Apr 14, 2021

New book explores plague of abuse in Church's new religious movements

New book explores plague of abuse in Church's new religious movements
Inés San Martín
April 12, 2021

ROME – In 2017, the man who leads the Vatican’s office for religious congregations acknowledged in an interview that some 70 “new movements” were under investigation for the abusive behavior of their founders.

French journalist Céline Hoyeau, who covers the religion beat for the French Catholic daily La Croix, took this to heart and began investigating many of the men and women who founded new religious movements in the era before and after Second Vatican Council.

The new movements were often considered the source for a “new springtime” for the Catholic Church, amidst a crisis in vocations and a rapid secularization.

Hoyeau captured her findings in the book La Trahison des pères (The Betrayal of the Fathers, Bayard), released in late March in France.

Crux spoke with the French journalist about the book, what inspired her to write it and about the possibility of it being published in English. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

Crux: How would you summarize the book for Crux’ readers?

Some of the founders of the new communities, leading charismatic figures in the second half of the twentieth century in the Catholic Church, were found to have committed abuses (spiritual abuse, abuse of power, sexual abuse). I wanted to understand the reasons for this “fall of the stars” by interviewing victims, former members of these communities and experts: Historians, sociologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, theologians, canonists, bishops …

It seemed to me that a certain context allowed the rise of these charismatic figures who rose to such heights that they no longer met with any counterweight and were able to commit abuse: A context of crisis, of great expectations of renewal for Catholics, and of absence of control.

After the Second Vatican Council, in a period marked by secularization and de-Christianization, some founders were enthusiastic, attracted many vocations, and were successful, at a time when the Church seemed to be losing momentum, when parishes and seminaries were emptying. These new communities seemed to have found the miracle recipe to become the future of the Church. In a context of crisis, these founders appeared as “providential men” capable of “saving the Church” and re-evangelizing society.

These charismatic personalities also met the very strong expectations of Catholics who aspired to clear reference points in the teaching of the faith, a liturgy with a sense of the sacred, the beauty of celebrations, a personal relationship with God and a strong ideal of community and fraternal life. The genius of these founders is to have known how to meet this spiritual quest, to have known how to embody not only a reassuring authority, but also a new way of believing, which gives place to emotion, to affectivity, to tenderness, to the body, to the welcoming of one’s vulnerability.

These founders were considered by these generations of Catholics as being sent by the Holy Spirit: As saints. They locked themselves up in an omnipotence and were able to abuse with impunity, without encountering any opposing forces or effective ecclesial control. If these abuses have been able to continue over time without being denounced, it is in fact also the fault of an entire ecosystem, for which each of the actors bears a share of responsibility and has a role to play today in helping the Church to emerge from them.

Why did you decide to write this book?

As a journalist for the Religions department of La Croix, I was led to investigate from 2013 onwards the founders of communities who had committed abuses (Thierry de Roucy, Mansour Labaky, Marie-Dominique Philippe, Thomas Philippe…). As the revelations of the victims’ testimonies have come to light in recent years, the list has grown longer. I wanted to give the keys for understanding by questioning experts (historians, sociologists, psychotherapists, theologians) in what context and by what mechanisms these figures had such an aura that they were able to abuse with impunity, sometimes for several decades.

As a Christian, I was also marked in my faith journey by several of these figures whose dark side we are discovering today: I was part of the “John Paul II generation” – I was 20 years old at the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris – and I followed various retreats or sessions in these new communities. I shared the amazement, the anger, the sadness, the incomprehension of many Catholics for whom these founders were essential figures (some converted through them, others found an orientation for their lives) and who were shocked, like me, to discover the other side of the story.

These founders had luminous intuitions, good passed through these people whose abuses we are discovering today. This is the paradox and mystery that this book cannot exhaust, nor solve. But it seemed to me necessary to understand these mechanisms that made us admire, let our guards down — even lose all critical sense — in front of these men without any oversight, who tipped over into a certain omnipotence, and serious drifting, in order to draw lessons from it.

Of all the “fathers” that you examined, was there one who you did not expect or who disappointed you the most when you found out? If so, why?

The revelations, in February 2020, of the investigation carried out by L’Arche on Jean Vanier were a shock to all. He was the founder of this organization for people with mental disabilities, which has been established all over the world, was honored by everyone, in the Church and in society.

He was a model of a founder, who had given up his responsibilities as head of his community quite early, in the 1980s, and was very humble, open to all, whatever their religion or condition. He was almost seen as a saint. And when the other founders of the same generation fell one after the other, people said: “At least he was…”

When L’Arche revealed that, contrary to what he had said, that he had been aware since the 1950s of the abuses committed by his spiritual master, Father Thomas Philippe, and that, in addition, he too had led women whom he accompanied spiritually into sexual acts by justifying them with the same deviant mysticism, it caused immense disappointment.

For my part, in 2015, I had met Jean Vanier as I was investigating Philippe and I asked him if he was aware of these abuses, but he had answered that he was not and had not known what to say when I had asked him the question that was going to be at the origin of my book and that, already at that time, was nagging me: How is it that figures like Ephraim, Thierry de Roucy or the Philippe Fathers, who took part in the “springtime of the Church” in the last quarter of the 20th century, could have been abusers?

Jean Vanier was uncomfortable and I left a little disappointed not to have an answer. At the time, I had no idea that he shared the same practices and when I found out, I felt a sense of betrayal.

Marie-Dominique and Thomas Philippe, André-Marie van der Borght, Ephraim, Thierry de Roucy, Jean Vanier … the list of leaders of the “springtime of the Church” who founded these so-called “new movements” but who proved to have committed criminal acts. Why were so many of these able to “get away” with it?

For reasons that have to do both with their personality, often manipulative, and with the non-controlling context in which they emerged. Indeed, there have always been two-faced, abusive personalities, but the context will be conducive or not for them to transgress and abuse. But these founders did not encounter any counterweight outside or inside their community, or they managed to bypass them.

The bishops, for one thing, have not been vigilant. At the time when they took off in the 1970s, most French bishops were more involved in Catholic Action and social struggles, and they looked with a certain amount of mistrust on these founders, who seemed to them to be conservative and attached to outdated forms of piety. Faced with de-Christianization, other bishops are nevertheless happy to welcome into their dioceses these communities which attract many vocations, while their seminaries and parishes are emptying. They are fascinated by these founders.

The Roman authorities have also been blinded by the success of these communities. During the pontificate of John Paul II, who saw in these founders the heralds of the new evangelization, they were fascinated by the hundreds of “Little Greys” who accompanied Father Marie-Dominique Philippe to St. Peter’s every year. So, any complaints that could be traced back to Rome were not taken seriously and dismissed. All the more so because at the time, the word of the victims was not taken into consideration at all in the Church.

But even the bishops who were lucid found themselves powerless: There were some attempts to warn these communities but they met with very strong defensive reactions. In fact, these founders could not have prospered if they had not had in front of them a court of disciples under their influence, who adulated them, who gave them an image of sanctity, who did not see or did not want to see, and who allowed themselves to be deceived in every sense of the word. They defended the founder tooth and nail. Any criticism of their community was discredited, the bishops accused of not understanding the charism of the founder who had received his mission from the Holy Spirit. To attack him was, in essence, to attack Christ. The few members of the community who were critical were marginalized, and those who left were demonized.

The lack of control by the Church is also explained by the fact that these communities claimed a separate framework, new ways of building community life (men/women; singles/couples) in the Church. The rule was drawn up according to the intuitions of the founder, around whom everything revolved. Basically, the rule was him. These communities did not respect the safeguards and checks and balances that are the usual rules of wisdom in the Church (notably the distinction between the internal and external forum, i.e., a community leader cannot spiritually accompany or confess a member of his community, in order to preserve his freedom).

All of this was part of the context of a society, after the Second Vatican Council and May of 1968, where it had become “forbidden to forbid.” The Church was not immune to these cultural changes: The bishops preferred to “accompany” rather than to sanction. A “Church of Communion” was preferred to the authoritarian model of pre-Vatican II.

And even when there were sanctions, the secrecy in the Church had the perverse effect of diminishing their scope and making some of these sanctions fall into oblivion, as in the case of Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe. It was only in 2019 that we learned that the founder of the St. John community had himself been sanctioned in 1957, following the trial of his brother.

I know that to write the book you interviewed both survivors and experts on the field. Did you come to a conclusion about the common elements of these people who were inspired and who inspired others to do much good in the name of God, had secretive, criminal personalities?

All these founders are charismatic personalities, often emotional and captivating for this affectivity, endowed with a great talent for preaching, and with a high spiritual ideal suitable to reach the aspirations of seekers of meaning.

They also have in common the fact that they have maintained, under an air of humility, a cult of personality, and that they have reserved for themselves a special rhythm and a privileged treatment in their community (separate meals, different schedules). They had a complicated relationship with authority: Some left a first community to found their own in which they were the only masters on board; they chose dioceses where the bishop was favorable to them and changed dioceses to find new support.

I wondered if they were perverse from the beginning or if they drifted, won over by spiritual pride in the success of their community. There are psychological and spiritual reasons for this. However, I can’t draw a typical profile.

The experts, moreover, do not agree among themselves. Nevertheless, we can list some aspects of these two-faced personalities … some, rare, meet the characteristics of the true “pervert”, who will build a system in which he will be able to enjoy the exploitation and destruction of the other; others, the most numerous, present a strong narcissistic flaw and, in an uncontrolled context, will develop traits of perversion and will use others to their ends (intellectually, spiritually, financially, sexually), without necessarily being aware of it.

Will the book be translated into English?

I hope so, and my publisher is working on it, because, though I have studied the French context in my book, this phenomenon of charismatic founders of communities who have abused can be found in many other countries; it is enough to mention the Mexican Marcial Maciel (Legionaries of Christ), the Germans Joseph Kentenich (Schönstatt movement) and Werenfried von Stratten (Aid to the Church in Need), the Peruvian Luis Fernando Figari (Sodalicio), the Italian Gino Burresi, the founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In 2017, Cardinal [João] Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, acknowledged in an interview with Settimananews that the Vatican is “closely following” today 70 new religious families, some of which present “serious personality problems in the founders and phenomena of control, strong psychological conditioning of the members.”

He added that some of these founders have turned out to be “real abusers of consciences.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


CultNEWS101 Articles: 4/13/2021: Religious Trauma, PTSD, Recovery, GraceLife Church, Covid, Religious Freedom, Canada, Bountiful, FLDS, Polygamy

Religious Trauma, PTSD, Recovery, GraceLife Church, Covid, Religious Freedom, Canada, Bountiful, FLDS, Polygamy
The New Republic: Can Religion Give You PTSD?
" ... Williamson had grown up believing that complementarianism (the belief men and women complement each other through distinct and separate roles) and purity culture (which demands that women remain sexless virgins until marriage) were divine ordinance. "You're taught that your body belongs to God, then your dad, then your husband," she said. "Your dad protects your virginity, then you get married and your dad gives you to your husband, and your body belongs to him." (Purity culture also assumes men to be lustful and places the responsibility on women to avoid tempting them sexually—an issue spotlighted by the Atlanta mass shooting earlier this month, allegedly carried out by a member of a conservative Baptist church with a "religious mania" who claimed he had been plagued by "sexual addiction.")

Williamson believes this worldview caused her to stay for several years in an abusive relationship with a man who pressured her to have all kinds of nonvaginal sex. Williamson didn't want to but didn't have a way to say it. She recalls hearing one verse from Jeremiah over and over: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? "The message was: Don't listen to your feelings," she said. So when her boyfriend told her, "prove to me from the Bible that it's wrong to give head," Williamson was at a loss: She couldn't.

"There are jokes about doing anal for Jesus, and yeah, that's pretty much how it was," she told me. "I felt awful about it as we were doing those things, and after." After seeing him, she would sit in her car and cry. "I didn't know that wasn't normal."

It wasn't just the abusive relationship that traumatized Williamson. It was the entire ideology of purity, wrapped up with her sense of identity, self-worth, and relationship to God. "I didn't know what it meant to be a woman," she said. "I had no concept of gender identity beyond evangelicalism."

Religious trauma, like sexual trauma, is not new. "It's as old as religion," according to Religious Trauma Institute co-founder Brian Peck. Peck grew up in a conservative evangelical family and attended a K-12 Christian school. He began the process of leaving his religion more than two decades ago, when he was in his twenties. Along the way, he met other former evangelicals who were living in opposition to their former beliefs, "feeling stuck in this inflexible way that I was familiar with."

"This led me to realizing it's not just a cognitive problem that people experience," said Peck, now a licensed clinical social worker based in Boise, Idaho. "A lot of the deconstruction journey is a cognitive process. It's about reading and studying. It's about beliefs and ideas: Are they true or not true? During that process, we often lose sight of the fact that we're social mammals living in bodies, and the way that trauma impacts us is not just in our head, it's in our body as well."

In recent years, mental health practitioners have begun the work of cataloging and defining religious trauma. Many of them, like Peck and Anderson, grew up in fundamentalist or conservative religious environments.

In 1993, psychologist Marlene Winell published Leaving the Fold, a self-help book for former Christian fundamentalists deciding to forsake their religion. Winell, who refers to herself as a "recovering fundamentalist," coined the term "religious trauma syndrome" more than a decade ago. It's "the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination," Winell has written.

Psychologist Darrel Ray founded the nonprofit Recovering From Religion in 2009 as a resource for people doubting or leaving their faith. In 2012, he launched the Secular Therapy Project, a database of nearly 500 vetted secular therapists who will not tell clients they just need to pray more."

" ... The self-help therapeutic nature of the current ex-evangelical movement has its roots back in the 1980s with the formation of Fundamentalists Anonymous. Kraft notes that in 1993 psychologist Marlene Winell published Leaving the Fold, a self-help book for former Christian fundamentalists deciding to forsake their religion. Winell coined the term "religious trauma syndrome," defining it as "the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination." Like Fundamentalists Anonymous, which emerged during the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the current movement of ex-evangelicals is shaped by and engaged in politics in the Trump and post-Trump era. Kraft cites political scientist Paul A. Djupe, who estimates that just over 20 percent of American evangelicals, or eight million people, left their churches between 2016 and 2020. "It's a pretty sizable number, and of course they're really loud on Twitter," Djupe said"

" ... Alberta Health Services said it "physically closed" the building and will be preventing access to it until GraceLife "can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health's restrictions."

Mounties were called in to enforce the closure.

Coates was charged – and jailed for nearly seven weeks – for refusing to comply with Alberta's public health orders, and the church as an entity was charged itself earlier in the year and ordered to close by AHS.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, who is representing Coates and GraceLife in court, called the Wednesday closure a denial of charter freedoms."

St. George News: New memoir on growing up in polygamy to be featured in virtual event hosted by St. George bookstore
" ... Canadian author Mary Jayne Blackmore recently published her memoir, a story that recounts lessons she learned about feminism from her polygamist grandmothers. The book is featured on a St. George bookstore website and will host a virtual event April 17.

In an email to St. George News, Blackmore described her book, "Balancing Bountiful," as a story about both the light and darkness of growing up in a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community in Bountiful, British Columbia.

"It's about overcoming the adversity I faced in my life, and how it made me the strong woman I am today," she wrote."

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Apr 13, 2021

Epoch Times defiant after Hong Kong printing press ransacked

Epoch Times defiant after Hong Kong printing press ransacked
April 13, 2021
Hong Kong (AFP)

A Hong Kong newspaper linked to a spiritual group banned in China said Tuesday it would "never back down" after a gang of sledgehammer-wielding men ransacked its printing presses.

The assault on the Epoch Times was captured on CCTV and comes as China oversees a sweeping crackdown against critics in Hong Kong following huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019.

Footage released by the paper showed four masked men storming into the printing plant in the early hours of Monday morning and smashing up equipment.

They also threw concrete rubble into machinery as terrified staff members looked on.

The Epoch Times said the assault knocked out their presses, but vowed to print again soon.

"This incident was to suppress Hong Kong's freedom of speech and intended to silence media which tells the truth," Epoch Times spokeswoman Cheryl Ng said in a statement. "We condemn violence and never back down."

The Epoch Times is linked to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned in mainland China and prosecuted by authorities there.

While it is banned in China, Falun Gong maintains a presence in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and practitioners give the Epoch Times out at street booths across the city.

Globally the Epoch Times is printed in eight languages and publishes in 21 languages online, often penning scathing pieces about China's government.

It has something of a controversial reputation. The media group became a staunch supporter of former US president Donald Trump.

Detractors accuse the group of employing aggressive social media tactics and right-wing misinformation to create a fervently anti-China, pro-Trump media empire.

Trump loyalist Republican politicians were among those who issued statements over Monday's assault.

"The attack on The Epoch Times' Hong Kong printing plant today was an act to silence any and all opposition," Congressman Mike Waltz wrote on Twitter.

"This is even more evidence of the #CCP's (Chinese Communist Party) systematic attack on basic human rights," he added.

Hong Kong Police confirmed its organised crime unit had taken over the investigation into Monday's attack and that no arrests had been made so far.

In an overnight statement, police said their preliminary investigation pointed to a dispute over money.

"Police received a report saying that the suspects claimed the staff from the above company owed loans and used hammers to destroy five computer screens and one printer," police said.

Ng, the paper's spokeswoman, said that was news to her.

"As far as I know, there is no such debt situation," she told AFP.


How a Catholic Photographer Penetrated a Hidden Hasidic World

A Rekindled World
Agnieszka Traczewska has devoted the past few years to photographing ultra-Orthodox communities worldwide. In an interview, the Polish artist describes working in a world closed to outsiders and women.

Naama Riba
April 13, 2021


When you talk with Polish photographer and producer Agnieszka Traczewska, you get the feeling that she’s an inseparable part of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world – even though she’s Catholic.

My conversations with her, like the text that accompanies the photographs in her new book, “A Rekindled World,” are peppered with Jewish vocabulary. She knows when to say “chagim” (holidays), “Shabbat shalom” (good Sabbath), “tzni’ut” (modesty), Hasidim, “baruch Hashem” (thank God) and even “refuah shlemah” (best wishes for a full recovery).

Traczewska, who has held some 40 solo exhibitions around the world – including in the United States, Germany, Australia, Brazil and Canada – also easily reels off names of ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods in Israel, from the city of Bnei Brak to Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood.

“Returns,” which was published in 2019, Traczewska primarily photographed ultra-Orthodox Jews
For her previous book, “Returns,” which was published in 2019, Traczewska primarily photographed ultra-Orthodox Jews praying at the graves of holy men in Poland. Her new book is a summation of 12 years of journeying through Hasidic communities in several countries: Israel, the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Britain and Brazil.

In an interview with Haaretz that took place over several digital platforms, she says that no one has made the effort to trace where Hasidism has moved from Eastern Europe. She traveled across three continents in an effort to create a portrait of renewed Hasidic life.

Traczewska finished her journey when the coronavirus erupted. The final photographs in the books are from the early days of the pandemic in Europe. In her photos, she focused on Hasidic dynasties that originated in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, especially dynasties that originated in Poland, Hungary and Romania.

She says the secular public sometimes sees all ultra-Orthodox people as an undifferentiated mass, but the reality is very different.

“All Hasidic communities differ with their customs, habits, level of orthodoxy. At once the most surprising was that the Black and White crowd of people, who looked so similar to outsiders, is in fact so complex and various. [There are] endless lessons to learn.”

Thanks to her learning process, she says 95 percent of her closest friends are now Hasidim from around the world, including many in Israel.

“Asked about my second home, I always say ‘Mea She’arim,’ and this is an authentic, honest feeling of belonging to people I met and know there,” says Traczewska. “They [showed me] unprecedented hospitality and trust. Over years they shared with me so many strictly private moments and occasions that not having my own family, I had a total illusion we belonged somehow. You may think, ‘against all odds.’ And that’s true – they are some obstacles, but there are also some similarities between us, which often led to an automatic understanding and feeling of mutual comfort.”

How did you first begin acquainting yourself with each community?

“In every close community, the most effective way to get to know new people is to have somebody who can give a recommendation. In the most distant geographic locations, when it came to the Hasidic community, there was always somebody with whom I had common friends or I knew part of his family from somewhere else. It doesn’t mean I still don’t need to earn their trust, but at least the introduction makes dialogue possible. 

“Although we speak about hundreds of thousands, this is a small world, shtetl-like. People know each other and trust only those who belong. Hasidim remember painful lessons of being closer to outsiders who failed [them]. They don’t want to make another mistake.”

A moral obligation

The photographs in Traczewska’s new book show a glorious ultra-Orthodox world that’s very different from the image the community has inside Israel. In these photos, even poverty looks happy, complex, rich and full of life.

Many of the photographs depict customs and mitzvot, or religious commandments, and show masses of congregating Hasidim. She photographed the festivities during the Lag Ba’omer holiday at Mount Meron in northern Israel. One picture taken in New York, looking out at Manhattan from Brooklyn, shows Hasidim performing the tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashanah. Another, from New York’s Borough Park neighborhood, shows one of the leaders of the Bobov sect, Rabbi Ben Zion Aryeh Leibish Halberstam, flanked by his Hasidim during the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat.

Some of the photos are of major events, like the wedding of the son of the Satmar rebbe, Aaron Teitelbaum, in Petah Tikva. A photograph of the Purim celebrations in Mea She’arim shows a group of children in costume as two of them pretend to smoke a cigarette.

Still others document the daily lives of Hasidim. A photo from Bnei Brak taken a few minutes before the start of Shabbat clearly shows how crowded the city is, yet the street is empty of cars and children walk in the middle of it in their best clothes. A photo from Safed shows a baby being bathed in the kitchen sink.

“There are many Hasidim who made my journey meaningful,” she says. “One of the most important couple of Bobov Hasidim whom I met during Tzadik Shlomo Halberstam’s yahrzeit [memorial service] at the cemetery in Bobowa, Poland, are Naomi and Duvid Singers from Borough Park. With roots in Poland and Hungary, [and] long experience in preservation of Jewish heritage projects in Poland, they understood my reasons for portraying places connected with the Great Tzadikim tradition.”

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, “I had the enormous privilege, also thanks to some Hasidic supporters, to meet all the most important Hasidic leaders living there. With one of the rebbes, after an hour of our conversation about Jewish tradition, Great Tzadikim, places and occasions I [had participated in], I started to say goodbye. When he asked me about my trip back and he heard I will travel on Friday, I saw his fear that I may not reach my destination before Shabbos.

“That was a moment when I understood he didn’t realize I wasn’t Jewish, so I told him. He was in shock. Giving me bracha [blessing], in contrast to Hasidic tradition, he ended with, ‘and when you will be ready, please know that the Jewish people invite you.’

“Both of us were moved. Me particularly, as I felt I didn’t disappoint those who put their recommendations in my pocket.”

Traczewska doesn’t view her work as a documentation. “It would suggest that I made some kind of scientific research,” she explains. “I’m not an ethnographer or anthropologist, so documentation wasn’t my aspiration. I didn’t treat Hasidim as objects to test. The artistic approach was important. My intentions were more of a sentimental and historical nature. I tried to record people who have a fascinating history, belonging to the same land I happened to live in.”

She adds that Poland’s communist government tried to erase these people’s history after World War II, and when she learned of this, “I found it mind-blowing and outrageous. My disagreement with propaganda that erased Jewish presence from Polish history was an inspiration and somehow even a moral obligation to make the Hasidic chapter of Polish story visible.”

How did you get close to your subjects?

“When two people meet, even when they can’t talk to each other directly, they obviously have the ability to communicate. Traveling to Hasidic sites, I’m always dressed with tznius in order to signal that I understand and respect the rules. Of course I’m still different, obviously not Jewish, not speaking Hebrew or Yiddish, but at least it was clear to them that I’m not a direct threat. I arrived at a yahrzeit at the graves of Great Tzadikim or at events on chagim with a camera, which gave a clear explanation of what I was looking for.” 

Did anyone object to being photographed?

“I never violated somebody’s free will to participate in my projects. For example, taking pictures of Hasidic groups, when I feel that somebody truly objects, I don’t include him in the frame. Keeping and respecting rules was my first rule. Without my gentle touch I would have angry faces, no different from the ones I see in many pictures of Hasidim available in the media. My characters are always praised for being beautiful. Are all of them so pretty? For sure not, but the fact is they let me show their human side, full of warmth, generosity, intimacy, which no doubt isn’t too common in Hasidic photography. It’s a glimpse that was possible because people feel comfortable with me.”

A patriarchal world

Judging by her photographs, Traczewska managed to totally involve herself in the Hasidic world, but she notes that some places are closed to a female photographer because they are for men only. “But over time I understood that this challenge might be eventually overcome thanks to helping hands, important friends or recommendations,” she says. “Of course it doesn’t mean I can be present at any occasion I want in a major place which would be perfect for photography, but still, there are some other angles, some other floors with windows, corridors etc., where I can still make pictures I’m satisfied with. 

“For example, on the cover of my new book there is a scene of a Purim tish [Hasidic celebration] celebrated in a synagogue in Beit Shemesh. It was made from the women’s section, through thick brown glass, in a terrible crowd which almost prevented me from seeing anything. But still, eventually I created an illusion that the viewer is inside the scene, which seems so dynamic that it looks as though it’s taken straight from a Shakespearean drama.” 

There are almost no women in the book.

“For me, the most important fact is that in spite of Hasidic tradition and a serious ban against showing women, in ‘A Rekindled World’ there is a wide choice of female portraits. Decent close-ups in a pretty intimate, indoor setting, which is so against custom that of course when I was working on the book I could seriously worry [about including them]. I was afraid the whole book will be rejected by Hasidim en bloc. 

“Fortunately, now observing the enthusiastic feedback of Hasidim I know, it didn’t happen. Hasidim now write to me that they are proud to see their wives or mothers in my pictures. I truly tried to do justice to not only how they look, but mostly who they were, what philosophy and hardship they represented. I think that was appreciated.”

At the same time she adds, “However, we need to understand that the Hasidic world is a totally patriarchal system, and most of the ceremonies exclude women, so if somebody really would like to count men and women in ‘A Rekindled World,’ there is no way for it to reflect equality. Men are winners when it comes to public recognition.” 

What is your opinion of the Hasidic lifestyle?

“Hasidic life embraces a wide spectrum of aspects, almost impossible to be discussed in a few sentences only. Hasidism varies not only because they represent various Hasidic dynasties with differences in customs, rules and mentality. They vary because they live in various parts of the world with different standards of living. It’s very difficult to compare, for example, between Hasidim living in the U.S. and Israel. It’s very helpful to enter the Hasidic world without prejudices and stereotypes.”

And yet, is there anything that seems overly strict to you? 

“What was difficult for me? The fact that individuality is almost unknown in the Hasidic world. As I’m very individualistic – self-employed, self-made, traveling alone, doing authors’ projects only – I’ve always regarded the freedom to make my own decisions as the key gift. 

“Hasidim are taught that the community gives security and support. A Hasid lives in a constant cycle of occasions which connects him to other fellow Hasidim. They look and behave almost the same. They go through the same stages of life with almost no exceptions and most often it provides them with authentic joy and comfort. Individuality is not wanted, as somebody  who stands out may create a threat to identity and the maintenance of tradition, values and rules. 

“That was an important step in understanding the Hasidic world, when I realized that my ambitions or aspirations as an outsider don’t have a lot in common with Hasidim, or let’s be frank – nothing at all. To understand them I needed to learn about their motivation, to develop empathy, to do justice in the way I will present them.”

What are you more interested in photographing, everyday life or religious ceremonies?

“Both occasions are different but both are equally important in intense Hasidic everyday life. In a way it’s one of the most fascinating factors of the phenomenon of living side by side with others within a community: There is an endless chain of occasions to meet, talk, go through something together. On the same day people live their ordinary life, sending children to school, working, participating in some family occasions and ending the day with being a part of a massive celebration of the entire community. When I used to stay with Hasidic families, I was totally hypnotized by how much is happening all around, day by day, and it’s all about family and others.

“There’s no problem with being bored or lonely. The wave of constant socializing and celebrating happy occasions, or those that require compassion and support for others, creates a perfect symbol of the cycle of life. 

“Most of the Hasidim I know come from families of Holocaust survivors. However, the Shoah is not a subject they discuss with me often or freely. My friends like to talk about their origins in Poland or Eastern Europe. They know their genealogy well, they are interested in documents, archives where they can learn more. 

“But not too many talk directly about the cruelty of World War II and the horrible things which happened to them or their families. Maybe it’s too painful to be discussed. Or maybe they feel it may create some evil memories and can lead to animosities between us? They just say – ‘My father was the only one who survived of 200 members of his family sent to Auschwitz.’ And there is no need to say anything more. I’m from Poland and I understand the rest.” 

The last pictures she took outside of Poland were in January 2020 in the United States, a moment before the outbreak of COVID-19 all over the world. The new book includes scenes from a synagogue in Krakow in the first days of the pandemic. As opposed to most of the photos in the book, here there are isolated worshipers in a large space that looks abandoned. The book also includes two texts related to the coronavirus, one by Chaim Yaakov Zilberberg – who served as a envoy of the Gur Hasidim in Krakow and was asked to pray in the cemetery for the recovery of coronavirus patients – and a second by Giti and Dov Aharon Yosef Robinson of the Bratslav Hasidim in New York, who discuss the period when Dov Aharon was ill with the virus, until his recovery.

There has been a lot of criticism of the ultra-Orthodox over the past year, both in Israel and in the U.S., for not observing social distancing rules. In the book you try to moderate the criticism.

“That’s not really an issue I can discuss. I spent the entire pandemic in Poland, totally trapped, so everything I know comes from the media rather that firsthand observation. No doubt, my aspiration was to show the ‘human side’ of Hasidism. In the media they’re often shown anonymously, without doing justice to their personal stories, values. The way I show their life – in maximum close-up, with Hasidic texts honestly expressing the way they regard the world – helps a lot in creating empathy and in understanding their differences.”


Trial date set in sexual abuse case against La Luz del Mundo leader Naasón Joaquín García

Naasón Joaquín García, right, the leader of fundamentalist Mexico-based church La Luz del Mundo, appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 5, 2019, before Judge Francis Bennett on charges of human trafficking and child rape. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A Superior Court judge ordered the trial date for García to begin Sept. 27, according to the California attorney general’s office and a statement from La Luz del Mundo.

Alejandra Molina
Religion News Service
April 12, 2021

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A trial date has been set for Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of the Mexico-based megachurch La Luz del Mundo who is facing a number of sex abuse charges.

A Superior Court judge on Monday (April 12) ordered the trial date for García to begin Sept. 27, according to the California attorney general’s office and a statement from La Luz del Mundo.

In August 2020, bail was set at $90 million for García, who faces counts of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation of a minor, human trafficking and possession of child pornography. Also charged alongside García were Alondra Ocampo and Susana Medina Oaxaca.

Oaxaca, who is out on bail, will also face trial beginning Sept. 27. Meanwhile, Ocampo, according to the Los Angeles Times, reached a plea deal after she pleaded guilty to four counts last October. The terms of Ocampo’s plea have not been disclosed, the L.A. Times reported.

The church has maintained García’s innocence and, in the statement Monday, said it believed he was not getting due process.

“Delaying the trial until September 2021 while continuing to require a record $90 million bail for the prominent religious leader shows the inequity of our current bail system,” the church said.

“We are confident that once the trial is concluded, his innocence will be demonstrated and he will be acquitted.”

According to court documents, Ocampo took photos of minor girls “touching each other sexually at her direction” to send the photographs to García. Ocampo directed one of the victims, along with other minors, to perform “flirty” dances for García while wearing as little clothing as possible.

After the dance, García “gave them a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of god can never be judged for his actions,” according to the court papers.

Founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González, La Luz del Mundo rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity. It teaches that Jesus is God’s son and that church leaders, like García, his father and grandfather, are his apostles.

They eschew religious symbolism, viewing crucifixes as idolatry. During worship, genders are segregated in the pews, and women cover their hair and wear long, modest skirts.

Followers of La Luz del Mundo do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, but they do recognize the birthdays of García and the other apostles.

In February 2020, a former member of La Luz del Mundo sued the church and more than a dozen of its leaders, alleging decades of abuse at the hands of the group’s leaders.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, Sochil Martin alleges her aunt and a foster mother “groomed her to serve as an erotic dancer and sexual servant,” first to Samuel Joaquín Flores, the church apostle and leader who died in 2014, and later to Flores’ successor, Naasón Joaquín García, the church’s current apostle.


Apr 11, 2021

Creating Your #iGotOut Statement with Gerette Buglion

Creating Your #iGotOut Statement with Gerette Buglion
Writing to Reckon

A 1.5-hour free, small group confidential class this Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 4 PM EST – 5:30 PM EST (Zoom)

Pre-enrollment is necessary, as group size is limited.

This class is for anyone who has been impacted by controlling groups—directly or indirectly—and wants to express it through the written word. Experienced writers are welcome but no previous experience is required. Writing supports the integration of traumatic and/or confusing life events—finding words to express them helps the writer to make sense of their world.

We will create a confidential, safe, online environment where each participant will write and share as little or as much as they choose, with the understanding that every word written is an act of empowerment. There will be no set expectations or rules, other than to respect confidentiality and write a #igotout statement about your own personal experience. You will decide how to share your statement.

Sign Up at: https://www.igotout.org/writing-to-reckon/writing-to-reckon-f4pza-s487s-4535d

Unification Movement Collection

CultNews101 "Unification Church" Collection 100+ articles, videos, podcasts

Sun Myung Moon

"The Unification movement, also known as the Unification Church (UC), is a worldwide new religious movement whose members are sometimes colloquially called "Moonies". It was officially founded on 1 May 1954 under the name Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC) in Seoul, South Korea by Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), a Korean religious leader also known for his business ventures and engagement in social and political causes.

The beliefs of the Unification movement are based on Moon's book Divine Principle, which differs from the teachings of Nicene Christianity on its view of Jesus and its introduction of the concept of "indemnity". The movement is well known for its unique "Blessing" or mass wedding ceremonies. It also has unique funeral ceremonies for its members.

The Unification movement has attracted numerous controversies, and has been called a dangerous cult. Its beliefs have been criticized by both Jewish and Christian scholars. It also has been criticized for its involvement in politics, which include anticommunism and support for Korean reunification."

Scripture: Bible, Divine Principle
Acting Leader: Hak Ja Han
Founder: Sun Myung Moon
Origin: 1 May 1954
Seoul, South Korea
Members 1–2 million
Other name(s): Unification Church (very commonly), 
Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (currently; officially), Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (historically; officially).

The Unification Church - Teddy Hose

The Unification Church - Teddy Hose
The Cult Vault
#85 The Unification Church - Teddy Hose
(2hr 18min)

"In the start of this months Unification Church coverage, spokesperson against the church, Teddy Hose, speaks with me about his upbringing in the Moonies and his life after."

"In my Cult Vault podcast interview, I go into the details of being labor trafficked on the road, confronting my parents about the Unification Church’s injustices, and being a part of the recruitment process by luring unsuspecting guests into an indoctrination center in the woods." ... The UC also had its own mandatory Kool-Aid, except it was wine with a secret ingredient that will make your skin crawl." - Teddy Hose

Check out some of Teddy's media presence here -

Unification Church Collection
Sanctuary Church Collection


The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?

The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?
The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? Paperback – May 26, 2015

by Miguel Farias (Author), Dr Catherine Wikholm (Author)

"Millions of people meditate daily but can meditative practices really make us ‘better’ people?

In The Buddha Pill, pioneering psychologists Dr Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm put meditation and mindfulness under the microscope. Separating fact from fiction, they reveal what scientific research – including their groundbreaking study on yoga and meditation with prisoners – tells us about the benefits and limitations of these techniques for improving our lives. As well as illuminating the potential, the authors argue that these practices may have unexpected consequences, and that peace and happiness may not always be the end result.

Offering a compelling examination of research on transcendental meditation to recent brain-imaging studies on the effects of mindfulness and yoga, and with fascinating contributions from spiritual teachers and therapists, Farias and Wikholm weave together a unique story about the science and the delusions of personal change."

" ... When thinking of meditation, most people would assume that the effects could only be positive, and previous research on the topic has been predominantly favourable. There has even been a recent study that suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which includes meditation as a key aspect, could be a non-chemical alternative to anti-depressants in preventing relapses into depression. In certain circles, meditation has been marketed as somewhat of a panacea – a ‘cure-all’ treatment for a range of mental health issues including stress, depression and anxiety.

However, throughout his years of research, Dr Farias has discovered numerous accounts of less positive experiences. There have been instances where individuals have suffered extreme adverse side effects after practicing meditation. In fact, the effects reported are some of the exact ones that meditation is sometimes prescribed to help with. These include anxiety, depression, panic, confusion, restlessness – and in some cases, psychosis and manic episodes.

The book features numerous case studies of individuals who have been affected negatively following meditation. These range from accounts of group meditation sessions in which one or two participants have became “emotionally disturbed” to reports of a woman who spent fifteen years being treated for psychotic depression, thought to be “triggered” by a three-day meditation retreat." -- The Dark Side of Meditation: New Book Explores the Truth Behind Meditation 


Federal judge dismisses Planet Aid’s lawsuit against Reveal

Reveal travels to Malawi to learn more about an alleged cult leader who’s playing a shell game with U.S. foreign aid. Credit: Matt Smith/Reveal
D. Victoria Baranetsky and Christa Scharfenberg
March 29, 2021

"After more than four years of fighting a multimillion-dollar libel lawsuit brought by international aid group Planet Aid, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting was handed a decisive victory last week by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In a lengthy order, a federal judge dismissed the entire case with prejudice.

Reveal’s 2016 investigation into Planet Aid, which received U.S. government funds for aid programs in impoverished areas of southern Africa, tied the charity to an alleged cult and raised significant questions about whether the funds from the U.S. and other governments actually were reaching the people they were intended to help. 

Several months after the initial stories were published, Planet Aid filed a vexatious libel lawsuit against Reveal in federal court. The case hinged on three key questions: Did our reporting result in falsity? Did our journalists act with malice in reporting the story? Are Planet Aid and Lisbeth Thomsen, director of its program in Malawi, public figures? After multiple fights over jurisdiction and more than two years of discovery, the court ultimately found in our favor and dismissed the case. 

Beyond creating positive legal precedent, this case serves as a poignant example of a troublesome legal trend taking place in the news media industry over the past decade: deep-pocketed interests seeking to silence journalists with meritless, expensive defamation suits. The New York Times, Mother Jones, BuzzFeed News and other major news outlets have faced similar lawsuits in recent years. The 2016 claim brought against Gawker by Hulk Hogan, and funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, ultimately led to that outlet’s demise. 

The potential impact of these lawsuits on nonprofit investigative newsrooms like our own (and Mother Jones) and on smaller outlets throughout the country – where local journalism already has been decimated – could be a serious blow for democracy. Fighting the Planet Aid case cost millions of dollars in legal fees and thousands of hours of staff time spent on the nearly constant legal back-and-forth over more than four years."

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