Tremendous growth of guru sects concern Europeans
CULTS FLOURISHING IN EUROPE - Ten monks of the Hare Krishna sect leave a Frankfort, West German court last year after being heavily fined fear begging $1.2 million under false pretenses. The state charged they claimed the money which actually went to the sect's castle commune was for starving children in India. The guru cults that beguiled young Americans in the 1970s have spread to Western Europe, and several governments have become increasingly concerned.
These fringe religions are active in Britain, West Germany, France, Holland, Denmark and Italy, an Associated Press survey shows.
Authorities have been disturbed by news reports from some of these countries linking several sects to allegations about "brainwash" conversions, sexual abuse, fraud, visa violations and suicides.
Ten Hare Krishna monks were heavily fined in Frankfurt, West Germany last April for begging $1.1 million under false pretenses - claiming the money was destined for starving children in India, while it actually went to the sect's castle commune.
The Bonn government became so worried about crime reports involving the cults that it launched a campaign this summer to warn young Germans. It estimated 150,000 persons, most in the 19 to 28 age group, have joined a dozen various sects "The common aim of these sects in West Germany is the pursuit of power and money.
The leaders scarcely “believe the ideals they proclaim," said the Ministry of Youth, Family and Health, which is leading the drive against the fringe religions.
Named in the warnings are the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church; the Society of Transcendental Meditation; Hare Krishna monks; the Divine Light Mission of Maharaj Ji; Mose David Berg's Children of God; and L. Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology.
"All these groups share fixation on an authoritarian, patriarchal leader, total obedience, strictly regimented community life and uncompromising rejection of the 'old society,'" the ministry said.
German parents' groups are working with traditional churches to rescue their youngsters. "You get the impression the followers are bewitched, dazed and intoxicated," said one mother of a sect member.
The sects have been able to flourish in Western Europe - and the United States-under guarantees of freedom of religion. "Unless there is some evidence of criminal activity there is very little the government can do," said a British spokesman, summing up government policy.
Only Scientology is barred in Britain. In 1958, the Home Office found the sect "socially harmful," and foreign Scientologists were effectively barred from living in Britain.
A member of Parliament appealed for a clampdown on the Moonies and other sects in 1975, but Shirley Summerskill, undersecretary of state at the Home Office, replied:
"We may as individuals take the view that the doctrines advanced by Mr. Moon are lunatic. We may be particularly suspicious of the motives of people who, while claiming to benefit humanity have substantially enriched themselves. But these are matters of opinion, and surely it is one of the principles of a free society that people may propagate ideas which the majority of us ... do not believe."
Moon is now resisting efforts to remove him from Britain, where some 3,000 Moonies are believed to be living on farms and in communes.
Transcendental Meditation followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are said to number 50,000 in Britain, growing at 10,000 a year, This sect's country estate is an t Elizabethan mansion in Kent.
The Hare Krishna movement has its mansion, bought for it by former Beatle George Harrison, in Hertfordshire, and the Divine Light Mission claims more than 6,0O0 followers in Britain.
The French Interior Ministry said the sects are "watched with a magnifying glass" and prosecuted when laws are broken. Hubbard, the American founder of Scientology, is appealing a conviction on fraud charges in France. Hubbard claims 1 million French followers, but membership in other groups is said to be small.
The newspaper Le Monde published an interview last month with a 16-year-old girl who admitted prostituting herself to lure men into the Children of God. The girl said of her acts: "I think of other things. And when it's finished I tell them about our faith."
The Interior Ministry said it has taken no action against the sect over prostitution because "we can't really distinguish whether it is a personal wish or an activity sanctioned by their church."
The fiery suicide of a 24-year-old Australian women Oct. 2 in Switzerland, apparently to protest social injustice, was the latest sensational news report involving the fringe sects. The girl's father said she had joined the small Indian sect Ananda Marga, and he denounced its leaders for allegedly encouraging such acts.
Police said a West German couple from the same cult burned themselves to death last Feb. 8 in a similar protest.
The Dutch government said it is not overly worried, since members of fringe sects probably number only in the hundreds in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. However, Moonies are said to be a problem in Amsterdam where they stand on street corners and try to recruit students.
Denmark is unofficially estimated to have at least 10,000 young cult members, ranging from Hare Krishna to Satanists. For the past few years, Lutheran church spokesmen and several newspapers have been campaigning against the activities of Scientology recruiters in the country, but no government action has, been taken against the sects.