The Case of the Community of the Beatitudes

Part Two

This is Part II 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 it's original language (French) here. 

Continuation of Part I:

Reactions of the Community, Its Environment and the Catholic Church

The community has filed a number of complaints for defamation: "There have been around ten complaints against media: TV channels, national or regional daily new, weekly news, free newspapers, and even a website" (La Depeche, January 20, 2009).

Following the statement of a member of the community in Vaumoise, fearing that the community replaces medicine, Bernard Grenier, the vicar general of the Beauvais bishopric, says: "This isn't the case! They take those who ask for help under their wing. I think that the man who was alarmed and thought it was a cult had to have been surprised by the apparent fervor of religious individuals. Maybe we invited him to participate in prayers, and perhaps this was misunderstood?" A similar remark was made by the Mayor of Vaumoise, Germain Nicolas, for whom this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. "We’ve been living with them for twenty years. Thanks to them, some communes, deserted by the priests, have gotten an office. Healing offices do exist, but in no way do they treat the people with prayer. They are called Patient’s Offices and take place approximately once every four months. People come here to pray for those who feel convicted or who have a serious illness that medicine has failed to cure. They are looking for comfort, that's all. In fact, those who have questions about this community can come to their open house on September 16." There is nothing to hide." (Le Parisien, August 8, 2007).



Following the accusations made against the brother Pierre-Etienne Albert, internal tensions were revealed: "We live in a sort of inquisition. This is the consequence of the information" said a layman to AFP, regretting that everyone is fighting. "The truth has ruined our lives, our integrity" regretted this woman for whom "it is us who are criminals now.” Muriel, who was with the offender for seven years, has estimated that with more brave men and bishops with greater conviction, the situation would have been different. "This story must serve a purpose” an intern, engaged in the present community at the Abbey since 2000, pointed out (AFP, June 12, 2008).

Cardinal Bernard Panafieu, Emeritus Archbishop of Marseille, charged by the Vatican with a mission from the Beatitudes, accounts for the "recent painful events affecting (the) community" (AFP, October 17, 2008).

The pontifical Council for the laity has for its part stressed "the need to get to the bottom of the issues raised and to undertake, effective immediately, a path of spiritual and structural reform" and asked that the Assembly be held before November 2009 "(AFP, October 17, 2008).

"From a legal point of view, the Holy See expects that every lifestyle is 'well-defined' within the community: laymen, consecrated men and women, religious, families..." "We, therefore, orient ourselves to the creation of a women's religious institute, a men's institute, and an association of families, as stipulated by Rome. Currently, this is not yet the case, which sometimes causes confusion. We have indicated a possible outcome, which may happen after a substantive restructuring." For the Emeritus Archbishop of Marseille, this "growth crisis" has allowed the Beatitudes (1,100 members worldwide, including hundreds of priests) to "take stock and re-adjust (their) direction," to root their "dynamism" in the life of the Church" (La Croix).

Media processing

The article by Marie Lemonnier with the Nouvel Observateur, thus, starts: "Strange things are happening in the 'new Community,' one of the most important in the Catholic world. Several of its members have denounced mental manipulation, abuse of power, or even a company of racketeering. Its founder has disappeared. The Court has entered, and the Church is thoroughly embarrassed." About the founder: "he has a vaguely Mephistophelean beard." At no time does the journalist seem to be interested in the opinion of the members who are satisfied with their membership in the community. The article is structured like the thrilling news which magazines gratify us with in the summer to distract us, regardless of the consequences on the people who continue to participate in this community. This journalistic style can be described as "social contempt," an attitude that is prohibited by the editors of the Nouvel Observateur... According to the code of ethics of the newspaper.

Faithful to its satirical style, it was difficult to expect better. Le Canard Enchaîné orients the article towards the financial deviance of the organization, whose objective would be the "multiplication of the wheat." No matter what number is used to expose the scam. The cost of a 4-day training "oscillates between 400 and 800 euros," a figure which, itself, is unlikely to cause reactions. "The faithful are asked to be charitable, they pay a small extra donation, in cash or by check, but without mention of the recipient, please..." To ensure that reader signs up for the magazine, the journalist evokes a value of outrage by mentioning Dr. Hamer's alternative therapeutic practices that are used within the community. In the space of a few lines, hundreds of people are devalued, either as scammers or poor unconscious victims.

Le Parisien, in an article written by Stéphanie Forestier on 8 August 2007, balances the previous article with positive testimonials on the community. The announcement of an "Open House" in the Community in Vaumoise, nevertheless, inspires this comment: “We can question the discretion displayed by the Community, which does not seem to open its doors before mid-September.” It would have been sufficient for the reporter to recognize the prevailing anti-sect climate in France to understand the prudence of spiritual minorities with regard to the media.

If it seems natural that the complaints and the context of the cases cited be published in the press and on television, we see once again that many journalists take a stab at communities of people whom they know almost nothing about, if only through the testimonies of a few complainants. Their generally biased treatment of information in cases of "sects" exclude qualified groups from the discourse. Nobody, in effect, deserves the taste of media lynching, particularly when legal proceedings are underway. Is the goal of producing a more balanced and more respectful dissemination of information in the period of judicial proceedings so difficult to achieve?

Following articles published late May 2008 in the columns of daily French newspapers Nord Eclair and Voix du Nord against the community, the court condemned the two newspapers for public defamation (source).

The Community of the Beatitudes also has a lawsuit against the newspaper Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France for defamation. The journal is subject to a removal order before the Correctional Court (source)

In a statement dated November 15, 2011 (Catholic Church), the Papal Commissioner and the General Council of the Community of the Beatitudes made a review of the situation. They found that, after three decades of rapid growth and dynamism, "the weaknesses, defects, and components, which, without calling into question the value of the mission as a whole, have seriously affected its growth, appeared more clearly, including, psycho-spiritual practices, poor balance, a confusion with the daily life of the different lifestyles (lay, consecrated), problems of governance, and serious offences committed by some of its members… In 2007, the Holy See obliged the community to undertake spiritual and structural reform… This process resulted in the approval of new statutes and its re-recognition as a 'public association of the faithful of diocesan right,’ by Archbishop Robert Le Gall, Archbishop of Toulouse, June 29, 2011.The community disapproved...of these simplistic and erroneous amalgams that [did] not take into account the recent development carried out under the guidance of the Church. "It [denounced] the false and defamatory accusations made against it, especially when treated as a “sect.””

[CICNS] The Pontifical Commission and the General Council of the Community of the Beatitudes have reasons to denounce the "simplistic and erroneous amalgams," but immediately contradict in wishing to escape the qualification of a "sect" without refuting it in a general way. Thus, they validate the use of this term for other victims of the same simplicity as those who have overwhelmed the Community of the Beatitudes. Without the support of the Vatican, this community would have fallen under the blows of the MIVILUDES who have professionalized the technique of amalgamation.

*The original article can be accessed at CICNS's website.