Cults and Common Sense

One of the creepiest things about religion is the tendency for those involved to drift into cult-like behaviors. How can you tell if a religious group is operating like a cult? It’s difficult because the people in a religious group can behave like a cult without them becoming a full blown, identifiable religious cult.

What groups am I thinking of? It could be a small local group or a large international group. It could be a parish or a school. It could be a study group or an ecclesial community. The difficulty is that cult like behavior is often very similar to authentic and Spirit filled Christian communities. A cult will often look like a good, authentic and dynamic Christian community. In fact, the cult will often out do the authentic Christian community in certain respects. Sometimes the cult will feel more authentic, more dynamic, more spiritual and more “filled with the Spirit.”

How can you tell if a parish, a school, a community or a religious group are becoming cult like? Again, it is very difficult because some groups that have cult-like behaviors remain at a low level of these behaviors.

So what are the danger signs? First of all, if a religious community or a religious leader seem too good to be true–guess what? They’re usually too good to be true. That’s because group cult behavior conspires to cover up and hide away anything that tarnishes the glossy image of that “wonderful community” that all the members want so much to believe in. This is the first sign of a cult: everything is too wonderful and everyone is ready to tell you how wonderful it all it. The cult will invariably have an amazingly good public relations operation. They will present a good and glossy front with 100% participation of all involved. This being the case, if your priest is a man who’s faults are obvious. Maybe you should be grateful. He’s real. He’s not trying to con you.

The second thing to watch out for is the leadership. The leadership of a cult will invariably be selective and exclusive. There will be a public face of the leadership, and that person will unfailingly present the nice, glossy and polished face of the organization. The public face will be squeaky clean and wonderful. If it is a personality based cult there may be no other leadership. However, if there is a board of directors or trustees, they will remain in the background. You may not know who they are. Their meetings will not be public. They may even have a vow of secrecy about their meetings. They will call this something nice like “a confidentiality agreement.” This means they cannot discuss what goes on behind those closed doors. There may not be a formal leadership group at all. Instead the leader may simply have an inside circle of friends and confidantes who nobody really knows because they never have any meetings as such. The decisions are all taken in private. The leadership will be tightly controlled and it will be by invitation only. If you encounter non-transparent leadership in this way. Don’t be surprised and be suspicious.

A third trait of a cult is that complete loyalty is demanded of the followers. Dissent and criticism is not permitted. Those who dissent will be marginalized, excluded from decision making and demonized. If the leaders cannot get rid of the dissenters they will be isolated and given a name. They will be “the troublemakers” or “the grumblers”. The dissenters from within will be considered the most dangerous ones and you will find that there are divisions–those who are loyal followers and those who are suspected of being “disloyal” or “rebellious”. The disloyal and rebellious ones will be deemed “unspiritual” or “difficult”. In extreme cases the dissenters will become scapegoats and all the negativities of the group will be projected on to them.

A fourth characteristic of a group that has become a cult or is behaving in a cult like manner is that there will be a persecution complex. A group of outside forces will be identified who are “the enemy”. A little fortress will be built in which all those on the inside are the “faithful ones” while all those on the outside will increasingly be demonized and feared. There will be no real effort to build bridges or get to know those on the outside. There will be no real effort to treat the outsiders as real people. Instead they are the enemy to be kept at arms’ length and against whom the faithful will usually project their fears and suspicions. At worst the enemy will have all the sins and fears and dark negativities projected on them.

The problem is that when a group is becoming cult like it does so innocently. Nobody sets out to establish a cult. Instead, unconsciously certain individuals start to behave in this manner and they support one another. The leadership starts to create an unrealistically wonderful religious atmosphere and those who want and need that sort of religious group will support it and feed the flames. The faithful will set the leader up on a pedestal and declare him to be wonderful and the leader (who needs and likes the adulation) will encourage their hero worship. Those who object or suspect what is happening will be automatically excluded or marginalized by those who wish to perpetuate the super wonderful world they are setting up for themselves.

It all stinks to high heaven, and I know how it works because in over fifty years of working in a range of religious groups I have seen these behaviors develop within parishes, within home prayer and praise groups, within schools, in colleges and in independent churches.

What’s the antidote? One of the antidotes is actually the Catholic parish system. If we all went to our local parish and put up with the priest we didn’t happen to like and the people who were just there because, like us, they lived there–we would be more realistic and we wouldn’t fall into personality cult problems.

Another antidote is common sense. If something or someone seems to be too good to be true. They are. Common sense pops pomposity’s balloon and brings things down to earth. A third antidote is open-ness to criticism and dissent. A real servant leader and a truly service based group will value all members and be strong enough to listen to dissenting voices. They will treat criticism as positive feedback and be open not only to dissent but to outsiders. A fourth antidote is confession. Cult members and cult leaders never admit their mistakes and will never be able to make a true, honest and open confession or apology. If your leader or community members cannot say “sorry” you’ve got problems.

Finally, real religion is just that. It’s real. It’s humble. Remember the word “humility” comes from the word “humus” which means “earth”. Real religion is down to earth. It’s humble and oh yes, “Humus” is also the root for “humor”. Real religion always knows how to have a laugh. If a group or a person can’t laugh at themselves–be suspicious. If they take themselves or their movement or their spirituality with utmost seriousness–beware.

  • Nathan

    Of course, as you know father, the word “cult” is used in a very different way in Catholic theology than the more common way, as in this article. So the “cult of the Blessed Virgin” etc is NOT a “cult” in the sense meant by this article.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Indeed.

    • Alison

      If you are paying a fixed fee or a repeated fee to be holy or told that God loves a cheerful giver perhaps you might stop and realize this is cultish. Cultish when you are told to love poverty but watch the hypocrites at the top who live in luxury and make all the rules because you have given your own free will over to them.

      My professional friends gave thousands of dollars to an elite Catholic sect only to discover the deceitfulness of it’s members and finally left broken financially and totally devastated by their own gullability.

      You cannot buy your way into heaven
      If you are handing over monies or writing wills to be part of an apostalate you will be fodder for your leader.
      Christ never lived in luxury on earth so why do the leaders of cults say they are Christ like when they do the opposite.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Methinks that America is a cult…

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Yup

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    I felt so good reading this- because we have ‘failed’ in the success department- we are certainly NOT going in a cultish direction

  • MRSMOM

    You have just described OPUS DEI AUSTRALIA SYDNEY STYLE to a T Padre.

    My family has and still is experiencing all 4 signs/ To my horror y parish has a handful of other families also experiencing this phenomnon.
    It IS evil
    It is devastating to family

    • Mom0f8

      Oh give it a rest already.. St Josemaria is a Saint… Go read some more Dan Brown novels perhaps.. There is nothing but orthodoxy and loyalty to the magesterium in the work. Whatever your “experiences” are, I suggest you write to the Holy See because they have found nothing but accusations..

      Pope Francis is very close to Opus Dei- and has visited the tomb of St Josemaria and celebrated Mass for his feast day.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        I don’t think Opus Dei is a cult, but some people in some sections of Opus Dei might lapse into cult like behaviors–just like people in an ordinary parish might.

        • Wes

          “Ordinary parish”….you make it sound like there are Opus Dei Parishes! Not so..it’s a personal prelature.

          That you are a priest in the Catholic Church, Father L, you owe to the help of the Work…as you’ve acknowledged in public.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. I am grateful for Opus Dei and all they do. Nevertheless, I would not exempt some Opus Dei people or groups from drifting into cult like behavior any more than I would exempt any other religious order or parish or group.

      • MRSMOM

        Good for you
        You will proudly and arrogantly continue NOT to learn UNTIL the day it happens to you!
        You explain the lies and betrayal, PARTICULARLY the SCANDAL they caused to my whole family and explain it’s Catholicism to my small children.
        In any case human opinion is a curse- what matters is what CHRIST thinks and knows and WILL judge.

        BTW , Since when does Pope Francis become the measuring stick of sanctity to those families who have unjustly been treated by wicked sects within the church

      • Brian

        Is it possible that a saaint can still be in purgatory and if so, what documentation do you recommend please.

        Also, I agree with your very last statement wholeheartedly.

        • Fr. Hugo

          Brian, Over the last many years, I have read many obituaries of both deceased Catholics and non-Catholics. Not once have I seen mentioned in any obituary that he/she died and then went to Purgatory. :)

      • anonymous

        Momof8, Saint or not, the problem with Opus Dei is that too many people in the group worship Escriva as if he was above Jesus Christ. Escriva is like their Jim Jones, and unfortunately, this is the type of mentality that Opus Dei breeds and nourishes. I know because I have close friends and family that have been recruited by them. If you are in Opus Dei, please give this article to all your friends in the group. They should really read this, but I doubt they will be allowed to. They should also read some of Escriva’s writings, especially Number 107 from Conversations where he says: “It is the advice of a priest. An old Spanish saying goes: ‘A well-groomed woman keeps her husband away from other doors.’ That is why I am not afraid to say that women are responsible for eighty per cent of the infidelities of their husbands because they do not know how to win them each day and take loving and considerate care of them.”http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/conversations-point-107.htm As a mom of 8, I am sure this is something that you can appreciate.

      • Coco

        Dear Momof8,

        ”Go read some more Dan Brown novels.”

        You have, in seven words, successfully painted a fellow Catholic mother (and one I think it is safe to assume you do not even know), who has suffered at the hands of Opus Dei, with the crazy-cook brush. Nice.

        Is it really so absolutely impossible for you to entertain the thought that a group of Opus Dei members somewhere in the world, at some time, might have morphed toward cult-like behaviors? Given what we know about the human condition (we sin), and the relatively large international nature of Opus Dei, if you actually believe Opus Dei members exist on this earth without ever falling into some cult-like behaviors, you seem more like a believer in Dan Brown-ish ideas than she does.

        Yes, St. Josemaria is a saint. Could you please let us all know about the process that brought him to sainthood in the Catholic Church? Like, how long did it take, in comparison to how long it has taken for all other people to become bonafide saints? I’m looking forward to your answer.

        • Jose Tomas

          The only thing I can tell is this: the details of the canonization process of Escrivá are not for the weak in their Faith.

  • http://www.todayinthedoyle.blogspot.com Brendan Doyle

    A cult is somebody who takes their religion more seriously than you take yours. Always liked that definition. It’s a tricky one, cos there are some genuine saints out there, but as you say, they don’t look like cult leaders in practice. I’m thinking Teresa of Avila or St Francis. We know their faults. Talking to Legionaries of Christ always freaked me out with their matching hair cuts.

    • midwestlady

      No, the hallmarks of cult behavior are force used against one’s will, and lack of privacy, when they appear together. Anytime this combination occurs, you should stop and back away slowly and carefully.

      • Kate

        You can see that combination in families too. I’m thinking of a disciplinary trend I saw as a teen in other families, where a critical or independent minded teen would have the door of their room removed in order to take away ‘the temptation’ of escaping into private space instead of spending time with the rest of the family. And I would include coercion under ‘force’, such as when a member of a group/family/institution who is largely dependent on that group is threatened with exclusion/abandonment if they can’t/won’t meet community rules.

        True relationship and community is engaged in the tricky business of meeting each other as persons, with real and complex strengths, weaknesses, needs, and perceptions.

        • Al Bergstrazer

          I was thinking the same thing. I have seen families develop into cults where the patriarch or matriarch calls the shots, stirs the pot and generally makes everyone toe the line, and if anyone dare step out of line they’re disowned. The use of fear as a motivator is palpable and despicable. The cycle of abuse and control is bizarre dynamic to behold, especially when the members of said familial cultus have nothing but harsh criticism for the ‘leader’ of the family but if anyone outside of the cultus dares offer the same criticism they immediately get defensive and say ‘don’t you dare, you don’t have the right.”

  • skysix

    I wish I had had this insight as a young man. I joined a Catholic cult and ended up in the priesthood where I certainly did not belong. Only a total mental breakdown and a lot of spiritual guidance eventually helped me recover and restore my life somewhat. The experience drove many friends out of the Church and almost did the same to me. My most painful realization is that the Church authorities that could and should have done something about this movement did not intervene even when there was abundant evidence about wht was happening.

    • Captain America

      OUCH!

      My guess is that God’s given you many graces through all this.

  • Faith

    Thank you for this! Growing up my older sister got involved in Scientology and I witnessed my parents dealing with it. It must have been traumatizing because I have always been very nervous about anything cult-like (in the bad sense of cult). When I first reverted to the faith, I was invited to several events that turned out to be thinly veiled recruitment ploys on the part of Regnum Christi. My little neurotic radar screen lit up because they reminded me of Scientology’s ploys. So I do think one more indication of a cult is the way they try to gain members. If it is through active, pressure type tactics to get you to join, then be wary!

    • Winfield

      Your experience with Regnum Christi rings true, Faith. When I began a job I had years ago many employees were Catholic, and my boss and his wife invited us to Regnum Christi meetings and retreats repeatedly. We declined the invitations, thankfully (these included face-to-face exhortations at work and calls to our home), and although it harmed my career there, that was a small price to pay for staying away from that organization.

    • midwestlady

      I had a brush with Regnum Christi too. I was invited on a weekend retreat which I attended, but the program was designed for a different personality profile or something because I found it very restrictive and superficial and spooky. I think it’s designed to appeal to younger women, and maybe cradle Catholics, and I’m neither, which oddly sometimes is a good thing. Go figure.

      • Rose

        I had more than a brush with Regnum Christi … I grew up in ECYD (their youth group) and was continually bombarded with pressure to go to their girl’s school in Rhode Island. It was only through watchful parents and the grace of God that I never went, because I was seriously considering a vocation to the consecrated life with them. In fact, the place I grew up is STILL incredibly saturated with Regnum Christi, and I have friends who are still involved in it; the area in general is anti-Catholic, which made a seemingly orthodox Catholic group very appealing to the Catholics who lived there.

        God totally removed me from Regnum Christi when my family moved states in high school. It has taken a while for me to process everything, because I still have fond memories of my time in ECYD, but now I am able to see and understand things I wasn’t then.

  • Imperious Dakar

    This article reminds me that’s there’s truth to the phrase:
    A cult is just a religion without political power.

    Virtually the all the traits you describe as cult-like can be found in every major religion (including Catholicism) to one extent or another.

    Virtually all religions (including Catholicism) make grand claims, find it difficult (if not impossible) to admit mistakes, and demand a great deal of conformity from their followers.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I did not deny that some Catholic groups could descend into cult like behavior, but that doesn’t mean that the right practice of the religion is necessarily cult like.

    • midwestlady

      I’m not a cradle Catholic and I’ve been around a lot of different religious organizations, since I have relatives who are ministers and a lot of international friends. As long as you stay out of things like Regnum Christi and so on, I’d say that Catholicism is the LEAST cult-like of all the religions I’ve ever spent time in, including Islam and non-denominational Protestantism. The big reason for this is that although Catholicism has this reputation for being forceful and megalithic, and the big surprise to converts is that it’s JUST NOT. The Catholic Church can’t seem to keep track of anything, ROFLOL. It’s very loosey-goosey when it comes to force. It’s all free-will. Really. If you don’t go down there and make a personal point of registering the parish, they won’t come looking for you. If you don’t tithe, they won’t come looking for you. If you don’t go to confession, again they won’t force you. This was a big surprise to me as a convert after hearing about the Church’s reputation for years, and I still find it enormously humorous. And a little bit scandalous which is probably the preacher’s grand-daughter in me talking.
      Um, that isn’t to say that some cult-like structures don’t exist in religious orders or some recent lay groups because they do. Legionaires of Christ and Regnum Christi are the most obvious of these, but there are others, including some women’s congregations and lay groups, that are downright scary in their resemblance to cults. Some people are drawn to them by nature, it’s about features of personality that exist in some people. There has been a lot written about this fascinating subject.

  • FW Ken

    Unfortunately, Fatter, any community living by the Rule of St. Benedict could be accused of being a cult.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I disagree although I can see that it would be possible for abuses to find their way into any community.

    • Dale

      Ken, perhaps monasteries which follow the Rule of St. Benedict could be accused of being a cult, but that would be an unfounded accusation. In the book “Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today” the author spent time at several Cistercian monasteries, observing and interviewing the monks. In particular, he wrote much about the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky. When major decisions were to be made, the abbot would call the monks together and they would offer concerns and advice. The author noted that two monks were chronically unhappy (and sadly, for reasons beyond the control of the monastery) and often spoke contrary to the abbot, But these “grumblers” were not ostracized or penalized as would happen in a cult.

      As Fr. Longenecker pointed out, cults can form anywhere, even in a parish. I think that is part of the reason why diocesan priests are periodically assigned to new parishes… to keep a cult of personality from forming.

      • FW Ken

        Dale,

        The operant phrase was “could be accused”. While I’m in general agreement with Father L’s points about cult-like behavior (and particularly his point about the geographic parishes), I do think we have a hard time talking about authority in a society whose mott0 seems to be “you aren’t the boss of me”. In fact, the Rule of St. Benedict clearly situates the authority of the abbott within an overarching paternal love, but sometimes the secular society seems to see only the authority, and not the love.

      • midwestlady

        “Cults of personality” are indeed a huge problem in Catholic parishes, but they have more to do with clericalism and lack of conversion to Christianity than they do with true hardcore “Cult-like” behavior–the kind seen in the Hare Krishna, the FLDS or Legionnaires of Christ.

        “Cults of personality” are when you imbue someone with too much authority but are free to walk away except for your adoration for the person, who has an exaggerated significance for some reason or another. People can be united in these “cults of personality,” such that they hold loyalty to the object of the personality cult above reproach no matter what they do. This does happen in Catholic parishes occasionally, unfortunately. But it’s almost always a feature of over-clericalism and lack of understanding of the Christian faith when it occurs.

        Hard-core cults involve “cult of personality” but also usually involve loss of physical personal freedom and time, such that a devotee is kept too busy to think. There are also usually restrictions on language, diet, associates, family members and usually devotees must donate so much to the cult that they are not free to leave. These things can be found on the edges of mainstream cultures and this phenomenon is a very old one. Many countries have them, not just the United States.

  • Magnus

    Every single characteristic you mentioned are the words used by ex-members to describe a self-made group out in MO. The group leader even labels the dissenters as “unsaved grumblers”. If you’re interested in reading actual experiences as an example of these warning signs you can go here. http://faithoncedeliveredtothesaints.blogspot.com/

    • Noelle

      Dear Magnus,
      I noticed your link to the blog I’ve been writing. How ever did you find it? Thank you for helping to raise awareness of cults such as the one I experienced.
      Blessings to you and the other readers here. :)

  • http://plaincatholic.webs.com/ Plain Catholic

    Thank you for this reminder. You have done a stellar job of explaining the cultish characteristics. Plain Catholics have always preferred to function within the local parish instead of forming their own communities as the temptation for such cultish behaviors can emerge far too easily. Even some monastic communities have struggled with this in the present age.

    Your comments re humility are spot on. Permit me to add that humor should never be at the expense of another person. Laughing at oneself is fine. Laughing at another is uncharitable according to the Rule of St. Benedict and the Catechism. We can laugh at ourselves, our own foibles, the animals … but never should we engage in derogatory humor against another human. Admittedly though, political antics makes that a mighty temptation frequently for me and many others :-)

    • midwestlady

      Yes, you have to be careful of this too. Christians need to know each other personally. You can’t be a vigorous converted Catholic Christian in a test tube or a locked room. Fellowship and reaching out to other people is absolutely necessary and there is absolutely nothing wrong with discussion groups, bible studies and fellowship groups. The problem appears ONLY if a person emerges as the focus of the group, freedom is dramatically restricted and privacy is invaded against someone’s will. If that happens, you should stop right there and back away slowly because those are the hallmarks, but up til that point….naw. Don’t be afraid of each other! It’s un-Christian.

  • Jack Davis

    Good grief! America is a cult? Opus Dei is a cult too now? Gimmie a break! I go to church and belong to The Church because I am a terrible sinner, and I need God’s love and mercy in my life, not because I am more holy than anyone else. But I have also volunteered to risk my life for my country – (The USA) not because she is perfect, but knowing all her MANY flaws. And, in doing so, my sacrifices and service have been living examples of the love of Christ! I couldn’t do it. God did it – through me. But if I love my country (flaws and all) and try to make her better, I am just a cultist. Hey just because some other boob “loves” American at the expense of God/neighbor doesn’t mean “America is a cult”! That’s just silly. At least better phraseology could be used, no?

    As with anything else, unstable people can take things the wrong way. People can always take something good, like an Apostolate and ruin it. Remember, Satan loves to make evil out of good things. We triumph when we take evil and make something good out of it. (Think of the love and kindness flowing around Boston right now.) Meanwhile, just because some people take something too far, does not mean that an organization has become an evil cult. (It COULD, but, for example, having closed door meetings doesn’t mean “Oh no a cult, a cult!!”) Common sense, friends. Common sense.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Common sense indeed! And if you read the post again you’ll see that I referred to ‘cult like behaviors’ and said that these types of thought processes and behaviors can creep into a group, but that doesn’t mean they are a full blown cult.

      • Jack Davis

        Fr. I understood that, but when “Augustine” commented, (above) that, “Methinks America is a cult” your wrote back, “Yup”. He did not write, “America (or American’s) exhibit cult-like behaviors”, he said America is a cult and you agreed. With different wording, I may also have been in agreement with you both. I further responded to the comment about Opus Dei being a cult. I would agree that members could exhibit cult-like behaviors there, as they could in any group, but I, again, disagree that they ARE a cult. They are not.

        Lastly, I should have said that I agree with your post overall, and I also found it useful and helpful. I apologize for just picking on those other points without also mentioning that!

        God bless all here!JD

      • Wes

        For such a superficial little blog post this generated a lot vicious comments.

  • Kirk

    I think you described the Legionnaires of Christ. Both clerical and lay units.

  • Blake Helgoth

    Fr.,
    This behavior is obvious in groups like LC and RC, but it doe seem to be the case in some more traditional religious orders. What do you make of practices such as censoring mail, cutting those that leave completely off from the community – even wishing them away in the middle of the night, discerning for you, blind obedience, etc?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Those negative practices are disturbing, and we mustn’t think that a traditional religious order is necessarily free of these problems.

    • midwestlady

      Yes, all those are signs of cult behavior. Traditionally, some cult strategies were used in religious congregations, particularly women’s congregations. And honestly, the mess the LCWR is in is partly due to that very factor. There are long-standing control issues with some of these institutions.
      But again, there are people who seek these things out, and not always necessarily because they have a “vocation.” In the past, we’ve been ignorant about this and have not always sorted out peoples’ motivations very well.

  • Mike

    Thank you, Father, for this timely and helpful post. After a series of experiences in parishes that seemed to care little about either the Faith or the flock, I drifted away from the Church in young adulthood (early 1980s). Various sectarian movements, both non-Catholic and quasi-Catholic such as SSPX, held superficial appeal from time to time. I believe, though, that it was by the grace of God that I was spared fuller indoctrination into such groups. In 2011 I experienced the blessing of reconciliation into full communion with the Church. I now participate in activities including Sunday Mass, weekday Mass, choral programs and Eucharistic Marian devotions in several parishes. I wish I could say my most local parish is as inviting as others in which I participate. However, the reinvigoration of the Faith that started under Bl. John Paul II and has continued through Popes Benedict and Francis has percolated through many parishes in my area and for that I am humbly grateful.

  • kath

    I was involved in the NeoCatechumenal Way for awhile while in Denver, and the reason I left was for exactly the reasons you describe, Father. It’s too bad, because the spirituality was, in fact, quite beautiful.

  • http://sacrapagina.blogspot.com James

    I think you hit the distinction head one when you located the difference in reality. The cult is divorced from reality, lacking real self knowledge. The antidote is humility: knowing that you’re a sinner.

    These form in the Church because people judge sanctity by exterior actions. While someone might celebrate a liturgy by the rubrics, have a successful YouTube ministry, or say the rosary every day, these in and of themselves is not an indicator of holiness. Holiness involves the whole person in and out of sight. Not only that, but it involves one’s whole life, not just a few years of it.

    It can be easy to place one’s faith in an apparently wholly person, and not in Jesus, which when reality comes to light, leads to a crisis in faith.

    • midwestlady

      Yes. This is a huge part of the “personality cult” issue for Catholics. Catholics tend to be passive because they’ve been taught that it’s “holy” and “humble,” but it’s also one of the major causes of the under-developed spiritual lives that are so common among Catholics. It also causes them to “hang everything on appearances,” hoping to learn from osmosis or imitation rather than any other method, which is very ineffective as James notes. He’s correct here.
      There is a marvelous book on this topic called, “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell of the Siena Institute. I recommend it highly, if you can get a copy. They’re a very hot item right now.

  • Nadster

    I was involved witht the LC’s for a number of years as a camp helper, and went to many father-son weekends with them. I witnessed much of this cult-like behavior you write about. They were always tearing down the diocesan priests and bishops for things like communion in the hand and female altar servers. There was an ever-present elitist attitude. The “apostolics” (boys in their schools) were given limited contact with their families, and everything was regulated, right down to how they part their hair. We were told that we needed to get our boys in their school as quickly as possible lest they lose their salvation. When some local bishops supressed them because of their recruiting tactics, the LC response was to portray them as liberal and against Christ. They almost worshipped Fr. Marciel, and of course we found out eventually that he was being protected from public disclosure so his evil deeds could continue. Many men have left the Legion (including most notably Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News) but they still have not reformed.

    • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

      Still have not reformed… Explain, please.

    • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

      BTW, I am neither RC or LC. But your statement “still have not reformed” needs backing up. And be prepared, because I know more than you. Actually, I probably know you, Nadster.

      • midwestlady

        Well, that’s kind of a menacing comment, isn’t it?

      • midwestlady

        BTW, that’s a pretty interesting website you’ve got linked to your screen-name there for a non-LC. Did you think no one would look? That’s a bit dismissive.
        Bit of advice to you, Biltrix: Graduate degrees in Philosophy are not so rare these days. Nor is the little bit of computer savvy that it takes to to click a screen-name and follow up with Google. You are undercutting your point about the properties of LC not being cult-like. Have you noticed? Have a nice day.

        • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

          If I was really worried about people following up, I would not have linked back to my blog. Your point about my comment being kind of menacing is well taken. I could be more tactful and in that respect, you are right, I did not do myself justice. Sorry for any offense. As for undercutting my point, I did not make any statement one way or the other about the properties of LC being cult-like, did I? My point still stands: Nadster made a sweeping statement, that I thought needed to be substantiated, namely, “that they still have not been reformed.” I notice Nadster follows up below. Let’s see what he has to say.

      • Nadster

        Nope. I don’t know you Biltrix, or any of the LC’s on your webpage, so you probably don’t know me. Don’t get me wrong, I have friends in the LC, including priests, seminarians, apostolics and one who was just recently ordained. I personally never met an LC priest who was not authentically holy and on fire for evangelization. I did however, witness behavior and patterns that Fr. Longenecker described. For example, when the dioceses were instituting strict codes for child protection in response to the sex abuse scandal, the LC’s pushed back because, well, they were just above that and no LC would ever abuse a child. Then Maciel happened. He has been called the worst abuser of the 20th century, and he is the founder of the LC! For years I defended the LC against attacks, with the same mantra that it was just liberal bishops that were mad at the LC because they were getting all the vocations instead of the dioceses. The LC lied to its priests and members for years, and whistle blowers were routinely labeled as “liberals” or too weak to live up to the LC life.

        • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

          Thanks for responding, Nadster, and since I got called out on it by the Midwestlady, I’ll admit that my comment was provocative.

          I’m not disagreeing with anything you just said. However, that the LC still has not been reformed is where I must beg to differ. What you said is actually a very broad statement. They are currently undergoing a revision process, which is very involved and complicated. How much do you know about that process, it’s progress, it’s status, it’s results as of yet? There is certainly a lot of information one could find online, but how much do you really know for certain about the extent of their “reform”?

          That statement alone is what I took issue with. If we want to be honest, we have to be fair minded and not judge in areas where we are not really in a position to judge. I too am friends with many Legionaries of Christ. I also recognize the injustices caused by their MO in dealing with criticism and not being completely forward and open about many things. And I made no statement about whether some of their behavior was cultish. Here is what concerns me.

          The congregation’s revision was mandated by the Pope. He placed his own superior over the order to supervise that revision. All members of the congregation are earnestly involved with the process of revision in obedience to the Pope and his delegate. We can’t make judgments about the extent of everyone’s cooperation unless we can state verifiable to back up our claims — you have not done that.

          I’m sure you would agree that many LC’s are not just well intentioned but that they see it as a part of their vocation as professed members of the congregation to work with the Church in carrying out their reform. From what I’ve observed, the revision is going well, positive changes have been made and still are being made, most of the priests and professed brothers are satisfied with the results so far and how things are looking for the future. They still have a long road ahead of them.

          When you don’t take that in to consideration say things that make it sound like they are resisting reform where it is needed, your statements are not properly informed and they are not honest, whether you intend it that way or not.

          I can understand someone having given up on the LC and I respect that choice, given the objective reasons for feeling that way. I also understand people wanting to speak out about the injustices you mention. I can even understand someone wanting to denounce them and I sympathize with your reasons for calling them cultish. However, your comment about their reform is not only insubstantial but also misleading, unless you have something further to add.

          • Sandy

            I posted this below, but realized after I should have hit “reply” on this comment.
            I am doubtful of Legion reform when I read letter like this, by Fr Byrne, still in the Legion, and still crying out for reform. I suspect he has a better sense of the reform than you.
            http://irishmexican43.blogspot.ca/2013/04/fr-peter-bryne-lc-decries-same-old.html

          • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

            We are certainly going to continue to see conflict and fallout and slowness of progress as the reform continues, Sandy, because it is a complex situation (that’s why the Vatican got involved). This does not mean that there has been no reform. On the contrary, the conflict and fallout is evidence that people and things are no longer being swept under the rug quietly. It is not as though all the other Legionaries are being kept in the dark regarding Fr Peter’s making things public. One could see all this as part of the reform too. And I sympathize strongly with Fr Peter. I also like to encourage patience.

            Keep in mind that it has been less than three years since the Papal Delegate was appointed over the congregation. Some people have already made up their minds about something that is going to take years to unfold. I’ve seen a lot of good progress so far and I think we will continue to see more in the future, and most probably there will also be more setbacks along the way. The revision process is not near over, so why should we act as though everything should already be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction?

            In other words, Yes you can expect to see problems continuing to rise to the surface, because there are many things that still need to be improved, and we’ll know about what those things are as they occur, or else perhaps we won’t when they are dealt with properly in the first place. If Fr Peter continues with the Legion, it is because he is concerned with its reform — I see that as a good thing, don’t you?

    • midwestlady

      Yeah, when you hear that if you don’t do something rather personal against your will lest you “lose your salvation” or “lose your soul” or “lose your potential,” it’s time not to walk, but to run. This is the same line that cults use the world over, whether they’re Christian or not.

      • Nadster

        We were told that the “best place” for our son was in one of their schools halfway across the country, and that we needed to get him there at age 12 or 13, because if we waited until he was 18 he would already be “in the world”. Mind you, our son was home-schooled at the time. Not exactly living a life of sin. Many young men are drawn to the Legion because they are easy to look up to and admirable. Boys naturally like the militaristic style and “warriors for Christ” mentality, and rightly so. However, real discernment of a vocation is deeper than that. The church knows from experience what happens when men are shipped off to seminaries at the will of their parents. Many abusers were never meant to be priests.

  • Nadster

    I am curious Fr. Longenecker, what do you think about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church? He has many of the signs you explain, especially the way they treat dissenters.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I am not familiar with Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church.

      • Nadster

        Mars Hill is one of the protestant “mega-churches” and is based in Seattle. The kind of place where you get a latte’ and sit in a comfy auditorium and listen to rock bands for Sunday morning worship. Mark Driscoll is a well-known Gen-X preacher, and has said some pretty controversial stuff. For example, he claims that the Song of Songs gives permission for oral sex in marriage. He continually bashes Catholics, and claims that St. Patrick was protestant. I have read that when folks in his inner circle disagree with him, they are given weird punishments and he is very legalistic that way.

        • Joaco

          Sounds like the only opinion about him should be “stay away from reading that”!?

  • Proteios1

    Modern atheism is a cult. Not content with dismissing God as nonexistent, they have mocked, ridiculed, and chased Christianity out of the public square.

    • Michael

      Nonsense. Didn’t you read Fr. Longenecker’s rather good definition of a cult.

    • midwestlady

      No, actually they’re not. They’re wrong, but they’re not a cult. Atheists in general don’t have cult characteristics.
      Now, that said, perhaps there is some cult within some group of people who claim to be atheists that I don’t know about, but that’s a different subject. Atheists qua atheists aren’t a cult. They don’t have properties that fit the definition.

  • Mom0f8

    Following false apparitions or ones that are not yet approved is also cult-like behavior.. And that seems to be increasing….

    • midwestlady

      It can be, but it wouldn’t have to be. Maybe it would be more quasi-cult-like in some cases? It depends on exactly what’s going on. Genuine cult-like behavior is almost always pretty well-defined and well-crafted. The techniques used are designed to obtain certain results, and with people who have susceptible personality characteristics–and there are quite a few people like that–these techniques are very effective. Getting your own cult is quite a racket if you’re a big enough monster to do it and do it well. Of course, it’s enormously immoral. Luckily, it’s also relatively rare in most modern societies including this one.

  • Ann

    Thank you for this article. I didn’t realize it until now, but there was a parish I belonged to a while ago where the people seemed to fit this kind of cult mentality. They gravitated around the sole always-smiling parish priest (who was never moved around the diocese since he was the only priest at the parish) and portrayed some kind of theater “charismatic” theology where community came first and God appeared to come second. I never felt welcomed there, and it took me a while to get used to real charismatic prayer; however, the priest later left the Church and the parish might have improved since I last saw it. How should I react if I ever encounter this situation again?

    • midwestlady

      Run.

  • http://academic.mu.edu/phil/kainzh/ Howard Kainz

    According to my etymological dictionary, “humor” is related not to the Latin “humus” but to the Latin “humidus” and “humere,” which signify moisture and getting wet. Perhaps the phrase, “you’re all wet,” would be an appropriate response for humor that misfires.

  • Brad

    Opus Dei is not a cult. Its founder is a canonized saint. The Vatican does not suppress Opus Dei. What more do people want?

    • Steve

      Frightening-
      I mean not to address these abuses of people who have left Opus Dei that is,
      all over the world there are the same complaints – apparently thousands of them.

  • Maria

    Two words: Neocatechumenal Way. Thank goodness my husband got out before it was too late.

  • S.

    You have described our government in the U.S.. It is interesting that many in the comments boxes have describe these as being traits in certain new movements that the past and present pontificates have praised. Are these not also just signs of growing pains within new religious movements that are also bearing good fruit?

    • midwestlady

      Yeah, be careful. Some of these new movements are scary, and some of them do have cult properties, although they’re not always fully developed. Catholics are generally very naive on these subjects and stumble into trouble sometimes, and that includes the people who design some of these things to have cult properties out of mistaken loyalty or desperation to control situations or avoid losing adherents. In the Catholic Church, there is generally a hunger for order too, which affects Catholics who feel that they’re missing something or that they’ve lost something or that someone is “doing something to them” to disrupt their religious ideas. There is a lot of pressure to be “successful” if a person gets into this area of religious activity and it can drive some interesting things.

  • Skittle

    Thank you for this little epiphany. I’m my parish’s group of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), we’ve been struggling with the very clear direction that we should always rotate who is the chairperson every year, with the explicit reason being given that ideally everyone (or nearly everyone) ends up being chair at least once.

    We struggle with this because we forgot to do it, and now we’ve all settled in to this one kind old man running stuff mostly, while we just do our visits as seems to work, and occassionally attend meetings. I’d assumed the rule was to help sustain the group, beyond the useful work of one person, but I can also see now that if things had been a little different, our large, close-knit group could have easily become cult-like.

    Presumably, a rotating chair reduces the risk of cult-like behaviour a little.

    • midwestlady

      Exactly. In a fellowship or charity group that’s genuinely Christian, there is some privacy, a notable lack of force and people can take turns, as you say. Working with other Christians and associating with other Christians is very important and we cannot lose this. What you describe is one possible variation of how it should look, yes.

  • Dan

    But calling “cult” can also further alienate a group or person already out of the mainstream. Would you consider the SSPX a cult or exhibiting cultish behaviour?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The post is more concerned with pointing out cult-like behavior than naming any particular group a “cult”. Some people and groups of SSPX may behave that way. I’m not close enough to them to know.

  • Father Canu

    “Real religion is … humble” and that’s why I am safe from cults: humility is my greatest virtue! (“Real religion always knows how to have a laugh.”)

  • http://jenniferfitz.wordpress.com Jennifer Fitz

    ” Dissent and criticism is not permitted. Those who dissent will be marginalized, excluded from decision making and demonized . . .”

    This particular trait makes me so grateful for the gift of incompetence, which makes a relatively common failing (the temptation to demonize and ostracize critics) into a much less harmful trait than if it were paired with the ability to pull off the other cultlike behaviors. Still very harmful. But not as bad as it could be.

    Every time I’m tempted to get irritated at the complainers in my corner of the world, I remind myself what a gift they are. (Fortunately I haven’t got enough other cult-favorable attributes, so even if I were chronically resentful of complainers, the risks are low. Whew — one bullet dodged, all the rest to go.)

  • Jennifer Evancho

    Thank you FR! Especially the cure (parish that you are assigned), one I intuited because my lack of humility makes me vulnerable to cultish behavior. I dare say another cure is actively seeking Christ in the poor, imprisoned, etc. The Pope has been clear our faith corrupts if not spread.

  • happytobeout

    God bless you, Father. If I had read something like this in the 80′s it would have prevented me from participating in the Sword of the Spirit, an ecumencial, primarily Catholic, charismatic covenant community headquartered in Ann Arbor. All the characteristics were present and when a group of leaders from our smaller community wrote a letter to the “coordinators” (three of whom were priests), the third trait kicked in with a vengence.

  • http://Google Aiden

    Thank you so much for this, Father: “A third trait of a cult is that complete loyalty is demanded of the followers. Dissent and criticism is not permitted. Those who dissent will be marginalized, excluded from decision making and demonized.”
    My pastor will not allow any discussion on pertinent matters like inter-communion with our Christian sisters and brothers and those that dare speak about the ordination of women are not only excluded from the decision making forum but, as you say, demonised. Typical cult activity. I will print out this post and give it to my pastor. Perhaps he will listen to a fellow priest if he will not listen to the people of God.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Dissent on some issues is pointless because a proper decision by the rightful authorities has already been made. Your local pastor has no authority to allow inter communion or the ordination of women because this has been decided by the universal church. Complete and unquestioning loyalty on all matters is different from properly expected obedience.

    • midwestlady

      Well, you see, this is different. You are not being coerced forcibly, cult-style. You are merely being informed of what the norms for your religious group are. As long as you do not have restrictions on your food intake, associates, time and activities for more than about 15 hours a day, you’re probably not in a cult. As long as you have to go down there and they don’t come looking for you, you’re almost certainly not in a cult. These are the hallmarks.

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  • Jose Tomas

    Twenty years ago, anyone who dared to call attention to the problems with the Legionnaires of Christ was immediately labeled as an enemy of the Church. Its problems were pointed to for decades by ex-members, while the Vatican looked the other way, until Cardinal Ratzinger, with great energy and courage, decided to fight against the protection they had from powerful Vatican allies (Sodano & al.)

    If it were not for the courage of Benedict, the Church could now be in the terrible situation of seeing a canonization process going on for Maciel.

    The LC was very good at “looking perfect”, as Fr. Longenecker would say, to the point of misleading even Blessed John Paul, who said of Maciel that he was a model for youth. The rest is history, Maciel was sent to the desert and the Vatican called for an overhaul of the LC.

    This shows that “Church Approval” is not a guarantee of holiness, orthodoxy or whatever. The Church is a big tent. Let us not forget that the LCWR is also a “Church Approved” body.

    This also should teach us to beware “apparent” holiness in the Church. That the LC acted institutionally as a cult is an established fact, it is not a matter of opinion. And, it was not the case of attributing its faults to individual leaders, which was the limit that most people in the past, who went so far as to concede that something there was wrong, were willing to go.

    With that in mind, I would say that we should not vilify people who point to problems in other Church bodies. The people abused by Maciel and the LC were doubly abused, because, when they spoke up, they were labeled heretics, church enemies, liars etc.

    This is to say this: the accusations of ex-members to the problems and cult-like institutional behaviors in Opus Dei should not be dismissed lightly. In fact, there is credible evidence that many of the LC bad practices were actually copied from Opus Dei.

    The problem is that most of the discussion regarding Opus Dei is in Spanish, specifically at Opuslibros.org (http://www.opuslibros.org/nuevaweb/index.php), the website where ex-members share their (mostly bad) experiences in Opus Dei. Anyone who did not study its contents and goes on to outright dismiss criticism to Opus Dei is, in my opinion, being either naïve or irresponsible. LC destroyed many lives, as so does Opus Dei, so that saying “nah” to credible accusations contributes to maintain thing as they are and let these institution go on damaging people.

    Of course Opus Dei “appears” perfect. So did LC. Its founder was canonized. So was St. Dismas.

    The number one problem with Opus Dei (and LC) is that they violate the CIC in several canons, having an internal practice which goes against the Decree “QUEMADMODUM” of 17-XII-1890. This deals with the problem of the separation between Government and Spiritual Direction. Here is a link to an article that sums up the problem very well (this particular article includes links to French, Italian and German translations; unfortunately, no English so far): http://www.opuslibros.org/libros/oraculo/libertas.htm

    And, this is not something that “some misguided leaders” do. It is institutional. Benedict rebuked the OD Prelate for this (to no avail, sad to say). These unlawful practices are explicitly mandated in OD’s internal secret documents. Don’t take my word for it, read them yourselves. BTW, Opus Dei acknowledged their authenticity when they sued opusdei.org for publishing these leaked documents, citing “Author Rights”:

    http://www.opus-info.org/index.php?title=Los_documentos_secretos_del_Opus_Dei

    Our beloved Church does not need these kinds of abuses. Many people lost their faith after being victims of these kinds of behaviors. May God forgive us all and direct the Church’s path to real holiness.

    • Wes

      Have you ever thought about the meaning of your point about “it’s all in Spanish”….if the Work were so heinous why not complaints and sites I all the languages where the Work is?

      • Jose Tomas

        This is a fair question, Wes.

        In fact, the ARE those sites you mention. Just do a quick Google search and you will find several ones in many different languages, including English.

        The problem is that the cultish-secretive way in which Opus Dei operates, as any other cultish organizations, means that only people who were inside it (and, even then, not all of them) were exposed to the not-so-orthodox teachings and practices. For an organization which depends on the endorsement of the Church to survive, exquisite orthodoxy to be shown “coram populo” is a “sine qua non”.

        Since, in Opus Dei, Spanish is the official language, every single Opus Dei numerary member must learn Spanish. All internal communication, internal documents, internal magazines etc. are in Spanish. In fact, we who were not Spanish native speakers had Spanish classes in our initial formation. Besides, Opus Dei was not only founded in Spain, but also more that 50% of its numeraries are / were Spanish citizens. And most of the rest are from Latin America, especially Mexico and Argentina. So, it is easy to understand that the website in Spain where the discussion occurs in Spanish is the natural place for discussions among ex-members to gather critical mass. In fact, opuslibros.org has not only an amazing number (several hundred) of critical, detailed personal testimonies from ex-members (most in the form of short autobiographies, but also many long, heart-rendering, personal accounts), but also a huge number of mind-blowing expert commentary and discussion on Opus Dei’s history, theology, anthropology and application of canon law. Several Opus Dei ex-members are top tier professional theologians, philosophers, sociologists and canon lawyers. Once upon a time, Opus Dei had the reputation of attracting top talent. Their problem is that, when these people leave, their talent goes out with them. In fact, the discussion in the website resulted in more than one scholarly work, and some others are being elaborated at this moment. A couple of e-books focusing in one or another specific issues were also published and are available for Amazon Kindle (in Spanish).

        Opuslibros is primarily a support group for ex-members, so there is no other language in which it would be more natural to flourish.

        Also, let us not forget that the secret documents are all in Spanish. Any serious, scholarly discussion of Opus Dei without reference to these documents is limited at best. The only exception, amazingly, are its Statutes, which are in Latin and NOT available for the members to read (this may have changed in recent years, but I am afraid not). The Statutes were the ONLY document submitted for approval to the Holy See, and have very little in common with the everyday praxis, which is ruled by the aforementioned secret documents. The intention is clear: the Holy See could not be presented with documents which include practices that were several times rejected and condemned by the Church in the most clear terms. So, the Statutes are very “light” and “orthodox”. But they were not translated into Spanish (or any other language, for that matter), lest their members discover that what their directors command them to do has very little in common with what was actually approved by the Church.

        All of us ex-members are trying – in the first place – to figure out and make sense of what happened to us, our lives, and our relationship to God and His Church. So, it is natural that we gather in the place where the greatest number and the best and most experienced ex-member brains are.

        Hope this helps.

        • Sue

          Thank you, Jose Thomas, for your thorough and well-written response. I have recently been involved with a non-profit group consisting of ex-cult members from a various religions called ICSA. The link to their website can be found here http://icsahome.com/. The focus this year at their annual conference is cultic aberrations within the Catholic Church and there will be ex-members of the Legionaries of Christ and Opus Dei providing information about these groups and the support networks in place for ex-members. As someone who is heartbroken over my sibling’s involvement in Opus Dei and the resulting damage it has caused in their lives, my hope and prayer is that one day, Opus Dei may be exposed for what it truly is and that the Church will have the courage to take corrective actions.

          • Jose Tomas

            Thank you, Sue.

            The peculiar think about “Catholic cults” is that we need to differentiate them from the Catholic Church itself. Mixing both is an error committed by both the cults themselves and many of their critics. They say “If you criticize us, you are an enemy of the Church”. And, unfortunately, many critics mean exactly that (think Dan Brown).

            In fact, the problem with Opus Dei and Escrivá is that he confounded Opus Dei with the Church. More than that, he claimed for himself an infallibility that the Church has never claimed for the Pope. While Papal Infallibility is claimed only under very strict conditions, Escrivá claimed that effectively everything that came out of his mouth was “The Will of God”, even the most mundane government decisions, and worse, that this infallibility extended also to every single director in “The Work”. And while the Church admits her sins and asks forgiveness for them, Opus Dei is believed by its members as indefectible, and never ever asks forgiveness for anything. A good discussion of this trait is presented in the e-book “El Opus Dei como revelacion divina” (http://www.amazon.com/Opus-como-revelacion-divina-consecuencias/dp/1480032492).

            Escrivá famously threatened with Hell every person who dared to leave Opus Dei (the infamous “Maldición del Rejalgar”), and this was not restricted to “professed” members, but to all people who entered it, including minors. BTW, there is no discernment period in Opus Dei (nor any kind of personal discernment). The directors tell a young boy / girl that “God is calling you to Opus Dei” and that person is threatened with Hell if he / she refuses to enter. Then, from day one, you are told that “if you leave the Work, you will lead a miserable life and eventually probably go to Hell.” His successor, Alvaro del Portillo (also in canonization process) called “Judas” every person who dared to leave Opus Dei. Some things he (Escrivá) frequently said:

            “No doy un céntimo por el alma de un hijo mío que abandone su vocación [a la Obra].”

            “Prefiero que me digan de un hijo mío que se ha muerto antes de que me digan que ha dejado la Obra.”

            “El que deja la Obra, además de perder su felicidad temporal, muy posiblemente también pierda la eterna.”

            Well, it seems to me that these ideas, if not outright heretical, are very dangerously close to it. They deny God’s Mercy and, to me, sound like a “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost”. And, of course, they are a blatant lie (most people who leave Opus Dei REGAIN their temporal happiness, not the other way around). And, for an organization where an average of 80% who enter eventually leave, they should be doing some soul-searching to ask if there is something wrong.

            BTW, when you enter Opus Dei as a numerary, you are not told about the successive commitments, which were copied from the Religious with changed names (Petition of Admission = Postulant / Admission = Novice / Oblation = Temporary Profession / Fidelity = Perpetual Profession). If asked about them, the directors tell you that this is something required by the Holy See, but “your vocation is eternal, and it is a grave sin to doubt it”, and that since day one. If pressed, they will tell you that these dispositions are there as a means for THEM to discern YOUR vocation (they can oust you out if they conclude that you are not “idoneous”).

            And, Sue, the fact is that Opus Dei is already as exposed as can be, if only anyone who can read Spanish cares to study the whole thing. Dozens of canonical complaints were logged with the Vatican, but most of them were lost in its mazes, just like what happened with Maciel and LC for decades. But I have Faith that their time will come.

            I will pray for our loved ones affected by Opus Dei.

  • Grtgrandpa

    I live in Utah with the Mormons. Cult? Yes…They have the Book of Mormon which they consider superior to the Bible. They have many tenents that are similiar to Islam, and many other beliefs that are strange and anti-Christian. They appear on the outside as people of Christian belief (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). However, their Jesus that alledgely appeared to Joseph Smith in their Prophet’s (Hinckley 1996 Speech) words is a totally different Jesus than the Jesus of Nazarath.
    One way to expose a cult is to see if they are offended by the Crucifix. Mormons are confused by the Crucifix, and do not display it. Neither do the Russellites, the Jehova Witnesses. Beware of false teachings, your very salvation is at hand.
    Our guide is 1 John 4:2-3: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: ‘Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:’ And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this spirit is of anti-christ, whereof ye have heard that is should come; and even now is already in the world.”

    • midwestlady

      This actually isn’t always a fool-proof method although it is effective sometimes, yes. It depends on what the ideology of the cult is.

  • Gem

    We are free to go to any Parish, Instittution, Religious house and participate in Holy Mass. However, one has to be inducted by a NeoCatechumenate into a particular community and only then allowed to participate in Mass or prayer services. The NeoCatechumenate Mass is differently celebrated – Offertory Gifts, Consecration, Holy Communion. Even the hymns are totally different and unavailable to any “outsider”. Also, they are not supposed to have a website. They seem to be clannish and secretive. Surely, they are cultish?

    • midwestlady

      Cultish, maybe. But as long as you can walk away without them chasing you, you’re probably not in a cult. I’d simply change parishes if I were you. Easy-peasy.

      • Gem

        Actually, I have not joined them, but am attending their 5 Sundays in Eastertide open-air 1-hour Catechesis in Bombay, India, in conjunction with those “taking place in 10,000 places all round the world” “…to help us to come to faith” In this Year Of Faith, I thought of enhancing my faith by participating in faith-enriching experiences. In Bombay, the Neo-Catechumenates do not have exclusive parishes, but are part of a few parishes. My issue is the sort of total lack of transparency – or is that my perception?? Fr. L. would you perhaps clarify?

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  • xenubarb

    The term “cult” was once interchangeable with “sect.” Now, the modern definition of “cult” has come to mean something a bit more sinister than a unique belief system. There is an academic definition of ‘cult’ that includes a list of behaviors all cults utilize. You may find it interesting to learn that there are non-religious cults as well. I read a book comparing Amway with Scientology. Yes, Amway is a commercial cult!
    Wikipedia has an excellent article on the evolution and history of the word “cult” and its significance today.

    If the word is used differently within Catholicism, then the sociological definition would not apply. Long story short; they create enemies to foster a siege mentality, they use fearmongering and oppression to control their members. Members are subjected to micromanaging of their lives, they are conditioned to cheer the cult when fortunate, and blame themselves for failure.

    L. Ron Hubbard, for example, wrote millions of words in bulletins that directed followers on every aspect of life’s experiences and how to perceive them the Right Way, which is of course Ron’s Way.

    Like Heaven’s Gate (the Nike and comet people) Scientology is not rooted in any religious history. It is rather a cafeteria tray of nuggets Hubbard picked through, cobbling together a weird web of science fiction, eastern philosophy, a little Aleister Crowley and black magic, and a whole lot of “I can sure type fast when I inject cocaine” material.

    At this point in time, Scientology has peaked and is on the decline. They are the quintessential specimen of a modern cult; one of the key attributes being a charismatic living leader. Hubbard died in 1986 and, as the current leader has slowly shifted attention away from Hubbard and more towards himself, the allure has faded. Too, the current leader’s emphasis on extracting donations from followers for projects other than personal advancement is driving even the old time true believers away.
    Like being present at the birth of a star, it is a rare opportunity to observe the decline and fall of a fairly once-powerful organization. They beat the IRS. They orchestrated the largest domestic espionage case in US history. (Operation Snow White) They amassed a fortune in tax-free income, thanks to the religious cloaking device employed in the 60s. Scientology started out as a self help therapy. Hubbard quickly realized the benefits of becoming a religion.

  • Michael Lee

    Fr. Dwight – Thank you for articulating this so clearly. I “escaped” along with 3 others from a group bearing all of these characteristics just a few months ago. It is a public association of the faithful which uses all the trappings of a religious community. The bishop of the diocese in which it operates had no idea what was really going on there until we left and made written reports to him. I still shake my head that I could have been so easily duped; but it does happen. I am on a crusade as it were to get people to work through their diocesan vocation offices PRIOR to going on any sort of discernment visit with any communities; most especially with any new and/or relatively unknown such communities.

  • Jacob

    Father, have cults murderd fifty million babies?

    Maybe you should tackle abortion before you worry about cults, just saying.. You are Roman Catholic right?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I write plenty of pro life posts.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      Because you happen to stop by on a day when Fr. L isn’t writing something pro-life you assume he doesn’t address the issue. And in your own egocentric self righteousness you have the audacity to question the ‘Romaness” faithful Catholic priest?

      Sad.

  • Magnificat

    Every single member of the Neocatechumenal Way behaves like that. Creepy indeed.

  • C.

    Here is a great blog post hijacked by the personal agendas of the commenters to attack their enemies in current controversies. I was planning to distribute the link, now I’m not so sure.

  • Sandy

    For biltrix – I am doubtful of Legion reform when I read letter like this, by Fr Byrne, still in the Legion, and still crying out for reform. I suspect he has a better sense of the reform than you.
    http://irishmexican43.blogspot.ca/2013/04/fr-peter-bryne-lc-decries-same-old.html

    • http://biltrix.com Biltrix

      Hi Sandy. I replied above. But I’ll add here, I sympathize with your doubts, and Yes, Fr Peter, whom I know rather well, probably does have a better sense of the reform than I do. I hope he and his confreres see it through to its completion and finds peace.

  • Jen

    I always wondered if the T.F.P( Tradition,family and property) was a cult.Any one had experience with them that made you wonder if they displayed cult like behavior?

  • Ben Gibran

    Thank you for your informative article on the dangers of cults. Psychological research suggests that, like a vaccine, prior knowledge of the methods and effects of cultic manipulation may help to inoculate against such techniques. With that in mind, I have published a free handbook to raise awareness of the most common forms of psychological manipulation by cults. The handbook may be read or downloaded at http://issuu.com/ben_gibran/docs/the_diy_prison. May I invite you to display the book cover on your blog by saving and uploading the image below? Thank you.

  • John

    Hi, I recently looked into this because of something odd I found. I am not sure if anyone has heard of Morningstar Ministries, but I found a few things I found strange when I attended one day, some claiming stuff about prophecies and prophets.. Their leader, Rick Joyner, having some already being a controversial leader, I just need to know someone else’s opinion on this, if anyone could reply back, thanks.

  • paul

    Palmarian church have u heard about it? Would like to hear what u think, try to understand it from both sides.inside and outside thanks look forward to hearing what u might say


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