“My experience with the Neocatechumenal Way”

Friedrich Griess
Friedrich Griess

I recently received this letter from Friedrich Griess, an Austrian Catholic and former president of the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), an organization created in 1994 in France which serves as an “umbrella organization for associations which defend victims of cultic excesses in more than 30 countries“.  In his letter to me, Mr. Griess relates his personal experiences with the Neocatechumenal Way in both Vienna and in London.

June 4, 2016

About 1986, my wife Poldi joined a NCW group in Vienna. There were two reasons: 1. a couple who had been with us in the International Catholic Movement for Christian Married Couples had left this group and joined the NCW, and Poldi wanted to keep contact with them, 2. our daughter had joined the “Smiths friends” or “Norwegian brothers” (now “Brunstad Christian Church”) and Poldi wanted to investigate if the NCW may be would better fit for her. Poldi knew of course that the NCW was cultic but she thought it may be possible to improve it from inside.

When the above mentioned couple celebrated their silver marriage, I was admitted as a guest. The mass was not in the church but in a room of the parish house, and one could hear through the walls that another group in another room was singing the same songs. After mass, I asked why the two groups would not have mass together. Answer: “The others did not yet come as far as we did.

At the agape, a lady reasoned: “Poldi is coming every time but her husband only seldom. He is a lukewarm Christian and must be converted.” She started to talk to me to convince me to join the NCW. I told her that I am a member of a parish council and there is a lot to do and I cannot split myself. Her reaction: “But there is no faith. Only here is faith”.

As Poldi told me, there were several strange habits. Originally, the above mentioned couple was elected: he as leader and she as deputy leader of the group. Once at a bible study evening, he was absent and she (Phd) presided. This was a big scandal because as long as one man is present, no matter what abilities, he has to preside, according to NCW.

The responsible leader for whole Vienna was an Italian, Giovanni Gucci. When he visited the group, he always carried a large Bible under his arm, but he never opened it. Once when he believed to be unobserved, he opened the Bible. It was hollow and contained a tape recorder that he used to record conversations.

Once a catechist, a young man, asked Poldi to do something, but she had some reasons to refuse. He said: “You are not a Christian if you not do what a brother wants you to do.”

When Poldi finally left the NCW, she was told: “If you leave the community, you are lost”.

Around 1989, I was assigned by my company (IBM) to work in London for 2 months. There I found a very active parish, the Benedictine Ealing Abbey. They also offered an introductory course into the NCW and I joined it, mainly to see if it was different from NCW in Vienna. Some “highlights”:

A female catechist said: “If we only are ready to die for our friends, this has no value for God. We must be ready to die for our enemies.” I referred her to John 15:13, but she replied: “Is not this what we say much better than that what to bible says?”.

I asked them if I could read something about the NCW. They gave me a book, in English, printed in Rome, where in an appendix the system was described. But most parts of the book were reports about meetings of NCW people with popes. At one meeting with Pope JPII, one of the members is reported in the book to have said: “Holy Father, my life ended with the death of Pius XII and began from new with your pontificate. The popes in between I was not interested in”.  A Catholic who is not interested in Pope John XXIII, for example?

There were several other strange habits. As the auditory was only about 15 people, I would have expected to sit in a circle so that we could see each other. But the seats were in straight lines, three after each other. When I once tried, before the start of the lecture, to slightly curve the seat rows, that was corrected immediately by one of the catechists.

No discussions and no Q & A sessions were allowed.

Before I left London, I sent a letter about my observation to the parish priest who attended all the session but hardly spoke one word. I am sorry I lost the English original. Several years later when I was in London again, I visited the parish priest. He was very friendly but he refused to talk about my letter to him.

In the meantime, I had become a cult expert. In 1992, Poldi and I attended a workshop held in Zuerich by Steven Hassan. I know his books. In 1993, I participated at a worldwide conference on cults in Barcelona (Spain), mainly supported by the American Family Foundation (today “International Cultic Studies Association”, ICSA). There, a Spanish lady witnessed about her experience with the NCW. There some people decided to establish a European network, FECRIS, http://fecris.org . From 2005 to 2009 I have been its president and today I still am a member of the board. In 2013, I got a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from ICSA.

Several times I was called as a consultant when the introduction of the NCW in a Viennese parish was imminent. In some cases the NCW was not introduced as one group among others, but the plan was to convert all the parish activities to the system of NCW. In some cases, we could prevent this.

Once, a teacher of religion in a primary school situated in one of those parishes phone me and told me that she had a girl in a class whose family was in the NWC. This child was biting her hands bloody because she wanted to go to the hospital and not home. Can you imagine what fanatics her parents (probably especially the mother) must be!

Unfortunately the archbishop of Vienna, cardinal Schoenborn, and one of his auxiliary bishops are very fond of the NCW. They think this is the future of the church. While under his predecessor cardinal Groër (known for paedophilia) a brochure had been published by the “pastoral office” that also pointed out the questionable practices of NCW, this brochure is not available any more. But it seems that their initial enthusiasm fortunately has cooled down.

I also got contact to a French psychologist, Sebastien Nicolas, who has a comprehensive critical website about the NCW in several languages, the other languages than French being produced by Google translator. The German translation is terrible. I guess the English one is better. http://www.psychologue-clinicien.com/chemin.htm . You will find also my name in this website with some more testimonies of me.

Friedrich Griess