How Pseudo-Religious Cults
Infiltrate the Catholic Church

Counterfeit Christian and New Age Cults

Every year in the United States, hundreds of new religious cults appear, attracting thousands of people with promises of happiness and purpose in life. They often appeal to the highly idealistic who want to change the world, those who desire to reach a higher state of consciousness through Eastern meditation, and people who seek absolute religious certitude through fundamentalism and Pentecostal practices. Many of these cults appear Christian and are rooted in the Scriptures, but it is often difficult to know when a group that is overtly Christian crosses the line and becomes pseudo-religious and destructive.

According to the definition of a cult used by the Interfaith Coalition of Concern about Cults, a destructive cult has a self-appointed messianic leader who claims divine selection. Deception and misrepresentation are used for the purposes of recruitment, retention and fund-raising, while subtle techniques are employed to control individual thought and privacy. Some of the telltale characteristics include a preoccupation with fund raising, the use of mind control techniques, sudden and complete separation from friends, hatred for anyone outside the group, a demand for total obedience, and loss of the right to leave the group.

Cults, which became especially prevalent in the 1960s and 70s, attract large numbers of Catholics, in fact, 40 percent of young people who join cults are from Catholic backgrounds. In the confusion of the years following Vatican II, when people began to openly oppose pronouncements from the Holy See in favor of dissenting positions, many children were not educated in the Catholic faith as their parents had been. Today, as adults, these children have no knowledge of the teachings and doctrines of the Church. Many do not attend Mass, have misconceptions about what is expected of them as Christians, or are completely unfamiliar with the Bible.

The lack of faith in our society is manifested in the widespread acceptance of divorce and remarriage, letting children decide for themselves which religion they want to follow, and believing that worshipping God in a parish community is unnecessary. Many individuals are convinced there is no real difference between Catholicism and other forms of Christianity. Often parents educate their children in Catholic schools or religious education programs, but do not take them to Mass. Lack of faith is also seen in the vocation shortage, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, and continued acceptance of abortion, women's ordination, and euthanasia.

In a secular climate such as this, cults can become an attractive alternative for many Catholics, especially those who never developed an authentic relationship with Jesus, never learned the beauty and truth of Holy Scripture, or never felt part of a parish community. Many cults imitate Catholic practices, promise that their followers will become “born again,” offer charismatic healing experiences that appeal to the emotions, and nurture a close relationship with the people they recruit.

There are even groups and sects within the Catholic Church that use the same techniques and methods of operation employed by cults, some of which have been condemned by the bishops.

One pseudo-religious cult is called the Church Universal and Triumphant, formerly under the leadership of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a woman who claims to be the reincarnation of Saint Germain, a mysterious figure who is said to return in different bodies in different ages. The group teaches a mixture of Eastern religion, theosophy, and Gnosticism, which was channeled through their leader from the Ascended Masters, New Age disembodied spirits. The group believes Jesus was a mere human who became a christ in order to show us how we can ascend by finding the christ-presence within us. Although now retired due to Alzheimer's disease, Elizabeth Clare Prophet has written dozens of popular, but dangerous, New Age books on the healing power of angels, reincarnation, practical spirituality, finding God within, and creative abundance.

In 1989 the Church Universal and Triumphant was exposed as a “doomsday religious cult” that was in the process of building underground bunkers to prepare for the end of the world. Several cult members managed to acquire hundreds of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition before they were convicted of illegally purchasing firearms. The movement had its origin in the Summit Lighthouse, whose purpose is disseminating the teachings of the Ascended Masters, one of whom claims to be Lord Maitreya, the future world teacher.

A few other cults that can be classified as pseudo-religious include:

  1. •The Family International, was founded by David Brandt Berg, a former Disciples of Christ minister. He predicted apocalyptic events, including the comet Kohoutek in 1974.

  2. •The Walk of John Robert Stevens, also known as the Church of the Living Word, exhorts its members to totally submit themselves to his authority. The elite members are known as the “apostolic company” and claim to receive “new levels of revelation” on a regular basis.

  3. •The Holy Order of MANS was founded by ex-engineer Earl Blighton in the 1960s. Although the group's activities mimic those of the Catholic Church, they teach that Jesus is a great teacher, but only a man, and that life is continually reincarnating itself.

Human Potential Movements, although not religious, use cult techniques and not only teach that man can become a god, but that he also can control the mind, will, and spirit of others. They include:

  1. •Eckankar is a group founded in 1965 by Paul Twitchell, a former member of Scientology who dabbled in the occult. Although one of the basic teachings is that God is love, Eckankar promotes New Age soul travel, mind reading, and reincarnation.

  2. •The Forum (EST), founded in 1971 by Warner Erhard, claims many prominent people in the entertainment industry. Its teachings are that the world has no meaning or purpose and that we can all become our own god.

  3. •Silva Mind Control, the brainchild of José Silva, uses techniques to sharpen the powers of the mind, which brings the individual into an altered state of consciousness that can leave him defenseless against the powers of evil spirits. It teaches astral projection and other occult practices.

  4. •Transcendental Meditation is a system that was brought to California in 1959 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and now claims six million practitioners worldwide, including director David Lynch, who is funding scholarships for students who want to learn the technique. Its goal is “enlightenment,” also called “cosmic consciousness,” an occult and dangerous practice.

Within the Catholic Church, there are now many groups that are considered cults. One of these is the Bayside Movement, which formed around messages and visions reported by Veronica Lueken, a wife and mother from Long Island, New York, from 1968 until her death in 1995. Although the Bayside messages were condemned by Bishop John Mugavero of Brooklyn in 1986, the seer attracted a large following that is still militantly active in disseminating messages they believe are from Jesus and Mary. The statements contradict Church teachings, predict horrific chastisements, and offer proof of divine origin in the form of rosaries that change color, Polaroid photographs with hidden signs and messages, rose petals that appear to fall from the sky, and claims of cures.

The Bayside Movement continues to spread the “urgent” messages from heaven by means of their official website and nine others.  Although the group contends that knowledge of the Bayside prophecies will free one from anxiety and worry of the things to come, the messages promise an onslaught of earthquakes, famine, starvation, wars, and a great ball of fire that will annihilate most of the inhabitants of our planet. Only those who follow the messages and fulfill specific directives, which include sexual abstinence, removing television sets from their homes, and stockpiling food and water, will be spared destruction from the promised calamities.

The Bayside Movement was modeled on the visions and messages reported at a farm in Necedah, Wisconsin, in 1950 by Mary Ann Van Hoof, a married woman who was taught spiritualism by her mother. The Virgin Mary allegedly first appeared on Good Friday with the message to “pray, pray, pray.” Mary Ann was shown a vision of what would happen if the Lady's requests for a shrine, statue and prayers were ignored—a large city had been leveled, as if by a nuclear accident, and mutilated, bloody bodies filled the streets. On August 15, 1950, over 100,000 people witnessed a “miracle of the sun,” while others saw their rosaries change to gold and experienced cures.

The apocalyptic messages reported at Necedah declared that one's religion was of little importance, condemned Vatican II and the new Mass, and lashed out against American society, communism, drugs, abortion, communion in the hand, female lectors, synthetic materials, and a host of other issues. For 35 years, Mary Ann witnessed scenes of the horror and destruction that would soon befall mankind, which included hydrogen bombs, decaying corpses, and terrible chastisements. The seer's visions were accompanied by extreme physical pain.

In June 1955 Bishop John Treacy of Necedah declared that the seer's claims regarding supernatural revelations were false, but the condemnation did not deter believers. The shrine was expanded and many followers continued to move to the area. When Bishop Frederick Freking again condemned the cult in 1969 and promised that he would take sanctions if his directives were not followed, Mary Ann's followers separated from the Catholic Church and are now part of a nationwide network of schismatic Marian cults.

Dr. Mary Jane Even, a former university professor from Lincoln, Nebraska, claimed interior locutions from Jesus and the Virgin Mary from 1992 to 2004, which disclosed secret knowledge about an alleged apocalyptic event called the “Great Warning.” In 1995 the Diocesan Commission stated that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that the locutions were of supernatural origin, adding that, given their “eccentric and far-fetched” nature, the writings were capable of causing harm.

Dr. Even’s messages leave the recipient with a deep sense of hopelessness due to the gravity of the predicted calamities, which include the false prophecies that Pope John Paul II would be forced to flee the Vatican and an Anti-Pope would take over the Church. In 1997, the end of the world was only a few years away, and would be preceded by a great warning, nuclear war, mass suicides, fires, earthquakes, and floods. A meteor was to hit the earth, followed by plagues, nuclear fallout, acid rain, and prolonged temperatures of eighty degrees below zero. Further devastation was to include worldwide food shortages, an economic collapse, the Antichrist, and the destruction of all churches, all before the year 2000.

Although Dr. Even’s messages ended in 2004, a recent message from “Jesus” was sent in March 2007 to all those who had received the locutionist’s messages in the past, even those who asked to have their names removed from her list. The message  informed them that they were now “Disciples of the Latter Times,” and warned them not to share this information with anyone, not even family and friends. They would each be assigned to one of twelve “Apostles.” As disciples, they would be required to serve as bodyguards, a task that would require the ability to use guns, knives, and other weapons.

Anyone can become involved in a cult. The typical recruit is mentally healthy, above average in intelligence, and has a tendency toward high ideals, but is often experiencing a time of sadness, disappointment, or major change. Those between 18 and 26 years of age are particularly vulnerable, but older adults are also susceptible, especially if they suffer from loneliness. Recruits may be invited to participate in activities that may include Bible study, training in meditation, yoga lessons, job opportunities, and trips.

New recruits are separated from their friends, shown a great deal of love and acceptance, and are bombarded with a great deal of new information over a very short period of time, so that it cannot be absorbed or analyzed. It is filled with enormous gaps in logic and employs clichés and coded words. Recruits find that increasing demands are made upon their time. They may be asked to practice frequent repetitive prayer or meditation, wear special clothing, read certain materials, and live in isolation from others. Guilt is used as a key tool of manipulation.

Cults use established techniques to recruit members and induce them to stay. The recruit is programmed not to think, but rather to surrender and obey. The goal is to reduce the person's self esteem, make him doubt the truth of what he formerly believed in, and lead him to believe that the leadership of the group is all-powerful. Punishments are threatened for failure to conform. Questions are never answered, concerns are not addressed, and the person is not given all the information needed to make an informed choice.

Cult leaders have questionable credentials and ultimate authority, but demand unconditional trust from their followers. The generation of wealth is normally the by-product, because large financial contributions are requested. The leaders claim unique contact with God and may exhibit special signs. The opposition is demonized, while anyone who wishes to leave the group is threatened with eternal damnation. Grandiose promises are made, for example, that only those who follow a certain set of messages or instructions are guaranteed physical and spiritual salvation.

Information is the best way to protect ourselves and our children from cults. Catholics must become acquainted with the Bible and the doctrines of our faith, avoid New Age and occult practices, and be extremely cautious of alleged private revelations, especially when the messages claim to be necessary for salvation and employ extreme fear tactics.

Because pseudo-religious cults, human potential movements, and false apparitions are often backed by the forces of evil, it can be very difficult to break the bondage without professional and/or spiritual expertise. It is imperative to stop praying to unknown spiritual entities, dispose of unapproved sacramentals and New Age paraphernalia, make a fervent act of contrition, and receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.

For more information please visit The Woman from Revelation Twelve.