THE VATICAN REPORT
SECTS OR NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS: A PASTORAL CHALLENGE
May 3rd, 1986
In response to the concern expressed by Episcopal Conferences throughout the world, a study on the presence and activity of "sects," "new religious movements," [and] "cults" has been undertaken by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, the Secretariat for Non-Christians, the Secretariat for Non-Believers and the Pontifical Council for Culture. These departments, along with the Secretariat of State, have shared this concern for quite some time.
As a first step in this study project, a questionnaire (cf. Appendix) was sent out in February, 1984, to episcopal Conferences and similar bodies by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in the name of the forementioned departments of the Holy See, with the aim of gathering reliable information and indications for pastoral action, and exploring further lines of research. To date (October, 1985), many replies have been received by Episcopal Conferences on all continents, as well as from regional Episcopal bodies. Some replies include detailed information from particular dioceses and were accompanied by copies of pastoral letters, booklets, articles, and studies.
It is clearly not possible to summarize the vast documentation received, and which will need to be constantly updated as a basis for a constructive pastoral response to the challenge presented by the sects, new religious movements, and groups. The present report can only attempt to give a first overall picture,
This report is divided as follows:
2. Reasons for the spread of these movements and groups.
3. Pastoral challenges and approaches.
5. Invitation from the 1985 Synod.
6. Questions for further study and research.
7. Selected bibliography.
1.1 What are "Sects"? What Does One Mean by "Cults"?
It is important to realize that there exists difficulties in concepts, definitions, and terminology. The terms sect and cult are somewhat derogatory and seem to imply a rather negative value judgment. One might prefer more neutral terms such as . The question of the definition of those movements or groups as distinct from or is a contentious matter.
It will help to distinguish sects that find their origin in the Christian religion from those which come from another religious or humanitarian source. The matter becomes quite delicate when these groups are of Christian origin. Nevertheless, it is important to make . Indeed, certain sectarian mentalities and
attitudes, i.e., attitudes of intolerance and aggressive proselytizing, do not necessarily constitute a sect, nor do they suffice to characterize a sect. One also finds these attitudes in groups of Christian believers within the churches and ecclesiastical communities. However, these groups can change positively through a deepening of their Christian formation and through the contact with other fellow Christians. In this way they can grow into an increasingly ecclesial mind and attitude.
The criterion for distinguishing between of Christian origin, on the one hand, and ,
on the other hand, might be found in the sources of the teaching of these groups. For instance, sects could be those groups, which apart from the Bible, have other "revealed" books or "prophetic messages," or groups which exclude from the Bible certain proto-canonical books, or radically change their content. In answer to Question 1 of the Questionnaire, one of the replies states:
For practical reasons, a cult or sect is sometimes...
Bibliography: of New Religious Movements. Aarhus, Denmark (1977-).
Centre de Documentation du CNRS, 1970-
Pontifical Library Propaganda Fide. Bibliographia Missionaria. Rome (see
from Anno XL - 1976 to Anno XLVII - 1983).
Secretariat for Non-Believers. Ateismo e Dialogo. Vatican (see from Anno
XIV - June 2, 1979 to date).
Queriniana: Brescia, 1976.
Batz, K. . Hinduism. Zurich-Koln, 1979.
Needleman, Jacob. . Seabury Press, 1978.
Rudin, James and Rudin, Marcia. . Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
Vernette, Jean. . (Centurion edition), 1981.
Center for Japanese Studies. 8 XXVI. Michigan, 1983.
Pentecostal Group in Urban Malaysia." No. 4, 1980.
of Henri-Charles Puech. Paris: Gallimard, 1976.
de ISER, 1975.
Prado, Juan Guillermo. Covadonga edition:
Samain, Etienne. "Bibliographia Sobre Religiosidade popular." Hucitec: Sao Paulo, 1977.
Schlesinger, Hugo and Porto, Humberto. Paulinas ed: Sao Paulo, 1982.
Gallimard: Paris, 1976.
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