Lawyer and honorary member of the Belgian Chamber of representatives
President in 1996-1997 of the Parliamentary
Commission on the illegal activities of cults.
The parliamentary Board of Inquiry…Ten Years later
Beginnings of a Board of inquiry
When, at the beginning of 1996, Antoine Duquesne took the initiative of proposing the setting-up of a board of inquiry on cults and the danger which some of them represent, the Belgian Chamber of representatives did not hesitate: France had already taken the initiative and the climate provoked by certain current events had overcame all hesitations.
For at this time, cult victims were numerous and the deaths generated by some of their activities could be counted by hundreds.
the Order of the
This being said, the ground was nevertheless a minefield.
Facing the associations fighting the ever more pervading influence of the cultist phenomenon there is a kind of international of "new religious movements" which often hides behind the mask of the defenders of humans rights, assisted by sociologists and academics specialised or self-proclaimed, openly slandering, through articles, conferences and publications, what they call the “cult of anti-cults” supposedly attacking religious freedom or recreating witch hunts.
This is explosive ground and all the more so because a certain number of harmful sectarian organisations, prosperous and respected, do not hesitate to use threats, intimidation, denigration, slander, mud slinging, file building against their opponents and even resorting to more direct activities, such as stealing documents or physically or telephonically harassing them.
The philosophy of the investigation
The setting-up of a board of inquiry into cults requires particular precautions, finely honed cautiousness, particular care to remain objective, innate respect of religious and philosophical freedom, great respect and attention of others. But it also needs rigour and courage. If one wants to be correct and objective it is necessary to lay aside prejudice but also to ask the right questions allowing the flushing out of double talk and semantic eye wash presenting an idyllic picture of an often very raw reality.
It was therefore with this philosophy in mind that, thanks to the backing of the majority of the members of the commission, covering the whole political spectrum, I tackled the work of investigation.
The introduction of the report summarises well the intentions of the commission which I can testify were respected:
The parliamentary board of inquiry sought to undertake its work in a spirit which took account of the requirements of contemporary society: objectivity, truth, transparency, pluralism, the overruling of obsolete barriers, responsibility.
The report accounts for the execution of the mandate of the commission. The latter intends to subject to public discussion in the Chamber and by citizens, the observations, analyses, proposals or recommendations, those which it recorded and those that it adopted, and this in a spirit of opening but at the same time of responsibility.
As was expressed on several occasions during work of the commission, it was never intended to start a witch hunt.
Fundamental freedoms guarantee by the Constitution are intangible and must be completely respected. That, on the other hand, which must vigorously be fought against, in fact is the abuse by certain people or associations. Such is the single objective of the mission of the commission.
In addition, the commission is not unaware of the abusive use made in current language of the term "cult".
Too often the word cult is used, and not always in an innocent way, to describe any group whose members behave oddly, strangely, or even simply in an unusual manner in their beliefs, their choice of medical treatment, their social or sexual behaviour, even in the way they spend their money.
Because of the criminal activities of certain organisations, the term cult has become associated with the concept of danger.
The commission made a point of denouncing any amalgam, intentional or not, between dangerous associations, on the one hand, and simply non typical behaviour, on the other hand.
The commission thus never had as objective the will to consider as normal only standard behaviour or to moralise in any manner whatsoever. The report should therefore be read and understood with this in mind.
The extent of the investigation, the number of hearings and the voluntarily contradictory character of the auditions show that the commission intended to devote itself to an objective investigation, without any prior conclusions. It is clear however that objectivity is not synonymous with passivity or pusillanimity.
The commission would have betrayed its mission had it hidden from public opinion a certain number of observations and unpleasant truths which were, alas, confirmed. Perhaps the conclusions of the commission have all the more weight as they are the fruit of objective work. We hope so”
A contradictory methodology
From the start, we decided to break with the methodology of the French commission which had limited itself primarily to closed-door hearings of a score of high personalities with public responsibilities.
We chose to deal with a wider range of information, with more diversified sources of witnesses, generally this work was open to the public (when the situation allowed it) and with contradictory written and verbal hearings of organisations pin pointed by the police services.
We held 58 meetings and heard 136 witnesses (i.e. 6 times more than the French commission).
Were invited as witnesses: members of the government, representatives of the judiciary, persons in charge or members of the police force and intelligence services, members of the committee “R” and empowered persons in the administration (Federal and local authorities). The commission also called for the testimony of a certain number of university professors, of scientists and authors with theoretical or practical knowledge in this field.
In a second phase, the commission questioned representatives of defence associations of cult victims, as well as former followers of cultist movements and members of the families of followers or ex-followers.
Lastly, the commission also made a point of hearing (at their request) the testimony of representatives of various movements considered as cultist so as to allow them to expose their point of view on the matter while supplementing its information.
For reasons of confidentiality and public or personal safety, a certain number of witnesses were heard in camera at their request.
A number of these were only heard by the President, assisted by members of the commission’s bureau, in order to preserve their anonymity.
Finally, a few witnesses preferred to send a written deposition to the commission.
Furthermore, the commission had decided to write to the 71 associations which, within the framework of its investigation, Belgian official authorities suspected of harbouring cultic tendencies (in particular on the basis of the criteria of the French parliamentary board of inquiry) and to represent a danger for society and the individual. These associations were invited to address a memorandum to the commission, exposing the objectives of their organisation and contest, if necessary, their possible cultist and dangerous character.
Forty seven organisations reacted to this invitation. The information provided by them was used by the commission to draw up its report. In addition, as indicated above, the commission went ahead with the hearings of movements which had expressly asked to be heard.
the same time as our weekly hearings, at our request, the thorough examination
of the ECOOVIE penal file was undertaken. This revealed a marked legal activity
concerning fraud and related offences but oddly little mention of cultist
activities strictly speaking such as undue influence or abusive sexual
practices by the leader of the cult, now hiding in the
The evidence appeared to be partly true and the action of the judge more than probably discouraged the attempt to resuscitate the movement which was being prepared in an exceptionally closed military milieu where Luc Jouret (one of the two gurus of the cult) had carried out his military service. The senior police officers in charge of this investigation had had the great surprise to discover that they were being tailed by another service (official or not). This proves that to investigate such matters remains perilous and fraught with obstacles.
It is absolutely certain that these investigations, such as the thorough and reasoned hearings of the leaders of eleven organisations led to greater cautiousness in the behaviour by the majority of harmful cultist organisations thus prompting them to adopt smoother tactics and to soften certain too visible excesses.
Contents of the report
The commission’s investigation report contained 670 pages: it is impossible to summarise in a few sentences.
To the summary of the auditions, to the analysis of the statements in camera, and to the minutes of the legal duties were added some strong points:
1. Conclusions of the commission including an attempt to definite “cult”.
2. Presentation of a series of recommendations of the commission.
3. Publication of a synoptic table.
1. The definition of cult.
After having gathered an abundant documentation and many proposals formulated by a great number of witnesses, the commission suggested an analysis in three points.
o Firstly, definition of cult strictly speaking
The commission notes:
"In the first place, specially defined in the dictionary “Petit Robert”, a cult signifies "an organised group of people with the same doctrines within a religion.”
In such a definition, the "cult" is in itself respectable and represents simply the normal use of religious freedom and association guaranteed by our basic rights.
Some people may then back the notion that some of these associations are the result of new philosophical or religious ideas, baptised by the more neutral name of "new religious movements".
It appeared clearly that for the board of inquiry, "cults" or "new religious movements" were not considered as a danger as such. The interpretation of the conclusions of the commission and the attached list can only be understood by keeping in mind this essential principle.
As I see it, this extract of the report shows the perfect objectivity of the commission and its great concern to respect the fundamental principle of religious freedom.
o Harmful cultic organisations.
The commission then tried to present a synthetic definition of what it named "harmful cultic organisations" in order to clearly distinguish them from ordinary sects, religions and new religious movements. It will be seen that this effort of clarification, this very clear distinction was not enough to disarm the crusade of the unconditional partisans claiming the harmlessness of the cultist phenomenon.
We had said:
b. Harmful cultist organisations.
Certain organisations among "cults" (or "new religious movements”), either because of their basic philosophic conception, or their organisation, or a drift in the evolution of their concepts, or of their behaviour and activities, are implicated in harmful or illegal practices or endangering individuals or society, thus attacking the fundamental principles guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One could then define a harmful cultist organisation as a grouping with a philosophical or religious vocation, or claiming to have one which, in its organisation or its practice, is implicated in dangerous illegal activities, harmful to individuals or society or undermining human dignity.”
We had added to the definition itself, very short an easy to understand, thirteen danger criteria largely inspired of the conclusions of the French commission.
Nobody really disputed our definition and it took the well known Massimo Introvigne, head of CESNUR, to launch himself into a real intellectual conjuring trick for which he has some talent to detect in the definition that which was not there (only undue influence was retained among the thirteen danger criteria!) and to do this in an absolutely artificial manner, "the central point from whence to evaluate the conclusions of the Belgian report" whose drafting on this point was incorrectly allotted to the criminologist Johan Goethals, whereas it was entirely drafted by me.
Actually, the fundamental criticism related to the fact that the commission was supposed to have abusively made a distinction between "behaviour and belief". Mr. Introvigne had written:
…rigid separation between doctrine and behaviour is in fact impossible: the behaviour of a religious movement may not be interpreted, rebuilt and understood, without starting from the very source of the doctrine from which it is derived.
To examine certain actions or behaviours disregarding motivation and their context means, simply, to consider the activities of humans as if they were robots without psychology and heart. To reason in this way means to create an authentic iron curtain…
This type of reasoning, which is far from innocent or uncertain in its expression, is quite significant.
It is akin to giving one’s blessing to the behaviour which is illegal or contrary to human rights of certain cultic organisations as from the precept which validates any doctrine as being in itself responsible as long as it is religious, even if it carries criminal activities?
Thus the cultist act, even harmful, is in essence virtually justified. It was only too obvious that our texts in no way attacked "religious concepts" or "doctrines" unless their contents led to deviant tendencies which induced the violation of the rights of others. If the messenger or the doctrine bearer (the guru or the prophet) teaches or approves harmful behaviour, it is obviously against such deeds that our definition is directed, insofar as the followers may consider that they are authorised to carry out acts against the rights of the individual or incompatible with the law.
From the minute when a movement with a religious or philosophical vocation not only leads to the acceptance of the collective suicide of adults, but under the terms of its evolutionary and deviant doctrine, grants itself the right to assassinate a 6 month old baby by planting a spike in its body, under the pretext that it is the reincarnation of the devil, a modern civilized society has the duty to react because it is confronted with a criminal doctrine.
o Criminal organisations.
Our commission had fully understood that the cover of religion could be used to camouflage criminal organisations, important swindles, various traffics in human beings or in drugs and tax evasion or money laundering.
It had the courage therefore to define a third category:
The board of inquiry estimates that organisations of criminals (swindlers, launderers of money, drug traffickers, paedophile circuits, etc.) use or are likely to use a “cultist” frontage or that of religious pseudo-movement to dissimulate their criminal practices. They are no longer in such cases considered as harmful cults or cults that have gone wrong but as organised criminal organisation disguised as cults. It is certain that in several countries, this type of protective frontage can appear effective and profitable (tax advantages granted to recognised churches, for example).
is clear that in the spirit of the report, on the basis of the witnesses heard
and information transmitted by official services (prosecutors office, police
force, gendarmerie, intelligence) the
2. Recommendations of the commission
Varied, touching many different fields, our recommendations were implemented in several cases. I will not speak of these results, as there are other speakers today who will expose the evolution of this parliamentary work and that of the observatory on cults which was set up following a proposal of the commission which, as we imagined it, was to continue and develop the work it had initiated.
3. The synoptic table
The board of inquiry literally created an event by publishing, at the
end of the report, a synoptic table of 189 organisations more or less active in
The commission never intended to publish an exhaustive list of harmful cultist organisations. On the contrary, because it did not have the means of controlling the allegations, often hazardous, by police services.
The publication of the list was preceded by a very clear warning which was deliberately ignored - voluntarily in many cases, alas - by the readers of the report:
This table results from the information collected by the commission, throughout its work. The names which are mentioned here were provided under the total responsibility either by official services (gendarmerie, Criminal Investigation Department, State intelligence, general Service of Information and Security, Department of Justice) questioned on these matters or by direct or indirect witnesses, heard under oath.
This list does not constitute a point of view or a judgement of values by the commission. Thus, the fact that a movement has appeared in it, even if it is on the initiative of an official authority, does not mean that the commission considers it to be a cult or that it is dangerous.
As the table shows it, the commission was not able to check all the information collected or to control its exactitude.
For the same reasons, insofar as this table is not exhaustive, the fact of not appearing on it does not constitute an appreciation on the harmlessness of a movement.
The examination of these movements must be more thorough and the table must be updated permanently
As regards the analysis of this table, the reader will refer usefully to the section of the report devoted to the definitions, and also the statements by witnesses both, public or in camera.
Actions and reactions against the commission
Anyone touching certain harmful cults is nearly sure of being subjected to a press campaign, slander, lawsuit, harassment and even threats.
the beginning of the Belgian commission, the phenomenon was confirmed. The
journalist A. Lallemand, of Le Soir,
author of a book on the danger of cults and called as a witness by the
commission received anonymous threats sent to his newspaper which were sent in
his name and at the same time to the members of the commission. The, alas,
famous text by Ron Hubbard relating to the regulation on good behaviour of
Nothing less than destroy.
Questioned by me, in public, none of the leaders of scientology interviewed under oath dared to refute this rule by the founder of this strange church.
A certain Vandenneucker, engineer, 31 year old, follower, is heard at his request and praises scientology. Questioned by me in connection with his attacks against the French legal expert Mr Abgrall, he replies
I attacked what he said but not him personally. There are 2 options. Personally, I do not care if somebody is or is not a scientologist. It is his choice, every one’s freedom.
That a group, which is not scientologist, simply starts to attack and to scorn the life of people who have chosen their religious freedom, I do not agree and there I attack. It is with this optic that I agree with what Mr Hubbard said.
The President: You would agree with Mr Hubbard to destroy the opponents of scientology?
Mr Vandenneucker: What does the word "to destroy" mean?
Such a reply is quite enlightening.
As for Mr Vaquette, one of the leaders of the church in Belgium, after beating about the bush for a considerable time and contesting the use of the methods recommended by R. Hubbard, in our country, he ended up by conceding:
That is the problem: it is not a question of criticism. It’s that freedom of religion is at stake: this lady never ceases to try and destroy my religion. I do not agree, and I think that the French scientologists do not agree at all.
Cornered, Mr Vaquette partially admits. I say to him:
If I understand you well, you consider that if somebody wants to criticise scientology and, for example, to take measures against it, you will try to constitute a file against him and denigrate him.
I will ask my lawyers to intervene. It is their job to deal with that, not mine. I do not deal with legal business. My lawyers will decide if a lawsuit should be engaged, a private detective will gather evidence, will question people. It will be his work.
Further on, he becomes more specific.
If a dog bites me, I will not hesitate to kick him back. That is my position.
I could not resist asking him:
If someone strikes you, you do not present the other cheek, you strike!
To this he replied, showing clearly the meaning that his Church gives to the verb "to strike":
Yes. That depends on the intention expressed.
this long hearing which lasted several hours was very profitable; on the
electrometer, the price of the courses, the sales turnover and repatriation of
benefits to the
Below the verbatim of the hearing:
The President: There was a conflict between the church of scientology and Interpol?
Mr Vaquette: Yes.
The President: And was this commission mandated manage this conflict?
Mr Vaquette: And to lead it to a happy end for everyone concerned. The happy end was signed with a lawyer a few years ago.
The President: What is the happy end?
Mr Vaquette: An agreement of good co-existence. Interpol does not deal with scientology as a religion because its statutes do not allow it. It is a long story.
The President: Therefore, if I understand well, Interpol signed a convention with this commission which was a creation of the church of scientology and under the terms of this convention, Interpol agreed no longer to look into matters concerning the church of scientology?
Mr Vaquette: I do not have the exact terms obviously, Mr President. It is the American lawyer who signed, but I know that a peace agreement was signed.
The President: A peace agreement?
M. Vaquette: Yes that’s right
The President: Here is an international police force association which agrees not to concern itself with one specific association… Interesting. One learns every day.
There will be another proof of the Hubbard system of manipulating concepts and international organisations. With my question: "the European Human Rights and Public Businesses Office", what is it?
Vaquette answers: It is the office of public relations here in
Interpol and humans rights served with different trimmings one could say and at the disposal of harmful cultist organisations very officially protected.
Scientology was not alone to have intervened against the commission.
As soon as the report was published, Cardinal Daneels reacted violently to the fact that Opus Dei and the Charismatic Revival had appeared in the synoptic table having been accused by several witnesses. In the television programme devoted to the subject, I was the object of virulent personal attacks in the libellous style which had been used against my French colleague Vivien. These attacks, relayed by Opus Dei, were translated concretely by political pressures against the members of the commission (particularly the Social-Christians) and Parliament itself was invited by the Catholic hierarchy not to vote the report. Pressure on the PSC and the CVP were direct and terrible. I believe that the parliamentarians Willems and Mrs. t’Serclaes could tell us more about it.
And yet… The Vice-Rector of UCL , Mr Ringlet, had strongly insisted on the increasing influence of dangerous cultic groups on the campus of Louvain-la-Neuve.
This period was very trying for me and convinced me of the real difficulty for a public figure to defend with objectivity the collective interest faced by unscrupulous lobbies.
It was not over.
American board of inquiry (State Department and Congress together) asked to
meet me. To my amazement, the report which it sent to
On the international level, all the across the board organisations set up by the main cultic organisations which we had denounced in our report competed in their denigration of our report as they had done for the French report.
Human right without Frontiers (sic) published an analysis entitled "The return of the Jacobins" devoted to the report of our commission by Massimo Introvigne, director of CESNUR, lecturer in the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum of Rome.
The essential concern of this lecturer is to give a scientific distinction to what one could call the "defence and illustration" of cultist organisations renamed for the needs of the cause "new religious movements ".
The trouble with regard to those who defended this thesis is that the Belgian report, far from attacking small beginner cults to better protect large churches (those "cults which succeeded", according to the shock formula coined by Anne Morelli), broached all that appeared to malfunction just about everywhere, be it within excessive Protestantism, deviant Buddhism, or certain Catholic chapels tempted by a return to "sectarianism".
We were then surprisingly attacked because of what was perceived as an excess of objectivity in the management of the hearings.
Massimo Introvigne writes:
On the basis of rationalist prejudice which often emerges from the interventions of the President of the commission in his dialogue with the witnesses, and which has a major rooting in the history of secularity and Belgian anticlericalism, a source of information on the movements examined was ignored. The official representatives of the majority churches were kept away.
To qualify rationalism as prejudice is already extraordinary but to call it into question thus flairs of an obsolete form of clericalism which still stirs unpleasant souvenirs. Obviously it is only used because of a lack of concrete proof with regard to the objective manner we managed the hearings. Unless the respect that I showed of all the opinions and beliefs was considered suspicious in the eyes of the patented defenders of cultism understood in its pejorative sense.
The other accusations are dishonest. All the auditioned groupings freely explained their doctrines and their sources in detail, without the least interference or interruption. Eminent Catholic representatives were heard (unless Gabriel Ringlet is also a dangerous anticlerical rationalist) and all the calling into question of Opus Dei, the Revival or Het Werk comes from witnesses who do not belong to militant secularity!
The reactions to the work of the board of inquiry never ceased.
In 1997, Anne Morelli, although she had been lengthily heard by the commission, published a pamphlet entitled “Open letter to the cult of the anti-cults” where she emitted a series of counter-truths, showing that she had not read our report nor even scanned over its synopsis. An attitude incompatible with her status of academic and hers claims to scientific work.
She will reiterate in 2003, by attacking, in a Carte Blanche of the newspaper Le Soir, at the same time our commission and the very cautious Observatory of Cults, which she suggests removing. Le Soir agreed to publish my response to these wild statements often inspired by an immoderate taste for paradox.
At the same time, several legal attacks were aimed at the French Community which, on the initiative of Laurette Onkelinx, published, for schools, an information booklet based on the reports of the commission.
That this decision violates the separation of powers and is part of an attack by certain members of the judicial power against the independence legislative power is not to be doubted. The empowerment for independent investigation of the Chamber of representatives is badly accepted in many milieus of the Establishment.
But an even more serious event takes place. The Court of Appeal attacks our report without consulting the serious documents that the commission disposed of: reports of the official services of four different sources and the testimonies collected under oath in camera.
It is difficult to understand how a parliamentary commission could ignore the precise information provided by the prosecutor’s office, the services of the gendarmerie, the Criminal Investigation Department or State Security when they are confirmed with the same precision by witnesses heard under oath. This is especially so if the incriminated organisation carefully abstained from answering the invitation to participate in a written or oral debate. The position of the Court actually contests the right for a judge in charge of a case to use any incriminating material based on minutes contained in an investigation or to use testimony which he himself has heard. One can conclude that the Court of Appeal, in its concern to fly to the assistance of an organisation described as criminal in a parliamentary enquiry based on a consistent file, has objectively and voluntarily, without being familiar with the case, disparaged and devalued work obtained by serious investigation and contributed to the rehabilitation in the spirit of the public of harmful cultism. As I wrote in Le Soir, the Court, by doing this "is howling with the wolves".
There you are. I think that this proves the usefulness of your organisation because objective information on harmful cults is never completed. And it supposes permanent exchange of information with the more aware members of Parliament, such as the working group which has just successfully completed its work of updating the 1997 report.
My conclusion is thus pessimistic – optimist. The influence of harmful cults on a certain number of institutions remains catastrophic. On the other hand, permanent watchfulness makes it possible to impede and limit the harmful effects which we have analysed and denounced in our report.
It remains for me, in spite of the attacks, a subject of satisfaction.
 Lawyer, Minister of State, Member of the European Parliament. In 1996-97 Rapporteur of the Commission on the illegal activities of cults.
 Comité permanent de contrôle des services de renseignements et de sécurité (Comité R)
 Center for Studies on New Religions
At the moment of the edition of this document: “Condemned for the report on cults in 1997, the Chamber of Representatives wins before the Supreme Court of Appeal.” (La Libre Belgique, June 3,4,5-2006)
 Parti Social Chrétien (Belgium)
 Christelijke Volkspartij (Belgium)
Université Catholique de Louvain
 Professor, interdisciplinary Center of studies of religions, Université Libre de Bruxelles
 According to the Constitution (article 2),
 Minister-president of the Government of the French Community, in charge of Education, Audio-visual, Youth, Childhood and Health (1995-1999)