"Cult" is more often used to refer to
deviant religious groups,
heretics with significant doctrinal differences. Outsiders sometimes
tend to believe, without a stitch of evidence that the cultists do weird
things like drinking blood or engaging in orgies.
I haven't researched the matter, but my impression is that in French
"culte" is far more socially acceptable.
I would use the French "secte" to translate "cult" in the sense of
"antisocial cult." When Heaven's Gate, the Solar Temple, etc., are
in the French-language media, or when they ask "Is such-and-such a little
religious group a cult or not?" the word they use is "secte."
In English, "sect" means a denomination of a religion; I would probably
translate it as "dénomination" or something similar. ("Northern
Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reform Baptist?")
"Culte" in French means worship, as in "heures de culte" (hours of
prayer/worship/mass at a church). English sometimes uses "cult" for this, as
in "the cult of the goddess Athene" in ancient Greece, meaning the worship
of Her, but it's rarer and, in view of the pejorative meaning of cult, seems
to be dwindling and increasingly able to be misunderstood. (I would probably
not want to refer the "the cult of the Goddess" within earshot of any
Pagan - and I am one!) "Worship" is probably the best translation of