At the request of some of my friends and family, I am writing this as a testimony to the abuse that I suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of the Legion of Christ.
I left my home in Los Angeles for the Candidacy program at Cheshire CT in 2000. I had just graduated recently from High School. I left for the candidacy program against the wishes of my family, and Religious and Priests around me. Although I was well aware of the cultic accusations against the Legion, I was told that the critics were
enemies of the Church who sought the destruction of the work of God.
Entering the candidacy program, I found myself in a teenager’s dream world. I was surrounded by other boys my age in an environment with few rules. In the two months that I was in the Candidacy program we were allowed to play soccer, basketball, went on hikes, and traveled throughout New England. We were encouraged to make friends and to become familiar with one another. At this time I had no suspicions of what was coming, considering that we were given no information about the Novitiate program. Although my fellow Candidates requested a Novitiate schedule, we were never given one, even though the Novitiate Hall was right next door to our hall. The second disturbing trend that I noticed was that some were entering the Candidacy program with no idea that they were preparing for the novitiate.
The day that I completed the retreat that signaled my entrance into the novitiate was one of the happiest days of my life. I was finally entering the community that was Christ’s
elite forces.. I felt, and was told, that I was
chosen: God had called me to devote my life to the work of the Legion of Christ. As I looked around me the night I received my Cassock, tears flowed from many of our eyes.
My first day in the Novitiate was like being thrown into a vat of cold water. Our almost chaotic Candidacy transformed quickly into a very rigid environment. It was expected that we conform our whole life to that of the ideals of the Legion. We were given multiple rule books that dictated every aspect of our lives. In great detail, these books instructed us how to eat, walk and talk. They also dictated our communications with our friends and family. Any doubts or problems that we were to have could be shared with only the Legionary superiors.
About two weeks into my novitiate in Cheshire, it was announced that my section was do its Novitiate outside the US, mainly in Europe and Canada. I was assigned to Ireland. Before leaving for Europe I was allowed to call my family one last time. As I told my mother that I was going to Europe she seemed very hurt and sad. When I asked her why, she told me that the night before she had a very disturbing dream. She said that she saw me looking extremely thin, pale, with dark circles around my eyes. When she asked me in her dream what was wrong I told her that
I was sick.? My mom told me that she woke up crying after dreaming of me in this horrible condition. I assured her that everything was alright and I was very happy there.
Those of us going to Europe were told that we were chosen because Europe needed a better Catholic presence, and, later, that the world looked up to us Americans. Within a week of receiving my assignment, together with about five others, I was on a plane to Ireland .
My Irish Experience
Excitement filled me on the plane to Ireland. It was a place that I had wanted to visit my whole life; and now within a couple of hours I would be there! On the plane my mind was on overdrive looking forward to ministering the love of Christ to people in Europe. My first serious doubt came within five minutes of arriving in Ireland.
As we stepped off the plane we were greeted by five other Legionaries. As I looked at these fellow novices the first thing I noticed was how alike they all were. They seemed like robots: they all looked and talked exactly alike. I remember observing them and seeing not unique humans but robots. I had an inkling the minute I met my fellow novices that this was not my vocation.
I related my doubts to my Novice Master (who was also my spiritual director and confessor). He told me that this was normal and that I should persevere in my vocation to the Legion. I then asked him about home visits: understandably, there were no family visitations during the Novitiate. But as long as I was stationed in Europe, the next time I could expect to see my family would be in six years. When I inquired about calling home, he said that I was allowed about two calls a year. I found this extreme separation with the outside world hard to understand and accept. After all, when I was in candidacy we were allowed to call home at any time. Our superiors in Candidacy even encouraged us to call home on a regular basis.
Despite my reservations I decided to stick with the Novitiate until it became clear that this was not my vocation. As time progressed within my Novitiate I became familiar with the rules I was to follow. Slowly, my outside actions started to conform to the detailed rules of the Legion. But even though on the outside I seemed to conform to the Legionary lifestyle, my interior life was shattered and my doubts increased with time.
I became aware of the strange love that was cultivated towards the founder, Fr. Maciel, whom we called with a special title: Nuestro Padre. The walls of our seminary were lined with pictures of Fr. Maciel and his family. During our Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament we were expected to meditate on his personal letters. Every class had a reference to a heroic story of Maciel. Among the many extraordinary powers that Fr. Maciel was said to possess was the ability to
read souls. According to this Fr. Maciel had the gift to know a person’s vocation just by looking at him. Fr. Maciel also dictated in the regulations that his birthday, baptism day and name day were to be celebrated as first class feast days, on a par with Christmas and Easter.
Our Irish house ran a school for very wealthy Mexican boys who came to Ireland to study English. My apostolate was to work with these boys through the ECYD (a youth group sponsored by Regnum Christi). I was told that there were two ends to the ECYD: either get these boys to make a commitment to Regnum Christi or, ideally, to get them into the Minor Seminary in New Hampshire. If we saw a young man who we thought would make a good Priest we were to tell one of the Legionary Chaplains. The Chaplain would then explain to the boy and his parents that the New Hampshire school was simply a prep school. They knowingly hid the fact that the New Hampshire school was a minor seminary. This was done to prevent the parents from
disturbing the vocation that the boy had to the Legion.
I was in charge of giving weekly talks to the boys along with a senior novice. I wanted to see the boys progress in Christian holiness, so limited my talks to the practical and spiritual applications of virtue. The senior novice’s talk revolved around Nuestro Padre and so, even though most of the boys had no connection with either the LC or RC, they too were indoctrinated with a love for the founder.
On Fr. Maciel’s birthday the boys received a day off from school, along with a school-wide fair. The Legion asked the boys to make posters wishing Fr. Maciel a happy birthday. Some of the boys were asked to write essays praising the founder and his life. Again, most of the boys and their families had no connection with the LC. Why is it that they would celebrate the birthday of a man who was not dead, not a Saint, and with whom they had no connection.
Many nights I was kept awake by the sounds of these boys being yelled at and called horrid names in Spanish. Although I lived one floor above the boys, I was still able to hear the verbal and emotional abuse. Countless times I ventured onto the second floor, I saw with my own eyes the abuse and humiliation they suffered. The scenes of hurt and tears are images that still linger in my mind. I made it a point to sneak downstairs and show these boys what Christian love was. Whenever I went downstairs I would have the boys flock to me and hold on to me, confiding the hurt that they were experiencing. I assured them that they were not horrible and that I would always be there for them.
When I confronted my Novice Master (also house Rector) about what was happening, he dismissed my claim and told me that this was the way things were done in the Legion: Fr. Maciel saw his schools as another form of Minor Seminary, and that the boys had to be put in their place.
One day, while listening to the abuse of the children, I started to cry uncontrollably. When I looked into the mirror I no longer saw myself, but someone that I did not know. I had lost about 30 pounds, my skin was pale, and I had dark circles around my eyes. Every moment of my life was monitored, there was no privacy, and I hated the tactics of and devotion to Fr. Maciel. For about a month, I had been starving myself. How much I ate seemed to be the only thing I had control over: so I chose not to eat. My choice to eat as little as possible was the only aspect of control that I had over my life.
As I was crying, I got on my knees and prayed. Extreme anger consumed me. I cursed God, I cursed Him for allowing this to happen to me. I cursed Him for allowing this to happen to the boys. There seemed to be a split in my mind: I knew what was happening was wrong and that this was not my vocation. But the thought of leaving filled me with fear.
Once more I told my Novice Master what was happening and finally told him that I wanted to leave. He told me that he would need explicit permission from Fr. Maciel for me to leave. It was then that I my contact with my Novice Master was cut off. My spiritual direction was discontinued. I never got word of Fr. Maciel’s response. A couple of days after I told my Novice master I wanted to leave, the Novice Assistant took me aside and lectured me: he told me that I should have been kicked out a long time ago; I was a horrible person, and if it was up to him I would have been kicked out a long time before; but Fr. Maciel had seen something special in me; I was called to be a Legionary, a special Legionary; I would be able to bring so many people to Christ, if only I allowed myself to conform to the Legion plan.
As time went on it became increasingly clear that this was not my vocation. I wanted out, and decided to be patient and wait for permission to leave. In the meantime I was isolated and
boycotted. My superiors assigned me to the more humiliating tasks around the house. During conversation time (one of the only periods of time we were able to speak with each other) it became common for me to be sent outside to pick up the mess that the horses left in our yard. Weeks on end, I would have no contact with anyone, left to myself, not even given the privilege of Spiritual Direction.
Leaving the Legion
Tired of waiting for Fr. Maciel’s response I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went into the Library, took out the book of Canon Law and wrote on a small piece of paper the Canon which gave the Novices the right to leave any time they please. I left this paper for my Novice Master, convinced that I should be going home soon. That night I received a visit from the Novice Assistant. He told me very plainly, â€œThis is not a prep school; you cannot come and go when you please. You come and go when we tell you.â€� He then told me that if I did want to leave, then I was to give them $1500. Agreeing to their terms I called my mother. Instead of asking her for $1500 I told her that I was being held against my will and to call the Archdiocesan offices if I wasn’t home in a week. The next day I got a plane ticket home.
On leaving the Legion I was extremely thin, pale, with dark circles around my eyes. When my mom saw me for the first time she broke into tears and asked me what happened. My response was,
I’m sick. My last phone call home before leaving to Ireland seemed to fulfill a very prophetic dream, a sign of the love that my family and God had for me.
My first couple of months after leaving the Legion were the worst days of my life. I was unable to fall asleep because I was under the impression that I was going to hell for denying my vocation. I wanted to go back to the Legion, tell them I was sorry, beg them to let me back in. Every day I became increasingly angry at those around me. For the first time in my life, I snapped at my mom for no apparent reason. I started to hate the Church and God for allowing such a group to exist; my faith was replaced by extreme anger.
Through the efforts of those around me my anger subsided, and I regained the faith that I had lost. But my struggle is not over. I still wake up with vivid images in my mind; nightmares are still a part of my life; and I still deal with anger problems towards the Legion and Regnum Christi. I still cry at the thought of the boys I left in Ireland. I feel isolated and lonely whenever I have to confront these issues.
Whenever I speak about my Legion experience I pray that my testimony will prevent others from making the same mistake. I would rather experience again the pain of the Legion then allow another child to surrender itself to this group.