Alternative Healing or the Illegal Practice of Medicine
One of the most serious dangers posed by sectes (according to French sect awareness groups) is their alternative methods of healing. New Age shamans and spiritual healers in France are of en accused of practicing medicine without a license. When prayers for healing, the laying on of hands, chanting, herbal medicine, or magical curatives fail to restore the patient, then the spiritual practitioners (and of en members of the patient’s family) will be arrested and charged with “non-assistance to a person in danger.”1
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in France continues to promote the power of spiritual healing, as Régis Deriquebourg points out in his 2001 book, Croire et Guérir. Healing cults that developed around the relics of saints housed in medieval abbeys such as Conques, Rocomadour, and Vézelay are still active, and masses for the sick still are an integral part of Catholic liturgy.2 Nine miracles are required for the beatification of a saint, according to the Congrégation des rites, founded in 1588—and Pierre Delooz finds that these nine miracles are nearly always miracles of healing. Many French saints like Frère Arnould of Reims (1843–1890) are renowned for their healing miracles.3 In Catholic popular devotion today, medallions, relics, and prayers to saints for healing are ubiquitous, and pilgrims flock to the ancient healing shrines.
But while familiar sights, such as Lourdes, are tolerated—if similar sights happen to occur within the boundaries of a secte, they are perceived to be deviant, abusive, and illegal.
But the state’s fear and ambivalence regarding spiritual healing outside the Church extends far back into French history. Throughout the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church was powerful, midwives, peasant healers, so-called witches, and miracle-working renegade priests were denounced, persecuted, tortured, and even executed.4
Since the 1970s an acute concern for the irrational and unscientific approaches to medicine found in sectes has of en been expressed by Catholic priests, doctors,