Questions to facilitate the understanding:

  • generation: Does the Community encourage its postulants to complete their studies, and do they try to recruit those who already have experience in life? or, on the contrary, does the Community give priority to recruiting the maximum of young people as of the age of 18 years, with minimum training and starting off their adult life.?
  • money: Are the accounts of the Community public?  Is the Commmunity transparent concerning its legal organisation and financial management?
  • power: Are decisions made after consultation and deliberation of its members, or taken solely by the Superior or Founder, who makes a decision without consultation of members? Or by a management body that has been co-opted and not elected?
  • communication: Are the rules and the constitutions of the Community freely accessible? Are they respected?
  • statutes: Is there confusion between the different statutes: priesthood, married couples and lay people, by imposing the same communal life, the same obedience?
  • legal situation: does the Community respect the laws of the country in which they  are: concerning social contributions, the right to health care, confidential medical information.  Is there abuse of authority?
  • Ideology: Is there permanent reference to the thoughts and writings of the founder?  His/her thoughts – no matter how fair, are they diffused repeatedly and with insistence,  to the detriment of all other teaching or internal debate?  Do these thoughts inhibit any individual reflection of the members of the Community?
  • Vocabulary: Does the Community use its own specific vocabulary, which is comprehensive only to its members?  Has it created its own jargon?
  • Common sense:  Have there been scandals or dubious affairs concerning this Community, or its members, reported in the press, or known to those familiar with the Community?
  • Humility: Does the Community, or its members, tend to present itself as an elitist group, the salt of the earth, the sole holders of truth, and to demonise or minimise all others?  Do they threaten damnation on all those who leave or reject the Community?

In asking these questions it should help to be more familiar with the internal running of the Community, and to moderate initial enthusiasm.  In that way we can avoid having the lives of young people spoilt by taking decisions which may be too impulsive.

Some Criteria for Discernment

How does power operate?

Who has power?
Who administered it to the leader?
How much scope has he/she? (Does it intrude on the individual conscience?)
Is it controlled? If so, in what way?
This sectarian drift is called oppression.

How does information circulate?

Who is the holder of information within the group/cult?
What are the rights of the individuals to express themselves?
Is the leader the only person who ‘knows’?
Do they always know better than others?  Do they always believe only they are right?  Do they feel they have a mission to teach other groups (Church, for example)?
These drifts are called sufficiency and indoctrination.

How are their assets managed?

Where do they get their money? Who controls it? Where does it go?
Has the adherent the means to live if he/she leaves the community/cult?
This drift is called exploitation.

How do the relationships work?

  • Within the group (freedom of exchange among the members, and the respect of their differences)?
  • Interaction with other groups (ecclesiastical, for example)?
  • Do they believe they are self sufficient, centred on their own development?
  • This drift is called lock-in.
Every group, religious or not, could usefully face up to these criteria.

Common Characteristics of Harmful Catholic Groups

The site / supported by ex-legionaries of Christ has retained this presentation of the “common characteristics of harmful groups”. 

We also offer it because it deserves to be well known. J. Paul Lennon has submitted this educational brief formatted like the now classic Langone-Lalich List of Cult Characteristics and on his research for I.C.S.A. Philadelphia Annual Conference July 2018 paper, Brief Overview of Some Harmful Catholic Groups, presently under review for publication.

1. Abusive founder and/or leaders-Leadership, including but not limited to serious criminal sexual abuse of members and followers

2. Manipulative/deceptive/ aggressive recruiting of members (young, idealistic, inexperienced, in life transition…)

3. Unscrupulous fundraising and fraudulent money-management, “financial irregularities”

4. Insufficient or faulty Discernment of calling and life path.5. Foreclosure (Premature major commitments made suddenly or too early, without due deliberation): for example, giving up all earthly belongings, inheritance, going on a faraway mission, rashly embracing celibacy and the priesthood.

6. Isolation from family, friends and previous support system; exclusion of “outsiders” and former members.

7. Systematic Control of Behavior, Information, Thoughts and Emotions

8. Leaders’ excessive authority and influence, demanding blind obedience: they directly represent God and speak in his name. Members put them on a pedestal and want to please.

9. Superiors and or “spiritual directors” tell members whether or not they “have a vocation,” a special call from God from all eternity binding them to this particular lifestyle in this specific group.

10. Trainers/formators/superiors/spiritual directors…
  •  do not explore or respect candidates’ and members’ sexual orientation.
  •  May tell them to remain single or marry, and whom to marry
  •  Want to control when, where and the how a member can leave.

11. Black and White thinking prevails; “no half measures”; with selective scripture quotes to bolster: “He who is not with me is against me.” No room for questioning or doubting.

12. Emphasis on Discipline, with Unreachable Goals of Holiness or Perfection -often fleshed out in a multiplicity of rules- which lead to obsessive-compulsive neurosis,  guilt feelings and low self-esteem. (Naturally, the member is going to fall short).

13. Community Confession and Shaming (“Chapter of Faults”) may be used; public humiliation; leaders harshly criticize members in public, “make an example” of them. Members are expected to snitch on each other.

14. Elitist and Us Vs Them, siege mentality. “We are special, chosen by God”, “others would not understand,” Critics “hate and are out to destroy us, the Catholic priesthood, the Church, His Holiness the pope”

15. Heavy-handed retention: Loss of vocation, sure damnation. Straight to hell! You won’t make it on your own out there. You will fall into serious sin and vices. You are betraying Jesus Turning your back on God!

16. Ostracism, emotional cut-off and despising exiting and former members: “failures,” “unfaithful,” “traitors,” “disgruntled old men,” “envious,” “vengeful”

17. Opponents are harassed, threatened, pursued and even sued in the name of God, Jesus, the Church, the Group, Truth, Charity