Effects of Involvement with Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi on Cradle Faith: Questions for Pope Francis, LC Leadership and Catholic Bishops
Presentation at the International Cultic Studies Association Annual International Conference, Stockholm, July 2015
By John Paul Lennon, MA, STL & Aura Bethancourt-Lennon
The author’s experience[i], plus contacts with hundreds of other former members of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi by email, phone and/or in person, led him to believe that involvement with this Movement affected one’s cradle faith. “Cradle faith” being simply defined as the faith one is born into and raised in. It is now common knowledge that former members of this group, erstwhile devout Catholics, on leaving the LC/RC no longer considered themselves Catholics, or even Christians. Some even consider themselves agnostics and atheists. How did involvement with this bona fide Catholic Movement have such a deleterious defect? Further reflection modified that initial a priori hypothesis. There appeared to be a need to find facts and explore this area with the help of a survey.
The experiment would be based on the following rationale: on entering the organization all candidates are devout Catholics. After “walking away” or been “thrown away not all are devout Catholics. How would they describe themselves today? The experiment was designed to solicit feedback from former members visiting a webpage, http://www.regainnetwork.org, for former members and their families.
A member is recruited and belongs to the group for x number of years. He may leave after a certain amount of time, either as a throw-away or as a walk away. Each member experiences his recruitment/joining, belonging as a member and leaving in a personal way. The stages could be hypothesized as follows:
Pre-entry into the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi, it is assumed that the member is in full “communion” with the Catholic Church. Firm and unshaken belief in the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired religious institution; veneration and trust in the clergy (priests, bishops, pope)
- Involvement as a fully observant lay member, abiding by marriage and birth control laws, etc.
- A regular Mass goer who receives Communion (Sacrament of the Eucharist), “goes to confession” (Sacrament of Penance) at least once a year and “contributes to the support of his/her pastors.”
Membership in LC/RC
- All of the above, plus
- Involvement in the Church as a minister, religious or committed lay member of RC
Post exit from the LC/RC Movement some members are unscathed, “keeping their faith intact” while others have left or renounced full communion with the Catholic Church in varying degrees
- Full communion with institutional Catholic Church as in Pre-Entry and good relationship with LC/RC
- Full Communion with Catholic Church but lost faith in the LC/RC organization with an attitude of
- Partial communion with the Catholic Church
- Leaves the ministry and/or religious life.
- No longer fully observant lay member.
- No longer a “practicing Catholic” but does not reject the notion that the Catholic Church is divinely inspired.
- Occasional Mass goer; rarely, if ever “goes to confession”; contributes little, if any, to the support of the ministers, the institution and its works (Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, etc.)
- May not be “married by the Church,” nor heed Church birth control laws
- May not baptize his/her children ‘in the faith.’
- Lost faith in the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired religious institution; lost veneration for and trust in the clergy (priests, bishops, pope)
- Retains partial communion with the Church (some residual attraction to Church such as family tradition, liturgy, sacred music, etc.)
- Joins other Christian community
- Joins other major religion
- Declares him/herself agnostic or atheist
The medium to be used would be the ReGAIN webpage which has a steady stream of former members. The author assumed -not a very scientific attitude but common sense- that some or many of the visitors to the site -which constantly questions the official version of the Legion and the Regnum- would be among the more “disenchanted” Catholics, that their responses could tend to be
“negative” and that some kind of a balancing measure might need to be applied.
A total of 78 valid responses were delivered. Of these only 41 had been former members of the LC/RC; and of these 4 were currently active members. Responses described visitors’ current relationship with the LC/RC in the following way:
Relationship with the LC/RC:
- Average/Non important 13/41
- Poor/Negative 21/41
- Angry/they hurt me 1
- I hate them 2
- Positive 3
- As good as could be 1
Relationship with the Catholic Church:
- Fully Practicing 24/41
- Partially Practicing 8
- No longer a Catholic 8
- * Incomplete response 1
Relationship with the LC/RC: “Average/Non important” answers indicate that a significant number of respondents have “taken the experience in their stride.” This could also indicate that former members have chosen not to dwell on their experience and have chosen to “get on with their lives.” But it is significant that 21 state unambiguously that they have a negative relationship/attitude toward the group they initially joined so enthusiastically and generously.
Recently a Spanish language blog called Legioleaks [ii] was launched on Facebook in which many of the contributing 120 disaffected former members vent their frustration, criticism and anger at their alma mater. While one might wonder “Why are you so angry?”, this begs the flip question “What has the institute done to make these young men so angry?”
In fact, only 3 respondents on the ReGAIN survey described his/her attitude as angry or hating. Therefore, criticisms on the blog may help interpret the finds of our survey and discover some of the flaws in the Movement’s system.
Results of “Relationship with the Catholic Church” could be considered surprising; in the sense that 24 of 41 described themselves as fully practicing Catholics, thus indicating that the respondents cannot be dismissed as “disgruntled ex-members”. Real cause for concern stems from 8/41 considering themselves partially practicing Catholics and another 8/41 saying they are no longer Catholic; in common parlance this means that one out of four “have left the Church.”
Catholic bishops may want to consider this result when they allow the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi to recruit in their dioceses.
Questions for LC/RC leadership
A study of the results prompts the author to raise some questions for consideration by the LC/RC Movement’s leadership:
- Whether there exist elements in the Movement’s training (formation) that tend to alienate or otherwise hurt the members, producing in them feelings of rejection, anger and resentment toward their alma mater upon leaving.
- Whether such flaws in the Movement’s training system are serious enough to cause exiting members to alienate not only from the Movement but also from the Catholic Church.
- Whether the Movement needs to refine its screening process for recruits and its evaluation of new candidates.
- Posters in Legioleaks point out the need for a deeper process of discernment of the religious vocation. The writer presented a pater at the I.C.S.A annual conference in Stockholm, 2015, warning about the dangers of undue influence and foreclosure, i.e. premature commitment to the religious calling[iii].
- Posters in Legioleaks return time and again to the fact that their religious vocation appeared to be a forgone conclusion once they entered the group, prompting the question: Whether the Movement prepares the members for the possibility/option of exiting the organization.
- Whether the members are given the necessary instruments for handling departure and transitioning to a new life outside the Movement.
- Whether departing members have access to their legal documents, academic degrees and a minimum of job training.
- And if the member decides to leave, whether the Movement has -and implements- concrete guidelines to help the departing member leave in a healthy, positive and constructive way.
These results beg comparative studies regarding how other religious orders fare with former members.
on reflection, it would appear that one important factor which was not taken into account in the survey was “for how long” the person had been a member of the group. A priori, this would seem an important element as, if it were assumed that the effects were negative, the damaging effects would possibly grow and worsen over time. Related to this factor would be “at what age did you join”, again with the assumption that earlier exposure could cause more deleterious effects.
Fr. Maciel’s sexual abuse victims:
When cultic abuse is compounded by sexual abuse, the impact on the faith of the victim would appear to increase exponentially. The eight Maciel former seminarians who brought their case to the media and to Vatican authorities feel alienated from Catholic authorities. The spectrum of the survivors’ “faith” –or lack thereof- is very wide and in general terms goes from atheism, through total alienation from the Catholic Church, to minimal participation in the Church. With the exception of Fr. Alarcon, a retired priest, none of Fr. Maciel’s Legion of Christ seminary victims, Senores Barba, Vaca, Jurado, Barrales, the brothers Olvera, Espinosa would consider himself a “fully practicing Catholic.”
[i] Described in detail in Our Father Maciel who art in bed, a Naïve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ, the exiting was long and tortuous. Each one ‘struggles’ with is religious question, and with the whole recovery task, in his own individual way.
Some Catholics have remarked on the rigid and almost robotic appearance of the Legionaries of Christ, as if they were mass-produced by some kind of priest-making system. This could derive from the particular way they are trained and molded the moment they enter the group and deprived of their individual personalities and traits…
ReGAIN is indebted to Opening Minds blog and book for the main content. What we like about this explanation is that it is very clear and simple; it cuts across the lines of particular ideologies or doctrines -and area in which Catholics seems to blank out.
We feel the need to explain to CATHOLIC READERS how we can approach ‘sects/cults’ from a theological or psychological/sociological perspective. We Catholics usually think in terms of theology; if a group is theologically ORTHODOX (modus credendi) it cannot be a sect. However, from a psychological, spiritual and truly religious perspective that same group can be suspect if is uses methods to recruit, retain members, fund raise and generally operate (modus operandi) in such a way that manipulates its members -does not let them discern, question, choose freely- and places them under undue pressure to conform, using coercive persuasion, control, manipulation…
The breakthrough, aha moment, for Catholic and Christian readers occurs when they realize that, no matter what, or how apparently holy, the doctrines/beliefs/ideals/goals involved, certain group leaders use the same manipulative techniques to recruit, retain and control their members; and that even though the doctrines/idealogies are miles apart, the methods used by these groups, associations, fraternities, communities, orders are all uncannily similar.
Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Jon Atack‘s new book, Opening Minds, chapter 2. This is the second part of a two-part blog.
Manipulative groups and individuals use similar approaches to trick us into handing over our cash and our loyalty. In part one, we saw how manipulation most often follows a series of steps; today we continue with:
Step Three: Finding the Ruin
Once rapport has been established, the recruiter may seek out the most significant difficulty in the recruit’s life. In Scientology, this is called the ‘ruin’: ‘What is ruining your life?’ If the first steps have been followed carefully, most people offer up even their most secret troubles. Unless they’ve been hurt before after revealing their secrets, most people welcome a chance to say what they feel and receive sympathy for their problems. It is surprising how willing people are to share their deepest longings with complete strangers, as if there is a need to confess; this deepens rapport.
Step Four: Fear of Worsening
Scientology recruiters then push the target into ‘fear of worsening’. The recruit is exploited to feel discouraged about the ‘ruin’: ‘I’m sure you’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked.’ Confession of troubles usually shifts the recruiter into a position of authority. The recruit will follow directions almost like Pavlov’s dogs, which salivated in anticipation of food when a bell was rung.
Step Five: Bring to Understanding
Next, the recruiter will use the information from this confession to demonstrate that the recruit desperately needs the group in order to make life better; Scientology recruiters call this step to ‘bring to understanding’. Sales manuals suggest that a story be made up to show sympathy: ‘I know a guy who had exactly the same problem. He took a few of our courses and everything started to work out for him.’
The ‘understanding’ is that the cult can solve any problem that is presented – whether it is romantic, financial, work-related or spiritual – anything and everything can be resolved by the offered course, counselling or study programme, so the recruiter has no difficulty in inventing a supporting story: the ends justify the deceptive means.
During the first course, seminar, or workshop, the recruiters will continue the love-bombing, while using a hypnotic technique to bring about a peak experience. After long enough, any type of repetition, mimicry or fixation leads to a euphoric altered state.
Chanting, drumming, group singing, visual fixation – as in meditation – repetition of a word or phrase (‘mantra meditation’), repeated movements, such as rocking, shaking, or walking meditations, all lead to an altered state. Some narcissists use sexual pleasure to trap their victims.Most people in western society are unfamiliar with the effects of eastern meditation, so they are delighted and surprised by the euphoria that floods them. Almost every former member I’ve talked with had an initial peak experience, and spent the remainder of their time in the cult trying – and failing – to repeat it.
It is likely that the peak experience is simply a release of dopamine or serotonin. These neurochemicals are the ‘reward’ system of the brain, and are released during sex and by alcohol and drug use. In a group setting, surrounded by approving people, cult techniques can lead to a powerful high in the new recruit. This is the experience of awe.
Awe changes our perception of the world. We are awed by celebrities, by vastness, by skill, by ‘miracles’ and by beauty. Awe can be induced as part of a peak experience. New recruits are infatuated by flattery and the prospect of miraculous change in their lives. When awed, our critical faculties diminish.
Once we believe that a leader has miraculous powers, we become willing to believe anything that leader says. Awe turns to fervour and the recruit adopts the beliefs of the manipulator and will defend them as if defending their own child: just as we are unwilling to hear criticism of our children, nothing bad will be accepted about the manipulator, whose ideas have become gospel truth.
Step Six: Reinforcement
Testimonials are demanded for reinforcement. In Scientology these are called ‘success stories’. This reinforces consistency: the more publicly and loudly you commit to a technique or experience, the more difficult it will be to change back later. People trying to give up smoking are advised to tell all of their friends that they have given up, because, under the consistency principle, it will make it harder to admit defeat and light another cigarette.
We all suffer from confirmation bias, where we justify our actions and dismiss anything that disagrees with our beliefs. There is a quality of inertia to all human activity; we keep going in the direction we’re travelling in. Delivering a testimonial – or simply telling all our friends – reinforces the sense of belonging and further confirms our bias.
Often, members will be encouraged to confess their former sinful lives in front of the group. By humbling themselves in this way, people give ever more power to the group. Members come to believe that everything good can be attributed to the group’s practices, and everything bad is their own fault.
A particular group or individual may not use all of these approaches. Some will focus on the potential recruit’s desperation, others will head straight for an experience of awe. Once lured into the trap, by whatever means, the recruit will go through a process of reinforcement that will draw them into the group or relationship and isolate them from their previous relationships and values.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about recruitment into a high-control situation that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!
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5 January 2017
Open Mind’ Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Jon Atack’s new book, Opening Minds, chapter 2. This is the first part of a two-part blog.
‘manipulate: to manage or influence skilfully, especially in an unfair manner.’ Dictionary.com
Manipulative groups and individuals use similar approaches to trick us into handing over our cash and our loyalty. Manipulation most often follows a series of steps, beginning with contact. It can be in person, but groups also use advertising, including flyers, posters, mailings, books, media ads and articles. Many cults use street recruiters, and most have their own publications; some use advertising agencies. Narcissists use dating websites and chat rooms to lure new victims.
Step One: Contact
The Moonies and, more recently, militant Islamists, approach college freshmen. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Larouchies knock on doors. The Larouchies also use obituary columns to target grieving widows and widowers.
Cults do not want incompetent recruits. Anyone with significant physical or mental problems will be weeded out at the beginning.
People do not join extremist groups because they are stupid. No high-demand group would survive long with dim, ineffectual members. Many are idealists convinced they are working towards a better world. Studies show that cult members tend to be middle-class and fairly well-educated. They have higher than average IQs and perfectly normal personality profiles.
Cult members do not present with any more emotional or psychiatric problems than the normal population. The same is true of terrorists. Detailed surveys of several terrorist groups have shown that their members are neither mentally ill nor abnormal, except for their adherence to the anti-social beliefs of the group.
Step Two: Rapport – ‘a close and harmonious relationship’
Once contact is made with a potential recruit, rapport is developed. The recruiter looks for common ground, for agreement on cultural, political or religious biases. The intention is to create a friendly atmosphere; an instant friendship.
We want to give something in return for what we’ve been given. Krishnas used to hand out joss sticks and ask for a donation: the principle of reciprocity. Many people reached into their pockets and overpaid for the few pennies worth of ‘Spiritual Sky’ joss sticks. Contact is meant to start a conversation, which is the agenda hidden behind the approach. Pick-up artists teach physical contact to gain instant rapport.
Moonies sold candy and flowers on the street, at vastly exaggerated prices. Scientologists offer a free personality test. By answering the 200 question test, you volunteer private information, and you also grant authority to the tester. The test was actually written by a merchant seaman with no training in psychological testing.
The prospective recruit will be flattered – called ‘love bombing’ by the Moonies. Your appearance, beliefs or talents are praised to the skies. False friendship is created and rapport is built. Recruiters see nothing wrong in this deception, because they think it is for the greater good and it raises their
own status in the group (Moonies call it ‘heavenly deception’). For the recruiter, it is another statistic, leading to praise from the group, just like a salesperson selling another car. Recruits, however, feel they have made a new friend, who resonates with their existing beliefs. By the time they realize that the recruiter was just agreeing to be agreeable, it will be too late.
Any resistance to the cult is then tested. Bad press is dismissed: ‘You can’t believe anything you read in the papers’. Not one person ever disagreed with me when I used this line – such is the distrust of the media.
This is part one of a two-part blog. Tomorrow, in part two, Jon focuses on the next steps of recruitment.
DAVID MARTINEZ, RC (¿) UN PEQUENYO SLIM …ANOTHER CARLOS SLIM?
Billonario de Monterrey, con fuertes inversiones en USA, España, Argentina e Italia, etc., posiblemente del Regnum Christi. -El autor pregunta si esto será verdad …
Monterrey billionaire, with strong investments in USA, Spain, Argentina, Italy, etc.; possible member of the Legion of Christ’s Regnum Christi lay movement…
(Cita en ingles de un artículo en Bloomberg Markets, Mysterious Bond Billionaire Offers Rare Look at Finances)
“Raised in Monterrey in northern Mexico, Martinez joined Regnum Christi, a group affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ, a scandal-plagued Roman Catholic order that once counted Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest person, among its benefactors. Martinez explored becoming a priest during a sixth-month stint in Rome, studying philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University.”
Complete English language article
Articulo completo en inglés:
THE LEGION OF CHRIST/REGNUM CHRISTI UNABLE TO COMPENSATE ITS VICTIMS -IF IT REALLY WANTED TO?
?SERA QUE LA LEGION NO TIENE RECURSOS PARA COMPENSAR A TODAS SUS VICTIMAS -SI QUISIERA?