Untying the Knot
of spiritual abuse
Getting someone out of a life of spiritual abuse is like untying a knot; it may seem complicated and they may appear to be getting stuck, but there is always a way to pull, push, or loop something somehow to get them unstuck again. No matter what, it is always possible to help them. You just have to know the right strategy.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
For this section, I tried to put myself inside the mind of a Way member as much as possible. How would I feel if someone were trying to get me out of a group that gives me emotional release, great leaps of joy, and a purpose in life? Even the pain the group gives me seems cathartic, necessary, and makes me a more disciplined person. Kiko Arguello is a highly respected figure, and I am attached to him. Society is soulless and it needs this group to save it, and this group needs my help.
I came to the conclusion that some aspects of the Way can be tolerated, but others can't. While it isn't necessary for members to give up the music and the harmless aspects of the sect, it is absolutely mandatory they reject the arranged marriages, the guilt sermons, the obsessive obedience to the catechists, and ignoring non-Way loved ones. These do not only hurt Way members, but they also hurt other people as well, who did not consent to be part of the Way or to be influenced by it.
On this site, I do not give members an all-or-nothing ultimatum, since such ultimatums are simple-minded and immature, and since one thing I am fighting the Way about is its stance that one has to choose between Way and World. I suggest members hold onto the good parts of the Way if they like, since it denies their experience to claim those parts don't exist, since it is dishonest to exaggerate, and since telling them to hate all of it will make them throw themselves back into it, for fear that accepting a critic's advice will mandate they abandon the entire Way altogether.
We are not trying to take the Way away from anyone. We are trying to free members from its grasp. It is as if the Way were a house, in which members were being held, whose doors we are opening so members are free to come and go when they want. The house also has many dangerous rooms which can hurt members and their families; we seek to put warning signs on the doors of these secret rooms so member know what lies within them.
Exit strategists are not "soft" or "weak" or "indecisive" if they are cautious or specific in what they condemn, or if they treat the group objectively and only condemn a practice after making sure it is bad. Weakness means not being able to attack something, or attacking it too softly. Carefulness means we are being specific in what we attack. My focus is on making sure I attack the correct parts of the Way, not on how harshly or softly I attack it. Do not interpret someone's carefulness in evaluating a group as wishy-washiness. If we engage in one-sided all-or-nothing thinking we are doing thought reform just like the NC Way.
I do not want Way members to think I am recognizing the good aspects because I want to "trick" them or "infiltrate" their minds somehow, by "getting in good" with them in order to snatch them out. Those are patronizing, dishonest and desperate tactics and are like those the Way uses to get members to accept its worldview. Many of their practices and preachings are wrong, so they need to use such tactics. Harmless ideas, on the other hand, do not practice or preach harmful things so they do not need to resort to any sort of mind-reform or subconscious suggestions.
It is an unfortunate trend among psychologists and exit strategists to paint a sect like a bad boyfriend; "he only used you," "he never loved you," "it was all a fake," "wake up and stop fooling yourself," etc. I do not say such things because though I believe groups/sects/cults like the Way cause immeasurable harm, I also think most of their leaders truly believe what they are preaching, and are vibrant and imaginative persons who are often confused, so they become fascinated and addicted to the quest for grandeur for their worldview.
Though the sects use thought-reform and other such tactics, they largely believe what they preach, and are not attempting to "brainwash" members. The fact they really believe what they are saying actually makes them more dire.
To claim the experiences the member had weren't real is dishonest and serves only to further alienate the individual from his mind, by implying to him he cannot trust his own senses and judgment. Though we seek to teach members about the thought reform tactics that go on, we do not tell them it was basically all a dream or a farce. We merely say the bad parts exist in addition to the good.
I do not suggest making things up or saying a certain thing to the sect member just to get them out. Always remain as truthful as possible. If the member isn't ready to hear the negative aspects of the group or founder, just focus on different issues until they are ready to see the light. Rethink things and try to see it from their viewpoint; give them a way to look at things that doesn't damage them emotionally but with which they can still accept the objective truth. Though reality is objective, there are different ways to view anything in the world. For example, if a Way member still wants to support Kiko and view him as good, suggest they help and serve him by encouraging him to correct his dishonest actions and his Way. I believe everyone is good underneath, even if their actions are bad, but make sure to strongly label the bad actions as bad, and don't lie.
Most social scientists refrain from commenting on the actual content the cults, sects, and groups teach because they do not want to come across as biased, petty, unprofessional, or opinionated by remarking on what they believe are subjective issues. They also see analyzing the cult's content as somehow giving the cult what it wants, perhaps because giving the cult's ideas any serious consideration can be perceived- in psychologists and exit strategists' minds- as taking the group seriously and therefore putting oneself in the position to "fall for" what they preach (as if leaving the mind open will make it easier to let junk in).
This is an irresponsible belief and is guaranteed to push more spiritually sensitive members deeper into the beast. It is often done out of subconscious derision or even spite on the part of the psychologist, who rejects the cult or sect's teachings out of hand, without context, perhaps because he, too, has fallen victim to the all-or-nothing idea, that to reject some means to reject all of it.
Perhaps it is also because he views the humanities and religion as "beneath" science and commenting on it feels, to him, like legitimizing something he doesn't take seriously, much like having a serious discussion about fairies' existence puts off most adults.
Regardless, it is irresponsible, because it means the strategist does not trust himself to be able to analyze the group and be objective.
I do not shy away from discussing moral and spiritual matters on this site, since I am a spiritual person and I believe these things are part of the human experience. They are also the key to understanding the experiences of the people trapped in these groups. Perhaps the tragedy of people's involvement in these groups will help us reawaken our interests in rejuvenating and cleaning up these sectors of life.
Sometimes, a person wants to remain with the Way not because he believes it is good or objectively right, but simply because he likes it, he has grown attached to it. While it is his right to pursue his happiness, he does not have the right to harm or ignore others such as friends and family, and should not be giving support or money to an organization that harms others who are not consenting. If he truly does enjoy the Way or thinks it will help him to live out its word, he should make sure no one is hurt and that he is choosing this of his own will, not the Way's. This would be a good time to talk to a former member or exit strategist.
Sometimes, even if people know what the group preaches is wrong, they still decide to stay, because they think the positive feelings they get are worth it. This is what happens when we live in a world that offers no compassion between people- people will look to these sorts of institutions because that's the only place they get them. It is important to understand if a person makes the decision to stay with a sect for this reason, they may not be brainwashed, and will be psychologically harmed by the shame and guilt they feel for choosing to stay with a group they know they don't agree with.
This guilt can come from society's teaching them their emotional fulfillment is not a legitimate thing to achieve, and that if they choose to fulfill their emotions rather than their intellectual convictions (that is, if they join a group that makes them feel good even if it preaches falsehoods), they are being "irresponsible" by putting emotions above reason. This is not a healthy viewpoint.
REGAIN has a 10-point checklist to determine if an organization is a cult or not. Whether the NC Way categorizes as a cult is immaterial to me, since the word is often vague; what matters is it is destructive, and the list examines destructive practices a group in question may harbor:
1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
Kiko Arguello, the Neocatechumenate's founder, is still alive. His music and texts and pictures and directions are used at Neocatechumenal masses to the exclusion of other influences. [scroll down about 4/5 to "Adulation of their Founder"] [Overview about group]
Members speak more excitedly about seeing Kiko than they do about seeing the Pope. [scroll a little more than halfway down article]
2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The Way leaves out ads that appeal to those who are suffering and claim they are the only ones who can help. They convince members who join that they are special and are the "salt" of the world and are in on special knowledge other people are unaware of.
"It is very difficult to leave the group - members keep contacting those who leave, offering them transport in their cars, encouraging them to come back."
3. The group is preoccupied with making money.
It is doubtless that the Neocatechumenal Way has used blatant scams to get more money for itself. A scam called "stuffing the collection basket" is as follows [scroll about 2/3 down]:
"The leaders announce a collection for some ostensibly worthy cause and urges you to be generous. You put a ten pound note into the collection. Feeling that you may have been a little more generous than most, you anticipate that when the collection is counted it will have raised between £200 and £300.
Imagine your surprise then when the final sum is announced and that it is in excess of £3000! Everyone in the room assumes that he must have been exceptionally mean as everyone else must have contributed an average of at least a £100! The effect of this is to put enormous pressure on you next time there is a collection to contribute a good deal more than that "miserly" £10.
However, what has actually happened is that the leaders have drawn some £3000 out of some central fund and covertly added it to the collection. This sick scam played on trusting decent folk, possibly including old age pensioners and unsupported mothers on benefit, should have Dell Boy choking on his cigar, let alone a Christian who takes the Ten Commandments even half seriously.
That this scam is ordered from the top cannot be doubted. How else account for reports of it from ex-members as geographically dispersed as the West Country of England and Rome!
One ex-member in Rome recounted how the first time she realized what was going on was when she herself was asked to help organize this scam. She wrote, "I felt as if I had been stabbed." His [a Neocat priest's] advice to this scandalized soul was not to be so judgmental! And these are the folk we are being asked to believe are a new movement of the Spirit!"
If the collection basket is passed around and the final sum is not enough for the group's liking, they rudely pass it around again. They publish no records of their income and they accuse members who are skeptical, of making money "an idol". [scroll about 2/3 down]
4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Neocat members who have doubts are encouraged not to think about them and to forgo the use of their logical faculties in favor of emotion. If they question too much or seem to skeptical, they are told that they are being infected by the devil. They are made to feel guilty for doubting the movement.
[Scroll a little more than halfway down]
"By carrying out the duties of the Way (which the catechists tag as being "time given to God"), the person is aided in not having to think anymore. When he conveys any kind of doubt or perplexity to a fellow "brother' or even to a catechist, he is told that this is Satan who wants to lead him away from God. Most of the time, when someone has temptations of these kinds, he or she is told to speak about it with the catechists. The catechists slowly begin to run your life. A person's past sins are used to condition, or worse, to denigrate him or her. After many years, one becomes deeply convinced that the catechists are never wrong!"
Outside influences like the Internet, TV, and doubtful family and friends are painted as evil or as distractions from the Truth and the light. The Neocat friend I knew had thrown away his TV and once said the Internet and FaceBook could be full of evil. He specifically said FaceBook can break up families (yeah, like the Way doesn't!) When he first told me about the Way I asked to learn more and asked to give me a link. He told me the Way is a delicate thing and the Devil is on the Internet sometimes and tries to confuse us and make the Way look bad. He said maybe he would give me their home link instead.
5. Mind-numbing techniques [such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines] are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader[s].
Long hikes and campouts occur in at least some Neocat groups, and they often are grueling. My Neocat friend invited me on a hike and camp with him, and said he couldn't make the last year's because he had a fever. (I wonder if they accused him of making his immune system an "idol").
The repetitive songs have a hypnotic effect on members, as does the scrutiny where members must sit in a pitch black room with a single light or must situate themselves in front of a crucifix and confess their sins. The "love bombing" foisted upon new members also has a hypnotic effect.
[scroll down about 1/3]
[scroll 2/3 down to "second scrutiny"]
Sleep deprivation and control of food intake occurs at Easter, when members are forced to fast for 2 days, sing all night, then stuff themselves in the morning.
[scroll down a bit more than halfway]
6. The leadership dictates -sometimes in great detail- how members should think, act and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what type of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
It has been said repeatedly that arranged or forced marriages occur in Neocat communities. In any case, whether most marriages are arranged or not, it is definite that the group leaders have psychological or other control over who their members can choose to marry. Marrying "out" is disapproved of.
[scroll down about 3/4]
Those who do are expected to bring their spouse into the community.
[scroll halfway down]
The neocats make anyone who doesn't plan on becoming a priest or nun feel pressured to get married. Persons who are abused by their spouses are forced to return.
[Scroll down about 3/4]
Leaders who think parents spend too much time with their children and therefore miss masses are told to stop mollycoddling their children (lest they make children an "idol"). Members whose jobs take up too much time are expected to put more effort into their religious life. Being in love with one's husband or wife is discouraged, since that would be making one's spouse "an idol"; ex-members and friends report that married couples do not seem "in love". They often have no special emotional attachment to each other, since their emotional affections are directed towards the group instead.
7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah, or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).
Members are called the salt and are called on to spread the truth. Only some people are called to this special privilege, they are told. The people outside the Way might as well be dead. Kiko isn't above pushing the Pope and the Catholic Church to support his personal agenda, nor is he above painting his Jesus figures with faces suspiciously similar to his own.
8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.
Nonmembers who are uninterested in or opposed to their doctrines and practices are demonized (literally). Authority figures who oppose them are called pharaohs, and are "persecuting" them. Those who try to help members see the other side of the story are being influenced by Satan.
[scroll down 1/3 of the way]
9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities [as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations]. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group [for example: collecting money for bogus charities].
Kiko refuses to obey the authority of the Pope. He pretends to follow church rules on the surface, but disregards them behind the Pope's back. even though three Popes so far have accepted him.
[scroll down half way]
Members are told it is acceptable to lie to nonmembers to achieve gains for the group. The "stuffing the collection basket" scheme is undertaken on a wide scale.
10. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members in order to control them.
The catechists tell members man is "zero plus sin" and there's nothing they can do about being evil. Humiliating public confessions can occur, in which members confess things that should remain private. One young boy under 10 was told by the catechists to guilt his father into getting his vasectomy reversed. A man was made to feel guilt because his mother was an alcoholic. Humiliating public confessions occur at scrutinies and other times. Premarital sex is frowned upon, and members who marry people not in the NC are put under pressure. If a married couple does not have enough children they are harassed.
11. Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family, friends, and personal group goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
Augusto Faustini has a particularly sad story. (scroll about halfway down). His wife and children joined the Way but he didn't. His wife kicked him out of the house, and the catechists and priests backed her decision up. Faustini asked the local religious authority in his new area what he could do, and he was told the whole matter was a lot serious than it looked, and he would never publicly denounce the Way. When his mother died his wife refused to pray with him, saying she had to go pray with her "brothers and sisters" (Neocats) instead. His son believed the Way was sent by God and tried to murder him by strangling him.
Read my story on this page.
12. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
If you miss a Neocat meeting or sermon, you are said to be making your other activities "an idol". My friend had to go every Wednesday to their meetings and would get off the computer for a couple hours. Their sermons are often long winded and tiresome, yet members who complain are making time "an idol." There have been stories of members losing their jobs or their family responsibilities because they had to go to a Way meeting, and one Italian boy even postponed visiting his comatose grandfather in the hospital because he needed to attend a Neocatechumenal event.
13. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
It has been said that members sometimes can go years without having friends on the outside. Periodic "convivences" occur in which members all live together in a big hotel for a few days at a time. If someone makes a friend outside the group, the group tries to make sure the outside friend will be of a character that will not lead the member out of the Way's mentality. After a certain amount of time, members are only allowed to marry within the group and they are forced to convert spouses who are not Neocats before it is too late; then they will both be exiled from the group.