MIVILUDES’ raids in Catholic communities
HRWF (07.06.2012) – Since the presidency of MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Drifts) by Georges Fenech, several small Catholic communities have increasingly been targeted, the last one being “Amour and Miséricorde” (Love and Mercy). On 11 April 2012, investigators of the research section of the gendarmerie in Dijon have stopped several members of that group. One of them was put under examination.
In 2010, the Washington-based Institute for Religion and Public Policy (http://www.religionandpolicy.org) made a statement at the OSCE/ODIHR Human Dimension Implementation Meeting entitled “Repression of Christian Communities in France”. See below a large excerpt of it (the titles in the text are from HRWF).
Raid at the Catholic community “Amour and Miséricorde”
In December 2008, Mr. Fenech adopted a new mode of intervention on the ground: he organized unannounced “visits” of a delegation of MIVILUDES in religious communities, as was explained in the 2008 and 2009 Annual Reports of MIVILUDES.
But what is not mentioned in the Reports is that these visits were done by Mr. Fenech with journalists who were never introduced as such to the concerned communities who opened their doors in good faith and felt betrayed. All the visits were followed by media blitz conveying serious accusations against the concerned groups stigmatized as “sectarian movements”.
The usual scenario of these “visits” – or rather raids – is the following: Mr. Fenech arrives with a group of around 10-15 persons, including a journalist from a newspaper so the story gets published with pictures, or the Television. The delegation goes to the religious community without being announced and requests to get in to ask some questions. Most of the approached movements accepted but after regretted.
A small Catholic community in the East of France, Amour et Miséricorde (Love and Mercy), which used to gather around its founder who had visions of the Virgin Mary every month, announced its dissolution after a “visit” of MIVILUDES. Newspaper Le Progrès reported on 18 December 2008:
Dominique Balestrat, owner of the land on which the community was living, who has been himself a member of the group for ten years, feels incomprehension and sadness. He says: “We welcomed Georges Fenech, he said he was not coming for an investigation but only to meet with us. And we are now bombarded with slander. He did not come as an enemy. He came as a traitor. He used the media to crush us when there is nothing to crush. We were a dozen people here. We are not a sect. We are Catholics who wanted to live in community”.
Authorities of the Catholic Church put under pressure
Although – or because – the group had good relations with the local Archbishop, Mr. Fenech met with him to try to convince him to withdraw his support to the members of the community. Newspaper La Gazette de Côte d’Or published the following interview of Mr. Fenech on 11 December 2008:
Did you meet with his Grace Minnerath?
Yes, at my request. Actually because the members of this community claim that they have support in their faith from the Archbishop of Dijon. We had a long talk on this issue. He did not have all the elements in hands to have a complete picture of this movement which, in our opinion, poses some problems.
What was his reaction?
He seemed to be surprised. We told him in particular that in this community Juliano Verbard did some initiation and then became Le Petit Lys d’Amour (Little Lily of Love) in the Island of La Réunion. There, he replicated the practices, as concerns the songs, the liturgy, the visions… Later on, all this ended with the kidnapping of a child. I am not saying that there is a link between Amour et Miséricorde and Le Petit Lys d’Amour, but I say that the inspiration of Petit Lys d’Amour has come from Amour et Miséricorde.
Following this visit of MIVILUDES, the authorities of the Catholic Church were attacked in the media and summoned to justify their non intervention by some relatives of members of the community who refused their choice of life. MIVILUDES justified the role it awarded to itself saying it had received complaints from relatives of (consenting) “victims” under subjection by the community, complaining about the beliefs of the group in the visions of the Virgin Mary and family break-ups due to their choice of life in the community.
The visit was reported in the following terms in the conclusion of the 2008 Annual Report of MIVILUDES:
In addition, according to the elements in the hands of MIVILUDES, the Ecclesiastical authorities, although alerted by families who sought their support to convince persons under subjection to free themselves up, did not seem either to have understood the degree of sufferings involved and the dangers implied, or to be in a position to intervene.
It is in this context that the President of MIVILUDES went there, asked to go in the community and met with several members as well as public and Ecclesiastical authorities. Following this visit, which was widely covered by the press, the association Amour et Miséricorde self dissolved.
A well orchestrated campaign to re-launch judiciary proceedings
Hence MIVILUDES sets itself up as righter of wrongs for internal conflicts of the Catholic Church. To this end it uses the same means as with other communities it considers as “sectarian movements”. Under the pretext that it has received one or several “denouncements” by persons unhappy of the choice of life of their relatives, members of a religious community, it organizes a “raid” in order to nail down the said community.
This policy of intrusion of a State body in the business of Churches is all the more alarming that it is developing: arguably in a near future, relatives or friends of nuns and monks might call on MIVILUDES to settle conflicts and complain of family break-ups due to their choice of life.
It is in total opposition to the approach of tolerance and dialog recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur that MIVILUDES goes on the ground as an anti-sect fighter: like it did with “Amour et Miséricorde”, MIVILUDES creates a media blitz, visits the local ADFI (anti-sect association) in order to collect some accusing elements and then meets with the local government representatives in order to incite them to take repressive measures against the targeted religious community.
The media coverage is also designed at re-launching pending judiciary proceedings. In the case of “Amour et Miséricorde”, a retired colonel, Mr. Pierre Boucher-Doigneau, whose wife and daughters had left to join this group, had filed a complaint in 2004 for abuse of weakness. An investigating judge (Judge of Instruction, JOI) from Dijon dismissed the charges against the community in July 2008 and Mr. Doigneau filed an appeal. The General Prosecutor pleaded for the reopening of the investigation and the Chamber of Instruction of the Appeal Court was to render its decision on 18 March 2009.
Therefore at the time of the largely mediatised visit of MIVILUDES to the community, the judiciary decision was pending. This type of intervention of MIVILUDES is designed once more to put pressure on the judges and prosecutors so they prosecute and convict religious communities considered as “sectarian movements”.
Raid at the Catholic community “Les Béatitudes”
The same scenario took place in February 2009 in the Catholic community “Les Béatitudes”. Created in France in 1973, this religious community is today established on the five continents, in 65 dioceses. Being an international association of believers governed by pontifical law (directly and exclusively under the authority of the Holy See) since 2002, the community reports to the Pontifical Council for the Laity and not anymore to its diocese of origin. This explains that in case of problem, the French Bishops refer it to Rome. It was given this status in order to recognize its international dimension and take into account its presence in numerous countries around the world. But the status was given only on a trial basis by the Vatican in 2002 for a period of five years. Its final recognition has not been achieved yet and the temporary status has been extended for two years.
A delegation of MIVILUDES visited the national and international headquarters of “Les Béatitudes” in Blagnac in the South of France, and conducted a « hearing » of the members of the community in Bonnecombe in February 2009. This term “hearing” used by the media to report on the event is really telling on the confusion which is maintained by Mr. Fenech between his mission at the MIVILUDES and his former functions of Judge of Instruction; the substantial difference being that the present “raids” of MIVILUDES are done without any mandate and outside any judicial proceedings.
The residents of Bonnecombe with the journalists of TV Channel 13e rue
Like with “Amour et Miséricorde”, MIVILUDES’ delegation met with families of (consenting) “victims” who complained of family break-ups, during an “important meeting which took place at the ADFI of Toulouse” according to the 2009 Report of MIVILUDES. Then the delegation met with elected representatives and the Archbishop of Toulouse. The 2009 Report indicates that “the national and local press widely covered the visit”.
Media campaign to trigger judicial proceedings
Georges Fenech stated to the press that he requested the Prefect (local government representative) to verify the functioning of the community and the lawfulness of the volunteering done by its members, suggesting that they were financially exploited, and concluded that “surveillance” by MIVILUDES was needed. He was on one hand implicitly accusing the community to exert mental subjection on its members and on the other hand he was blaming a confusion between religious practice of congregation and of consecrated life – community of life of lay persons, consecrated ones, friars and families – when an application for the status of congregation was being examined by the Office of Cults at the Ministry of Interior.
After some talk with MIVILUDES’ delegation, two town councillors decided to request to the town council of Blagnac to cancel its (majority) decision of May 2008 to give to the Prefect a favourable opinion to the community’s application for congregation status and to adopt an unfavourable one.
MIVILUDES’ intervention resulted, as in the case of “Amour et Miséricorde”, in accusations against the authorities of the Catholic Church for their alleged non intervention. A witness commented in an article published in newspaper La Dépêche of 20 February 2009: “I had hoped that there would be the same interest from the Church but I remain disappointed that a certain number of doors remained closed when the Ecclesiastical institution should feel the first concerned. It is about time that the Church authorities take the means to work with Public authorities, so that the victims and the informers [those who denounce] on sectarian drifts do not have to do the work themselves. It is highly regrettable that the Church authorities leave it up to the French government to deal with their insufficiencies; they should come out of their meetings and come on the ground like Mr. Fenech has done who not only showed some interest for the sufferings of the people, but who also acted”.
Reaction of the Catholic Church
However, the French Bishops’ Conference had not remained inactive and several meetings had taken place in Rome in 2008 with the Pontifical Council for the Laity attended by Cardinal Bernard Panafieu, former Archbishop of Marseille who accompanied the community, as well as His Lordship Pierre-Marie Carré, Bishop of Albi. At the end of these meetings, it was announced that the Holy See expected each state of life to be well “defined” inside the community: lay persons, consecrated men and women, friars, families… and that it was heading towards the creation of a feminine religious institute, a masculine institute and an association of families. The community had also taken into account a certain number of recommendations, like the non mixing of spiritual and therapeutical care in order to respond to another accusation of “psycho-spiritual practices”.
Emeritus Archbishop of Marseille considered in December 2008 – two months before MIVILUDES’ “raid” in February2009 – that this “crisis of growth” had allowed “Les Béatitudes” (1,100 members around the world and a hundred priests) to “evaluate the situation and to readjust (their) orientations”, in order to implant their “dynamism” in the life of the Church.
Therefore the accusations put forward by Mr. Fenech in February 2009 to justify an “investigation” on the ground with wide media coverage in response to the alleged faults of the Church were inappropriate and of total bad faith.
MIVILUDES’ undue interference in religious communities
The intrusion of MIVILUDES in matters of organization of religious communities represents a violation of the duty of neutrality of the French State. As concerns the official recognition of congregations, MIVILUDES is not the Central Office for Cults and is not entitled to decide on communities’ applications; Mr. Fenech should not intervene with elected representatives or media in order to influence the answer given to the pending applications for congregation status. MIVILUDES is not the judicial institution either and Mr. Fenech should not force his way into communities without any mandate and proceed to “hearings”. As concerns actual judiciary proceedings which might be pending, the extremely mediatised actions of MIVILUDES can only harm the impartiality and independence of justice.
Mr. Fenech uses his title of President of an interministerial body to give himself prerogatives which are not provided by official texts. Members of a community in Brittany he “visited” addressed a letter to the Prefect summarizing the problem in the following terms:
- Mr. Prefect, we solicit your help, in order to understand how Mr. Fenech can legally intrude into a Monastery, under the cover of a ministerial investigation, in order to actually help journalists make a report we did not authorize?
In these conditions, one wonders about the real missions which should be entrusted to MIVILUDES and the very necessity of such an official body.
Beyond the « cow-boy » behaving of its President, MIVILUDES poses a true problem of religious freedom.
Deep concerns about MIVILUDES
The fact that the volunteering of friars or consecrated Christians is being challenged is very alarming.
The fact that the Church is attacked for its “psycho-spiritual practices” when it gives assistance as a Church is also very alarming. In France like in Rome, amongst the Catholic Church, people thought that “Les Béatitudes” were doing a good job, in particular with very marginalized or very poor populations. The fact that certain people have complained that their relatives have estranged and chosen to live in community is not an argument to label it as “sectarian movement”. The European Court of Human Rights in its June 2010 Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow decision noted that:
Nevertheless, as long as self-dedication to religious matters is the product of the believer’s independent and free decision and however unhappy his or her family members may be about that decision, the ensuing estrangement cannot be taken to mean that the religion caused the break-up in the family. Quite often, the opposite is true: it is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.
And the Court reaffirmed the right to conduct one’s life according to one’s own religious choices, whatever the family reaction can be.
Psychological help is inherent to spiritual help; etymologically “psukhê” in Greek means the spirit, the soul. If Churches are accused because of the help of their friars or consecrated on the ground, then society is going to have a lot of trouble, because without the spiritual dimension and the religious moral values psychological help is deprived of a great support and doomed to lots of failures.
The reality is that a certain lobby is actively pushing that psychological help could not be dispensed by religions. Atheists of the CCMM, who sit at the Orientation Council of MIVILUDES, have prepared their new fight in this area by posting the following call for testimonies on their web site:
CCMM Action Group of victims of the psycho-spiritual:
The necessity to be present and visible on the ground of respect of human and child’s rights, of individual freedoms and secularism imposes itself today forcefully to the victims of psycho-spiritual drifts.
The gathering of direct and collateral victims of drifts observed in the Christian religions in particular has become a necessity for the CCMM.
This Action Group assigns itself the mission to gather testimonies in order, in particular, to be a proposition force with the Ecclesiastical and political authorities, to provide them with indisputable arguments and to give them the means to act and take their responsibilities.
To this end, CCMM has set up a private support group:
1. telephone number: —
2. e-mail address through the CCMM web site : —
An organized attack is being launched against Christian communities with this call for testimonies and the stated intention to call Ecclesiastic authorities to account.
The “visit” to “Les Béatitudes” community indicates that MIVILUDES has started to materialize these new orientations of “vigilance and fight against sectarian drifts” with Catholic communities.
The intervention of a State body like MIVILUDES in religious matters is very alarming. This intervention is to be more and more frequent as Mr. Fenech repeated forcefully in media interviews.
The evolution of MIVILUDES over the past two years reveals a widening of the scope of religious communities targeted by the fight against “sectarian movements”, by including in particular Christian Churches. The fight against certain beliefs is now openly stated, the followers of religious communities being considered as (consenting) victims of mental manipulation.
The “raids” in Catholic communities based on accusations of family break-ups and mental subjection are very alarming. Arguably in a near future, relatives or friends of nuns and monks might call on MIVILUDES to settle conflicts and complain of family break-ups due to their choice of life.
All the usual accusations against “sectarian movements” have been made during these “raids” and are susceptible to develop further against Catholic communities: exploitation of members through volunteering, abuse of weakness of persons under mental subjection, etc.
The repressive system created by Mr. Fenech is in place: repository of accusatory records on religious communities made available to Judges and Prosecutors, raids in the communities with wide media coverage to put pressure on local elected officials, public and Ecclesiastic authorities, and eventually obtain their dismantling.
Freedom of religion, which pursuant to the European Convention of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights encompasses freedom to practice the religion of one’s own choice and to associate in community to this end, is seriously jeopardized by such a policy in France.
 See p. 171: http://www.miviludes.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/Miviludes_Rapport_2008.pdf and page 296 : http://www.miviludes.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport2009_mise_en_ligne.pdf
For specific testimonies, see the video through the link posted on the web site of the Centre d’Information et de Conseil des Nouvelles Spiritualités (CICNS): http://www.sectes-infos.net/Moulin_des_Vallees.htm
 See article in Le Bien Public, 22 December 2008: http://www.bienpublic.com/fr/permalien/article/1590341/L-archeveche-de-Dijon-embarrasse.html
 Report 2008 pp. 171-172: http://www.miviludes.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/Miviludes_Rapport_2008.pdf
 Pp. 296-297: http://www.miviludes.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport2009_mise_en_ligne.pdf
 See the letter of protest to the Prefect concerning the “raid” at the Moulin des Vallées : http://www.sectes-infos.net/Moulin_des_Vallees.htm