By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them– Perhaps: How Good And Bad Works Can Deceive – The Case of The Legion of Christ
I feel the need to speak bluntly and openly and freely share as I would speak to a friend.
I have worked together with Paul Lennon for the past two years as co editor of Regainnetwork.org, 1 a website for people adversely affected by the Legion or Regnum Christi. My personal struggle associated with these groups is like an ongoing nightmare of grief, false hopes, aggravation, frustration and anger.
The evil structure and methodology that my daughter was drawn into remains a legitimate part of my own Catholic Church and that has been doubly painful for me. The Vatican website 2 identifies the founder in so many words as a charismatic con man without genuine religious sentiment. Overwhelming evidence indicates Fr. Marcial Maciel’s prime objective for founding his two groups was to satisfy his lust for power, money and perverted sexual urges. He got away with this by using deceit, influence peddling, gifts and cash payments to obtain protection from certain members of the Vatican hierarchy. His two groups, the Legion and Regnum Christi are highly profitable businesses that make excessive profits from being a Catholic religious order of priests and a religious movement.
In 1992, at 26 years of age, our daughter
Rose (not her real name) was at a crossroads. She had a master’s degree in theology, was devout in her faith and had a calling to religious life. She had a good job. Her employer saw great potential in her and offered to sponsor her for a senior management training program. She attended mass regularly each week and was ready and willing to devote her entire life to serve God through the Catholic Church that she loved. Rose was recruited into Regnum Christi. She discovered a community of other young devout, idealistic women who lived as contemplative religious sisters in a secretive isolated community.
They seemed happy and loving and she felt she had found an ideal place to serve God. She was a good person then and remains so not because of her involvement in Regnum Christi (where deceit is endemic) but in spite of it. Although the Legion theology is authentic Catholicism, the structure and methodology of the two groups are destructive to its own members. In spite of an outer appearance of genuine piety, the underlying purpose for their activities is similar to that of other typical cult groups. I won’t focus on all their typical cult characteristics or mind control techniques, which have already been documented in ICSA articles, 3 on ReGAIN and elsewhere.
They prey on young, attractive, idealistic Catholic women, using aggressive recruiting tactics. They redirect peoples’ genuine desire to serve the Kingdom of God to surrendering themselves to serve the kingdom of Maciel. Rose idolized her founder as a living saint, referring to him reverently as
Nuestro Padre (our father). Her excessive devotion to him made me feel uncomfortable. As I learned about his depravities, it revolted me to hear her speak about him as her role model.
Rose had mentioned a five year formation program. We were shocked when only five months later she announced that she had already made her commitment. I believe she was deceived and manipulated into making a decision to hand over all decision making powers, her human rights, all her money and her sexuality. At a consecration ceremony she made solemn promises including poverty, chastity and obedience. At the time, we thought it was very strange and it was hurtful that we had not been advised about this in advance or given an opportunity to attend. Later, we learned that at her ceremony she had also made other secretive promises that forbade her from ever criticizing any superior, especially the founder and to never seek a higher office. She was unaware of the many associated obligations that would be gradually revealed once she was already inside the spider’s web.
Because Regnum Christi is a lay movement, not a religious order, their consecrated women have none of the protections that canon law requires for religious sisters. She remains a lay person with no contract. I see her situation as a form of slavery.
Married to Jesus Or Just Living Together
I was disgusted to learn years later that the Regnum Christi form of consecration which had meant so much to our daughter had not been fully recognized by the Church. 4 To put it bluntly, this arrangement was a cruel deception by the founder to get people to obtain free labour and to avoid having any responsibility for his followers when they were no longer cost effective.
Good Fruits Come From the Devout People Not the Founder, Structure or Methodology
Regnum Christi takes credit for the goodness of their members and for the good works they carry out. Considering the extensive resources available to them and the good intentions of the members and the valid prayer life they have there are bound to be some good fruits and nobody questions that. The question I have is whether or not there are any good motives built into the structure of the Legion. The Legion activities such as schools, seminaries and children’s
programs utilize scarce resources that could have produced genuine good fruits had they been available to groups with authentic spiritual intentions.
Each Legion activity operates primarily as a profit center and that is their primary motivation. (The founder was devoid of genuine religious sentiment). Tuition fees are very high and costs are minimized. High pressure advertising campaigns based on illusory good fruits keep donations rolling in. A major part of the reform process has been an effort to demonstrate that in spite of any of their founder’s evil intentions, the organizations he founded have a unique religious purpose (charism) that came from God. After more than 70 years of existence the Legion has difficulty defining clearly what their charism is. Fr. Maciel was seen as the ideal Legionary. When he fell from grace, he left no saintly example for his followers to emulate.
Good Fruits Don’t Cancel Out Bad Fruits
Some Legion supporters suggest that the good fruits of the Legion outweigh the bad fruits. This position is not theologically sound. I feel distressed when anyone suggests that any bad fruits such as sexual emotional and spiritual abuse are acceptable, especially within a religious group, regardless of how many good works they can show.
Bad Fruits – Does The Founder Have A Monopoly on These?
I continue to wait for the leaders to show a sincere desire to break from the founder’s deceitful, harmful structure and methodology. The current leaders were selected and trained by the founder. A long term well known Regnum Christi ex member commented recently about the fruits as
ruined families, disappointed youths and betrayals of the faith. 5
Former Legionary priest, Fr. Thomas Berg in his June, 2012 article on First Things 6 stated that the Legion leaders:
continue to embrace and foster a culture of cover-up and lack of transparency. His and other articles confirm my conclusions to date.
Bad Fruits That Have Affected Me and My Family Members
I will mention but a few of the Legionary bad fruits that have affected my family.
1. Consecrated Women’s Predicament
Hundreds of consecrated women, including some of their key members have left in the last three years. 7 There have been reports from some of them about their suffering, including chronic physical illness, depression and insecurity. Naturally I am concerned that this might apply to Rose. It has made me realize how difficult an adjustment it would be to leave the group and find another place in life and to make readjustments. It would be traumatic for most of them, including our daughter. Considering her controlled environment, does she have a fair opportunity to make such an important discernment? It is agonizing to think about this. The consecrated women who leave have absolutely no money of their own and (unlike the Legionary priests) they lose their consecrated state immediately. Would there be a stigma of being an ex cult member for those who leave? I am sure there would be.
2. Alienation from Family Members / Partly Filled Glasses
At the 2008 ICSA conference, I learned that as long as one of your family members remains in a cult, you have to deal with this realistically, once you rule out an exit intervention as we did. That left two uncomfortable alternatives. We could decide to have no relationship with Rose or we could retain a partial relationship with her.
We opted for the partly filled glass, realizing everything would be strictly on Regnum Christi’s aggravating terms. For example, she would come home each year for only two days at our expense, sometimes exhausted from the three or more hour jet lag. We were limited to one phone call per month at prearranged times and she always had to ask permission from her superior before she could speak to us.
Like most parents, I don’t want an empty glass and am not satisfied with a partly filled glass relationship with our only daughter.
. 3. Disgrace for The Church and Loss of Respect for the Hierarchy
Father Richard Gill, a prominent ex Legionary priest stated in an article: 8
It is no exaggeration to say that Marcial Maciel was by far the most despicable character in the twentieth century Catholic Church, inflicting more damage on her reputation and evangelizing mission than any other single Church leader.
I had waited and prayed for years that the Church would acknowledge all the truth and take appropriate action. I took what actions I could, believing that if only the Church knew they would do the right thing. Our Catholic friends became uncomfortable if we shared anything about cults in the Church. I spoke to as many priests and members of the hierarchy as I could. One senior local official suggested that the Legion wasn’t bad, they were simply old fashioned. Other officials did not seem to be open with us.
I spent months composing a letter to the Vatican, not really expecting a response. To my surprise, three months later I received a letter from a cardinal. He simply acknowledged my letter and said that competent authorities were looking into it. I later discovered that he was one of the Legionary founder’s closest supporters. I made another attempt, writing to other members of the hierarchy without sending him a copy but they referred my letter to him. His second response sent a chill through me.
As I became aware of Fr. Maciel’s powerful Vatican allies 9 and that he had successfully used influence peddling and cash payments to encourage their support I felt sick to my stomach and discouraged. I lost a lot of the respect that I had always held for the shepherds of the Church.
When the Vatican finally decided to implement a reform process I was overjoyed and could not wait to see what action they would take. Two years later, there have only been some cosmetic changes. The old guard Legionary leaders remain in place and except for some token efforts; they have shown no change in attitude. The aggressive recruiting, ordinations and consecrations of new members continue. The presence of the Vatican commissioner unfortunately lends credibility to the destructive structure. I think this makes the Vatican look incompetent and there is even some appearance of complicity. To date their record in dealing with the Legion and its founder has been abysmal.
On a worldwide scale, the Legion and Regnum Christi have become a monumental embarrassment for the Catholic Church and for (the memory of) Pope John Paul II. New scandals involving deceit of the current leaders 10 continue to unfold and the leaders keep coming up with weak sounding explanations.
4. Effects of Mind Control
Recently, a group of former students from pre-candidacy high schools run by consecrated Regnum Christi women started a blog Click Here 11 to share their negative experiences. They have stated:
Many of us suffered real mental, emotional and spiritual damage in our years at (name withheld) Academy. We share our stories here to warn parents of the very real dangers of handing your daughters over to this flawed institution. As of June, 2012 at least fifteen different women have shared their heart wrenching stories of suffering from guilt and fear and trying to live according to militaristic rules.
Some mention what it was like for them to not be allowed to have particular friends. 12One of them said this resulted in feelings of
immense loneliness. She said that they were not allowed to tell each other about their doubts, sufferings, physical, spiritual and emotional well being.
They were to share nothing except with their spiritual directors, who had ultimate control over them.
It disturbs me when I hear versions of the Legion refrain:
Fr. Maciel was bad but we are good. 13
In spite of some good works by their individual members, I believe that the Legion’s structure and methodology exist primarily to serve themselves.
I am concerned about the people like Rose who have been taken advantage of and harmed within a recognized but destructive Church movement after dedicating everything they have in life, believing sincerely that they were serving God in a special way. I am appalled that Catholic groups are able to manipulate devout people into becoming fully dependent but the groups are then able to dispose of them without obligation or notice. I feel outraged that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is enabling the kingdom of Maciel to continue business as usual without acknowledging the damage done to members and without taking responsible action to provide urgent support and assistance to those who remain trapped.
The young women on 49weeks blog have offered support on their website for those Legionary priests and consecrated Regnum Christi members who want to leave but have difficulty supporting themselves or finding work or understanding their situation or who perhaps feel the need for prayer support.
Why did the Catholic Church not recognize this need and use either Legion resources or their own to provide support, guidance, recovery and financial assistance where urgently needed?
Perhaps they and the Legion leaders could learn from the example of these young women, whose offer is an inspiring example of genuine Christian community in action.
During the week of the ICSA Conference, 77 of the former Legionary high school students sent a letter 14 to the Vatican denouncing the manipulation, deception and disrespect they claim to have suffered from their counselors at the Rhode Island school. The young women are urging the Vatican to shut down the school. Their voices unite with many of us who feel that the Legion and Regnum Christi should be shut down by the Church.
The above reflects accurately my own opinions based on research over 20 years of being a father of a long term Regnum Christi member and two years of being a ReGAIN website co editor. Because of extreme secrecy it is difficult to obtain verifiable information in the usual ways. It took years to confirm information from anonymous sources.