-84

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 received.

This report is divided as follows:

1. Introduction

2. Reasons for the spread of these movements and groups.

3. Pastoral challenges and approaches.

4. Conclusion.

5. Invitation from the 1985 Synod.

6. Questions for further study and research.

7. Selected bibliography.

8. Appendix

1. Introduction

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, 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 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 ultimate purpose.

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 curiosity, etc.

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 cognitive faculties.

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 individual.

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, participation.

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 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 situation.

Terms used in response: self-esteem, affirmation, chances, relevance, participation.

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, leadership, guru.

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 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 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 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 recruits.


--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 'Christian" sects).

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 "hereafter.'

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 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 become "seekers.'

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, the marginalized.

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 declared.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 potential" sects.

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 Psychological and Pastoral 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 developnien4 in relation to the sea.

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 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 fancily; family pressures on children of sect members.

d) Family patterns and conjugal morality in the sects.

6.5 Women in the Sects

opportunities for self-expression and responsibility (cf., sects founded by women).

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 factors.

6.9 The images of sects in public opinion and the effect of public opinion on sects.

Selected Bibliography

General Reference Works

Bibliographies and Dictionaries

A Selected Bibliography on New Religious Movements in Western Countries. IDOC. International Documentation and Communication Center. Rome, 1979.

The Cultic Studies Journal Vol. 3. No. 1. 1986

Barrett, David B. World Christian Encyclopedia. A comparative survey of churches and religions in the modem world. Oxford, 1984.

Blood, Linda Osbome. Comprehensive Bibliography on the Cult Phenomenon. Weston (MA): American Family Foundation, 1982.

Crim, Keith, ed. Abington Dictionary of Living Religions. Nashville (TN): Abingdon, 1981.

Foucart Eric. Repertoire Bibliographique. Sects and marginal religious groups of the contemporary East (Studies and documents on the science of religion). Quebec, 1982.

Plume, Chrisdan and Xavier Pasquini. Encyclopedie des sectes dans le monde. Nice, 1980.

Poupard, Paul. Dictionnaire des Religions. Paris, 1984. 2nd ed., 1985. Spanish trans. Barcelona: Herder, 1986.

Turner, Harold W. Bibliography of New Religious Movements in primal Society. Vol. 1: Black Africa. Boston, 1977.

Specialized Periodicals

Aagard, Johannes, ed. New Religious Movements Update: A Quarterly Journal of New Religious Movements. Aarhus, Denmark (1977 - ).

Bulletin Signaletique - Section 527, 528: Sciences Religeuses. Paris. Centre de Documentation du CNRS, 1970 -.

Missionalia. The South African Nfissiological Society. Pretoria (see from Vol. 8, No. 3, November 1980 to date).

Pontifical Library Propaganda Fide. Bibliographia Missionaria. Rome (see from Anno XL - 1976 to Anno XLVH - 1983).

Secretariat for Non-Believers. Ateismo e Dialogo. Vatican (see from Anno )aV - June 2, 1979 to date).

Valentin, Frederike. Sekten und religiose Sondergemeinschaften in Osteffeich. Verkmappe: Vienna (from 1977 to date).


Bartz, W. Le Sette oggi. Doltrina, organizzazione, diffusions. Queriniana: Brescia, 1976.

Batz, K. Weltreligionen heute. Hinduism. Zurich-Koln, 1979.

Batz, K. LAttrait du mysterieux. Bible et esolerisaw, 1980. Ottowa: Novalis,

Cereti, 0. I Nuovi Moviwnti Religiosi, le sette e i nuovi culti. Rome, 1983.

Cournault, Fanny. La France des Sectes. Paris: Tchou, 1978.

Eggengerger, 0. Die Kirchen, Sondergruppen und religiose Vereinigungen.A Handbook. Zurich, 1983.

Gibon, Yves de. Des Sectes a notre porte. Paris, 1979.

Gregoire, M. Histoire des secies religieuses. Paris: Baudouin Freres, 1828-1829 (5 vols).

Grundier, J. Lexikon der Chrisilichen Kirchen und Seklen. Vols. 1-11. Vienna: Herder, 1961).

Haack, F.W. Des Secies pour les Jeunes. Mame, 1980.

Hoff, Eugene Yon. L’Eglise et les Sectes. Quelques dissidences religieuses de notre temps. Paris: Societe centrale devangelisadon, 1951.

Hutten, K. Seher-Grubler-Enthusiasten. The book of traditional sects and religious special groups. Stuttgart, 1982.

Needleman, Jacob. Understanding the New Religions.Seabury Press, 1978.

Reller, H. Handbuch Religiose Gepwinschaften, Frelkirchen. Special groups, sects, philosophies of life, and new religions. Gutersloh: VELKD-Arbeitskreis, 1978.

Rudin, James and Rudin, Marcia. Prison or Paradise? The New Religious Cults. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Vernette, Jean. Des chercheurs de Dieu "hors-frontieres. " Paris, 1979.

Vernette, Jean and Rene GiraulL Croire en dialogue. - The Christian before religions, churches, sects. Limoges: Ed. Droguet-Ardant, 1979.

Woodrow, A. Les Nouvelles Secies. Paris: Seuil, 1977.

Works on Different Parts of the World


Andersson, E. Messianic Popular Movements in the Lower Congo. Uppsala, 1958.

Baeta, C. G. Prophetism in Ghana: A Study of Some Spiritual Churches. London: SCM Press, 1962.

Barrett, David B. Schism and Renewal in Africa. An Analysis of 6,000 Contemporary Religious Movements. Oxford, 1968.

Barrett, David B. (ed) Kenya Churches Handbook (The development of Kenya Christianity 1498-1973.) Kisinu, Kenya.

Batende, M. “Les perspectives dans les communautes messianiques africaines.” Second Annual Colloquium in Kinshasa, 1983.

Bennetta, Jules-Rosette (ed.). The New Religions of Africa. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp., 1979.

Fashole-Luke, E. W., Gray, R., Hastings, A. and G. O. M. Tasle (eds.). Christianity in Independent Africa London: Collings, 1978.

Hebga, M. “Interpellation des mouvements mystiques.” Second Annual Colloquium in Kinshasa, February 1983.

Holas, Bohumil. Le Separatisme religieux en Afrique noire. L’example de la Cote d’Ivoire. Paris: PUF, 1965.

Muanza Kalala, E. Les sectes au diocese de Mbujimayi (Zaire). Rome: Pontifical Lateran University, 1980.

Sundkler, B. Bantu Prophets in South Africa. Oxford, 1961.


Bosch, J. Iglesias, seclas y nuevas cultos. Madrid. Ed. Bruno, 198I.

Denaux, A. Godsdienstseklen in Vlaanderen. Leuven, DF, 1982.

Guizzardi, Gustavo. "New Religious Phenomena in Italy. Towards a Post-Catholic Era?" Archives des sciences sociale des religions. Vol. 21, No. 42 (July-Dec. 1976), 97-116.

Haack, F.W. Jugendreligionen. Munich, 1979.

Hernando, J. Garcia. Pluralismo Religioso. Vol II. Sects and non-Christian religions. Madrid, 1983.

Hummel, R. Indische Mission und neue Frommigkeit im Westen. Stuttgart, 1982.

O'Cuinn, C. Why the New Youlh Religions? Ireland, 1980.

Schreiner, L. and Mildenberger, M. Christus und die Gurus. Asialische religiose Gruppen im Westen. Stuttgart-Berlin, 1980.

Terrin, Aldo Natale. Nuove Religioni. Alla Ricerea della Terra Promessa. Editrice Morcelliana-Brescia, 1985.

Vemette, Jean. Au pays de nouveau-sacre. Voyage a linterieur de la jeune generation. (Centurion edition), 1981.

Vemeae, Jean. Sectes et reveil religieux (Salvator edition, Cedex) 1976.


Earhart, Byron H. The New Religions of Japan: A Bibliography of Western-Language Materials. Michigan Papers in Japanese Studies 9. Center for Japanese Studies. 8 XXVI. Michigan, 1983.

EIwood, D. Churches and Sects in the Philippines. [n.d.]

Lee, Raymond L.M. and Ackerman, S.E. "Conflict and Solidarity in a Pentecostal Group in Urban Malaysia.' The Sociological Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1980.

Lacombe, Olivier. "Les 'Sectes' dans I'hindouisme." Axes, Vol. X/2 (Dec. 1977-Jan. 1978).

Van Des Kroef, Justus M. "Mouvements religieux modernes d'acculturation en Indonesie.- Histoire des Religions, Vol. 111, under the direction of Henri-Charles Pucch. Paris: Gailimard, 1976.

Latin America

Council of Latin American Bishops' Conferences (CELAM). Sectas en America Latina. Bogota, 1982.

Glazier, Stephen D. “Religion and Contemporary Religious Movements in the Caribbean: A Report.” Sociological Analysis, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer 1980).

Metraux, A. "Las Messies de I'Amerique du Sud." Achives de Sociologie des Religiw, Vol. 2. No. 4 (July-Dec. 1957).

Oliveira Filho, Jose Jeremias. Notas de Sociologia das Seitas.. Cuadernos de ISER, 1975.

Samain, Etienne. “Bibliographia Sobre Religiosidade popular." Reli-giao e Sociedade, No. 1. Hucitec: Sao Paulo 1977.

Schlesinger, Hugo and Porto, Humberto. Crencas, Seitas & Simbolos Religiosos. Paulinas ed: Sao Paulo, 1982.

Oceana and the Pacific Islands

Burridge, K.O.L. “Mouvements religieuses d'acculturation en Oceanie." Histoire des Religions, Vol. Ill. Gallimard: Paris, 1976.

Hodee, Paul. "Culture moderne, sectes, problems familiaux et non-croyence en Polynesie francaise.” Ateismo e Dialogo, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1980).

Worsley, Peter. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of Cargo Cults in Melanesia. Schocken Books: New York, 1968.

North America

Anthony, D., et at. The New Religious Movements: Conversions, Coercion and Commitment. Crossroad: New York, 1983.

Appel, W. Cults in America: Programmed for Paradise. New York, 1983.

Bergeron, Richard. Le Cortege des Fous de Dieu. Montreal, 1982.

Bird, F. and Reimer, B. "A Sociological Analysis of New Religions and Para-Religious Movements in the Montreal Area." Canadian Journal, 1976.

Clark, S.D. Church and Sect in Canada. Toronto, 1948.

Hill, D.C. A Study of Mind Development Groups. Sects and Cults in Ontario. Govt. Publ: Ottowa, 1980.

Stipelman, S. Coping with Cults. (a course for students) Jewish Education Council of Montreal, 1982.

Zaretsky, E.J. and Leone, M.P. (eds.). Religious Movements in Contemporary America. Princeton (NJ), 1974.

(This bibliographical list is neither exhaustive nor entirely selective, but rarely representative.)

* 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.