New Religious Movements Cults and Sects-two Statements From the Vatican

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APRIL 2011 THE CHALLENGE OF NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS Cardinal Francis Arinze at the Cardinals Meeting, April 5, 1991 in an address to the April 47 consistory at the Vatican; a translation by L'Osservatore Romano of Arinze's Italian-language text follows. 1. The rise and spread of the sects or new religious movements is a marked phenomenon in the religious history of our times. They operate with considerable vitality. Some of them are of an esoteric
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   APRIL 2011  THE CHALLENGE OFNEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS Cardinal Francis Arinze at the Cardinals Meeting, April 5, 1991   in an address to the April 4-7 consistory at the Vatican ; a translation by L'Osservatore Romano of Arinze's Italian-languagetext follows.1. The rise and spread of the sects or new religious movements is a marked phenomenon in thereligious history of our times. They operate with considerable vitality. Some of them are of anesoteric nature. Others srcinate from their own interpretation of the Bible. And many have roots inAsian or African religions, or they combine in a syncretistic way elements from these religions andChristianity.Bishops are often besieged with requests for information and guidance, or they are asked to takesome action regarding this disturbing phenomenon. But in many cases the lack of adequateinformation can lead either to no pastoral action or to overreaction. To stimulate reflection andpastoral planning, may I put before you, venerable fathers, reflection on: terminology; typology of the new religious movements; srcin of the new religious movements and reasons for their spread;problems posed by the new religious movements; pastoral response, general; pastoral response,specific. I. TERMINOLOGY Complex Reality  There is a problem in what terminology to use with reference to the groups under discussion. Thereason is that the reality is in itself complex. The groups vary greatly in srcin, beliefs, size, meansof recruitment, behavior pattern, and attitude toward the Church, other religious groups, andsociety. It is therefore no surprise that there is as yet no agreed name for them. Here are someterms in use. Sects  The word sect would seem to refer more directly to small groups that broke away from a majorreligious group, generally Christian, and that hold deviating beliefs or practices. The word sect is not used in the same sense everywhere. In Latin America, for example, there is atendency to apply the term to all non-Catholic groups, even when these are families of traditionalProtestant churches.But even in Latin America, in circles that are more sensitive to ecumenism, the word sect isreserved for the more extremist or aggressive groups. In Western Europe the word has a negativeconnotation, while in Japan the new religions of Shinto or Buddhist srcin are freely called sects in anon-derogatory sense. New Religious Movements  The term new religious movements is more neutral than that of sects when referring to thesegroups. They are called new not only because they showed themselves in their present form after theSecond World War, but also because they present themselves as alternatives to the institutionalofficial religions and the prevailing culture. They are called religious because they profess to offer avision of the religious or sacred world, or means to reach other objectives such as transcendental  knowledge, spiritual illumination, or self-realization, or because they offer to members theiranswers to fundamental questions. Other Names  These movements or groups are sometimes also called new religions, fringe religions, free religiousmovements, alternative religious movements, marginal religious groups, or (particularly in English-speaking areas) cults . What Terminology Should Be Adopted? Since there is no universally accepted terminology, effort should be made to adopt a term which isas fair and precise as possible. In this presentation, therefore, I shall generally keep to the term new religious movements (abbreviated NRMs) because it is neutral and general enough toinclude the new movements of Protestant srcin, the sects of Christian background, new Eastern orAfrican movements, and those of the gnostic or esoteric type. II. TYPOLOGY OF THE NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTSTypes With Reference to Christianity With reference to Christianity we can distinguish new movements coming from the Protestantreform, sects with Christian roots but with considerable doctrinal differences, movements derivedfrom other religions, and movements stemming from humanitarian or so-called humanpotential backgrounds (such as New Age and religious therapeutic groups ), or from divinepotential movements found particularly in Eastern religious traditions.Different are NRMs which are born through contact between universal religions and primal religiouscultures. Types With Reference to Background Knowledge System Four types can be distinguished. There are movements based on Holy Scripture. These are therefore Christian or they are derivedfrom Christianity.A second group of NRMs are those derived from other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism ortraditional religions. Some of them assume in a syncretistic way elements coming from Christianity.A third group of sects shows signs of a decomposition of the genuine idea of religion and of a returnof paganism.A fourth set of sects are gnostic. Is There a Common Denominator Among These NRMs ?In an effort to find a common denominator, the sects have been defined as religious groups with adistinctive world view of their own derived from, but not identical with, the teachings of a majorworld religion.  This definition, of a phenomenological type, is only partially correct. It does not seem to includemovements that derive from humanistic, paganizing, or gnostic backgrounds, movements whichsome sociologists prefer to call new magical movements. Moreover, such a definition leaves out any value judgment on the teachings, on the moral behaviorof the NRMs' founders and their followers, and on their relationship with society.From the doctrinal point of view, the NRMs which operate in traditionally Christian regions can belocated in four categories insofar as they distance themselves from the Christian vision of theworld:those that reject the Church, those that reject Christ, those that reject the role of God (and yetmaintain a generic sense of religion ), and those that reject the role of religion (and maintain asense of the sacred, but manipulated by man to acquire power over others or the cosmos).Social reaction against the NRMs is based in general not so much on their doctrine as on theirbehavior pattern and their relationship with society.One, however, should not engage in a blanket condemnation or generalization by applying to allthe NRMs the more negative attitudes of some. Nor should the NRMs be judged incapable of evolution in the positive sense.NRMs of Protestant srcin provoke diverse reactions because of their aggressive proselytism whichdenigrates the Catholic Church, or because of their expansionistic programs and their use of themass media in a way that looks like commercialization of religion.  In spite of the diversity of the NRMs and of local situations, they all raise one main pastoral problemwhich is the vulnerability of the faithful to proposals which are contrary to the formation they havereceived. The phenomenon of the sects poses a serious problem of discernment for the pastors of theChurch. It is not every spirit, my dear people, that you can trust, says the beloved apostle John. Test them, to see if they come from God; there are many false prophets now, in the world (1 John4:1). III. ORIGINS OF THE NRMS AND REASONS FOR THEIR SPREADExistence of Spiritual Needs  The NRMs indicate that there are spiritual needs which have not been identified, or which theChurch and other religious institutions have either not perceived or not succeeded in meeting. Cultural Identity Search  The NRMs can arise or attract because people are searching for meaning when they are feeling lostin a period of cultural change. Filling a Void Many Christians join the sects or NRMs because they feel that in them there is an answer to theirthirst for Scripture reading, singing, dancing, emotional satisfaction, and concrete and clearanswers. Seeking Answers to Vital Questions  There are people, for example in Africa, who seek in religion an answer to, and a protectionagainst, witchcraft, failure, suffering, sickness, and death. The NRMs seem to them to confrontthese existential problems openly and to promise instant remedies, especially physical andpsychological healing. Cashing in on Our Pastoral Weak Points  There are some weak points in the pastoral ministry and the life of Christian communities which theNRMs exploit. Where priests are few and scarce, these movements supply many forceful leadersand evangelists who are trained in a relatively short time. Where the Catholic people are ratherignorant in Catholic doctrine, they bring aggressive biblical fundamentalism. Where there is lukewarmness and indifference of the sons and daughters of the Church who are not up to thelevel of the evangelizing mission, with the weak witness they bear to consistent Christian living (John Paul II: Address to Mexican Bishops, 6, on May 12, 1990, in L'Osservatore Romano , Englishedition, May 14, 1990, p.2), the sects bring infectious dynamism and remarkable commitment.Where genuine Catholic teachings on salvation only in the name of Christ, on the necessity of theChurch, and on the urgency of missionary work and conversion are obscured, the sects makealternative offers.Where parishes are too large and impersonal, they install small communities in which the individualfeels known, appreciated, loved and given a meaningful role. Where lay people or women feelmarginalized, they assign leadership roles to them.Where the sacred liturgy is celebrated in a cold and routine manner, they celebrate religiousservices marked by crowd participation, punctuated with shouts of alleluia and Jesus is theLord, and interspersed with scriptural phrases.Where inculturation is still in its hesitating stages, the NRMs give an appearance of indigenousreligious groups which seem to the people to be locally rooted.Where homilies are intellectually above the heads of the people, the NRMs urge personalcommitment to Jesus Christ and strict and literal adherence to the Bible.Where the Church seems presented too much as an institution marked by structures and hierarchy,the NRMs stress personal relationship with God.Not all such methods deserve to be frowned upon. The dynamism of their missionary drive, theevangelistic responsibility assigned to the new converts, their use of the mass media, and theirsetting of the objectives to be attained, should make us ask ourselves questions as to how to makemore dynamic the missionary activity of the Church.   There are methods used by some NRMs which are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel becausethese methods do not respect human freedom of conscience sufficiently.Of course, it is not enough to condemn these methods. It is also necessary to prepare pastoralgroups which are to inform and form the faithful, and also to help the young people and thefamilies that find themselves caught up in these tragic situations. Action of the Devil We should not exclude, among explanations of the rise and spread of the sects or NRMs, the actionof the Devil, even if this action is unknown to the people involved. The Devil is the enemy who sowsdarnel among the wheat when the people are asleep. Worldwide Phenomenon In the United States of America they have flourished from the last century and especially in the lastforty years. They come mostly from Protestantism, but also from Eastern religions and from fusionof religious and psychological elements.From the United States they are exported to Latin America, South Africa, the Philippines, andEurope.In Latin America the NRMs are largely of Christian srcin and are generally aggressive and negativetoward the Catholic Church, whose apostolate they often denigrate. The same remarks can bemade about the Philippines.In Africa the rise of the NRMs has more to do with the post-colonial political, cultural, and socialcrisis, and with questions of inculturation and the African desire for healing and help to face life'sproblems.In Asia the NRMs of local srcin do not seem to be a major menace in countries where Christiansare a minority except that they are exported to Europe and the Americas where they attractpeople, including intellectuals, with their syncretistic and esoteric offers of relaxation, peace, andillumination.In Europe the crisis of a highly secularized technological society that suffers the fragmentation of aculture that no longer has widely shared values and beliefs favors the sects or NRMs that comefrom the United States or the East.  IV. PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES POSED BY THE NRMSUnity of the Church  The NRMs pull Catholics away from the unity and communion of the Church. This communion isbased on the unity of faith, hope, and love received in baptism. It is nourished by the sacraments,the word of God, and Christian service. Ecumenism It is important to keep clearly in view the distinction between sects and new religious movementson the one hand, and churches and ecclesial communities on the other. The distinction between ecumenical relations and dealings between the Catholic Church and thesects must therefore be carefully considered in this context. Undermining and Denial of the Faith Some sects or NRMs either undermine major articles of the Catholic faith or practically deny them. They propose a man-made religious community rather than the Church instituted by the Son of God. Abandonment of the Faith In more extreme cases, Christians can be led to abandon their faith through the activity of theNRMs. Some movements promote a type of neopaganism, a putting of self instead of God at thecenter of worship, and a claim to extraordinary knowledge which regards itself as above allreligions. Other NRMs engage in occultism, magic, spiritism, and even devil worship. Atheism and Non-Belief  Some NRMs, especially those that put heavy pressure on the human person, can pave the way foratheism. Proselytism
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