50 hear warning about the dangers of religious cults
By JOAN BASTEL
Intelligencer Staff Writer
The hold religious cult leaders have on young people has nothing to do with the use of fences to confine them or drugs to control them - "they've got them psychologically," according to the Rev. James McGuire.
"The fear and the guilt are real" for young people who are convinced that to walk away from the cult would be walking away from God.
McGuire, a teacher at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook who also works in the office of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told about 50 people at a workshop earlier this week that parents have few options to "save" their children once they have become engulfed by a cult philosophy.
"There is very little in the community to help you. The only thing that works is deprogramming," McGuire told the group at the auditorium in Mount Carmel School in Doylestown.
He said parents must make a decision on whether it is worth getting the person out of the cult, of "kidnapping" the cult member and facing possible legal action from that member.
The priest, who has been featured on radio and television shows focusing on cults, stressed the importance of recognizing symptoms that could indicate a person is getting involved in a cult. Among these symptoms are a sudden change in personality, criticizing others for smoking or drinking, spending long hours away from home, becoming suddenly very religious and being secretive. For college students, another symptom might be a reluctance to come home for summer.
Secretiveness, McGuire said, is a common trait among cult members, especially those in the Unification Church, often known as Moonies.
"You can't nail them down" as to their affiliation when they approach people on the street soliciting funds, he said. Often the members will claim the funds will be used for some youth project, or drug rehabilitation, but they will not be specific.
Unsuspecting young people can be duped by "front groups that use all sorts of nice-sounding names," McGuire said. Members of these groups can befriend a potential recruit, play upon his vulnerability and slowly indoctrinate that person into the group without ever revealing its name.
When a young high school girl in the audience explained how she has been befriended by a 30-year-old woman she met on the school grounds, and who has invited her to Bible study and singing sessions, McGuire told her, "My radar would be out. I am suspicious of someone 30 years old seeking out high school kids on school property."
He told the young girl that her lack of concrete information on the group - its denomination, its members' theological training - should make her wary.
"The more you get entrenched into the group … the more you run the risk of disenfranchising yourself from your own church. Anchor your search as much as possible in your own (religious) tradition," McGuire told the Catholic girl.
McGuire said Way International and Lamb House, two fundamentalist groups, generally seek out high school students. The Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Divine Light Mission and other cults usually concentrate on college-age people.
"Prime bait" are young people in transit - those seen with knapsacks in bus stations or airports. Many are just breaking away from family ties and many are going through a period of analyzing their beliefs.
While each cult has its own religious philosophy, they do have some things in common, McGuire said. They deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, since the cult leader is said to be God's spokesman. They do not believe in the Trinity. Some borrow from Eastern religions; some are anti-Semitic.
When recruits are "trained" into the ways of the cult, they are kept in a closed environment where their sleeping and eating are regulated. They are submitted to intense peer pressure from those indoctrinating them to accept their ways without question.
While McGuire said he knew of no satanism involved in the major cults, there is "the real presence of evil."
McGuire also talked of "cult-like groups" such as est that are led by people without credentials who promise to improve the lives Of their followers.
"There can be families in your parish who have people in cults who have just not surfaced," McGuire said, adding that the situation causes embarrassment and sometimes guilt on the part of the family. It should be viewed, however, as cult addiction, not dissimilar to drug or alcohol addiction. It is an addiction fed by those who exploit a young person's vulnerability, thus numbing that person's ability "to think freely, clearly and responsibly."