Some Controversial Catholic Movements and the Reaction of Church leadership, by J. Paul Lennon

Some Controversial Catholic Movements and the Reaction of Church leadership, by Paul Lennon, STL, MA, LPC


“We have been looking at about 70 new religious families. We have made visits and some of them are of grave concern, with personality problems of the founders and the phenomenon of bondage (Fr. l’emprise), strong psychological conditioning of the members.”

Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life (the Vatican organism that oversee monks, nuns, religious men and women and new religious lay movements), February 2017



When compared to some European Catholics, United States Catholics appear to have little knowledge and awareness of “Catholic Cults in Our Midst”. This could be due to American traditions and laws which promote freedom of expression, freedom of religious observance and strict separation of Church and state, leading to a hands-off policy.  In Europe, on the other hand, some governments, such as France, Belgium, Austria and Catalonia, have official agencies to monitor suspiciously harmful groups, and legislation has been drawn up to control various forms of manipulation and coercion, with emphasis on abuse of the vulnerable.

It could also be that the American public is more interested in exotic-see present Wild Country series on Netflix-  or violent cults, leading it to dismiss more peaceful and subtler brands. The Catholic cult vacuum could also arise from American Catholics being obsessed for the past fifty years with doctrinal controversies surrounding the acceptance and interpretation of Vatican II Ecumenical Council reforms, leading to acrimonious discussions and a splitting of the Catholic Church into two opposing bands, roughly along political party lines. Recently, the conservative Catholic stance has been called “Catholic Sectarianism”[1], a terminology that does not help clarify our present issue.

So as to bring the American Catholic attention to the dangers of sect-lie groups in our midst,  we have inserted a phrase at the top from the highest Catholic authority on harmful groups in the Church, Cardinal Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious (orders and congregations)

Attempting to fill the information vacuum, this paper presents a smorgasbord of Catholic movements and groups which have come to the attention of researchers during the past four decades and of which the American public is only scantily aware. Interventions by Church authorities are mentioned in some cases.

What is also unique about this paper is that the groups in question are mostly mainstream Catholic, possessing some form of official Church approval. They are not maverick or rebellious associations. In fact, many have sprung up as a reaction against progressive movements and are fiercely loyal to the pope and Catholic authorities.

Many Catholics, and particularly the Vatican, have tended to assume that “The Church”, because of its divine foundation and guidance, plus its doctrinal orthodoxy, is free from cults, sects and other questionable groups; these being considered an outside threat to be guarded against. The Trojan Horse in the City of God [2] is usually associated with dangerous progressive theologians and doctrines, such as Liberation Theology and Base Communities, zealously held at bay by Rome´s watchdog, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)[3]. When the official Church has focused on “Sects and New Religious Movements” the lion’s part of the study was concerned with “Spiritual and Theological Discernment”.[4]

Regarding serious research about itself, the official Catholic Church is sadly wanting, deaf to the Founder´s quote: Physician, heal thyself (Luke 4,23). Dean Hoge, a leading U.S. sociologist of religion, stated on Oct. 13, 1999 that the U.S. Catholic Church is well behind other religious bodies in research on itself.  « The Catholic world is less researched.  There is less attention, less money, less energy devoted to organizational and social science research among Catholics than among any other religious group I know, » he told a gathering convened by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, known as CARA.

It is refreshing to note that the present pope, Francis, has been the only pope since Vatican II (1962-65) willing to take a critical look at himself [5], of his role and of the institution, albeit to a limited extent. This paper is concerned with this looking inward, absent for long in our Beloved Church.

Truthfully, although “Rome”, the Roman Curia -as in central Catholic administration- has been mostly sanguine regarding New Religious Movements (its term) in the Church, some local bishops have taken the time and had the courage to question groups that they consider harmful to the faithful under their care. An example of this being how several American dioceses have banned the Legion of Christ and its Regnum Christi lay movement from operating within their borders because of concerns regarding sneaking into dioceses, recruiting practices, secrecy and use of “spiritual direction” (guidance/influence) given to minors [6]. Catholic bishops in general throughout the world seem to be much more vigilant than the Vatican in monitoring harmful groups. For example, the Conference of French Bishops in 2013 created a Bureau for Sectarian Excesses (Bureau des Dérives Sectaires) within their department of Pastoral for New Beliefs (Pastorale des Nouvelles Croyances[7]

From time to time a Catholic institution, such as the Opus Dei, comes under public scrutiny, but the accusations are not always on target -as in the da Vinci Code– and the association usually meets the accusations with blunt denial or points to their doctrinal orthodoxy, Vatican approval and canonization of its founder. Inside Catholic circles there may be rumblings of criticism against Spanish Fr. Kiko Argüello´s Neo-Catechumenal Way supplanting regular parish life. Otherwise, cults and sects are considered alien to Holy Mother the Church.

Recently, however, priests, professors, professional psychologists and sociologists have begun to question Catholic complacency going beyond doctrinal orthodoxy (modus credendi) and questioning the way of life (modus operandi) of some Catholic associations accused of harming the members spiritually, psychologically physically and sexually.

Newer Catholic movements begin to appear in the news and catch the perceptive eye: Italian foundations like Communion and Liberation and the Focolare Movement. Once we Catholics and Christians have the courage to scratch the surface, other groups, large and small, appear on the horizon as being potentially harmful to their members. Can we find more questionable Catholic movements operating in the USA, Canada and further afield “in the heart of the Catholic Church”?

A 2017 French book, From Bondage to Freedom [8], listed fourteen harmful Catholic communities in Europe, some of which have spread to the US and Canada, and five of which have already received official interventions.

The paper will explore and describe such questionable Catholic groups and movements and describe official interventions in order to heighten Catholic and Christian awareness, and maybe even spur Catholic official leadership to be more pro-active in monitoring and controlling suspect groups.

The writer foresees that more concerned Catholics will raise their voice, inform their bishop and demand bringing the “Catholic cult” next door in for questioning.

The communities or movements examined :
  • Focolare
  • the Communione e Liberazione movement (both of Italian origin)
  • Neo-Catechumenate (Spain)
  • French Catholic Charismatic Communities
  • US Charismatic Communities (with which Tydings is familiar and into which she delves extensively)
  • the Opus Dei
  • Legionaries of Christ and its Regnum Christi Lay Movement.
  • The Society of St. JohnHeralds of the GospelMiles Jesu (Soldier of Jesus)Sodalitium Christianae VitaeServants of Christ JesusPalmar de Troya Catholic Church   


To read the entire article2 Nov 18 Brief overview of Catholic Movements accused of being Cult


About J. Paul LENNON and his Religious Groups Awareness International Network (« REGAIN ») :

ReGAIN’s mission is to outreach, unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement. Past and present members and all those who quest for justice and truth, resolution and healing are invited to join in this endeavor.


The author’s life before the Legion of Christ, in Dublin, Ireland; during the LC in Salamanca, Rome, Connecticut, Quintana Roo, Mexico and Mexico City; life after the LC in Washington, DC Metro area, new identity, new career, new life :

“Our Father” Maciel, who art in bed: A Naive and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ 


Convaincus du bien-fondé de la pétition ? Pour voir ses objectifs précis et la signer/ Per firmare la petizione su contro il clericalismo e i suoi eccessi settari/For sign the petition against clericalism and abuse : PÉTITION




[2] Von Hildebrand, D. (1967), Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained.  Chicago, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press.

[3] See abstract of Archbishop Luigi Negri’s presentation at the ICSA conference in Trieste, Italy, July 2013 which focuses on doctrinal matters and is blind to psychological and spiritual forms of abuse: “Si parla pertanto di concezioni e credenze quali: esoterismo, gnosticismo, millenarismo, panteismo, reincarnazione, relativismo, sincretismo; di fenomeni quali: divinazione, magia occultismo, spiritismo, guaritori, santoni, veggenti, halloween, New Age, salutismo, satanismo e luciferismo, ufologismo, Wicca; di conseguenze come: confusione antropologica, confusione tra psichico e spirituale, pregiudizio individualistico.”

[4] United States Catholic Conference (1995), Sects and New Religious Movements, an Anthology of Texts from the Catholic Church 1986-1994, ed. Working Group on New Religious Movements, Vatican City. Washington DC, pp.27-47

[5] Pope acknowledges his own grave mistakes in Chile sex abuse crisis: httpTs://

[6] At least seven US dioceses have banned Legion of Christ and its Regnum Christi Movement:

The diocese of Miami has also banned the LC/RC:


[8] magazine, No. 174, Mai- Golias Juin 2017, pp. 2-13








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