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Comments by Father Kent Burtner

Father Kent Burtner, a Dominican priest in San Francisco, counsels former cult members and their parents. He believes that the best way to view the behavioural aspects of these groups is to place them on a continuum that runs from positive support of the person to mind destructiveness through the use of deception and abusive behavior modification techniques.

“When you get to Moon and his Booneville, California, training camp, there is no question about the subterfuge and trickery going on there,” he says. “But when you look at some of these fringe ‘human potential’ groups, then you get into this really fuzzy zone. Within this gray area, there may be a case and time where an individual’s freedom is totally betrayed and another case where an individual‘’s freedom, given slightly different circumstances, is not. You really have to judge it on a case by case basis.”

What is significant about these movements, according to Father Burtner, are the psychological techniques that have been used to convert and control followers. “I don’t care whether it’s someone leading a Catholic charismatic prayer group or if it’s Sun Myung Moon - whether they’re into a ‘socially acceptable’ form of spirituality of not - if they start using methods that deprive individuals of their ability to make a free choice, they’re acting in a tremendously destructive way towards the person,” he says. “And that, to me, is an objective evil.”