Questions to facilitate the understanding:

  • generation: Does the Community encourage its postulants to complete their studies, and do they try to recruit those who already have experience in life? or, on the contrary, does the Community give priority to recruiting the maximum of young people as of the age of 18 years, with minimum training and starting off their adult life.?
  • money: Are the accounts of the Community public?  Is the Commmunity transparent concerning its legal organisation and financial management?
  • power: Are decisions made after consultation and deliberation of its members, or taken solely by the Superior or Founder, who makes a decision without consultation of members? Or by a management body that has been co-opted and not elected?
  • communication: Are the rules and the constitutions of the Community freely accessible? Are they respected?
  • statutes: Is there confusion between the different statutes: priesthood, married couples and lay people, by imposing the same communal life, the same obedience?
  • legal situation: does the Community respect the laws of the country in which they  are: concerning social contributions, the right to health care, confidential medical information.  Is there abuse of authority?
  • Ideology: Is there permanent reference to the thoughts and writings of the founder?  His/her thoughts – no matter how fair, are they diffused repeatedly and with insistence,  to the detriment of all other teaching or internal debate?  Do these thoughts inhibit any individual reflection of the members of the Community?
  • Vocabulary: Does the Community use its own specific vocabulary, which is comprehensive only to its members?  Has it created its own jargon?
  • Common sense:  Have there been scandals or dubious affairs concerning this Community, or its members, reported in the press, or known to those familiar with the Community?
  • Humility: Does the Community, or its members, tend to present itself as an elitist group, the salt of the earth, the sole holders of truth, and to demonise or minimise all others?  Do they threaten damnation on all those who leave or reject the Community?

In asking these questions it should help to be more familiar with the internal running of the Community, and to moderate initial enthusiasm.  In that way we can avoid having the lives of young people spoilt by taking decisions which may be too impulsive.

Some Criteria for Discernment

How does power operate?

Who has power?
Who administered it to the leader?
How much scope has he/she? (Does it intrude on the individual conscience?)
Is it controlled? If so, in what way?
This sectarian drift is called oppression.

How does information circulate?

Who is the holder of information within the group/cult?
What are the rights of the individuals to express themselves?
Is the leader the only person who ‘knows’?
Do they always know better than others?  Do they always believe only they are right?  Do they feel they have a mission to teach other groups (Church, for example)?
These drifts are called sufficiency and indoctrination.

How are their assets managed?

Where do they get their money? Who controls it? Where does it go?
Has the adherent the means to live if he/she leaves the community/cult?
This drift is called exploitation.

How do the relationships work?

  • Within the group (freedom of exchange among the members, and the respect of their differences)?
  • Interaction with other groups (ecclesiastical, for example)?
  • Do they believe they are self sufficient, centred on their own development?
  • This drift is called lock-in.
Every group, religious or not, could usefully face up to these criteria.