Saturday, July 29, 2017

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL MECHANISMS OF MENTAL CONDITIONING INSIDE THE NEOCATECHUMENATE COMMUNITY

It's been a couple years since we posted this. Time to repost.

The psychological mechanisms of mental conditioning inside the neocatechumenate community


http://www.antyk.org.pl/wiara/neokatechumenat/inside.htm

The organization called The Neocatechumenal Way has given rise to doubts, perplexities, and opposing opinions within the Catholic Church for many years. Some people, whether they are lay or ecclesiastical, see the Way as being a blessing of the Spirit. Other individuals, of likewise importance, consider the Way to be dangerous in doctrine and methodology; they have compared it to a sect, having come to call it "a church within the Church". 

The Neocatechumenate insist their intention is to return to a way of being of the Church that's similar to the first Christian communities. The Way defends itself from accusations of being a sect by saying that they are being persecuted. The Neocatechumenate insist that whoever follows this path will be able to bring about very radical choices and, therefore, that person will be subject to persecution just like everyone who seriously follows Jesus in his or her daily life. 


Since I used to be in a Neocatechumenate community for many years, I'd like to write about some of my reflections. I want to make my small contribution to help people understand the psychological make-up of those who subscribe to the "Way". Another motivation for me to write down my experiences comes from a book I read by American psychiatrist, Jerry Bergman. The title of the book was Jehovah's Witnesses and Mental Health (1996) and in it I came across vivid analogies between the Neocatechumenal Way and the Jehovah's Witnesses. 

Before I begin, I'd like to take this opportunity to clear up the meaning of the word, "sect". For some scholars, this word seems to come from the Latin, secta, past participle of the verb sequor, which means, "to follow". Therefore, a sect would be a group and the doctrines it teaches that a person follows. Other scholars contend that sect comes from the Latin, sectus which is the past participle of "to cut". "Sect", then would be a group that has cut itself off from the major body. 

Whatever the correct etymology is, the term, sect, has taken on a deeply negative connotation in the world today. It connotes closed mindedness and a greatly limited participation with the "outside" world, meaning with those who don't belong to the sect and don't share the same ideas and activities. 

The limited amount of space I have here prevents me from giving an in-depth account of all the types of sectarians there are. That would be useful so as to see whether the Neocatechumenate are an example. But I hope what I have to say here will be a valid cause for reflection. 

The problem with psychological conditioning inside a sect is that it is still the subject of debate among scholars. According to Frank (1974), the mental processes used to draw a person into a sect are very similar to those used in psychotherapy where one of the results is the reassuring relationship that develops between psychotherapist and patient. In the sectarian organization, together with the others (brothers and sisters of the community and the catechists), the follower feels better and is able to face life's problems with more serenity and confidence. The other people in the organization, in fact, often become the unconscious projection of the reassuring father/parent figure. 

Sectarian organizations have always been accused of (what is commonly called) "brain-washing", but today the term, "thought-reform", coined by Lifton (1961), is preferred. The person who becomes part of a sectarian group modifies his or her behavior. The change comes about so subtly that the subject himself hardly ever perceives it. Quite a different story for those who are close to the subject and notice the changes, sometimes even radical changes. Thus, we have the term go conversion". But is it really a true conversion? 

Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the Neocatechumenal Way, a brief synthesis is necessary as to what happens to the people who belong to it over the course of many years (sometimes twenty or more years, depending on a person's "spirit of conversion"). Whoever reaches the end of the Way, will be able to affirm that he has understood what baptism is or, even better, he will have rediscovered it. 

Very often, the person who joins the Way is either a relative or a friend of someone who already belongs. This member talks about the Way with such enthusiasm that it borders on pedantry; he feels compelled by some "missionary' duty to share the "wonders" of the Way with other brothers and sisters. Whoever then decides to get in touch with the movement has to participate in fifteen catechesis which in general are held in the parish every other week. After completing them, the member is obliged to participate in a convivence (meaning, a time of living together) which starts on a Friday evening and finishes Sunday afternoon; from this the community will be formed. 

The convivence is a crescendo of feelings and new experiences. The experience (especially for who has never been a person of faith) triggers something in the person to become very deeply and incisively involved. It stirs and awakens something present in every human: the need for what's holy and for meaning in one's life. Unfortunately, the sectarian organizations profit from these needs. 

The convivence starts off with a very suggestive rite called, "skylight". The room is left completely dark for a few minutes. Then a presbyter enters the room holding a lit Easter candle that rips through the disturbing darkness. On a Saturday, after a long catechesis on how the Hebrews prepared for Passover and how that then paved the way for Christian Easter, the Eucharistic celebration follows the ways set out by the Neocatechumenate for any Saturday evening celebration: an altar decorated with flowers set in the middle of the church with the brothers and sisters of the newly-formed community and catechists circled round it (obviously, the catechists are there only during the convivence ). 

During the Prayer of the Faithful, anyone can pray out loud, freely, expressing whatever feelings he or she has. Even before the presbyter's homily, anyone "can share with his fellow brothers and sisters what the Lord has communicated to him in the readings and how his life has changed because of the Way". Opening up oneself to the others is a very important element of the program. By revealing oneself under the light of what's read in the Scriptures, an existential interpretation is given to one's own life. It also prepares the Neocatechumen to open up to his brothers and sisters of the community things that have been the most hidden and unconfessable principles, facts, and episodes in one's life. 

This apparent liberation becomes, however, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if the "brother' feels "liberated/released" and accepted it's because the catechists continuously repeat, "God loves you as you are". On the other hand, the person realizes that every lay person there like himself knows each and every little nook and cranny in his life and this creates an ambiguous dependence. Lay people are not held to the secret of the confessional like a priest is, so as one can easily imagine, they are armed with gossip and rumors that are certainly not edifying. The Neocatechumenal celebration ends with a final dance based on the one David did around the Ark of the Covenant of God. 

The community follows a biweekly rhythm made up of activities to prepare for celebrations, celebration of the Word, and Saturday evening's Eucharistic celebration. Usually after two years, one gets to the first scrutiny, but mostly it depends on how receptive the members of the community have been to what the catechists have been teaching. The first scrutiny is the member's first powerful and moving experience. It's at this step the follower starts to unveil the depths of his heart. In fact, at this &I stage", there is a strong call to "test oneself in the treasures". This would be to rid oneself of those things one is most attached to, for example, money. The catechists, as a matter of fact, "invite" you to donate something personal, something you are particularly attached to (it doesn't necessarily have to be money. It can be jewelry or other things ... ) to someone who would never know who donated it nor where it came from. 

But, during this rite, there's a moment which can sometimes take on dramatic heights for the person who experiences it. It's when every "brother' and "sister" has to say, in front of the whole community and the catechists, what his personal cross is. This moment is marked by very powerful emotions because to make one's cross known -often confessing with tears and with great internal resistance- has a cathartic and liberating effect. Many people will lie at this point because they are ashamed or embarrassed. It's the first powerful stage in the Way and many people quit. But the catechists reassure the ones who stay, "not everybody gets asked to be salt and light. The Lord has invited you." 

An apparently stronger "I" is thus created. One takes on an identity of the saved one who's a bit special -to be the one who is called on a mission for the church that not everyone is given the chance to be called for. Subtly, the strait jacket begins to tighten. It tightens even more for those people who have an "I" that's weak and without much grounding. These people, after a few years, are unable to find anything outside the Way nor anybody other than his "brothers and sisters" in his community. 

One year after the first scrutiny, in general, one faces the "shemŕ" (listen Israel). Here they drive home the idea that a sign is necessary and that would be doing away with valuables. But the real turning point comes with the second scrutiny when the Precatechumen must make some big, serious decisions about his or her life in regards to being called to be the salt and light. The conviction that salvation lies only in the Way is emphasized even more; outside the Way one would be outside the Church. Often the catechists repeatedly tell the ones who have tried to quit that, "outside the Way you'll be with the dead because this is the road the Lord has chosen for you." 

Similar notions are repeated at other occasions and for other reasons. On page 20 of "The Orientations for the Catechist Teams for the Second Baptismal Scrutiny" (one of the "holy texts" of the Neocatechumenal Way) Kiko Arguello states, "I saw a parish priest who spent his whole life battling against us and who hated us. It only took one night when he was struck with a tachycardia strong enough that he started taking his life seriously and he completely changed." Therefore, for Mr. Arguello, that priest had to have a providential tachycardia in order to accept the Way! Many stories like this one are frequently told among the people in the community and especially by the catechists So, this influences the people even more to see the Way as the only, or at least, the best that the church has to offer. 

The second scrutiny is characterized by the renouncing of one's so-called "idols". Once the community has passed this stage, they are requested to turn over ten percent of their earnings. This is done in the same way all the collections are done among the Neocatechumenate. Out of contempt and scorn, the contributions are put in a bag that is called "the garbage" -giving a negative symbol of money. 

Next, the Way has the "initiation to prayer". After the appropriate catechesis, the catechumen discovers or re-discovers the beauty of prayer and begins to pray with the Liturgy of the Hours. Couples who "walk" the Way together become more focused on the membership of their children. Since children, as the catechists teach, might be another example of our "idols", they might be left at home at night with the baby-sitter, or grandparent, or someone else if the parents - in a moment of pity - decide to spare the children from the long-windedness of the evening celebrations! 

Another step is the Redditio, where the Creed and the Traditio are given. After this, the Neocatechumen tells the story of his or her whole life in front of the entire assembly - often times interspersed with the most untimely details of how much the Way has changed his life ... and then he recites the Creed. The Way ends with "election" and the renewal of baptism. 

Such a brief account has made me have to give only the gist of the Way and to leave a considerable amount of things out. But I would, however, like to offer a few considerations. Throughout the Way, there is a subtle and imperceptible control over what the individual does by his taking part in the community. In fact, in the beginning, the commitment is relatively light -one must attend the two weekly celebrations and take part in their preparations when necessary. In doing this, the person ever so slowly takes on a language, a way of doing things that is nearer in harmony with the spirit of the Way. Everything in his or her life changes in relation to the Way - which is the only thing that can bring satisfaction to one's life. 

Information is kept secret, The texts the catechists use aren't published. Once, a parish priest was first told there were no reference texts, then he was told, "but even you, too, must convert.. you still haven't reached that phase of the way, yet"! 

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! 

But one of the most serious things is the control over a person's emotions through the use of guilt and fear. In the first catechesis, they talk about the baptismal pool which one most submerge into in order to look at one's sins in the face. One catechist has said, "you must go down into the sewers in order to rise up again with Christ". Another catechist said, "the community begins to grow when you begin to argue with each other and hurl all the putridity you have inside out of you." All of this is very different from what the Church teaches about conversion ("metanoia"). The Church reminds us above all that we are saved by the love of God and that he makes us feel the joy of his mercy even in the midst of our miseries. 

However, the laying on of guilt (which is quite different from humbly recognizing oneself as being a sinner) is one of the most important methods in controlling a person's feelings and emotions. Humility is badly interpreted when the person rejects him or herself - which then leads to alienation. This in turn creates a personality which tends to hold up an ideal that's out of reach and so the person ends up feeling guilty for not being able to live up to that ideal. 

The members of the community become inculcated that they are part of a privileged elite in the church; they are destined to bring salvation to the people they work with, to their families, or even in missionary work abroad which we see in the case of "itinerant catechists". As is written elsewhere, the people often hear the catechists' typical phrases, "The Lord has chosen you and has invited you and no one else". This and other similar phrases let the people believe that they have been "specially elected". This unconsciously satisfies their own frustrated sense of self. 

Another thing that characterizes the Neocatechumenate is their zeal in carrying out what the catechists (and most of all, the founder of the Way) tell them to do. In the communities, in fact, the celebrations don't take place in a church, but rather in a room. The altar has to be a table and the paten, the chalice, the cross, the lectern, and whatever else is used, absolutely must be signed "Kiko"! Everything borders on the maniacal! Once, a bride who was in a parish that wasn't Neocatechumenal insisted that the ceremony be conducted in the style "inspired" by Kiko, with his cross, altar, chalice, paten, songs, etc... 

Whoever has been accustomed to this manner for years finds it incredibly difficult to separate one's relationship with God from this style and to live one's faith, still in the Church, but in a whole other way! It creates a psychological dependence that makes the person end up controlling others and demonizing everybody, too, including bishops and presbyters, who doesn't share the Way with them. One catechist once said, "It's good that we have bishops and priests who don't believe because this strengthens us in our journey; it's a sign that we are on the right path." 

Many Neocatechumenate seem to have lost their critical and logical abilities - faculties which make a true Christian. The Scriptures say the true Christian is one who makes sense of his faith! It's true that many people criticize the Way, but they don't have courage any more to leave it because they identify the Way with the Church. Perhaps they don't know or they don't want to know that the Church is a place that's much more spacious and free than the church Kiko and his catechists present! 

A euphoric and self-aggrandizing atmosphere is created inside the community which reaches its culmination at the Passover Vigil. The vigil is celebrated throughout the night and young children are baptized. As time goes on and these children grow up, they will be subject to a religious formation that is very debatable. 

Speaking of children, it was written before that, in general, the Neocatechumenate are very proliferous because they are very pro-life. However, since children mustn't be idols, they are left in the care of grandparents or baby-sitters until late at night because God comes before all things and God is identified with the Way. In the second scrutiny, when they are asked to dispose of the idols in their lives, who knows if anybody in the Neocatechumenate ever once suspected that one of their idols just might be the Way itself! Many forget that a way must be a means to arrive to God and not an end in itself. 

I'd like to wrap up these reflections on the Way by summing up the following: 

1. Kiko and his catechists have reigning authority. Something one of the catechists once said is telling, "Even priests should become part of the way and convert!" 

2. People who follow the Way consider themselves to be predeterminately chosen to become the salt and light of the Church and for the world. 

3. Members of the Way are promised salvation by accepting the Way as a style of life that's unique and dearly for a privileged few. Something often said by the catechists is, "If you take on this way, you will have the spirit of Jesus Christ. We feel that it's been true for us in our lives." 

4. The community exerts a huge amount of pressure on its members. The members are subject to iron-handed discipline in the Way , as the catechists say, "it will bring you to the point of having to make a radical choice in your life." 

5. It creates an attitude of segregation against those who do not take part in the Way. People who are excluded even include Christians who are part of the Church, people who are active in other catholic movements, and even the despised Catholics who go to Sunday Mass. Personally, I have seen many people who are richer in mercy than most Neocatechumenate! 

6. Followers of Kiko focus on missionary activities even if they have large families. 

7. After the second scrutiny, members must turn over ten percent of their monthly earnings, but on top of that there are even other collections for other purposes to contribute to! No year-end budget is ever produced from all the fund-raising. The catechists justify this with the evangelical teaching, "don't let the right hand know what the left hand is doing." So then, I have to ask myself, why is that the Church justifiably has every parish and ecclesial body have a finance council? Contributions, income and expenses are made clear across the board. 

8. Often without even realizing it, the Neocatechumenate take on a language, a particular jargon that makes them standout and distinguishes them from others. 

9. Generally, the Neocatechumenate react quite violently when someone criticizes the Way. They try to avoid the subject, or as is especially the case with the catechists, they resort to dialectics (the sign of the better sophist). Once I was really struck by how a person from the Way reacted to a man who said he didn't believe in it. At first the follower of the Way calmly gave his own personal life's testimony; even though he was vulgar in his criticism of the pope and bishops, he didn't get angry until the moment the man criticized the Way. Hardly loving one's enemy in the dimension of the cross! 

10. The Neocatechumenate often feel persecuted and they demonize (as I wrote earlier) those who don't belong even if those people should still be considered their brothers in Christ. Sects typically demonize those who don't think like they do because they need to create an external enemy (a scapegoat) upon which they can target all their individual fears and anxieties. 

To grow in the faith is to grow in love not to busy oneself for years with a lot activities, preparations, celebrations, passing through different stages or anything else. Many Neocatechumenate have the illusion that it carrying out deeds", "doing things", and "being active" for many years converts you. People should be told, however, about a document that was published by the Holy See in 1986 by the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. It was titled, The Phenomena of Sects or New Religious Movements: A Pastoral Challenge." On page three, talking about the intolerance present in sects, "a similar spirit can be encountered in congregations of people who belong to churches or ecclesiastical communities." 

Now, a few questions that still have no answers: Why are the texts by Kiko so rigorously held secret? Why don't the Neocatechumenate make their income-contributions public? Have they never considered that the criticisms made against them, both doctrinal and methodological, just might have been made out of love for the truth and not made by the persecutive devils that have a grudge against them? Seeing how familiar they are with the Word, haven't they ever reflected upon that verse from Hosea that says, "faithful love is what pleases me not sacrifice. Knowledge of God, not burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6) 

Recommendations by JungleWatch