Why CESNUR dislikes cult critics  

by Miguel Martinez

TFP ("Tradition Family and Property") has some very good reasons for disliking cult critics. Read the following statements by two critics to understand why Introvigne devotes so much time and effort to attacking what he calls "anti-cult movements". Both statements come from Spain, where TFP calls itself 'Covadonga', in remembrance of a Christian victory over the Muslims: 

"The TFP cult, at least in Brazil, maintains a paramilitary structure of warrior-monks, called the 'sentinels of the West', who go through tough paramilitary training and wear a habit with a chain as a belt (they learn to use this as a weapon), high military boots, they make vows of silence and regularly practice flagellation. This 'army' is made up of highly fanatic and violent young people". 
("El poder de las sectas", Pepe Rodríguez, 1989, Ediciones B. pp. 233, 245, 246)

"Carlos Manuel Arbues is 22, the son of a widow, and his maternal grandfather was a Communist leader in the [Spanish] Republic. 

At home, I was always fed anti-militarism, atheism and non-conformity; this is why, when I was fifteen, I was fascinated by uniforms, medals and the like. We were four friends, bully boys, small leaders in our neighbourhood, where we liked to show off our strength. One day, a group of youths came into our street bearing standards and singing hymns and shouting loudly. They let us go with them. They were going to a demonstration, and were carrying chains and a lot of books and propaganda leaflets: yes, the rosary would save us, yes, Masonry and Communism were corruption…we did not care what they believed, we were interested in the symbols of the organization and the fights they got into every day. 

But, did not you realize you were getting into an entirely Fascist organization? 

At home they told me so; my mother left me without my allowance, my other friends used to joke about us, but this only whetted our appetite. We enlisted and started attending the meetings. 

'For young people, Covadonga regularly stages study weeks and specialized anti-Communist training courses (SEFAC), consisting of lectures, study groups, theatrical performances, visits to historical monuments of the glorious epoch of Spain; mountain hiking and karate are practiced, and excursions and recreational camps are held' [This quote seems to come from an official Covadonga publication].  

OK, but that is not so bad. 

That is what it was like at the beginning, and we felt very manly, with our ranks and insignia, but after a while, we were no longer ourselves, we no longer thought about anything but what our leaders said, they kept us under their rule, until finally one day… 

Go on, what happened? 

They sent us to 'provoke' a Communist Party meeting at Casa de Campo, I won't go into details, because it disgusts me; I hit a girl in the eye with a chain, and I saw blood come out; my comrades struck people and laughed, and I ran away. When I got home, there was a dramatic scene: the girl was the daughter of a cousin of mine, and had lost her eye. I left them, but I also had to leave the neighbourhood and my family, and I am no longer myself. I hate them and am attracted by them at the same time. It is just like being hooked on drugs." 

("Las sectas", Pilar Salarrullana, 1990. Ediciones Temas de Hoy. pp. 98, 100)

I have no idea exactly how true either of these stories is; even if they are, they probably leave out a good deal. Both these stories have all the limits of journalistic simplification. Of course they are no worse than the kind of testimony Cristianità - the official organ of Alleanza Cattolica - regularly used to publish about Communist or Palestinian "atrocities". However, one can well understand why Introvigne likes to explain away "apostates' narratives". The girl, one can imagine, lost her eye because Carlos Manuel Arbues was "socialized into an anti-cult substructure".

That Introvigne's theories about "apostates" have a purpose different from "sociology" behind them is not something I say. It is something Introvigne wrote, as directly as a lawyer can write, in a critique of Gordon Urquhart's book, "The Pope's Armada", a critical but well documented study of Opus Dei, Focolarini and Neocatechumenals, and of María del Carmen Tapia's reminiscences of her own life in Opus Dei. The article was of course written in Cristianità which is so little read that Introvigne probably hoped to keep the secret inside the family.

Why should the testimony of "apostates" (Gordon Urquhart founded the Focolarini movement in the U.K.) be swept under the carpet? Introvigne is absolutely explicit: 

"If we want to go to the heart of the matter, we must question the very premises of books like those by Gordon Urquhart or María Carmen Tapia. Of course, there is a price to pay for this: once we have rejected uncritical acceptance of what 'ex-members' say, theories on 'brainwashing' and the quantitative definition of 'cult' for Focolarini, Opus Dei or Mother Teresa of Calcutta's sisters, we shall no longer be able to use the same theories even if we want to criticize the Jehovah's Witnesses or the followers of Reverend Moon. Maybe this is not too bad: even with these groups, years of experience have shown that quantitative, non-religious criticism is a waste of time, whereas it is only when we take the doctrines of the new religious movements seriously and criticize them on a religious level, that we can defend the Catholic faith seriously" 
(Massimo Introvigne, "'Sette cattoliche': l'equivoco continua", in Cristianità, n. 260, dicembre 1996, p. 5)

Translated, this means that Introvigne's purpose is to "defend the Catholic faith seriously"; to do so one must defend every controversial Catholic group. It is easy to detect here an implicit appeal for solidarity to all Catholic groups for TFP.

This means ruling out "uncritical acceptance of what 'ex-members' have to say" (our experience shows that Introvigne rules out any acceptance of the same), even if this means that "we shall no longer be able to use the same theories" with non-Catholic cults. By "quantitative criticism", 'sociologist' Introvigne means sociological interpretations, which must be replaced exclusively by "religious criticism of doctrines": for example, discussing thetans with Scientology hard-sell staff or historical cycles with Moon's factory managers.

I do not wish to deny the value of conversions; however a theological discussion is not possible so long as there are no shared language or no shared values. One could imagine a discussion on the meaning of a Bible verse with a Jehovah's Witness, as such a verse would be acceptable as a foundation for both parties; but there is no foundation for discussion when there is no shared starting point. It is only the human and not the cultural element which a priest and the follower of an esoteric group, for example, have in common; so the common ground is not theological, but lies in understanding the person standing in front of us, of what ties him to his group from a human (and hence sociological and psychological) point of view, of his dependencies. A theological dialogue can only start afterwards, when the individual becomes aware that he can make his own choices.

Massimo Introvigne, as his CESNUR/AC colleague Ermanno Pavesi (a psychiatrist, by the way) points out in a 14 page article in Cristianità ("La psichiatria e i movimenti anti-sette", CristianitภMarch 1997, p. 13, quoting from M. Introvigne, Autoguarigione e autoredenzione, in AA.VV., Salute e salvezza: prospettive interdisciplinari, edited by Ermanno Pavesi, Di Giovanni, San Giuliano Milanese, 1994, p. 66; it is worth noting that this whole issue of Cristianità contains only one other article) offers this way of distinguishing groups:

"A doctrinal typology which distinguishes various waves of new religions, according to their relationship with the Catholic view of the world and with its characteristic elements: the Church, the unique role of Jesus Christ, God, the religious feeling as a specific way of relating with the sacred" 

An approach of course fully legitimate for a Catholic priest, but which has no relationship whatsoever to sociology. This denial of sociology of course takes Opus Dei and similar organizations (meaning TFP) elegantly out of the spotlight: their doctrine being more or less Catholic, any Brazilian farmer who finds himself at odds with TFP will be allowed only to discuss about the Trinity.

While I do not intend to express any opinion on Opus Dei or such organizations, it is quite clear that such a stance will win TFP quite a few powerful friends with much the same problems.