This is Part I of the case of the Case of the Community of the Beatitudes in France.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in its original language (French) here.
The Community of the Beatitudes has been the subject of significant media coverage in recent years due to a number of complaints. This is a summary of these events and a highlight of the role of the media in the construction of a negative image of this group, regardless of the blame placed on certain members whose cases are currently being processed by the court.
"The community was founded in France in 1973, under the charismatic movement, with the name "Community of the Lion of Judah and the Slain Lamb." Gérard Croissant, called Brother Ephraïm, a married man, founded the community along with another couple. In 1987 the community decided to change the name to the 'Community of the Beatitudes' becoming official in 1991. Today, it is located on five continents and in 65 dioceses. "An international association of those faithful to the pontifical right since 2002, the community is part of the pontifical Council for the laity and not only for those directly from their diocese of origin" (La Croix, June 24, 2008). "The Community of the Beatitudes was recognized "ad experimento" (provisionally, Editor's note) in 2002 by the Vatican for a period of five years." Its final recognition was not accepted, although the provisional status was extended for two years, Father Jean-Baptiste Tison, a member of the community of our Lady of Bonnecombe, told AFP" (AFP, October 17, 2008).
In April 2005, Myriam and Pascal Michelena, former members of the community filed a complaint against the organization for fraud and abuse of weakness. The court made a call without following up on the complaint of the Michelenas: “In his order of reference... the investigating judge considers it not to be an abuse of weakness, but rather a feeling of "mental manipulation," a notion which is not within the law (La Depeche).
The article states that the judge preferred not to comment on the charge of fraud, as prescribed by law. Myriam and Pascal Michelena state: "We waited to file a complaint because we tried to find a solution with the Church's institutions and the Official Court of Toulouse. Because they wouldn’t listen to us, we went to the criminal justice system. Today, we are sickened by it all, but we want to turn the page and hope other victims find the courage and energy to take over" (La Depeche).
As a result of this Court decision, many other complaints emerged, giving rise to different legal proceedings.
Four members of the religious Community of the Beatitudes in Aveyron denounce brother Pierre-Etienne Albert for 'sexual advances on minors' (AFP, June 12, 2008). The 57-year-old man confessed '50 sexual assaults of children aged 5 to 14 years between 1985 and 2000, all over France' to the court (La Depeche, October 3, 2008). "He [was] put to review and placed under judicial control, in February 2008 in Rodez" (AFP, October 17, 2008).
According to Pierre-Etienne Albert, "the hierarchy of the community was perfectly aware of his actions and did nothing to stop it, they merely moved him from place to place” (Sud Ouest, October 3, 2008).
"It is within this framework that a judicial inquiry for concealment of sexual assaults on minors was opened in Rodez (12 (editors note: postal code)). Six leaders of the Beatitudes have been placed in custody in recent days in Toulouse, Yon (86), and Prayssas (47). In Prayssas, a retired couple, leaders of an association linked to the community—international Alliances—who were heard by the police in the Toulouse. Placed in custody Monday, they emerged the next day without any charges brought against them. At the same time, investigators also searched the property of the Kinor Association in Labrit (40), considered to be the home of the founder of the Beatitudes, Gérard Croissant" (Sud Ouest, October 3, 2008).
Nicolas Le Port-Letexier, 28-years-old, who studied at Agnes of Langeac, a community college located in Autrey (Vosges), from 1995 to 1999 gave the following testimony:
"the community manager in Autrey, who we called the Shepherd, washed me in the shower. In the evening, he invited other young people to massage him naked on the bed in his room. He caressed the buttocks of one and kissed the breast of another. Some officials had sex with students...Eight young people, to my knowledge, have ended their life" (Le Parisien).
Note that Le Parisien titled its article, "Investigation of a Series of Suicides in a Religious Community" although in its January 21, 2009 issue, it specifies that one of the individuals ended their life in a hotel in Toulouse.
"The Prosecutor in Épinal, Bernard Marchal, has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation to consider "new elements" regarding the events that occurred at the Agnes of Langeac college, between 1995 and 1999, in Autrey (Vosges)" (Le Parisien, January 21, 2009).
A member of the prayer group of the Community of the Beatitudes in Vaumoise addressed an anti-sect association, "He felt trapped and feared that this religious community replaced medicine with prayers to treat people at certain offices" (Paris, August 8, 2008).
Olivier Demarle, who had joined the community settled in the castle of Thy in Belgium claimed to have faced mental manipulation and a "highly dangerous" therapy" (Le Parisien – Aujourd’hui en France, December 15, 2008).
"Gérard Croissant, 59, the founder of the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes... was arrested as exiting and airplane Tuesday morning at Roissy airport. He was returning from Rwanda where he had taken refuge for ten months…He has been released but will be summoned by the investigating judge to be indicted for "non-denunciation of sexual assaults on minors of 15 years" (Le Parisien, Thursday, November 6, 2008).
The pontifical Council for the laity stressed "the need to get to the bottom of the issues raised and immediately undertake spiritual and structural reform,” and asked that the Assembly be held before November 2009 (AFP, October 17, 2008). The Assembly was held from October 1-31, 2009 in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, and allowed the community to maintain "for some time yet, the status of a private association of those faithful to the pontifical right, as has been the case since December 8, 2002. A big surprise! For many religious observers, this General Assembly signified nothing less than the end of the coexistence of diverse lifestyles within the Beatitudes" (FamilleChretienne).
In an article published in the Canard Enchainé (January 10, 2007), the journalist Didier Hassoux reported a comment made by Jean-Michel Roulet (then President of MIVILUDES) on the community of the Beatitudes, "a number of corresponding elements fully justify that justice be met [because] families described to us, situations that can be described as sectarian.”
The current President of MIVILUDES, “Georges Fenech, and his advisers went to the National and International Headquarters of the Beatitudes where they met the moderator general Francoic-Xavier Wallays, his Deputy, and several members.” The president of MIVILUDES states, "I introduced a method consisting of being on the ground rather than staying in an office...We had received about 20 complaints or reports, from former members or their families, about the Beatitudes, including, sexual assault, family breakups, abandonment of family heritage in order to volunteer, psycho-spiritual practices, confusion between religious practice in the congregation and normal life. While the application status of the congregation is under the responsibility of the Office of Worship of the Ministry of Internal Affairs...I took the prefect of Haute-Garonne to verify the legality of voluntary work, and to get him to ask where the daughters of a couple who hasn’t heard from them are. I will convene my Council. We are just at the reflection stage, but we need MIVILUDES to monitor." (La Depeche).
Jean-Michel Roulet’s tone remains cautious and Georges Fenech will neither use the expression "sectarian drift", nor “mental hold” in the rhetoric of the mission. However, these terms are used by the complainants and by the press.
It is interesting to compare Georges Fenech’s words on the Community of the Beatitudes with what he said about the 'Love and Mercy' community, in the Jura area, who were quickly accused of being a "cult.” According to MIVILUDES…the information collected "attests to behavior constitutive of sectarian groups through the testimonies indicating a hold on members, breaking with the family and social environment, and financial pressures." If we compare the complaints of these two groups, it is clear, however, that the Community of the Beatitudes is more controversial.
The difference in treatment is apparently due to the proximity of this community with the Catholic Church, which has a special status in France, where anti-sect terminology can be used without precautions. The idea of MIVILUDES regretting discretion is far from reality, but this attitude, rather than a healthy step back overall, illustrates the secularism of variable geometry that characterizes our country (France).
Some commentators also criticize the new MIVILUDES action strategy: "There is actually a mixture of styles. The deputy Fenech is actually responsible for an assessment mission of judicial devices designed to fight “sects” more effectively, he is not an investigative police officer and his searches/visits to communities are a mixture of genres (Michel Janva, Chretiente.info).
In an article in the Nouvel Observateur on March 29, 2007, the journalist Marie Lemonnier quoted Guy Rouquet, president of Psychothérapie Vigilance, who laments: "There are many sincere people within the community who do not see the superstructure and the way in which they are used and abused."
The theme of a mental hold is one of the favorite argument of anti-sect organizations. There the significant particularity is to be anxiety provoking, which generally means that evidence must be provided, and has the double function of immediately discrediting the person accused of such practices while removing responsibility from the supposed victims.
*The original article can be found on CICNS' website.