The pope is dead. Will there be a new pope, and how will we even find out?

The Gazette, Montreal/January 10, 2012

For 40 years, Jean-Gaston Tremblay - also known as Pope Gregory XVII and Jean-Grégoire de la Trinité - had been the spiritual leader of the Apostles of Infinite Love, a breakaway Catholic cult based in a "monastery" sequestered in the countryside near St. Jovite.

"There's a big fence around the community, but it wasn't clear whether that was to keep prying eyes out, or to keep people in," says Info-Cult's Mike Kropveld, who has been monitoring "les Apôtres de l'amour infini" for decades.

Tremblay was 83 when he died in a Ste. Agathe hospital on New Year's Eve.

For much of his life, Tremblay had been the target of police probes, arising from allegations of forcible detention, mental, sexual and physical abuse of children, illegal confinement and kidnapping.

One former member, who went on to file a $2.5-million civil suit, cited abuse ranging from sexual molestation, being locked in a closet and beaten with a garden hose to being kept out of school and refused contact with "the outside world."

Yet despite intense surveillance, Tremblay spent very little time behind bars. The last criminal charges against him and other members of the sect were dropped in 2001. The Crown said it was unable to go ahead because there were too many problems with evidence about the alleged abuse of seven boys and a girl.

And so, Tremblay retired to the sanctuary of the Laurentian compound, which had been founded in 1962 by his predecessor, Michel Collin, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who had ordained himself Pope Clement XV.

Was justice serviced? In an open letter sent to Kropveld, one former member condemns the failure of the federal and Quebec governments in allowing "totalitarian" sects with "narcissistic" leaders such as Tremblay to exist in the name of religious freedom.

"How could our governments allow children to be kept totally separate from society, their parents, brothers and sisters in the name of the group?" he asked. "We couldn't even complain to our parents because we were only allowed to see our parents a few times a year.

"Those who finally decided to leave the group take years to get over it. Some never get over it. Some committed suicide."

The former member said at least 14 former members of the group receive compensation from Quebec as victims of crime, a strange twist of logic when charges against Tremblay and his acolytes were dismissed.

"Over the years, I have spoken to a number of former members," said Rick Ross, who runs a New Jersey-based non-profit Internet archive that focuses on cults and controversial movements. "The horrible treatment the children reported was torture. The group has long been considered a 'destructive cult' based upon its structure, dynamics and the harm it has done."

Kropveld is curious to see what becomes of what's left of this closed group now that Tremblay is gone. Numbers had already slipped from the heyday in the 1970s, when roughly 300 people belonged to the community.

Over the last six weeks, the group has also seen the death of its "mother superior," and her husband, who were among the first to move to the community in the 1960s. "Has the group been able to attract new blood to keep it going?" Kropveld asked.

"It's not clear whether Tremblay put someone in place to take over. If not, there could be a splintering between two people vying for control."

Kropveld said people raised within the confines of such a closed community are often conflicted because, until they leave, this is the only world, even the only "father," they know.

"My guess is some people will be happy to see him die," he said.

"Most often when an authoritarian leader of a purported 'cult' dies, the group loses its focus, locus of power, and withers," Ross said in an email message from Australia.

"Given the history of this group and the many people hurt by its practices, my hope is that the death of Tremblay is the beginning of the end for the Apostles of infinite Love."

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