Police Report Predicts More Collective Suicides in France
PARIS (AP) _ French police are worried that more religious cults may organize collective suicides as the century nears its end.
A police report published Friday in French newspapers warns of the belief in the Age of Aquarius, popularized in the 1960s, that a 500-year period of violent Western civilization will be followed by a 2,100-year era of peace and tolerance.
``The conjunction between the start of the Age of Aquarius and the end of the millennium risks creating more massacres,″ said the report by a special investigating unit of the French police.
``In France, a number of apocalyptic groups risk swaying into a collective suicide sooner or later.″
Last week, 16 followers of the Order of the Solar Temple were found dead, 14 of the bodies lying in a star formation and set ablaze in a forest near Grenoble in southeastern France.
Police suspect the people were killed by two other cult members, whose bodies were found nearby. They apparently committed suicide after killing the others.
The ritual echoed the simultaneous, group murder-suicides last year by members of the same cult in Switzerland and Quebec that left 53 dead.
According to the police report, there are 173 sects in France, including about 15 doomsday cults such as the Order of the Solar Temple. Some 130,000 people belong to the sects, which have about 400 branches.
The report says two types of sects are growing especially quickly in France.
``New Age″ sects are based on healing with unconventional medicines, and have seen their membership grow since the AIDS virus was discovered.
The second type is based on a belief that the end of the world is near, and as the year 2000 approaches police fear an increasing number of their members may commit suicide.
In the report, police named four sects as particularly worrisome:
_The Grand Home, composed of about 70 members, including a dozen or so children. Followers live on a farm and produce natural products. The sect’s guru, a former agricultural engineer named Bernard Briaud, had predicted the world would end on June 22, 1989.
_Maev, which counts about 20 people as members. Its leader, Nicole Calot _ or Sarah _ has predicted the end of the world on several occasions. In 1988 she invited about 70 people to view her ``ascension″ into the heavens. Police, apparently afraid of a suicide, prevented the ceremony from taking place.
_Tabitha’s Place, founded in the United States by Elbert Spriggs, has about 150 members who live in two castles near Bayonne in southwest France. The sect believes itself to be the sole depository of Christian faith.
_Methernita, led by 78-year-old Paul Baumann and his two wives. The cult, based in Linden, Switzerland, imposes strict discipline on its members.
A separate report by a French parliamentary commission, to be released Jan. 10, says France has between 130 and 150 sects, comprising 300,000 people. That commission is calling for closer government monitoring of the cults.