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15 Signs Of Trouble


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+Praised be Jesus Christ, Alleluia!

This is one of my favorite subjects - as many of you know, I studied under the esteemed Dr. Margaret Singer who along with Dr. Lifton did unbelievable work in helping to clarify and explain what happens in high pressure/high demand/destructive cults that use thought reform and mind control (commonly referred to as brainwashing). When I worked as a therapist, my speciality was the care and treatment of cult survivors. Congressman Ryan was a champion for the cause, and his death was greatly mourned. Though I no longer practice, I remain very active in personal research on this subject and am greatly alarmed at what we have seen as a Church in terms of destructive cultic groups - which yes, do seem to be "new groups." A living founder/foundress, sadly, is often a red flag. Not always, but often. Please note that the term [b]cult[/b] and [b]destructive cult[/b] are two very different things. Some groups can indeed fulfill the qualities that make up a cult, but they are not necessarily destructive. Cults use mind control and thought reform, and believe it or not, a cult can be as small as two people - a leader and a follower. This is called "a cult of one."

At some point I listed a very long compilation of potential questions for discerners to ask as they interview communities. I included in that list all the qualities of destructive cult-like behavior and things to ask about/look for. It is very likely that almost every communitiy will have one or two (or even more) of the qualities that make up a destructive cult. Don't freak out, because one of the reasons of joining a group like a religious community is to undergo a radical conversion of manners (to borrow a Benediction phrase) through formation. It is time to freak out when the community has ALL of the characteristics of a destructive cult and handles formation in an unhealthy, manipulative, secretive way.

There are MANY excellent resources on the internet. I recommend anything that the association the OP referred to - I am a member of that group and can vouch for their excellence in integrity. CAN (the Cult Awareness Network) was sued into financial ruin and was later taken over (after losing the lawsuit) by a group affiliated with a well known destructive and very litigious destructive cult. CAN is up and running, and can be very deceiving. I strongly advise anyone interested in this subject to use judgment in their choice of research materials, internet sites and books.

As always, I am happy to provide resources or a reading list to anyone who would like further information on this very fascinating subject. I am very sad to say that destructive cults almost always have very good qualities that initially attract the recruit - and in many cases, the highly powerful personalities who starts the group has good intentions. It is extremely difficult to retain one's humility and common sense when surrounded by adoring "groupies." This experience is very heady and intoxicating - and for the member - when she or he leaves, is kicked out or rescued - the recovery, shame and attendant emotional healing is very difficult. Most people wrongly assume that it "could never happen to them." I assure you, destructive cults are very successful at recruiting new members and manipulating emotions and experiences. While you are in the midst of it, it is almost impossible to see or understand it. Afterwards, finding support and understanding is very, very difficult because of the attitude "it could never happen to me." Or "what were you thinking?!"

Obviously, I could go on and on. We already know that some religious communities have been investigated by the Vatican for "cultic" behavior and some have had to make some serious changes in their leadership and formation process. As Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said (to paraphrase), "Americans have this attitude that 'it could happen to thee and to thee, but never to me,' while Europeans say, 'IF it could happen to thee and thee it COULD happen to me." This a very wise quote to remember as you further research this subject.

Finally, Bible-based (destructive) cults are the fastest growing cults in the United States today. Very alarming!

Pax,

TradMom

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I know that we sometimes see questions about new communities on Vocation Station. This list comes from the International Cultic Studies Association (cheery name, huh) and gives a run down of what cano

As red flags in religious communities were mentioned in another thread I am, yet again, bumping this one.  If anyone knows of other warning signs that things arent good please share them here, not to

If the community says it's not possible to have a live-in experience, that you simply "must trust in God", be wary. Even many of the most conservative, traditional, cloistered communities allow this.

[quote name='Totus Tuus' date='27 April 2010 - 03:40 PM' timestamp='1272400832' post='2101075']
I did read that book, though I don't remember that part. Was it in the book, or only the movie?

[/quote]

It was in the movie.

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[quote name='tinytherese' date='28 April 2010 - 07:28 AM' timestamp='1272428934' post='2101419']
It was in the movie.
[/quote]


It was in the book, too, but not exactly a "demand". The premise was that, being "reborn" in the religious life, it was as if one sheds the "skin" of one's former life -- detaching from memories of that life is one way of removing the distractions that prevent total concentration on the object of religious life, which the Novice Mistress describes as "constant communion with God". Sister Luke finds recreation a particular trial since it limits conversation so much. In her address to the postulants, Reverend Mother Emmanuel says [in the movie] "Religious life is made up of an infinity of little things; it has to be lived not day by day, but minute by minute". And I think we need to remember that "The Nun's Story" took place in the two decades before WWII. Life in general, not just in religion, has changed quite a bit since then. My mother used to tell me the thrill she had when she bought her first pair of slacks -- and that [i]her[/i] mother nearly threw them out, saying they weren't worn by "respectable" women. Ditto smoking -- my mother never dared smoke at home; "nice" women simply didn't do that!

There are aspects of religious life which could be described as "cultish", obviously. The point is whether these aspects are being used in a healthy, or unhealthy, way. Many cults draw their regulations and customs from the way of life of legitimate religious communities, but carry them to extremes.

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[quote name='IgnatiusofLoyola' date='27 April 2010 - 03:58 PM' timestamp='1272398319' post='2101053']

I know this is a big question, and the answer is probably, "It differs a lot by Order," but tinytherese has brought up a good issue. I was under the impression that at least some established, respected Orders, particularly Cloistered ones, continue to discourage discussion of one's past life and limit contact with family, but perhaps not to the extent of the community in The Nun's Story or other pre-Vatican II communities. Or am I wrong about this?

[/quote]

Eh, I have to make exception a bit to what others have said in response to this. I have heard of, and know of personally, some communities (cloistered, and esp. non-cloistered) who do indeed discourage discussion of one's past. It's not meant as a way of "erasing your memory" and it's not even disallowed completely, but it's meant as a way to focus on your new life in Christ, which is decidedly different from your life prior to the convent. Talking to the public about your wild days before you entered the convent, or some of the crazy things you did, or even some very familiar stories of your past, was considered very disedifying and not proper religious decorum. It was a bit different when talking amongst your fellow Sisters about it, however -- then you're given a bit more freedom to talk about your previous experiences. But even then, the focus is supposed to be more on your new life as a Bride of Christ than on your previous life.

I'm sure some communities have taken it to extremes (e.g. "A Nun's Story") but it is my understanding from hearing Sisters of other communities speak of it and experiencing it myself that it's a fairly common practice, even nowadays.

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[quote name='Antigonos' date='28 April 2010 - 01:53 AM' timestamp='1272434016' post='2101443']
It was in the book, too, but not exactly a "demand". The premise was that, being "reborn" in the religious life, it was as if one sheds the "skin" of one's former life -- detaching from memories of that life is one way of removing the distractions that prevent total concentration on the object of religious life, which the Novice Mistress describes as "constant communion with God". Sister Luke finds recreation a particular trial since it limits conversation so much. In her address to the postulants, Reverend Mother Emmanuel says [in the movie] "Religious life is made up of an infinity of little things; it has to be lived not day by day, but minute by minute". And I think we need to remember that "The Nun's Story" took place in the two decades before WWII. Life in general, not just in religion, has changed quite a bit since then. My mother used to tell me the thrill she had when she bought her first pair of slacks -- and that [i]her[/i] mother nearly threw them out, saying they weren't worn by "respectable" women. Ditto smoking -- my mother never dared smoke at home; "nice" women simply didn't do that!

There are aspects of religious life which could be described as "cultish", obviously. The point is whether these aspects are being used in a healthy, or unhealthy, way. Many cults draw their regulations and customs from the way of life of legitimate religious communities, but carry them to extremes.
[/quote]

OK, thanks for the clarification. It's been almost five years since I read the book, so I don't really remember.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is an excellent article and thank you for posting it. There is one thing I would add to the other thoughtful replies.

It is easy to think that this 'cultic behaviour' is limited to the newer religious communities. However, there can be real problems in old and long established Orders, particularly when individual communities are largely autonomous. This autonomy is very common in the Second Orders of the ancient Orders and as the level of episcopal oversight or supervision by the First Order can be sketchy - the health of the community can be very dependant on the local superior.

There is a fairly infamous case of a community here in the UK that did real damage to many of the young women who joined it. It came to light when three of the simply professed left the community and required professional psychiatric help. The local Bishop tried to intervene at that stage but had little authority to remove the superior. She claimed only the First Order had jurisdiction over the community. She remained in office for two years after the Bishops intervention and the situation was only resolved by a special visitation of the Superior General who enforced the removal of the Mother Superior. Throughout that time the community continued to accept postulants.

Sometimes on this Phorum communities are given wonderful plaudits and this seems to be largely based on the traditionalism of the community, its use of the extraordinary form of the Mass or wearing a full habit. I really think people have to look beyond this and try to be more objective when evaluating communities. There are at least two communities I have seen talked about on this Phorum in glowing terms (one for men and one for women) but I know from other sources that [u][b]very[/b][/u] serious questions have been raised about their formation process by ecclesiastical authorities. Enthusiasm, idealism and even a little romanticiism about communities is all very well but the Lord's call to vocation is more far reaching than this and He certainly does not want us to be damaged by responding to His invitation.

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This is an excellent article and thank you for posting it. There is one thing I would add to the other thoughtful replies.

It is easy to think that this 'cultic behaviour' is limited to the newer religious communities. However, there can be real problems in old and long established Orders, particularly when individual communities are largely autonomous. This autonomy is very common in the Second Orders of the ancient Orders and as the level of episcopal oversight or supervision by the First Order can be sketchy - the health of the community can be very dependant on the local superior.

There is a fairly infamous case of a community here in the UK that did real damage to many of the young women who joined it. It came to light when three of the simply professed left the community and required professional psychiatric help. The local Bishop tried to intervene at that stage but had little authority to remove the superior. She claimed only the First Order had jurisdiction over the community. She remained in office for two years after the Bishops intervention and the situation was only resolved by a special visitation of the Superior General who enforced the removal of the Mother Superior. Throughout that time the community continued to accept postulants.

Sometimes on this Phorum communities are given wonderful plaudits and this seems to be largely based on the traditionalism of the community, its use of the extraordinary form of the Mass or wearing a full habit. I really think people have to look beyond this and try to be more objective when evaluating communities. There are at least two communities I have seen talked about on this Phorum in glowing terms (one for men and one for women) but I know from other sources that [u][b]very[/b][/u] serious questions have been raised about their formation process by ecclesiastical authorities. Enthusiasm, idealism and even a little romanticiism about communities is all very well but the Lord's call to vocation is more far reaching than this and He certainly does not want us to be damaged by responding to His invitation.

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[quote name='Totus Tuus' timestamp='1272384572' post='2100943']
Part of me wishes I had seen this before joining the community that I did. But part of me is glad I had to learn the hard way, because I can vouch for the truth of all those points.

Good post. It's so hard when, even here at VS, groups are promoted who unfortunately fit some of those categories. It's so important to constantly represent what the Church really teaches, and not what some group's opinion of what the Church [i]should[/i] teach is!

Good post!
[/quote]
"Canonical Associations Destined to Become Religious Institutes" is the full title of an important source document.
I have yet to see it because apparently there is no Internet posting. However, the post that opens this thread, quotes a Pete Vere, and HE quotes this article and its author -- so, to give credit where credit is due, the source document is paraphrased and quoted in the Pete Vere article, and the latter article is all over the Internet.
Why is the source article important? Because it is from 'Consecrated Life,' published by the Institute on Religious Life, edited from a congregation at....the Vatican. [SCRIS or CICLSAL] Its author is a canon lawyer and religious priest, Canadian, named Fr. Francis G Morrisey, OMI. He teaches in Ottawa. If you want to hunt down this document, feel free -- I'm going after a copy myself.
I reference the post from 'Totus Tuus' because she states a delicate fact:[quote]....here at Vocation Station, groups are promoted who unfortunately fit some of those categories [warning signs].[/quote] She (sorry, maybe it is He?) is not the only one to sound the alarm about this. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news....but someone's life and well-being could depend on news like this.

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[quote name='IgnatiusofLoyola' timestamp='1272378220' post='2100923']
Thanks for posting this Lillibet!

It's sad to think that there could be "cultish" behavior in a Catholic community, but I guess the devil uses whatever means he can, including a weak or troubled human being.

It's too bad that there has to be "The International Cultic Studies Association," but I'm glad these organizations exist. One of my high school classmates was the daughter of Congressman Ryan, who was murdered by cult members a number of years ago when he went down to investigate Jim Jones and his cult. Last I heard, my classmate was living in Washington, D.C. and working with another organization that studies cults and works to prevent their damage.



[size="1"]17th sign of trouble--They DON'T like Bunchie.[/size]
[/quote]


As a priest just told us at school:

when he was in seminiary, the rector told all the seminarians: "You know all the stuff that occurs outside these walls? Well, it's in here, too."

Dieu vous benisse!

And great list!

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Over the months since I posted in this thread (the original post is a couple above this one), I have had several PMs asking for more information on the two communities I mentioned. The messages have caused me to think further on the issues I raised – I hope this post is useful for someone and not too long for everyone else.

The main reason I did not name the male and female communities I referred to, is that I do not know what steps they have taken to redress the problems that were raised about them. Given this it would be wrong of me to identify them publicly but they do raise general issues that were useful for me during my discernment.

The central problem in both communities was an excessive devotion to the Superior (who in both cases was the founder) and a destructive authoritarianism. The transition from a charismatic founding stage into a more stable long term community is a particularly difficult process with all communities. This is not a new phenomenon - just look at the turmoil that went on in the Franciscan Order even before St Francis died and which developed into near warfare after his death. However, the chasmatic role of the founder can become distorted and an almost cult like atmosphere can develop. If you want more information on how things can go wrong with excessive veneration of founders just google the Lutheran/protestant ‘Sisters of Mary’ (the Darmstadt Community). In both the catholic communities I mentioned in the original post there was/is an almost cult like veneration of the founder.

The other problem of a destructive authoritarianism is more widespread and perhaps harder to identify easily. During my discernment I have visited quite a few communities and even within the same Order the ‘feel’ of a place can be very different. A lot of this is to do with the specific Community’s tradition and history but the role of the superior is very significant. Is he (I’ve only discerned with men’s communities) a rounded individual who knows his strengths and weaknesses? Does he understand authority and is he comfortable with exercising it in a positive way? The answers to those questions will play a big role in how a community feels and the experience of religious within it – infantalised automatons or grown-up adults accepting the discipline of religious life in a mature and healthy way.

One of the very big problems with the male community I was referring to in my original post was an inappropriate delving of the superior into the internal forum of those the community - e.g. the insistence that all those in formation go to confession to the Superior. I am pretty sure that this is against Canon Law but it is certainly against any type of good practice in formation. If you want an example of why it is forbidden you have to look no further than the Legion of Christ (where this practice was common) and the damage that was done to hundreds of people. Any man in discernment/formation with a community that insists that those in formation must go to confession with either the Superior or the Novice Master should hear very loud warning bells and ask themselves serious questions about the community.

For me the central question I have had to ask myself during my discernment is: ‘Is this community the unique niche that the Lord carved out for me when he created matter and time?’. The call to a vocation is an invitation to ‘flower’ into the best human I can be. I do wonder what kind of flowers unhealthy communities nurture.

________


PS) This is probably going to be my final post on Phatmass. I have reached a milestone in my discernment and next week I will be entering into postulancy. I am becoming a Benedictine and as you probably know their motto is Pax. So, I pray the Peace of the Lord descend on all those discerning a vocation. I will remember all those in discernment in my prayers and perhaps, from time to time, some of you might do the same for me.

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Domine ut Videam

[quote name='ortus' timestamp='1283630910' post='2167889']
PS) This is probably going to be my final post on Phatmass. I have reached a milestone in my discernment and next week I will be entering into postulancy. I am becoming a Benedictine and as you probably know their motto is Pax. So, I pray the Peace of the Lord descend on all those discerning a vocation. I will remember all those in discernment in my prayers and perhaps, from time to time, some of you might do the same for me.
[/quote]

Congratulations. Going to a college that is run by a beautiful community of Benedictine monks I am so excited for you. Know that you will be in my prayers during this time of formation!

Under Mary's Mantle,
Lauren

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  • 4 years later...

This is a really great list. I wish I had had it before my SIL entered a community with a lot of these red flags. She left after a year with a lot of psychological damage.

I also think refraining from talking about your past can serve a very good purpose in some communities. In one of the cloistered communities I discerned with for quite awhile, the young Sisters were told to keep mention of their past brief and simply refer to their home town as "Egypt." The reason was that they had Sisters from parts of India with a history of conflict and the Sisters were from various social castes. The community was an American foundation, but they also had Sisters from Eastern Europe and Africa. It was quite the melting pot!

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