About the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko and Carmen, and what it does to members.
What is the Neocatechumenal Way?
The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in Spain in 1964 by Francisco (Kiko) Arguello and Carmen Hernandez, and is dedicated to the religious formation of Catholic adults. It contains about 40,000 communities worldwide with 20-50 members in each community, and now has about a million individual members. The group has had the support of three Popes so far, the most notable being John Paul II.
Who are Kiko and Carmen?
Francisco "Kiko" Jose Gomez de Arguello y Wirtz is a Spanish painter, flamenco guitarist, and founder of the Neocatechumenal Way. His partner, Carmen Hernandez, is also Spanish and is a former nun. She holds a Phd. She studied chemistry and theology. In 1964, Kiko and Carmen founded the Neocatechumenal Way, after working spiritually with the poor in the shantytowns around Madrid. They are now based in Italy.
Why did you make this site?
I made this site because I want to help people escape the Way's influence and for the Way to stop ruining people's lives. I started researching the Way when I found out my Italian friend was ensnared in it and when I found out it was probably what tore his friendship away from me. I want to see people get out of the Way because I've heard a lot of horror stories from former members, some of whom emailed me personally.
I also created this site because I'm hoping someone can help me get my friend out of the Way and everything it forced him into.
Is Kiko like Hitler? Is the Way a type of Nazi organization?
No. Kiko Arguello organizes his group based on religious belief, specifically Catholic Christianity combined with his own beliefs. Hitler organized his movement based on race. Kiko is internationalist and his group exists worldwide without national boundaries, whereas Hitler and his movement were confined to the German nation and its interests. Kiko is not politically active; the Nazis were. Kiko is a big supporter of Judaism; his priests sometimes dress in rabbi garb and integrate Jewish symbols into the masses, Kiko composed a Holocaust symphony "The Suffering of Innocents," and he is possibly part Jewish himself (Francisco Arguello y Wirtz), though this has not been verified. The Nazis were against the Jewish race and religion.
However, like Hitler, Kiko is aggressive and demands a lot from his followers, ostracizing those who do not agree with him. He is also a type of revolutionary or social reformer who does not take no for an answer, and acts belligerent to get his way.
What are some of the most common reasons people join the Way?
People who are having hard times, who have been abandoned by their loved ones and families, who have addictions, who crave emotional recognition from a group, and who want structure in their lives often join. Many people join because they like the music, hear a positive testimonial from someone they know inside the Way, or like some of the things they hear and believe there is a lack of morality in the world which the Way can cure.
What are some common reasons people leave the Way?
Complaints of induced guilt (including unearned), people being forced or pressured to marry and have children, not being allowed to ask questions without being demonized, having to give 10% of one's income to the group after a certain level is reached, inflexible meeting times with no reprieve for those who can't or won't attend, non-Way-related are branded idols, people being forced to drop contact with loved ones opposed to the Way or its interests, strong Catholics who dislike the Protestant-like theology, embarrassing group confessions and frightening moral scrutinies, and general feelings of depression and despair.
How do I leave such a group?
The best thing to do is to talk to both an exit counselor and former members. Some psychologists are opposed to religion in general, so if you are religious, make sure you find someone who is suited towards your beliefs. Befriend other exited members.
Make a list of all you like about the group and all you don't like about it. Try to describe why you do or don't like each thing. Do not feel like you are being forced to make the group "disappear" from your mind if you like some aspects of it; you are just trying to be free from it, not erase it.
Do not be afraid to be angry at the founders or local leaders. It doesn't mean you hate or betrayed them, it just means you want them to change. You can be angry at someone and not betray them (we are angry at our family all the time, for example).
Don't think you're being "hypocritical" or being "sucked back into the group" because you do not suddenly want to condemn all of their practices. It's not hypocritical or weak to be specific in what you agree with and do not. It is silly, however, to believe everything in life can be painted good or bad.
Don't think you are being "corrupted" by the outside world. While it is true the outside world doesn't understand what the group members understand, that doesn't mean the group was always right. It's just that it had a different viewpoint. If you think the outside world is corrupt (I do as well), then feel free not to associate with its bad parts. Just don't try to solve the corrupt world by joining a group that has problems.
Don't think this is the end of your contact with members. One goal for exiters could be to free their fellow members or to change the nature of the groups to let them open up more to the outside world.
What if I don't want to leave?
You can do what you want, but I strongly suggest you at least change your behavior if your family and friends are being harmed by what the group does or asks you to do. If you don't want to leave because you fear you will have to give up the parts you enjoy or agree with, just remember you are perfectly free to listen to the music, look at the paintings, and follow the teachings on your own. If you don't want to leave because you will leave your friends behind, try to see if you can get them free from the Way too. Perhaps one day we will succeed in changing the Way's practices so they allow non-members more contact with members. You don't have to make the Way disappear; you can just have to be free from its chains.
Am I really being brainwashed or controlled by this group? It doesn't feel like I am.
The Neocatechumenal Way, as far as I know, does not use outright brainwashing techniques (i.e., drugs, Chinese water torture, hypnotism involving swinging pendulums and commands to sleep, etc), and members do not have trouble recalling events that happened to them while inside the Way (even if many escapees recognize their actions and feelings inside the Way weren't always genuine). They are conscious when it is happening and even an active part of the process. But it is true many members undergo changes in personality, thoughts, morals, or behavior they would never have gone through if not for the Way. Some of these changes are good, but many are bad, and even if they do not make the individual unhappy (at least not on the outside), they can cause pain for others his actions affect.
It's quite possible you happen to agree with all the group says and would have agreed with them even if they didn't encourage you to. That happens. Especially since much of what the Way teaches may be right, or a matter of subjective opinion/viewpoint, your agreement with them may be your own choice. But there is overwhelming testimony from members and ex-members that the Way also tries to control people's thoughts in opposition to their will. In addition, they are dishonest, if not directly controlling. Someone does not have to be controlled or confused in order to be influenced to do bad things. If your three friends pressure you into throwing snowballs at cars, were they brainwashing you? No. But they contributed heavily to your act. Besides, some members are outright controlled by the Way, such as those forcibly kicked out of their own houses by a catechist.
What the Neocatechumenal Way practices is thought reform. They do not openly brainwash people or turn them into zombies, but try to affect members' minds in ways members may not notice or be able to fight, and members may end up doing or believing things that really aren't part of who they are. They do this by way of guilt, the music, control of eating habits, sleep deprivation, and hypnotic chanting. They feel themselves getting into the spirit of what they preach by these methods, and figure they should use them on others to procure the same effect. Kiko understands he can adhere people to his beliefs by using these tactics, so he makes sure his catechists use HIS songs, rituals, symbols, prayers, music, etc.
The catechists aren't sitting at their desks, villainously stroking their pet cats, saying to themselves, "Yes, yesss! When the convivence is finished tomorrow, we will have 6 new members! Excellent!" I don't think the Neocats think they are wrong or that they are somehow controlling people's minds. They think they are making people see things the way they believe is right. Since the concepts they work with are largely subjective, it is hard to say they are "wrong" or "right." But those in the upper part of the Way are obviously aware things like Easter ceremony (sleep/food deprivation) can bind members to the Way and its agendas. Even if they don't consciously intend these rituals to be brainwashing sessions, because they believe their agenda is right, the rituals nonetheless have the same effect as brainwashing. They push a person to accept something he might not otherwise accept, for reasons other than his own conscious, logical evaluation of its merits.
But I was using my own mind. I wasn't being controlled.
True. You might not have been controlled. The NC Way doesn't always directly control people. And someone doesn't need to be controlled to be led in the wrong direction or be influenced. You may have been using your own mind. What the Way does is not so much that it tells you things that aren't true, but it keeps you from hearing other things that are true. They don't tell you lies as much as they place your focus on only one part of the picture. You are free to use your own mind, but only within the confines of what they teach. You won't be told what TO look at as much as you will be steered AWAY from what they do NOT want you to look at.
For example. on a beach there may be an umbrella and a ball. The catechist says, "Hey, look at that ball! That ball exists. Is that not true?" You say, "Yes. The ball exists, and now I see it since you pointed it out to me!" Since the ball does exist, you conclude the Neocats are right and that they are not lying to you. But if they neglect to tell you the umbrella is there as well, are you getting the whole truth? No.
If you do find yourself looking at something they do not want you to look at, or if they are unable to refrain from mentioning it for some reason, they paint it as bad. That is, they take the bad aspects of the thing, and push you to notice only those, not the good aspects.
So if you were to notice the umbrella, they would have no choice but to play the "notice/don't notice" trick on a smaller level. If they cannot make you notice the ball and ignore the umbrella, and then they catch you looking at the umbrella, they scale it down a level. They try to make you notice the bad things about the umbrella and not the good things, and the cycle starts all over again at a micro scale.
Thinking is as much about viewpoint as it is about the facts you know. You may be aware of a fact, but there may be different ways to view it. Think of the saying about the glass being half empty or half full. A propagandist once said that with the right words, you can make people believe they are living in heaven when they are in hell, and vice versa. While the Way may not always be wrong in its teachings, it is true it teaches only one viewpoint. It may say, for example, that red is a color. This is true. What it ignores, however, is that orange and yellow are also colors. So while members may not be brainwashed- they are not taught to see red as green- they're taught to see only red and nothing else (figuratively, of course).
This is exactly how stage magicians work. They use distraction. They keep your eyes on one thing so you don't notice the other. While nothing is really hidden, or changed, it is shown in a different light, which is unfortunately the only light things are ever shown in when the magician is a Catechist.
Subconsciously, many people label something mind control when it is used to teach people something they believe is incorrect or wrong. This is understandable, since a person would not need to be brainwashed to believe something true, since brainwashing implies distortion or hiding truth. A teacher who conditions her class to believe 2+2=4 is not brainwashing them, even though she changes the content of their minds in order to achieve a uniform, universal consensus of belief. Since 2+2 is in fact 4, we would never condemn the teachers actions as dishonest. Mind control is only damaging when it prevents someone from seeing the truth or feeds them a lie, not when it allows them to see truth and lies as they really are.
The NC Way, sadly, doesn't help people see. It tells many truths but also many lies. The rest is subjective; yet even then, it can cause objective harm to people. However, an opinionated exit strategist can be just as bad. Because he may have certain biases about which things are wrong or right, he is inclined to call it "brainwashing" any time a member happens to agree with something he doesn't, even if the member agreed with it outside of the sect's thought reform. The member then believes the strategist has unfair bias against the group, and also becomes unable to tell if he made a certain decision himself or not, since the strategist tells him his own chosen beliefs are part of the brainwashing.
If a person who joins the Way begins to mold himself to their worldview, how much of this was his own choice and how much was the Way's influence?
There are different ways to view things. If someone draws your attention to something, and you notice it, were you noticing it of your own will, or were you somehow "influenced" by the other person because you would not have seen it had he not pointed it out? This person pointed it out to you, yet you chose to pay attention and notice it yourself. The Way often points things out to members they did not notice otherwise, and which are true. Therefore the member concludes that since he would have agreed the thing existed anyway, and was only drawn to notice it because of the Way, that he is not being influenced by them in how to think. They only influenced what he noticed, not how he thought about it.
Influencing what people notice, however, can be just as effective as teaching people to see things that aren't there. As said above, the Neocatechumenal Way trains members to notice only some sides of a belief or issue, and ignore the others. When the members notice the parts the Way pointed out are true, they conclude the Way is right, not realizing it didn't tell them the whole truth.
It's hard to say how much influence a person has on his own process of belief changing. If he allows the Way to change his beliefs does that mean he is responsible for the change? What if he didn't realize they were changing them? What if he would have agreed with what they said even without their influence, and they were merely the ones to point the issue out? What if he is able to see their side of the issue and another side, yet chooses theirs- did they make him choose somehow?
It's all very hard to say. But the Way attracts people with low self esteem or emotional problems and appeals to members' fears about various topics, then promises to alleviate those fears if the member agrees with their teachings. To a Catholic, nothing is worse than being a sinner. The Neocatechumenate makes members feel that they are sinning and rejecting God if they do not accept the catechists' preachings. Many of these members, before joining the Way, were not schooled in real Catholicism or mainstream religions. They do not know any alternative views of God and sin. This surely cannot be interpreted as free choice on the part of the member. The lack of physical coercion does not mean they are not being forced, any more than the lack of a physical robbery means a fraud victim is not the victim of theft.
Are the Way's mind-reform tactics done purposefully? That is, do they "brainwash" people on purpose?
Yes and no. There is no doubt many of the tactics that make people join the Way are ordered from the top down and are not the spontaneous verbal outbursts of an inspired catechist or priest. That being said, the catechists and even Kiko and Carmen do seem to genuinely believe what they preach, and feel they have to use dishonest tactics to get people to latch onto it, because they know their ideas are not palatable to most people.
But I like being a part of the Way- the singing, the members, the excursions, the music, the catharsis of it all- and I don't want to have to give that up, so isn't exiting wrong for me?
No. Think about it for a minute. It's not the outside world that's forcing you to accept this "one or the other" choice, it's the Way. Why not decide to do what you choose for a while, and keep listening to the songs, seeing the members, and joining a more open and positive religious group with similar practices until we find a way to change the Neocats' secretiveness?
But the critics of the Way are just persecuting them, and aren't they bigoted?
Yes. I agree. Many people today are bigoted against spirituality, religion, and zealous persons. There are many people who do intend to persecute the Way and other religious entities. But this doesn't mean the Way is right or that everything it does is good. Being persecuted doesn't mean you are good. It just means the people who oppose it often do so for the wrong reasons (they hate all religions, they hate the music, etc). But there are right reasons to oppose the Way, so just because there are some people who unfairly hate it doesn't mean it is all positive or it shouldn't be changed.
When Way members say to those who do not agree with its practices, "you just don't understand," they are half right. Often, it's a matter of viewpoint, and the person rejecting the teaching or practice has never been exposed to the Neocat viewpoint. But the catechists don't view things in a different way either. The thing to do is to understand both sides of view and then choose, using truth and reason. Sometimes, people who reject the teachings really do not understand them. But they should reject many of the teachings for the right reasons, once they do understand them. F.e., someone might reject the sermons because they don't think people should get in touch with their spiritual half. I think this is wrong, because we should get in touch with all parts of our selves. But it would be right to oppose the sermons because they preach hatred of mankind and guilt.
Often, people who are opposed to cults, sects, and thought reform groups dislike the particular things the group preaches, such as religion, altruism, zealous and passionate activity, and so on and so forth. Since they are unable or unwilling to understand why these things attract people, they assume anyone who chooses to do them is being brainwashed, because they can't possibly be choosing to do such a thing. This attitude pushes people into the group all the more, because they (rightly) see people opposing it for unfounded reasons. Also, since they know their current decision to agree with a group teaching wasn't due to brainwashing, but the outside sources keep saying it is, they will be confused about what being brainwashed feels like and will not be able to recognize it when it's really happening.