Catherine Katz

Secretary General of MIVILUDES[1] (FR)

 

HOW FRANCE DEALS WITH THE CULTIC FRONT ON THE EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONAL SCENE

 

Since many years the MIVILUDES and before that the MILS[2] have taken part in the FECRIS annual conference with very great interest. I have just heard the two preceding speakers who have shown that France does not have an isolated position on the international scene.

 

You heard Mr Alessandrini. In Italy and also in Belgium things are moving. After having spoken with Mrs Caberta I gather that in Germany too, matters are evolving. France is absolutely not alone on the international level when it sets up a policy to fight against cultic aberrations. It should be recalled that we all belong to States where each and everyone has the right to his/her convictions, however weird they may appear to certain people. In fact it is against cultic aberrations that the vigilance and the combat of the French State are directed. .

 

Why? Because the victims should be taken into account! It is the victims that are affected by the abuse of their personal freedom. Their freedom to come and go, their freedom of choice, without any undue influence exerted on them and it is in this direction that French policy has been evolving for 25 years. May I remind you that the first parliamentary report goes back as far as 1983: it was the Vivien Report which had attracted attention on the extraordinary amount of damage caused by cultic movements to the victims? Three parliamentary boards of inquiry followed in 1995, 1999 and 2006 and we are currently envisaging holding a 4th board of inquiry which could relate to the field of health. Is it necessary to recall that the French members of Parliament are democratically elected?

 

The purpose of the board of inquiry of 1995, "The cults/sects in France" was to take a photograph of the situation of cultic movements in France and it had then listed 172 movements. I will return a little later to the fact that this list caused problems at international level in particular, and resulted in certain countries stigmatizing France for attacking freedom of conscience. I shall explain later why this is not the case.

 

In 1999, in the report on the enquiry "Cults/Sects and money" the members of Parliament noted that the goal of cultic movements, after exerting undue influence, was to obtain money from the followers, to grow rich. How? By proselytising in an exacerbated manner and also by infiltrating the institutional and economic mediums (and I am pleased to note that Mr Alessandrini also stressed this aspect). Vocational training has mobilised cultic movements. The members of Parliament had noted this in 1999 and on the ground locally, we also notice this at present, more than ever.

 

In 2006 a third parliamentary board of inquiry related to childhood. It is a subject to which I attach much importance. There is the International Convention of the rights of the child signed by all the countries in Europe. This International Convention states that the child has rights. These rights pass through a right to socialization, to attain knowledge and to obtain the opening which the child needs in order to become one day a free citizen and find his/her place in society. This convention of the rights of the child is not applied in cultic movements. It is even completely violated in these movements. The members of Parliament pointed out those cases where children were victims and made 50 proposals so that the situation might improve and I should tell you that the report of the MIVILUDES of 2007 was in part devoted to the implementation of these 50 proposals and their follow-up which indicated that 2/3 of the proposals had been effectively implemented. The fate of children in cultic movements is of concern to everyone.

 

Finally, there may soon be a parliamentary board of inquiry in the field of health. This would be extremely important because the damage in this field is dramatic, going as far as causing death.

 

After these parliamentary enquiries, successive governments reacted by creating organisms to counter cultic aberrations: I will quickly pass on the cult observatory which preceded the creation of the MILS (Interdepartmental Mission to combat cults). At international level where the pro-cult lobbies made themselves heard, France was much stigmatized for having created this Mission. In fact this Mission also worked on sectarian aberrations but what was and is considered as important are the deeds which do not respect laws and regulations or which trouble law and order and all that in a context of undue influence. I must stress the undue influence, you spoke about, Mr Alessandrini and, indeed, as a magistrate it is really something which shocks me; it is the fact that finally an individual or groups of individuals hold another individual under influence to make him act in a manner which is prejudicial for him. Such actions cause an individual to lose all freedom, his freedom of action, his free choice: after all, if you decide without constraint to sell all your belongings and to give them to your neighbour or to your neighbour’s wife, it is your right. However if, under influence, and dominated by someone, you deprive your family of all their property, you do not have the choice of doing or not doing it, you are trapped by someone else’s will. It is against this behaviour that the Interdepartmental Mission, of which I have been the secretary-general for three years, is charged to fight.

 

Then, in "Interdepartmental Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Aberrations", each term of the title has its importance. "Interdepartmental" means that all the ministries are implicated in this work because sectarian aberrations do not relate to only one area: the Department of National Education, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence for the gendarmes (police), finally the Department of Justice to which I belong, are concerned with this phenomenon; the Department of Justice has a strategic role, particularly since in the last analysis it this Department which draws up the court orders, which sanction the aberrations. All these ministries have to work together; the combat against cultic aberrations is handicapped when information does not circulate.

 

The Mission implements two axes "vigilance and combat": prevention, repression. Repression: that penal sanctions are applied for behaviour violating the penal code by cultic movements is one thing and it is normal. No country can fail to sanction illegal behaviour including countries which would be more liberal than France and are very critical in our connection. I will just point out what has occurred in Texas recently[3], In this case there is a dysfunction and non-observance of the law and there the police reacts, the gendarmerie, and the legal system too - which is perfectly legitimate.

This combat is essential but insufficient. It is necessary to inform the citizen and to form public agents – that is extremely important - even fundamental. It is at this stage that criticisms arise because some say "you make charges without evidence". Does the victim exist only because there is a penal conviction? As a former examining magistrate, I well know that this is not true. The victim existed long before sentence was passed. He/she may not be able to prove the accusation, the facts may have reached prescription, but the victim has the right not to go to court if he does not want to speak about what he endured any longer. This is a choice that he must have. For all that, is there a reason for the victim to lose the status of victim? Not at all. Would you say to the victims of the Order of the Solar Temple and their families that they are no longer victims because discharge has been pronounced by the jurisdictions? I cannot imagine doing such a thing.

 

It is important to be watchful, to inform people, the public in general, but also to inform the services in charge of investigations. In that sense, French policy is original because it puts the pressure wherever risks of digression exist. I do not pretend that all has been done, despite everything there is still much work to do because it is very difficult to make people understand that an individual may in fact not be free. It is, furthermore, an area where one actually transfers one’s personal convictions. I must admit, quite honestly, that when I first arrived in the MIVILUDES, I believed that, for my part, I could not fall victim of cultic digression. I thought to myself "I have a difficult character, I have a certain personality and I think a minimum of culture and intelligence" because of this I felt I could not succumb to the risk. I know today that I was mistaken, because I have met people of very high intellectual level with very high diplomas, with very strong personalities, who were for years in a cultic movement. Influence has nothing to do with intelligence, with the personality; it is enough to be attracted once by a tempting discussion. The Family associations, the MIVILUDES underline the negative aspects, the aberrations and it is a reality which I do not dispute at all. For the lured future follower however, he sees only the love that he is getting, the promises of happiness, of love, of success (you have no consideration in your everyday life). "We will give you what you need to reach the top of your aptitudes!" and then the follower is subjected to influence and cannot react; he is caught. The investigators, the magistrates, find this aspect very difficult to identify with. Information makes understanding possible and thus to watch out and possibly to avoid cultic aberrations.

 

Our Mission’s task is to inform the Prime Minister through an Annual report about the latest developments and about growing activities: we do not submit a report by just repeating, developing and following up what was said the year before. I think that certain cultic movements would like us to limit ourselves to that. That is not the case. What we do is make an analysis of the data which we have received from all the services, from the base to the top, by all the Departments and decentralised services. There is a very tight network on the whole territory with the departments, a network which is supervised by the police, the gendarmerie, and which carries information right to the top. All this information is analysed on behalf of the Prime Minister. This report is released through a press conference and I take this opportunity today to thank, very officially, our press attaché who has done a remarkable work of communication directed at the public and at potential victims. In our report, this year, we tackle the problem of induced false memories. This problem is also very difficult to apprehend, and I hope our report will make it possible for victims when faced by an investigating magistrate who does not know the problem to say: “I draw your attention to the fact that there is a service of the Prime Minister who has spoken about this question. Maybe you will not believe what is said in my file but you should know that the problem exists and has been analysed”. These reports are useful as they can be used within the framework of procedures and investigations. Last year for instance, in one particular case the analysis we had produced on undue influence in our 2006 Report was used by the investigators to allow the judge to indict, then place into provisional detention a lady guru (a woman head of a cultic movement). The lawyers told us that they had seen our Report in the file of the examining magistrate.

 

Then we are criticized for not being academics or not having the spirit of researchers. It is no secret that within the Mission there are also people who work in contact with the outside reality, who are used to react with regard to the victims. Concretely, the police, the gendarmes, the magistrates, the social actors interact and then analyse these interactions in the interest the victims. The existence of the MIVILUDES is legitimated only by the fact that there are victims whom you here today represent in this conference.

 

Currently, with the Health Department, we are thinking of setting up an evaluation of deviant cultic therapeutic methods which are used by many health charlatans.

 

My role here is not to give lessons. France has a system which corresponds to its history, to its evolution. Finally, whatever system of assistance is created it is fine as long as the victims are taken into account. France is a secular State; therefore it has set up institutions which are perhaps not compatible for every country. What is important is perhaps to find at European level, a kind of minimum converging factor which would enable us to work together, whilst not changing anything to the different approaches which each country may suggest and which remain completely valid. Do not take my remarks as a wish to impose a model to you.

 

There is no legal definition of a cult/sect in France. This is a small problem, often raised by cultic movements or their supporting media, but which is only apparent. Why not a legal definition? Here we differ with Belgium where there is the legal definition of the term "harmful cult". In France the members of Parliament unanimous with all the institutions working on the subject and in particular the observatory on the cults, considered that:

 

  1. For a secular State, to define a cult was to potentially limit freedom of conscience
  2. Because a definition would dangerously limit the term. Cultic movements have a strong capacity of adaptation and would seek to escape a precise definition.

 

I shall now approach what might be possible with regard to European cooperation.

 

When we say there is no definition to the word cult, does that mean there are no victims? No. The European Court of Humans Rights has not given a legal definition of what is a cult/sect either but nevertheless it takes decisions in this field, just like the French jurisdictions. In France, a certain number of cultic/sectarian risks have been detected. Undue influence[4] is the first of these risks with regard to the problem of cultic aberrations.

 

 

 

Undue Influence is always a preliminary when an infringement is committed, or when problems arise in a family within the framework of a divorce, or because of non-respect of the labour laws. Systematically the individual is placed in a state of subjection, under the influence of the movement or the leader of the movement.

 

Then occur the break up in family relationships and many among you here have experienced it. The family can see in the follower’s eyes that they are elsewhere. They break up with their close relations practically from one day to another without warning. It is extremely upsetting to hear the victims relate these situations. It is also very moving because one sees broken families, ruined lives, due only to one person or one person and a movement.

 

And then above all there are the financial demands. The victims are sometimes ruined. Their whole life and that of their close relations are completely broken.

 

Here we are, in a nutshell the way France deals with this question. There are many other criteria of how to detect the cultic risk but those mentioned are the main ones.

 

This "model", this way of seeing things is it exportable? What do we do at that level?

 

For many years, the MILS, then the MIVILUDES really wanted to show other European States in particular, that they were not, what the cultic movements and their friends affirmed, attacking freedom of conscience and beliefs. Some movements exist in France which respect the rules of the game, these movements do not pose any problem, cultic or not. However, the presence of undue influence in any structure should be carefully vetted. Today maybe nothing harmful will occur, but tomorrow we may have new victims, it is therefore an element which has to be taken into account.

 

Why then is France criticized? Let’s start with that. France was criticized because of the existence of the list of 172 movements. To be quite clear about that, this list is no longer in use by State bodies because it is out of date, (it goes back to 1995). The MIVILUDES centre their work on behaviour.

 

Then the MILS was criticized (Interdepartmental Mission to combat cults) but the MILS did exactly what the MIVILUDES does today, i.e. to fight against the deeds perpetrated by cults: therefore this criticism is of no interest.

 

And then, there is criticism of the Law About-Picard! However, this Law About-Picard makes it possible to retain an incrimination when the followers are placed in a state of subjection thus under undue influence. The term "put in a state of subjection" was preferred to that of mental manipulation. It is an infringement difficult to prove. I will not go into detail, but to prove the spiritual influence of an individual on another is not easy. Fortunately, it happens that certain leaders of movements are so proud of the influence which they exert and take such pleasure in putting others under influence, that they film themselves. Because these films could be presented as proof, judgments were passed. Although criticized this law was validated through all its stages. It was validated by the constitutional Council in France, it was validated by the European authorities who said that it was quite legitimate for a State to seek penal protection from digressive behaviour consisting of placing an individual under influence and making him ruin his life. Cultic movements complain that this is bad. Certain States, in particular Anglo-Saxon ones, are worried. But it is a law which is extremely useful and which is also used for other infringements than cult-related ones and that is important. This position however should be explained and that’s what we have endeavoured to do for the past three years, with the Prefect Roulet, and all the advisers of the MIVILUDES.

 

We regularly go to Conferences when other States solicit us and explain our manner of tackling this problem. Many Central European countries have invited us. They are very interested in our way of functioning. We also go to meetings of the European institutions. Just a short explanation about the European institutions: cultic movements have perfectly understood that the combat is not only carried out on national ground but also at the level of the European institutions. I have to stress how pleased I was last year that FECRIS was present at the meeting of the OSCE-ODIHR[5] in Warsaw. That was much appreciated by all. We heard the echoes from our ambassador, the echoes from Mr. Strohal the director of the ODIHR: all were happy that FECRIS intervened and that the voice of the victims was heard and not only were those of cultic movements who had come to complain on how States like Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Poland totalitarian.

 

There are those associations who were able to come and express the suffering of the victims of cultic aberrations and who could also do it in Strasbourg, in the Council of Europe, thanks to Mrs. Oeschger and to Mrs. Muller-Tulli. Really, it is important that you communicate, it is important that we communicate at European level.

 

The relations of MIVILUDES with international associations and in particular with FECRIS are essential. May I remind you that since I first took up this function three years ago, I have always come to your conferences. Therefore don’t hesitate; there are four of us here from the MIVILUDES. There is a person responsible for health, a person who deals with the investigators (police and gendarmes), and finally a person in charge of relations with Parliament. Thus, do not hesitate to ask me if you wish to speak to these people and obtain information.

 

Now, it is useful to explain France’s position, it is also good to inform on the position of FECRIS, it is positive to communicate on the legitimacy of our action but can we go further? Can one imagine a common model in Europe and a minimum point of convergence?

 

I tend to think that this could be realised only through technical actions and aspects, like problems of minors for example. Once again I am personally attached to the protection of the weakest and the protection of minors is a subject common to all and which could be a point of entrance. Which country can accept that its minors be crushed, destroyed, violated, misused? Another possible entrance point is health. An evaluation of deviating methods, be they cultic or not, can make it possible to find common ground. Why not a European observatory in the field of sectarian aberrations? As far as I am concerned there are two ways of envisaging an observatory: the Belgian documentation centre CIAOSN[6] and then other countries which have a more university oriented observation centre …

 

The French vision prefers a concrete approach, founded on reality and taking account of the victims because that is what we consider important. After that, each country can have a different idea, and perhaps this vision is a little provocative, but I put it to you for consideration.

 

And then an important point consecutive with the former one: the importance of police and legal cooperation. I believe that at international level it is necessary for the police services and national justice departments to exchange information. Cultic movements know no borders. To escape national sanctions they cross the border, from one border to another with an incredible speed: financial flows also cross the borders to escape tax sanctions obviously.

 

And finally, at legislative level: there is our About-Picard law, and as a Magistrate I find that it is of great utility because it makes it possible to recognise the concept of undue influence and thence the victim of cultic digression. If, at European level, work could be undertaken which would permit that the various parliamentarians from the different countries, would plan to take this law as a starting point, the fate of victims would be facilitated by it. I heard you Mr. Alessandrini on Italy: really it is a law which acts as a recourse for the victims and for magistrates, which allows sanctions to be imposed for deeds both on groups and on individuals.

 

Then to finish, why stop in Europe? Explain to Anglo-Saxon countries that our step is not an attack on freedom of religion and that the stake is the protection and the defence of the victims of those who ridicule human rights. We implicated ourselves recently in Quebec (our common language facilitating exchanges), but I am sure that it should be possible, and with the United States and with other countries who seem less receptive to our ways of thinking.

 

Thank you for your attention.



[1] Mission Interministérielle de Vigilance et de Lutte contre les Dérives Sectaires

[2] Mission Interministérielle de Lutte contre les Sectes

[3] On April 3, 2008 authorities in Texas (Service of Child welfare) carried out a descent on the YFZ Ranch, (Eldorado in Schleicher County), property of a dissenting Mormon, fundamentalist and polygamous group, following a complaint for sexual abuse. To begin with they took along 137 children and 46 women.

 

[4] Translator’s note: I have used “undue influence” but other translations exist of this phenomenon. Steven Hassan speaks of “Mind control”, others of “illicit influence or subjugation”, in Harrap’s dictionary this could be simply defined as “to have a hold over somebody; under the influence of…”

 

[5] OSCE-ODIHR Office of the democratic institutions and the rights of man of the OSCE

[6]Opinion and information centre on Harmful Cultic Organisations (CIAOSN)