After trying several places she let us know that she had found a place where she felt right at home. Shortly after she arrived in Rhode Island she had decided to enter a â€œformation programâ€� with Regnum Christi. We had never heard of this group but Anne was very excited about it. The people there were young, enthusiastic and oh so happy and they were rapidly growing in numbers. She told us that she would have very limited contact with us during her formation period. This rang a warning bell but we trusted her judgement. We tried to find out more about Regnum Christi and found this somewhat frustrating. Anne assured us that they were associated with an order of Catholic priests and everything they did was fully in accordance with the Vatican and they were loyal to the Pope.
After only five months, Anne told us she had made her solemn promises of poverty chastity and obedience. We were very surprised and disappointed that she had done this without telling us and without inviting us to come. She assured us that she had not made vows in the same sense that a nun would make. She had made promises and although she fully intended to keep them, she was still a lay person and the promises were not as binding as religious vows would be. We had many questions and received few answers. Finally, my wife and I went to Rhode Island to see for ourselves. We were amazed to see so many beautiful, bright, enthusiastic young women who were willing to dedicate themselves to Godâ€
We noticed that she mentioned a lot about her founder and how fortunate they were that he was still alive. Her excessive devotion to him disturbed us. It continued to bother us that we still could not seem to find out much about what Regnum Christi actually did. We asked for a brochure or book that would tell us something about what they did. Anne was somewhat vague about this and this surprised us because she was normally very communicative. But she seemed to be so happy. In the earlier days, when we asked Anne questions, even ordinary ones out of interest or curiosity she would start to cry. She used to pray the rosary with us regularly but would not do this any more. (She does now years later on our rare occasions together). She would go off by herself to pray her special prayers and would not show us her prayer book. Once she started to show it to me then changed her mind and ran off to her room with it.
As time went by we became increasingly frustrated about the secrecy and the oppressive rules, such as the extremely limited contact. The 2 day visits home were terrible for us (and still are). We had no say regarding the timing even though we had to pay all her travel costs. She would come home exhausted by the jet lag and have to spend much of the two days in private prayer and of course daily Mass. We made the most of this but became increasingly disturbed about her situation. We found that the solemn promises were extremely binding on those who made them. Several years went by and we became more and more frustrated trying to find out who Regnum Christi were, what their real charisms were and why they imposed such restrictive rules. Did they exist for evangelization or teaching or missionary work? In my opinion they are very weak in all these areas. Evangelization = recruiting selected young people. Teaching = recruiting selected young people and missionary work = recruiting selected young people. My wife and I and our family members have had experience in all three of these areas. My wife and I were trained in the CETM program developed in Steubenville. We spent some time in a formerly communist country as missionaries in a Catholic School teaching English in 1998. We were excited when we heard that some women from Regnum Christi were coming there. We were expecting to see young evangelists in action. However, we were told by our local contact (a man I would trust my life with) that he believed the women who came from Regnum Christi were not there to spread the good news about Jesus. They were there to recruit selected young women away from them. He was not impressed at all with Regnum Christi and felt they were self serving. This made us wary. When we mentioned this to Anne she laughed and said that the people there are very suspicious by nature and not to take such remarks seriously.
When we returned home we started researching and discovered that their founder had a reputation for sexually abusing young boys and using drugs. At this stage we started to develop grave doubts about Regnum Christi and Anneâ€
We started to check the Internet and found information that matched our own experiences and heightened our fears. The Legionaries and Regnum Christi were identified as cults by several experts. When we found the Regain site and Ex Legionaries discussion group we obtained information from former members of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi that provided evidence that both these groups were very cult like. The reasons given matched our own observations â€“ the secrecy, the isolation, the emphasis on the charismatic leader, the extreme control over all aspects of oneâ€
We discovered that Anne had made two additional solemn promises that she had not ever mentioned â€“ â€œsecretâ€� ones to never seek higher offices in her movement and to never criticize any of her superiors. The existence of these promises and the secrecy about them really disturbed us. In 2006, I did some more research and got several books on mind control. The best one I could find was written by Steve Hassan, a former Moonie, who is a qualified counselor and an expert on mind control and cults. We arranged for family members to have a conference call with Steve Hassan and learned a lot. Steve said that when he identifies a group as a cult he does this based mainly on whether they use mind control or not. The actual beliefs are immaterial. When we went through his checklist on control of Behaviour, Information, Thoughts and Emotions (BITE model) we realized that Regnum Christi was using every method of mind control that Steve identified. There was almost a perfect match between Steve Hassanâ€
It had always bothered me that Anne always referred to her founder as â€œNuestro Padreâ€�, which means â€œOur Fatherâ€� in Spanish. I asked Anne how she differentiated between the â€œOur Fatherâ€� (God the Father) when she regularly prayed the â€œOur Fatherâ€� and â€œOur Fatherâ€� meaning Father Maciel. Anne giggled and said she had never thought about this. This was one of the changes that we had noticed with Anne since she had joined Regnum Christi. As a 40 year old woman she giggled in the same way that a self conscious teenager might do. There were other negative changes. Anne used to have a wonderful sense of humour. It was rare in recent years that we noticed her use this any more. One thing that really bothered us was that she has become noticeably deceptive at times. She had never been that way previously. At times she has become quite child like in her way of expressing herself. Anne used to love to debate things and had a very quick mind. However, whenever we raised any issues regarding the cult like nature of Regnum Christi or the mind control or anything about her founder, she just looked somber and gave no response to the issues we raised. She would simply say that it hurt her when we say anything negative about her beloved movement and founder. Anne had been very creative and an excellent writer. I believe that she has increasingly lost her ability to write creatively.
Here is what I have come to believe about my daughterâ€
I believe that Anne has almost a total lack of free will. She has absolutely zero income and makes no significant decisions about her life.
I believe that she has almost no human rights. She lives under her solemn promise of obedience, yet has none of the protections from the Church that a religious person would have.
Her every need must come through permission from her superiors.
She idolizes her founder, Father Marcial Maciel and believes him to be a living saint, refusing to believe the obvious reasons behind the removal of his privileges to practice his priesthood publicly and to spend his remaining life in quiet repentance.
The information she receives is tightly controlled. Anne is only allowed to read books that her director allows her to read (she is 41 years old and well educated). She has not been allowed to watch television other than what she is allowed to watch by her superiors.
Anne has to follow so many rules that cover even trivial details in her life.
Anne has no health insurance and if she is sick she must depend on a decision by her superiors about how to deal with any medical care. The superiors have all the power. Anne has none and she has made solemn promises to never criticize any other superior in her movement and to obey everything that they direct her to do.
Anne is allowed almost no contact with anyone outside of her group except in situations related to her duties.
I have read that the consecrated women are not allowed to ever have a close friend either inside or outside their own group. I found this hard to believe but she has never in 14 years mentioned about having a specific close friend. She always refers to the other consecrated women as â€œcompanionsâ€�.
We do not believe that the â€œhappinessâ€� we observed among Anne and her companions was all genuine. We have been read that they are instructed to always appear happy in front of their families and never to â€œburdenâ€� them with any difficulties. This is verified in the documents publicized by Regain and which the Legionaries claim are proprietary.
In this information age, Anne has not been allowed to have free access to the Internet. She cannot have her own e-mail address. If we wish to email her it has to be sent to her superior who intercepts all information between us.
My wife and I are active in prison ministry in a maximum security federal prison. There are all the high fences, razor wire, locking gates, guards and security cameras everywhere. But I believe that the inmates there have a lot more freedom than the consecrated women in Regnum Christi do. The men can have friends. They can talk to whoever they want at times of their choosing. They can decide how to spend their spare time â€“ watching TV, playing sports, doing crafts or studying or taking part in group activities. They can read whatever books they wish to. They can earn more freedom and most have some hope of being released someday. Some can have overnight family visits. They can disagree with other people. Of course they have strict rules but there are good reasons for their rules.
I grieve for the loss of our only daughter and I feel extremely let down by the Catholic Church to which I have devoted much of my life. Twice I have written to the Vatican about Anneâ€
We can write her once a month but we are always aware that her letters will be read by her superiors first and she will receive all her letters opened. We can phone her once a month and we do but again, we are always aware that â€œtheyâ€� are monitoring us and that Anne has to tell all to her superior. This creates distrust and there are other barriers in all of our communication with her.
One concern haunts me. Anne joined up after only a few months of â€œformationâ€�. I know now that the â€œformationâ€� involved mind control â€“ the isolation, control of her basic needs, the â€œlove bombingâ€� and other techniques referred to above. Had she been in a free environment it would have been too short a time to make such a major decision for a life long commitment. In a cult environment I do not believe that her decision was one made with her free will. Similarly, I do not believe that her decision to remain is based on her free will. I feel that she is a prisoner.