Report by sect watchdog says sects pray on tragedies to gain

Associated Press/February 19, 2002

Paris -- Sects profit from catastrophes like the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States to advance "miracle solutions,'' according to a government report issued Tuesday.

The annual report by France's Interministerial Mission to Combat Sects, or MILS, noted a "stagnation'' or even a ``certain regression'' in the activities of sects in France.

However, the 107-page report said disasters provide ideal terrain for sects to enter into action with the aim of recruiting potential new members -- the vulnerable.

"Sects do not hesitate to profit from the world's misfortunes to try to impose their miracle solutions,'' the report said. Victims of major catastrophes become "the object of immediate attention.''

The report cited means allegedly used by the Church of Scientology after the Sept. 11 attacks that included sending volunteers to help at the disaster site at the World Trade Center, creation of a special Internet site and distribution of a manual, "The Way to Happiness.''

Jean Dupuis, spokesman for the church's division in France, called the report "disgusting and outrageous.''

"For more than 50 years, the Church of Scientology has helped people in difficulty. We were at Chernobyl, in Los Angeles after the earthquake, in Yugoslavia,'' Dupuis said. "Three-hundred volunteers were in New York day and night to help, and they have been congratulated because they did so.''

However, the report cautioned the United States to be more "circumspect'' about movements considered to be religions there but classified as sects in France, such as Jehovah's Witness -- the largest sect in France with some 250,000 members -- and the Church of Scientology.

The report also warned about the use of health services to gain followers, from psychotherapists to doctors, one of whom treated cancer patients with fasts.

The special anti-sect unit, under the authority of the prime minister's office, was created three years ago to grapple with the growth of sects in France.

The report said that the number of people involved in sects in France, put at 500,000, has not changed for some 20 years. It said that some 400,000 of people involved in sects are "active proselytizers.''

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