A government report warns that religious sects are on the increase in France, tripling in the last 15 years to reach at least 600 different movements across the country.
The report also denounces a huge increase in unqualified therapists, warning that sects are using the personality coaching and self-help trends to target impressionable people.
25 to 30 percent of psychotherapists in France are not certified practitioners. Some are charlatans, who use their practices to recruit the vulnerable. The Internet has also become a frequent tool for sect recruitment.
The Miviludes, a French religious sect watchdog, recommends setting tougher standards to control therapy practices, as well as drawing up an exhaustive list of all sect-like activity in France.
According to AFP, the Miviludes report includes a chapter on Satanism, which the organization says is gaining ground through the Internet. Another chapter deals with the methods cults use to lobby the United Nations. Further chapters addres the way cults use the internet, and detail de fight against runaway sects in France and the rest of Europe.
In 1994 Miviludes published a list of about 200 sects, a term that in Europe and elsewhere carries the same connotations as the term ‘cult’ does in America.
That list, which quickly became obsolete as many movements changed names and/or addresses. Many of the groups named felt stigmatized, and the publication of the list was denounced by a number of cult apologists — academics who have created a cottage industry defending religious cults.
Miviludes has ruled out publication of a new list of sects. However, Georges Fenech, the organization’s current president, has proposed the establishment of a set of benchmarks — a kind of directory against which risky practices and shady groups can be tested.
The 2008 Miviludes report, in French, can be downloaded here (€15)
Miviludes stands for La Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires.