Controversies about Opus Dei
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Opus Dei is a personal prelature within the Roman Catholic Church. It has been supported by some Popes and conservative Catholic leaders. Opponents allege that it uses cult-like practices in recruitment.
- 1 History of opposition
- 2 Corporal mortification
- 3 Allegations of aggressive recruiting
- 4 Allegations of being highly controlling
- 5 Allegations of secrecy
- 6 Legal disputes
- 7 Women
- 8 Alleged independence and influence within the Roman Catholic Church
- 9 Objections to the critics
- 10 Controversy as a sign of contradiction
- 11 References
- 12 Books and notes
- 13 External links
History of opposition
Based on reports from Spain, the Superior-General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Wlodimir Ledochowski (1866–1942), told the Vatican he considered Opus Dei "very dangerous for the Church in Spain." He described it as having a "secretive character" and saw "signs in it of a covert inclination to dominate the world with a form of Christian Masonry." These allegations against Opus Dei from within well-regarded ecclesiastical circles ("the opposition by good people," as Escrivá called it), which happened time and again in its history, are considered to be some of the roots of present-day accusations coming from the most varied quarters. This is the conclusion of some writers, including John L. Allen, Jr., CNN's Vatican analyst.
According to John Allen, one of the original sources of criticism of Opus Dei are some members of the Society of Jesus who did not understand the big difference between Opus Dei and the religious orders. Opus Dei is composed of ordinary lay Christians who are taking their baptism-based calling to become holy, as the first Christians did, without in any way being externally distinguished from other citizens of the Roman Empire, as Escriva explained.
Aside from this full-blown campaign in the 1940s, there were other attacks from Jesuits in the 1950s who told some Italian parents of members of Opus Dei that their sons were being led to damnation.
Messori also blames the Jesuits and perceivedly-liberal sectors of the church for the "myth" that Opus Dei supported fascism. From its early association with the far-right Franco regime in Spain, Opus Dei has been associated with ultra-right wing regimes.
Opus dei has always focused on the lay person rather than the clergy. The organisation supports and encourages offering up everyday actions and tasks to God while living a normal life, unlike other Catholic organisations and groups which focus on specific tasks such as feeding the poor or spreading the faith through education. Priests of Opus Dei are encouraged to always wear the clerical collar while in public.
Much public attention has focused on Opus Dei's encouragement of the practice of mortification.
In spite of the clarification made by Opus Dei over the issue, many remained hostile to the community and carried on with the rumours after the descriptions in the novel The Da Vinci Code. According to some critics who accuse Opus Dei of promoting "Corporal Mortification", they believe that Opus Dei numeraries, numerary assistants, and associates practice several forms of mortification.[who?] Critics also believe that some more extreme forms exist. One of the more-controversial forms of mortification involves the use of a cilice — a small metal chain with inwardly pointing spikes that is worn around the upper thigh. The cilice's spikes cause pain and may leave small marks, but typically do not cause bleeding. According to them, numeraries in Opus Dei generally wear a cilice for two hours each day. However, according to a statement released by the Prelature of Opus Dei, members of Opus Dei have never been required to practice corporal mortification, stating that "Opus Dei members do not do this (corporal mortification)". Opus Dei encourages all faithful Catholics to practice one area of mortification, beneficence to the needy, instead of corporal mortification.
Mortification has had a long history within the Catholic Church involving many different areas, e.g. being beneficent to the poor, fasting on certain days with prayers, etc. Corporal mortification, however, is a rare practice of Catholics, limited largely to a historical content of Christianity. Opponents have tried to amalgamate the concepts of "mortification" as a collective term and corporal mortification, accusing Opus Dei of promoting corporal mortification. Opus Dei points out mortification was practiced by many highly revered individuals such as Mother Teresa, Óscar Romero and Padre Pio. Opus Dei members accuse the secularised world of accepting physical pain and sacrifice in other domains (such as athletics, business, and personal beautification), but objecting to beneficent acts when done for a religious purpose.
It should be noted that the Catholic church and Opus Dei both make it clear that mortification of the flesh must only be performed under the permission and supervision of a priest and generally is in the form of a woolen cilice which does not cause physical pain but rather a constant discomfort which is then supposed to be offered to God.
Allegations of aggressive recruiting
The Jesuit priest and writer James Martin wrote that Opus Dei puts great emphasis on recruiting, and pointed to Escriva's writings which say "You must kill yourselves for proselytism." David Clark, a consultant who specialises in helping people leave cults, claimed in 2006 that Opus Dei used a cult-like recruitment technique called "love bombing", in which potential members are showered with flattery and admiration by members of the organization in order to entice them into joining. Former Opus member Dimitri Knobbe wrote of a similar experience he had with the group in 1993. The mother of an Opus member at Harvard University claimed that the group separated her daughter from her family, and in 1991 founded Opus Dei Awareness Network, a group that aims to provide information and critique on the group's practices.
Opus Dei says that joining "requires a supernatural vocation." They emphasize that being admitted to Opus Dei is an extended process which requires at least six months to complete. According to Opus Dei, "One’s life can only be given freely, through a decision coming from the heart, not from external pressure: pressure is both wrong and ineffective."
Allegations of being highly controlling
Critics accuse the organization of maintaining an extremely high degree of control over its members. Ex-members claim that the Opus Dei directors read letters of the members. According to a 2006  report by BBC Mundo Jose Carlos Martin de la Hoz, priest of the prelature in Spain, said that this practice exists, but clarified that it is a manifestation of opening and confidence of the faithfuls of the Opus Dei. In 2001, an Opus Dei spokesman said that the practice of reading the mail of numeraries was abandoned years ago, since it was at a time when written letters were still used for correspondence. As an additional means of guidance, it was deemed fitting for numeraries to first show to or tell the Directors about the contents of the letter, especially when the letter would need to touch on vocation.
About 20% of Opus Dei are celibate. They live in special residential centers where they lead extremely structured lives— critics say this practice isolates its members from the rest of society and allows Opus Dei to have nearly total control over its members' environments. Critics note that numeraries in Opus Dei generally submit all their incoming and outgoing mail to their superiors to read. They also point to a "Forbidden Books List" that details which books members are not allowed to read without the express permission of their superiors. For some books, a numerary's direct supervisor can provide permission, but for other books, permission can only be given by the prelate in Rome. According to some critics, Opus Dei pressures numeraries to cut off social contact with non-members, including their own families. Numeraries in Opus Dei generally hand over their entire salaries to the organization, and critics say this has the effect of making numeraries extremely dependent upon the organization.
Opus Dei denies exerting any undue control over its members, and supporters say that Opus Dei places an extraordinary emphasis on the personal freedom of its members. They quote Escrivá who said "Respect for its members' freedom is an essential condition for Opus Dei's very existence."
Supporters defend Opus Dei's list of inappropriate books by pointing out that the Vatican itself maintained a similar list until the 1960s. To explain the celibate lifestyle of numeraries and their relationships with their families, supporters quote Jesus's comment that "He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me."
Allegations of secrecy
Critics have often accused Opus Dei of being intensely secretive. Opus Dei does not publish its memberships lists, and members generally do not publicly reveal that they are part of the organization. . According to its 1950 constitution, members are forbidden to reveal their membership without the express permission of their superiors. This practice has led to rampant speculation about who may or may not be a member of Opus Dei. The 1950 constitution similarly prohibited even revealing how many people were members of Opus Dei.
Additionally, critics claim that Opus Dei is secretive about its activities. Opponents cite the fact that Opus Dei often will not directly reveal its relationship to many of its institutions. According to critics, Opus Dei does not allow many of its own rules to be made public. For example, the 1950 Constitution states, "These Constitutions, published instructions, and those which in the future may be published, and the other things pertaining to the government of the Institute are never to be made public. Indeed, without the permission of the Father [Escrivá] those documents which are written in the Latin language may not be translated into [other] languages." Similarly, Opus Dei does not reveal details about its finances.
Allen says, "Opus Dei cannot be called secretive." Accusations of secrecy, he says, stem from mistakenly equating its members with monks and expecting members to behave as clerics. Instead, its lay members, like any normal professional, are ultimately responsible for their personal actions, and do not externally represent the prelature which provides them spiritual training. Opus Dei itself, he says, provides abundant information. Supporters claim Opus Dei's relative silence stems not from a secretive nature, but rather is the result of a deep commitment to privacy, humility, and "avoidance of self-aggrandizement." Supporters argue that Opus Dei "has the obligation to respect its members' privacy" They say members of Opus Dei do generally reveal their membership status to their family and closest friends. The historical opposition to Opus Dei may also have contributed to the need for privacy— as one author speculates, "I think part of it, too, is that, historically, because a lot of people didn't like Opus Dei, there was just a sense that it would be better not to be too upfront because you're just inviting hostility."
Recently, The Prelature of The Holy Cross and Opus Dei have twice been engaged in legal disputes in connection with their trademark (CTM Registration No. 844.860 OPUS DEI (word)), as they claimed infringement firstly in 2002 regarding the magazine "Opus Gay" and lost, and secondly regarding the currently ongoing case of the philosophy-themed atheist card game "Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion".
The role of women in Opus Dei is another source of criticism. Women are treated as equal in Opus Dei but are separated from Men in their personal spiritual training. In many of the male Opus Dei centres, women visit every evening to cook for the men and then leave without social interaction, as Jose Maria recognised that despite the equality of men and women, centres for men may need a female influence to function.
Alleged independence and influence within the Roman Catholic Church
Concerning the group's role in the Roman Catholic Church, critics have argued that Opus Dei's unique status as a personal prelature gives it too much independence. According to critics, elevating Opus Dei to the status of a personal prelature allows its members to "go about their business almost untouched by criticism or oversight by bishops". According to critics, Opus Dei has such a level of autonomy that it has become essentially a "church within a church".
Roman Catholic officials say that church authorities have even greater control of Opus Dei now that its head is a prelate appointed by the Pope and they argue members are "even more conscious of belonging to the Church". They point to canon law which states that Opus Dei members remain under "jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop in what the law lays down for all the ordinary [Catholics]". Similarly, they point out that Opus Dei must obtain permission from the local bishop before establishing an Opus Dei center within the diocese.
Some critics claim that Opus Dei exerts a disproportionately large influence within the Roman Catholic Church itself. They point to the unusually hasty (and otherwise irregular) process in which Escriva was canonized. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been vocal supporters of Opus Dei, and the former head of the Vatican press office was a member of Opus Dei. An Opus Dei spokesman says "the influence of Opus Dei in the [Vatican] has been exaggerated." Of the nearly 200 cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, only two are known to be members of Opus Dei. Similarly, of the nearly 4000 bishops, only 20 are known to be members of Opus Dei.
John L. Allen, Jr. said that Escriva's relatively quick canonization does not have anything to do with power but with improvements in procedures and John Paul II's decision to make Escriva's sanctity and message known. (see Opus Dei and politics)
Objections to the critics
When one cardinal was asked why Opus Dei has faced such opposition, he responded, "It's the critics's own bad conscience!" Supporters say that the controversy surrounding Opus Dei stems from bad faith or other bias on the part of the critics. In some cases, supporters accuse critics of merely misunderstanding Opus Dei, its mission, or its novelty. In other cases, supporters charge that feelings of jealousy or vengefulness have led critics to intentionally spread lies and "black legends" about Opus Dei, in order to slander and defame the organization.
Ex-members reliable or unreliable witnesses?
One source of criticism comes from former members of Opus Dei. Their status was studied by Bryan R. Wilson, who studied the phenomenon of new religious movements in general. In one paper, Wilson discussed the unreliability of "apostate" testimony. However, the term "apostate" refers to a person who has abandoned his or her religion, not to a person who has left a religious organization--- leaving Opus Dei does not, of course, imply an abandonment of the Catholic faith. Wilson said some "apostates" themselves "have been first a victim" then "a redeemed crusader" and that their "personal history predisposes [them] to bias." According to Wilson, such an apostate may have "a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem" after having quit a religious organization. Supporters also point to sociological research which suggests that apostates create atrocity stories, tales that present events in such a context that the narrator evokes or tries to evoke moral condemnation or horror among the audience. According to Wilson, "Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence," he states.
Opus Dei and its supporters often view criticism as motived by a religious bias or political agenda. Many supporters of Opus Dei have expressed the belief that the criticisms of Opus Dei stem from a generalized disapproval of spirituality, Christianity, or Catholicism. Expressing this sentiment, one Opus Dei member claimed, "Opus Dei has become a victim of Christianophobia." Another author argues that critics oppose Opus Dei because "they cannot tolerate 'the return to religion' of the secularized society." Another author writes, "There was no longer any room for religion in a postmodern technological culture." Some supporters see the criticisms of Opus Dei as one facet of a widespread prejudice against Catholics; anti-Catholicism has been called "America's last acceptable prejudice."
Jesuits and liberal Catholics
Also, these critics were concerned that Opus Dei would take away vocations from the religious orders.
Allen talks about a rivalry between the Jesuits and Opus Dei. Intellectual Richard John Neuhaus said the following: "The opposition to Opus Dei cannot be explained without at least some reference to jealousy. Competition and jealousy among religious movements in the Catholic Church is nothing new, and some Opus Dei members are not hesitant to suggest that theirs is now the role in the Church once played by the Jesuits. The Jesuits, who were once viewed as the elite corps of the papacy, have in recent decades had a sharply attenuated relationship to the hierarchical leadership of the Church. The famous "fourth vow" of allegiance to the pope is now frequently understood by Jesuits as a vow to the papacy in general---meaning the papacy as they think it ought to be."
"Nothing attracts criticism like success," says Robert Royal, author of several books and president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington D.C. "In the seventy years since its founding, the Work has grown to almost eighty thousand members, over half in Europe, another third in the Americas, and the rest scattered throughout the world. As Vittorio Messori notes, this movement, which was once thought of as a pre-Vatican II fossil by progressives, has not only survived the heyday of progressive Catholic movements, but continues growing while the left in general, religious and lay, is shrinking."
According to Time magazine, "church liberals, once riding high, have understood for decades that Rome does not incline their way. They feel abandoned, says Allen, 'and whenever you feel that way, there's a natural desire to find someone to blame.'"
The animosity from within the Church derives from the conflicting views of the role of the Church following Vatican II. At the time, the superior of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, "symbolised the new post-Vatican II ethos, calling his Jesuits to be 'men for others', which in practice sometimes meant joining movements for peace and justice," while "Escrivá walked another path, insisting on the primacy of traditional forms of prayer, devotion, and the sacramental life." Making Opus Dei a "personal prelature" and Escrivá a saint "seemed like a clampdown on the Jesuits---almost as if a torch was being passed." As Allen points out, some of Opus Dei's harshest critics were once Jesuit priests."
According to Vittorio Messori, a major source of hostility towards Opus Dei is the application of political categories to a religious phenomenon such as Opus Dei. These groups against Opus Dei, he says, see everything happening in the world only through the prism of power-seeking, that is, of political spectrums of people in the left versus people on the right. Since Opus Dei is one of the major religious groups, the application of politically motivated campaigns against it is even stronger.
According to Allen, Opus Dei became the lightning rod for the attacks of liberals in the culture wars when John Paul II, perceived as a conservative by the liberals, granted several favorable things to Opus Dei such as beatification, canonization of the founder, and personal prelature status.
Controversy as a sign of contradiction
Some supporters of Opus Dei have viewed the controversy surrounding the organization as a "Sign of contradiction." Proponents of this view hold that blessed, divinely inspired Christian organizations will always be criticized, just as Jesus was criticized by his contemporaries. Accordingly, they see the very existence of critics as further proof of the organization's sanctity.
Some Catholic leaders like Cardinal John Carmel Heenan see Opus Dei as a sign of contradiction. Due to this, some sympathizing Catholics see Opus Dei as a sign of contradiction. "Why, then, has Opus Dei received such a bad press?" asks Piers Paul Read. "Its ethos is inevitably 'a sign of contradiction' in a hedonistic and self-indulgent society."
A theological explanation is given by John Carmel Heenan, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. He commented in 1975: "One of the proofs of God's favour is to be a sign of contradiction. Almost all founders of societies in the Church have suffered. Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer is no exception. Opus Dei has been attacked and its motives misunderstood. In this country and elsewhere an inquiry has always vindicated Opus Dei."
According to Catholic tradition, a sign of contradiction points to the presence of Christ or the presence of the divine due to the union of that person or reality with God. In his book, Sign of Contradiction, John Paul II says that "sign of contradiction" might be "a distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church."
John Paul II stated, in his decree on the heroic virtues of Opus Dei's founder, Josemaría Escrivá: "God allowed him to suffer public attacks. He responded invariably with pardon, to the point of considering his detractors as benefactors. But this Cross was such a source of blessings from heaven that the Servant of God's apostolate [or evangelizing work] spread with astonishing speed."
- Andres Vasquez de Prada: The Founder of Opus Dei. The Life of Josemaria Escrivá. Vol II: God and Daring., Scepter Publishers 1997, p. 387.
- John L. Allen, Jr.: Opus Dei: an Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. Doubleday, New York 2005, ISBN 0-385-51449-2
- http://www.opusdei.org.uk/art.php?p=6438%7CAccuracy of best-selling 'Da Vinci Code' comes under fire
- "The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei". Opus Dei Official Site. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- "The Mysteries of Opus Dei". US News and World Report. 2003-12-22. Retrieved 2006-11-28.
- "They Whip Themselves, Don’t They?". The Da Vinci Code & Opus Dei. Archived from the original on 2006-10-11. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- http://www.opusdei.org.uk/art.php?p=6437%7CSection 3. Opus Dei and corporal mortification, The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei---A response to the Da Vinci Code from the Prelature of Opus Dei in the United States.
- http://www.opusdei.org.uk/art.php?p=6437%7CSection 3. Opus Dei and corporal mortification, The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei---A response to the Da Vinci Code from the Prelature of Opus Dei in the United States.
- "Opus Dei and corporal mortification". Opus Dei Official Site. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- Opus Dei In the United States James Martin, S.J., America Press, February 25, 1995
- Abbott Karloff (2006-05-14). "Opus Dei members: 'Da Vinci' distorted". Daily Record. Retrieved 2006-11-27. mirrored on ReligionNewsBlog.com
- Dimitri Knobbe. "The Opus Dei Survival Kit". Opus Dei Awareness Network. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- Elizabeth W. Green (2003-04-10). "Opening the doors of Opus Dei". The Harvard Crimson.
- The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei A response to the Da Vinci Code from the Prelature of Opus Dei in the United States
- Stephen Tomkins: The Dei today, BBC News, January 24, 2005
- BBC Mundo: Radiografia del Opus Dei (span.)
- "Interview with Opus Dei Spokesman Brian Finnerty, 2001". ABCNEWS. Archived from the original on August 6, 2004.
- Paul Moses. "Fact, Fiction And Opus Dei". Newsday. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- Christoph Schonborn, O.P. "Are there sects in the Catholic Church?". Eternal Word Television Network. Retrieved 2006-11-27., Matthew 10:37
- David Van Biema The Ways of Opus Dei, TIME, April 16, 2006. Retrieved December 5, 2007.
- Bonfante, Jordan (2006-04-16). "The Ways of Opus Dei". Time. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Edward Pentin. "Profiles: John Allen". The American. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- Rafael Gómez Pérez (1992). Opus Dei. Una Explicación. (Spanish) 3rd ed., Ediciones Rialp, Madrid, ISBN 84-321-2892-9
- "Chile settles row over gay paper". BBC News. 2004-12-31.
- Essay: Opus Dei and The Da Vinci Code Archived August 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Opus Dei in the open". The Bulletin. 2002-10-02. Retrieved 2006-05-16.
- Francesco Monterisi. "The Personal Prelature: a Framework which Enriches the Communion of the Church". Opus Dei website. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
- Paul Baumann. "Let There Be Light: A look inside the hidden world of Opus Dei". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- "Decoding secret world of Opus Dei". BBC News. 2005-09-16. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Associated Press, "Opus Dei backs new pope", CNN, April 19, 2005
- Monsters and Critics - Page Not Found 404
- John Allen (2005). Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. Doubleday Religion.
- Discussed by Cardinal Josef Höffner in an interview to the Catholic News Service KNA in Germany on 24 August 1984.
- Wilson, Bryan. (3 December 1994) Apostates and New Religious Movements Archived December 12, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Oxford, England.
- Julian Herranz, quoted in Javier Espinoza. "Opus Dei is not a Sect". OhmyNews. Archived from the original on 2006-05-13. Retrieved 2006-11-27.
- Massimo Introvigne (1994). "Opus Dei and the Anti-cult Movement". Retrieved 2006-11-28.
- Anti-Catholicism is a problem in America, says Philip Jenkins bigotry church Mary catholic intolerance - Beliefnet.com
- Telegraph (UK): You can trust them to sell you a car, October 23, 2005
- John Carmel Heenan
- Read, Piers Paul (2005-10-23). "You can trust them to sell you a car". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2006-11-27.[dubious ]
- Richard Gordon. "What is Opus Dei, and what role does it play at Franciscan University?". The University Concourse. Retrieved 2006-11-27.[dubious ]
- Other examples are: Piers Paul Read , Messori 1997, Richard Gordon 
Books and notes
- "Opus Dei," Time Magazine, March 18, 1957.
- William O'Connor. Opus Dei: An Open Book. A Reply to "The Secret World of Opus Dei" by Michael Walsh. Mercier Press, Dublin 1991, ISBN 0-85342-987-1
- Massimo Introvigne. Opus Dei and the Anti-Cult movement. Cristianita. No. 229, May 1994, pp. 3–12
- Massimo Introvigne. The Labelling of Certain Catholic and "Fringe Catholic" Movements as Cults. Sectes et démocratie. Éditions du Seuil, Paris 1999, pp. 277–289
- Vittorio Messori (1997). Leadership and Vision in the Catholic Church. Regnery. -- This book has a chapter entitled the Dark Tale and another one titled One Prelature, Many Cults
- Beyond the Threshold A Life in Opus Dei by Maria del Carmen Tapia, former numerary, Chapter One
- Bibliographic Guide or Opus Dei's "Index" (Spanish)
- Religious Movements Homepage: Opus Dei by Corey Hanson, University of Virginia
- Mond.at/Opus.Dei («The Unofficial Homepage» Many sources and links
- ^ Aranda, Antonio, El bullir de la sangre de Cristo, a study of Blessed Josemaria's theological teachings. 2000, professor at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Atheneum of the Holy Cross
- ^ Belda et al. Holiness and the World, Symposion on Opus Dei by the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Atheneum of the Holy Cross
- ^ Benedict XVI., Letting God Work, an article by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, published 2002 in the Osservatore Romano
- ^ Basil Hume Guidelines for Opus Dei within the Diocese of Westminster December 2, 1981
- ^ Hans Küng, The Catholic Church : A Short History, 2002 ISBN 0-8129-6762-3 (Quote translated from German original)
- ^ Kim Lawton, Opus Dei Cover Story of Religion and Ethics, June 29, 2001
- ^ Martin, James, Opus Dei In the United States, 1995, America
- ^ Schmitt, William Opus Dei response to James Martin's article in America
- ^ Roche, John
- ^ Schaefer, Franz, Opus Dei - Thought Reform, 1998
- Opus Dei official website
- How Opus Dei is still synonymous with homophobia The Independent, UK/May 10, 2006
- An inside look at Opus Dei (summary by Rick A. Ross of an article in Time magazine/April 16, 2006)
- L'Opus Dei (french) by Jacques Lemaire from the Association chrétienne internationale d'Information sur les sectes et les mouvements religieux