An interdisciplinary study, presented in the latest issue of the review Concilium, answers with an emphatic no.
The research, carried out by the review's Scientific Committee and directed by historian Alberto Melloni, involved experts in history, theology, canon law and sociology.
Presenting the result of the monographic research, entitled "Movements in the Church," Father Rosino Gibellini, director of the review, told Vatican Radio that the new movements cannot be classified as sects -- despite widespread talk to the contrary.
The new ecclesial realities -- many do not call themselves "movements" -- have arisen in particular after the Second Vatican Council. They bring together millions of Catholics. The best-known groups include the Focolarini, Neocatechumenal Way, Communion and Liberation, Emmanuel Community, Regnum Christi, the Community of Sant'Egidio, and charismatic renewal groups.
The Concilium study demonstrates that "the movements are religious organizations. They are not sects, as above all, they refer to the authority of the Church. What is more, it could be said that they have a direct line with the leadership of the Church," Father Gibellini said.
Moreover, they offer a human service, and "these two references impede speaking about them as sects," he added.
The study of theologian Alexandre Ganoczy shows that a sect "is an opposite and alternative ecclesial form: 'We are the Church.' In practice, the ecclesial character of these movements is neither oppositional nor exclusive and, therefore, the concept of sect cannot be used."
"One cannot continue with the mentality that disqualifies these movements, as they must be evaluated with the yardstick of an open ecclesial context," he said. "Concilium, free of an ideologized analysis, has shown that these movements must be integrated in this open ecclesial context. Therefore, each one makes its contribution. Moreover, the process is open."
The theologian added: "I think that these movements revitalize the Christian community fabric."