On the surface, there seem to be definite similarities between the religious life of the Missionaries of Charity and that of the lay consecrated women of Regnum Christi, who also claim to be â€œbrides of Christâ€� based on commitments that they make in a private ceremony. In both cases there is a group of traditional Roman Catholic women who claim to be faithful to the Holy Father and who have dedicated their lives to serve God. Yet there has been increasing controversy regarding the Regnum Christi Movement and their founder, in spite of some favorable outward appearances. All of the consecrated women take part in daily mass, frequent reception of the sacraments, participation in retreats and regular spiritual direction. They are well spoken and very polite. They keep in shape physically with regular exercise. They never abuse drugs or alcohol. They donâ€™t have sex with anybody and generally are the type of woman that most mothers wish their sons would marry. So why all the Vatican investigations and controversy? It is only when you examine the structure and true under-the-surface nature and objectives of Regnum Christi and the associated Legionaries of Christ and the life and history of their common founder Fr Marcial Maciel that you realize something is very wrong.
Note that throughout these questions and answers several short form terms are used including â€œR/Câ€� in place of Regnum Christiâ€� and â€œ3gfâ€� for consecrated women. 3gf (â€˜Tercer Grado Femininoâ€™ = Third Level of RC = consecrated)
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE STRUCTURE OF REGNUM CHRISTI?
In a nutshell, the main problems identified by former members and family members of the 3gf women include the overly aggressive recruiting tactics, particularly on young people, the manipulative and deceptive practices utilized, the excessive isolation from outsiders including family members, the gradual and almost total taking over of free will using similar tactics to well known cult groups and the secrecy that covers the true objectives. Critics claim that the true objectives have to do with obtaining power and money for an elite group at the top based on what amounts to slave labor from the dedicated women who are conditioned to believe that they are a spiritually elite group.
BUT THEY ARE CATHOLICS ARENâ€™T THEY?
Yes, they practice the elements of their Catholic faith in a traditional manner. Their basic belief system is in keeping with Rome. The problem again is with the structure, the methodology and the founder of the group. As the indoctrination process progresses, the women surrender more and more of their power to their superiors, who have increasing control over every aspect of their lives to the point where there is little or no free will left. The structure requires the 3gf women to surrender control over their behavior, information, thoughts and emotions. The candidates for consecration are in a vulnerable position, trusting and believing that they are serving God by conforming to an expanding set of rules they accept one at a time. When they make a solemn promise of poverty, they surrender all financial power and become 100 % dependent on others to provide for their every need.
HOW DO THEY GO ABOUT TAKING OVER PEOPLESâ€™ FREE WILL?
They are isolated from the outside world, and live in an environment that was designed by a founder known to be a megalomaniac narcissist pedophile to fulfill his desire to be idolized as a Christ-like figure and most probably to provide access to pre-teen boys under his control. Conformity is rewarded and any individualism is squashed. Events throughout each and every day are based on a rigid schedule that provides little or no free time. Behavior is modified by hundreds of rigid inflexible rules that cover every aspect of a personâ€™s life right down to trivialities. Open discussions are discouraged. Mandatory spiritual direction is used to identify and eliminate any lack of conformity. A â€œbuddy systemâ€� that encourages each member to inform on others is used to ensure that nobody talks to outsiders alone. Solemn promises of poverty, chastity and obedience plus other â€œprivateâ€� or â€œsecretâ€� promises to never criticize a superior are used to take away all personal power. The right to make ordinary decisions such as what to wear, what to eat, how to spend free time is removed. Total dependence is established so that all basic needs are provided by the group, including food, shelter, clothing and medical care. The women are conditioned to have to ask for permission from their superiors for all needs. Free internet access is not allowed; in fact all information is tightly controlled. Fear is used as a motivator to remain. Repetition of the groupâ€™s rules, biases and way of thinking and acting constantly reinforces the â€œgroupthinkâ€� of Regnum Christi. The freedom to communicate with the other women who are in similar circumstances is extremely limited by the norms. The women are kept very busy with programmed activities and during times when there would normally be opportunities to share any concerns there is no conversation allowed, even during most meal times. There are procedures in place that encourage the women to inform on each other in case they notice any deviation from the rules. All these practices are typical of â€œmind controlâ€� or â€œthought reformâ€� practices.
The most important method of keeping the women under control is spiritual direction. Each consecrated woman has been required to have regular spiritual direction from their superior and obliged to reveal all hidden thoughts and concerns. The spiritual director becomes the only person with whom one can share any private thoughts and emotions. In such sharing, the superior has all the power and the ordinary member has absolutely no power. If there is any conflict between the two, the superior is always right.
IS REGNUM CHRISTI SOME SORT OF CULT?
Many credible people have come to this conclusion, including not just ex members but most cult experts, an alarming number of senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, well known Catholic theologians and canon lawyers.
BUT THEIR BELIEFS ARE ALL OKAY ARENâ€™T THEY?
Some critics claim that there is a dehumanizing that occurs as the women progress in their â€œformationâ€�. If a person has little or no free will left and all aspects of their lives are controlled does a personâ€™s belief have much meaning?
Until the founder was exposed by the Vatican as a fraud whose life was without scruple and with no genuine religious sentiment, he was idolized by his followers. The consecrated women believed in the Holy Trinity but somehow Fr. Macielâ€™s role was magnified (and he encouraged this) to the point where there was excessive devotion to him that was ingrained into the candidates in their formation that carried through indefinitely. The founder for many decades was treated like a rock star by his followers. There was a duplicity that included Fr Maciel as a sort of â€œsaviorâ€� as well as a model. For example he was nearly always referred to as â€œNuestro Padreâ€� (Our Father) by his followers. When a person constantly refers to a human person as â€œour fatherâ€� throughout a typical day and also is often repeating the â€œOur Fatherâ€� prayer regularly this is likely to result in an association between the two â€œour fathersâ€�, the one which is being portrayed as a model to follow and the other the God and Creator of the universe. A number of senior members of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy issued public statements that idolizing Fr Maciel was unhealthy and several bishops and archbishops banned the Legion and Regnum Christi partially or totally in their dioceses. Christian doctrine in healthy environments is based on devotion to One Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Although the 3gf women do maintain a personal relationship with Jesus, for decades they were conditioned to idolize Fr Maciel as a special saintly god-like figure and were required to â€œintegrateâ€� his mind and spirit into their own.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN R/C AND A TYPICAL ORDER OF SISTERS?
Regnum Christi is a lay religious movement. Its place in the Catholic Church is comparable to other lay movements such as the Legion of Mary or the Charismatic Movement. It is not a religious order of nuns.
Catholic religious orders and movements each have a â€œcharismâ€� â€“ a special inspired purpose for existence and usually an exemplary or saintly founder who was inspired to provide some special service to serve God and humanity in a unique way. The communiquÃ© issued by the Vatican on May 1, 2010 identified that there were serious problems with the founder and with the charism. Although the Legion and Regnum Christi tried to defend his innocence for years after he was investigated and sentenced to a life of prayer and repentance by the Vatican the truth about his activities including his double life with mistresses and children could not be held back. When they were challenged regarding their charism or lack of one, the Legion and Regnum Christi came out with different versions of what their charism actually was. It was common for them to claim that â€œcharityâ€� was their charism. But charity is a basic Christian virtue that is required of everyone who claims to be a Christian. Regnum Christi has no unique claim to this virtue.
Religious sisters profess irrevocable vows in a special ceremony presided over by a bishop. There is direct accountability to the Vatican, which specifies certain essential protections and rights so that they cannot be taken advantage of by their religious order and that they are provided with adequate health care and financially for their senior years. The lay consecrated women make promises (not vows) of poverty, chastity and obedience in a private ceremony officiated by members of the Legion and Regnum Christi only and these promises are not necessarily permanent. On extremely short notice a woman may be told that she no longer has a vocation and she may be instantly dismissed. Her â€œconsecrated stateâ€� is not recognized outside of Regnum Christi, so a person is left in a spiritual limbo. Many women have expressed that they were afraid to leave because they were led to believe that they would lose their souls if they gave up their vocation and all the people that they could have saved could be lost. There have been frightful cases in the past of inadequate or amateur health care in the Legion and Regnum Christi.
BUT DONâ€™T THEY DO A LOT OF GOOD WORK IN THE CHURCH?
Like many other similar non Catholic groups, critics claim that the sole objective of nearly all activities of R/C revolve around fund raising and recruiting. Because R/C are very selective in their recruiting there are good people (remember it is the structure and methodology and founder that are the issues) but the good people are manipulated by the superiors to recruit and raise money. The women believe that they are evangelizing when they provide spiritual direction for the children in the apostolic schools. And it may well be that some good does come out of this but the issue again is with the true objective behind the activities. Through spiritually directing children, it is possible to find out about the family, their wealth and their influence. It is possible to select potential future Legion priests or R/C members and to start the indoctrination process. Desirable (wealthy, gifted and attractive) candidates are encouraged and undesirable ones discouraged from making deeper commitments to the Legion and R/C in future. It is also possible to exclude potential candidates based on their race, their appearance or intelligence.
Fashion shows promote modesty in dress and other good Catholic values. They are also excellent fund raising events and provide opportunities to interact with wealthy influential people and to recruit. Childrenâ€™s programs provide opportunities to make a good impression on potential benefactors and to identify good recruits for apostolic schools or for the Legionary priesthood or consecrated life with R/C.
Remember that the founder who was found to have been lacking in spirituality and scruples was the one who organized the entire structure for his own personal objectives.
BUT THE FOUNDER IS DEAD NOW SO HAS NO MORE INFLUENCE DOES HE?
Fr. Maciel, a manipulative narcissist, and pedophile had absolute control of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi from the time he founded these until he resigned in 2005 following the investigation into his life by the Vatican. He established the Legion and R/C, made up the rules, chose the superiors, ran the show his way from inception until after he had to step down. As an indication of the influence and power he had, consider that after he was sentenced by the Vatican to live a life of repentance and prayer he convinced his followers that he was being unjustly persecuted (by the Holy See and â€œfalseâ€� accusations) just as Our Lord Jesus had been. It was not until after he died and when evidence of his extraordinary double life and his misuse of funds to support his family members that the leadership of the Legion and R/C finally accepted that he had led a very immoral life. But his imprint remains throughout the Legion and R/C. It is now generally believed that he arranged the rules and organizational rules to achieve personal power and riches and opportunities to satisfy his sexual lust (with child seminarians entrusted to his care) and his love of self.
He was known to have taught his followers that the ends justify the means and this philosophy is still evident in the leadership. His indulgent lifestyle required cooperation from upper echelon of his organizations to cover their leaderâ€™s deceptions. He surrounded himself with those who were willing to go along with his sinful way of life that was the opposite of how he presented himself to the outside world.
BUT DIDNâ€™T THE VATICAN APPROVE ALL OF THE R/C STATUTES?
There is considerable controversy regarding what was â€œapprovedâ€� by the Vatican. Even years before 2004, R/C members were taught that â€œeverything we do is fully approved by the Popeâ€�. This statement provided comfort to those who were in formation but it was deceptive. The Vatican did approve a version of the constitution that covered only a fraction of the rules that govern every aspect of the consecrated womenâ€™s lives. Regnum Christi members were led to believe that the entire version of statutes and norms that they were obliged to follow had been approved. This was not the case. Based on information available out of the 1057 points of the 3gf statutes and norms only 128 actually received Vatican approval.
In 2010, Jason Berry, a respected religious writer indicated that Fr Maciel, the founder of the Legion and R/C had obtained protection from the highest levels in the Vatican through influence peddling and offering lavish gifts.
ARE THE 3-GF WOMEN â€œBRIDES OF CHRISTâ€�?
There are five forms of consecrated life recognized by the Church (in the Catechism) including Eremitic Life, Consecrated Virgins and Widows, Religious Life, Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life. The 3gf women in Regnum Christi do not fit into any of these five categories.
Authentic consecration of a woman to God mirrors closely the sacrament of marriage and there is a liturgical rite of consecration presided by a bishop and permanent vows are made.
Although the â€œconsecratedâ€� women of Regnum Christi sincerely believe that they are in fact â€œbrides of Christâ€�, there is no recognition of this status by the Church outside of the Legion and Regnum Christi. Because they are essentially lay people who are members of a religious movement (not an order) they exist outside of canon law protections, there is no obligation from the movement to provide food, clothing, education, health care, old age security or to be protected in any way by the Vatican. The local bishop is not involved in the R/C consecration ceremonies and in some cases would be unlikely to even be aware that they take place. Participation of the parents of the 3gf women is not essential; in fact for many years they were not involved in any way and not even invited to the ceremony. There is inadequate preparation and discernment prior to committing ones life, sometimes as little as a few weeks or months. And of course there is the fact that such relationship may be broken very easily simply by writing a letter to the local bishop indicates the lack of permanence. Is it reasonable to think that Our Lord would have â€œexesâ€� around who used to be married to Him but who overnight with the stroke of a pen walked out on Him or were cut off from Him?
WHY DID THE VATICAN INVESTIGATE THE LEGION BUT NOT REGNUM CHRISTI?
The Legionaries of Christ is a religious congregation that is authorized to ordain priests. The Vatican oversees all such religious orders and congregations.
Religious movements such as Regnum Christi are not normally overseen directly by the Vatican. They are essentially groups of people who have a common belief or charism that calls them to serve God through the Church in a special and unique way. Such organizations come under the authority of the local bishops. It would be extraordinary for the Vatican to conduct an investigation into a Catholic religious movement.
After the 2010 investigation into the Legionaries of Christ had been taking place enough of the women of Regnum Christi requested that the Vatican carry out a similar investigation for them. The Vatican complied with this request and have initiated such an investigation to start in the fall of 2010. The Legion and Regnum Christi are like Siamese twins, having the same founder and similar practices and statutes. When the Vatican conducted the visitation to the Legionaries, they could not help but discover disturbing facts about Regnum Christi.
WHY SHOULD A YOUNG WOMAN AVOID ENTERING CONSECRATED LIFE IN REGNUM CHRISTI?
There are many red flags and one should be extremely cautious and do due diligence before having any involvement with Regnum Christi. The issues mentioned in the Vatican communiquÃ© of May 1, 2010 regarding the Legion apply also to Regnum Christi. The founder (for both) was found to be devoid of scruples and of religious sentiment. His fraudulent lifestyle completely belied his public image as a spiritual leader. There is a lack of unique purpose that goes beyond recruiting and fund raising. There are legitimate questions regarding their cult like practices even to the point of claims of them being â€œfemale slavesâ€�.
Yes there are some wonderful dedicated 3gf women. But for the time being there is a huge cloud over the Legion and Regnum Christi. The Vatican is striving to make essential changes to improve the questionable practices. But this will take much time to achieve if it can ever be achieved. The Vatican has agreed to make revisions to the constitutions for the Legion and it is reasonable to assume that they will encourage similar changes for the Regnum Christi consecrated women. As of October 2010, the Vatican has not given much indication that they will make radical changes in the (cult-like) structure of the Legion or of Regnum Christi. The commissioner who has been appointed by the Vatican has special expertise in dealing with financial matters (the Legion is believed to have at least $ 30 billion worth of assets). The team of assistants (including a Legionary bishop) who have been appointed have special expertise in canon law. They are tasked with redefining the charism and amending the constitution of the Legion. Such reforms will be helpful in removing any direct contraventions to canon law. But there is increasing concern from critics and family members of consecrated R/C members that the reforms may not significantly change the degree of control the current leaders have over the 3gf women.
The most precious aspects of our human nature as a special gift from God are our intellect and free will. To place oneself in a situation where control of his or her behavior, free will, thoughts and emotions is handed over to such a controversial group, which was founded and directed for over six decades by a person whose private life the Vatican agrees was without scruples or authentic religious sentiment and which fails to provide the protections of the Church that are normally provided for religious persons does not seem to be a wise decision.
For those who wish to consecrate their lives to the service of God in the Roman Catholic Church there are many other options that offer an authentic, clear unique purpose, a long standing track record and provision for sickness and old age, without total surrender of free will or personality.