A Cult Conference Presentation Regarding the Legionaries of Christ Religious Order
When Faith is Corrupted Into a Coercive Ideology - The Driving Forces At Work In a Religious Community With Cultic Behaviors
The Driving Forces At Work In a Religious Community With Cultic Behaviors
A Presentation Regarding the Legion of Christ Religious Order at the International Cultic Studies Association’s Annual Conference in Barcelona, July 8, 2011,
By Xavier Léger
The following presentation was one of several included in Session 2 of the recent International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) Conference entitled:
Are there Cultic Aberrations in the Catholic Church?
I would like to share with you a short extract from the famous French Novel: ”The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
"What does it mean to be 'tame'?" asked the little prince.
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. It means to establish ties."
"To establish ties?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world"
The fox teaches the little prince that any relationship is the result of a long period of taming. To tame, according to the fox, means to establish ties, to build relationships, to make someone become unique. In other words, it means that human relationships are built over time and that they require several steps, because we need to know each other to be able to appreciate the other. We all have this experience in our lives.
But what is true for people is also true in our relationship with God. The greatest mystics of the History of the Church have taught that the spiritual life is a journey. And so, we are traveling from one place to another. And this journey is directed towards a progressive encounter with God, which can be discovered in the Scriptures, the sacraments, the prayer and the people we meet along our journey.
The image that is often used by these mystics is the image of the bride who is looking for her beloved. God creates a desire in peoples’ hearts. He never imposes himself; otherwise it would mean that He contradicts himself, by denying the freedom He has entrusted to us. There are verbs, indeed, that do not support the imperative form. We cannot say “read!” or “love!”, since the act of love is created, not by the strength of the will, but by the lovability of the object.
This idea ties into the very foundations of Christian anthropology which is drawn primarily from the Aristotelian philosophical tradition. It finds also many parallels in Holy Scriptures. Many exegetes have worked on this idea, showing how God created a spousal relationship with the Jewish people throughout the centuries and how the story of Revelation, during two thousand years is indeed a long pedagogy of “taming”.
But what is important to understand is that the biblical tradition, as well as the philosophical tradition, both show clearly that any spiritual life begins as a journey, which implies an act of freedom on the subject's part. This journey, which is infinitely respectful, is indeed the very essence of any religious life.
But within some new groups in the Church it appears that this process of taming is totally eliminated. Now if you eliminate this stage, religious life loses its proper sense and herein lies the threat of cultic behavior. Where religious life lacks its proper driving forces, founders with guru pretensions will use other means to retain their members and to make their community grow including:
• a misuse of guilt to create an atmosphere of stress and coercion
• turning true Christian faith into an ideology
Guilt and ideology are the true main driving forces behind the cultic behaviour of fake religious groups
The First Driving Force: A Few Words About Guilt
• In six years of life in the Legion of Christ, I never heard anything about discernment, but only about “final perseverance”.
• Through conferences, retreats, homilies, teachings, they tell you again and again that God has chosen you from all eternity to accomplish this particular mission that nobody else can fulfill. If you decide not to fulfill your mission, then you are putting your eternal salvation in jeopardy.
• Four times every day a Legionary is required to do an examination of conscience: the first one during the Morning Prayer, to remember all his personal commitments of human and spiritual personal reform. The second one occurs after the meditation, to examine his prayer. The third one is done before lunch, at noon, to examine how many sins he committed since the prior examination of conscience. And a last one is carried out during night prayers.
• Every Sunday, he is required to do a written examination of conscience, which lasts half an hour. Let me provide examples of some of the questions taken from the handbook of this examination:
• “Have I ever serious doubts about my vocation? Are they frequent?
• In these moments, have I sometimes thought that I had no vocation? Have I accepted this thought”?
• So, as you can see, in the Legion of Christ, the simple fact of discernment is already a sin.
• When a religious makes a decision to leave the Legion, he must leave without saying goodbye to his fellow companions, even if he spent 20 or 30 years in the order. He leaves during a day when the community is out. When the community returns, the other members discover that brother X has disappeared. Nobody tells you officially that someone has left the order. And members are never allowed to speak about the departure of a brother.
So – and I dare to say it, because I came through the same process when I left the Legion – the aura of anxiety, phobia and shame that has been created around this decision to leave is so violent that you end up lying to yourself, justifying your decision by any kind of reasoning.
The Second Driving Force: Ideology
In the atmosphere of Catholic religious groups, the misuse of guilt immeasurable damage to the psychology of followers including anxiety, phobias, spiritual wounds and frustrations. These effects are more visible than others.
But guilt is only one form of coercion that is utilized by the Legion. The second driving force is the idealization of faith, acting on the will, by means of fanaticism.
Let me establish right away a fundamental distinction: the Christian faith is not exactly an ideology, but an adherence of the mind and of the heart to a person, and not to an idea. An adherence implies a sort of abandonment, of letting go.
I would like to try to show you how, in the Legion of Christ, the spirituality and the religious discipline not only do not leave any room for a personal path but even destroy the spiritual aspirations of the believers.
- Secondly, I want to explain how the ideology is applied in the Legion centers.
- Thirdly, I will deal with the consequences of these abuses: the impact of a destructive ideology on the spiritual life.
1- The Ideology As Such: How Can An Ideology Exist Inside The Catholic Church?
By ideology, I mean a simplistic way of thinking, which has all the answers, separating the world in two camps: The Church and the enemies of the Church. A speech without any nuance, written with a chainsaw.
In the Legion, the object of faith gets disembodied and becomes a kind of haunting ideal, which is “to establish the Kingdom of Christ”. Let me read some short excerpts of letters of Father Maciel, which will help you to understand what kind of literary semantics is generally used in the Legion of Christ. (There is still a debate whether the writings of Father Maciel may continue to be read. The dilemma is explained on Regnum Christi Live click Here that despite the weaknesses of Father Maciel, his works were miraculously good. For your information, for the moment, we know that Maciel was an abuser, perverse, a pedophile, bisexual, incestuous, a criminal, drug addict, plagiarist, intriguing, manipulative, charlatan, thief, sacrilegious and produced apostasy.)
“I have always dreamed the Legion that way: as a strong instrument, invincible in front of the enemies of God” (CNP December 24, 1957)
“There, we find the originality and the contribution of the Legion to the religious and priestly spirituality: A NEW TYPE OF MEN, of religious, of priests and apostles. The Legionary, as I have always conceived, is a man opposed to pride, avarice and lust. A man who lives polarized by the mission that the heavenly Father entrusted him: to establish the Kingdom of Christ in the world.” (CNP, January 3rd, 1976)
Strangely, this kind of speech does not fit with the traditional teaching of the Christian faith. Jesus never called on people to conquer a Kingdom on earth for him. On the contrary, when people tried to make him their king, he withdrew from the crowd (Jn 6,15). When Pilate asked him about his kingdom, he replied: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18, 36). Jesus did not speak about an earthly kingdom, but about the kingdom of heaven (Mt 13, 24-43). He compares the kingdom of heaven to a tiny grain of mustard seed that grows into a huge tree, meaning that on earth, the Kingdom is only like a seed starting to germinate.
The spirituality of the Legion of Christ does not give room for any personal discernment. It is a black or white spirituality. No grey is accepted. You must accept the Legion’s version of Jesus as your Lord, and then you bow down in front of his divine will (which, of course, the Legion interprets for you).
2- How Is Ideology Applied In The Legion Centers?
Life in the Legion is an absolute, an ideal that Maciel dreamed of to make real on earth. After having laid out himself the principles of the perfect life, Maciel taught his followers that their paths to holiness consisted in living in his concept of this idyllic world. There was no room for debate or for doubts or for discernment. There was no room for critical thinking. His concept of holiness did not consist of free expression of personal will but instead a self denial that required fitting into a rigid structured way of life in the group.
The more you deny yourself, the holier you are.
But we cannot live on earth as if we were already in Heaven. In fact, this attempt to have a perfect life could actually serve as an image of Hell. The Center of Studies of Rome is the achievement of the perfect life pictured by Maciel: all is perfect. It is a world in itself, where everything is clear, nice and orderly. There is no need to go outside, since everything you need is inside: even two swimming pools, a dental practice and a gas pump. Life in the Legion is designed like the mechanism of a clock. It's as if we were using Jacob's ladder to build the tower of Babel.
If some day, you have a chance to visit a center of the Legion of Christ, you may be very surprised and impressed by the beauty of the place, the kindness of the members and the feeling that everything is clean and orderly.
Behind the scenes, the wonderful world is only made possible by thousands of norms and rules as well as a repressive system that encourages mutual surveillance and denouncements.
Legionaries follow a crazy rhythm of life and all their daily activities are scheduled.
They are told how to carry themselves, how to introduce themselves, how to walk, how to smile, how to greet a guest. Everything is subject to norms, that are very detailed. Thus, the legionaries are not allowed to climb the stairs two by two; they are not allowed to run with their cassocks; when they sit, they must approach the chair by the left side and leave by the right side when they stand. They are not allowed to bite into their chips; they must eat them with a fork. They may not twirl spaghetti around their forks, nor peel oranges with their fingers. There are rules that govern about almost every single action.
Daily life in the Legion of Christ is so demanding and the atmosphere of surveillance makes it difficult to develop personal human relationships between Legionaries within such a formal environment. You know quite well that the smiling brother you are speaking with during the times allotted for conversation may be the one who will denounce you if you make any mistake or even a small critique about the Legion or the superiors.
Let me tell you this little story: after the novitiate, I came to Spain for the Juniorate (Humanities). I had not seen any movie since I had entered into the Legion, two years previously. So I was very happy the day of our first movie as I am fond of cinema. But the movie was very poor and I came out disappointed. In a discussion with others religious, I told them I did not appreciate the movie. A couple of days later, I was called into the office of our superior, who accused me with an icy smile, to have criticized the choice of a superior.
In any case, Legionaries are not allowed to have particular friendships with any other members, nor to speak about personal issues with anybody else other than the Spiritual Director.
When I lived in the enormous center of Rome, surrounded by four hundred companions, I felt lost in the flock, alone, desperately alone. I joined the religious life with the dream I would establish ties: ties with God and with like minded companions. It ended up being a process of isolation that eliminated all ties with anybody, even with God.
3- The Impact Of A Destructive Ideology On The Spiritual Life.
The Legionary totalitarian system, so fascinating and seducing from outside, is nothing more than a means of crushing individual personalities and generating frustrations. The perversity of the system is evident in the fact that the more you pray the more you move away from God – a strange contradiction that I have experienced in many testimonies.
But how is that possible? How can a religious order take you away from God?
The vision of God and of His mercy is twisted. The Legion leads its members to admit that God has a singular way-of-life for them. If so it means that, in the end, God does not really take care of me or love me “for myself”. In some way, I am nothing but a means to an end, a simple tool.
Our understanding of God was damaged because of that. Who is this God who wants me to suffer like that? Who is this God who wants me to pray three hours a day, while I lack sleeping, I feel bitterness and I suffer with a strong headache? (If you have a headache you are supposed to offer your suffering to God). Who is this God who wants me to follow, day after day, this dry methodology of prayer that does not seem to fit?
Prayer, a place of encountering God, becomes a place of forced love. In other words, it is a kind of rape.
And the worst thing about rape is that when it happens to a woman she struggles afterward throughout her life from a psychological wound because the act of love always reminds her of the violence of her rape.
There is something obscene about the methodology of prayer in the Legion of Christ because there is no place for any spontaneity or originality. Everything is already written in the handbook of prayers. If prayer is the place for encountering God, such a dry and accurate methodology detracts from any sense of poetry. It is as if, before making love with a woman, you would follow a handbook explaining step by step the procedures to fulfill correctly the sexual relationship. I think you would agree with me this would not be very exciting.
After being tamed by the little prince, the fox told a secret to the Little Prince. I would like to share this excerpt:
And he went back to meet the fox.
"Goodbye," he said.
"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."
"It is the time I have wasted for my rose." said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose."
"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
The secret of the fox is maybe the real solution to the issue. From the very beginning of its history, the Legion of Christ has always been able to escape and manipulate all the investigations and to defeat the immune system of the Catholic Church. Today, the Legion is certainly the most influential congregation of the Church. Legionaries are extremely present in the Vatican, and occupy some of the most important responsible positions there. Think for example about the information in the Vatican that is almost entirely controlled by the Legion of Christ.
Since 2001, every year, the Congregation for Bishops organizes a week of training for all recently ordained bishops from all over the world. And Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re wanted this training to take place in the Legionaries, Center for Higher Studies. Why? Because he wanted all the new bishops to see the example. The Legion formation system is the model that the Church puts forward: “This is what we want for the Church”!
How did we get to this point? Why does the Church continue to refuse to open her eyes to the very serious cultic behavior in the Legion of Christ?
An Apostolic Visitation was initiated two years ago, and we hoped that the nightmare would stop. But once again we discovered that the conclusions of this Visitation were decided upon before the visitation began. And we can prove that.
The Legion has been designed by its founder to be a machine to seduce, where nothing is done but for the show. So, if you want to understand something about the Legion, and not be dazzled by the smokescreen, take seriously the secret of the fox:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
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