Steve Hassan, Cult and Mind Control Expert and Exit Counselor in his more than 30 year experience in dealing with Destructive Totalitarian Cults developed a check list to use as a tool for evaluating whether group members are subjected to mind control in the groups they belong to. He teaches that whether a destructive cult organization is focused around religion, self improvement, business, politics or military, there are only so many methods of mind control and they all utilize similar methods to take control of a person’s Behaviour, Information, Thoughts and Emotions (BITE). He says that the validity of a group’s teachings is relatively unimportant in determining whether or not it is a destructive cult. It is whether or not they use destructive mind control methods to manipulate people. Following is a comparison to show how based on my experience and research (refer to disclaimer on last page) Regnum Christi stacks up using the BITE model.
I. BEHAVIOR CONTROL
Regulation of Physical Reality
Steve Hassan’s Check List * see note 1
- Regulation of individual’s physical reality
- Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates
- What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears.
- What food the person eats, drinks, adopts and rejects
- How much sleep the person is able to have
- Financial dependence
- Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations.
- Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals.
- Need to ask permission for major decisions.
- Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.
- Rewards and punishments (behaviour modification techniques – positive and negative)
- Individualism discouraged; “group think” prevails.
- Rigid rules and regulations.
Regnum Christi Practice * see Note 2
- Consecrated (3gf) members live together isolated from all outsiders in locations assigned. All clothing and food is provided by R.C. (no choice). Activities nearly every day throughout each and every day are tightly regulated including when to rise, when to go to bed, when to pray, when to exercise, when and what to eat. Financial dependence is total – 100%. Annual holiday visit with family is tightly restricted. Before 2005, home family visits for most were restricted to 2 days. Except for death of parents, consecrated women are unable to go home for important family events, including weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations or family reunions.
- Daily rituals. Over and above the traditional Catholic observances, consecrated members regularly listened to Father Maciel’s tapes and read writings that had been attributed to him (it appears that the psalter was plagiarized). Mandatory retreats and other regular routines promoted “Macielism” and encouraged him to be seen as a living saint. This has of course changed since recent revelations and investigations by the Vatican but for decades there was excessive idolization of the founder.
- Need to ask permission for almost everything including even trivial things.
- Thoughts, feelings and activities had to be reported to superiors during regular spiritual direction sessions. This together with other practices provides the superiors with tremendous power and influence over each 3gf. There are logistical difficulties in making a real choice of spiritual director outside of their group.
- Solemn promise of obedience has been taken very seriously. Consecrated members must account to Superior who has the power to reward or punish based on obedience and following the many Regnum Christi. rules.
- Consecrated members are not encouraged to think or act independently of group.
- The solemn promises and extremely rigid rules (in the 100’s) govern every aspect of consecrated members’ lives right down to the most trivial things.
II. INFORMATION CONTROL
Regulation of Members’ Judgment
Steve Hassan’s Check List * See Note 1
- Use of deception
- Deliberately holding back information
- Distorting information to make it more “acceptable”.
- Outright lying
- Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
- Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
- Critical information
- Former members
- Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think and check things out.
- Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
- Information is not freely available
- Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid.
- Spying on other members is encouraged
- Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
- Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
- Individual behaviour monitored by whole group
- Leadership decides who “needs to know” what and when
- Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
- Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, video tapes and other media.
- Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources.
- Unethical Use of Confession
- Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
- Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution
- Need for obedience and dependency
- Need for Obedience and Dependency
Regnum Christi Practice * See Note 2
- Use of deception
- Consecrated members are given “the party line” regarding controversial issues relating to Regnum Christi and their founder and are expected to believe it. Any outside criticism of the group or leader is systematically denied. There are many reports from ex members of deception within RC and L of C and Marcial Maciel has been referred to as the “Master of Deception”. As details about his life are coming to light, it would seem this title fits. Many conclude that at least some of the current leaders took part in deceptive practices in support of Marcial Maciel, who trained them.
- This policy is backed up by their solemn promise to never criticize their superiors of the founder. When a member leaves, other members have been reported to be given false information, e.g. to think someone is on a special mission.
- Consecrated (3gf) members have not normally been allowed free use of the Internet or free choice to read “unapproved” books except where special permission is provided. They are mostly not allowed to have any personal e-mail except through superior’s e-mail. News comes primarily from R.C. approved sources or from R.C. controlled sources such as Zenith.
- Limited contact with former members (especially “disgruntled” ones). Schedule does not allow time for discretionary reading or watching TV
- Members are informed on need to know basis. Members often do not even know about R.C. issues or controversies from other locations. Amount of information available increases at higher levels. Solemn promise of “Humility” restricted normal desire for advancement with the group.
- Strict adherence to buddy system whenever off premises. Members not allowed to attend courses or stray from their assigned home base unless with another member (“companion”).
- Deviant thoughts and actions are reported to superior
“Denunciation sessions” have been used. Members accuse each other of breaking rules and each one defends her own actions
- Consecrated women have been required to have spiritual direction with superiors (contrary to spirit of canon law) and had to go to Legionary priests for sacramental confession. There have been some reports of past sins used against members. Total obedience and dependency for every aspect of life based on solemn promises is required. Each is required to look upon her director as if she is Christ in person. It is generally understood that one of the main issues of the 2005 investigation into the founder’s life was that he misused the sacrament of confession with his victims.
- Consecrated women’s solemn promises of poverty, obedience and “humility” have provided superiors with absolute power and control over them (refer to wording of obedience promise above). Except for a rosary, they have zero assets and zero income. They cannot desire higher office and must obey superiors in all decisions. They keep watch on and inform on each other.
III. THOUGHT CONTROL
Internalizing of Group Doctrine
Steve Hassan’s Check List * See Note 1
- Need to Internalize the Group’s Doctrine as “Truth”
- Adopting the group’s map of reality as “Reality” (Map = Reality)
- Black- and White thinking
- Good vs. Evil
- Us vs. Them (inside vs. outside)
- Use of “loaded” language (for example “thought terminating clichés).” Words are the tools we use to think with. These special words constrict rather than expand understanding and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite platitudinous “buzz words”
- Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
- Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states
- Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories
- Use of thought-stopping techniques, which shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good”: thoughts.
- Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
- Speaking in tongues
- Singing or humming
- Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
- No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good or useful.
Regnum Christi Practice * See Note 2
- The consecrated women were taught that the doctrine was approved by the Pope himself and therefore (for Catholics) Regnum Christi is beyond reproach (“Do you know more than the Pope?” was used to defend any challenges). As of early 2010 there have been reports that the version of RC statutes that actually were approved by the Vatican was only a fraction of the size of the version that is used to keep the consecrated women in line. They have been led to understand that the full version was approved. For example a requirement to “fully integrate the spirit of the founder into their own spirit” would be unlikely to be approved by the Vatican.
There have been reports from ex members that outside groups (e.g. other religious orders) are jealous and are out to get them and that evil “detractors” were willing to tell lies about their founder. Since the fall from grace in the winter of 2009, the party line has changed to “God is able to draw straight with crooked lines”; implying that Marcial Maciel had some faults but the religious order and movement that he founded were true to the faith.
- The founder was always referred to as “Nuestro Padre” (meaning “Our Father” or “Our Founding Father” in Spanish). This is used by other religious orders to refer to their founders, who often are saints – not living people here on earth. It is likely that this constant reference associated Marcial Maciel with God the Father and encouraged the consecrated women to think of him as a “living saint” by association with other “our fathers” who have been declared saints.
- Based on excessively full time schedules and rules, buddy system, ultra conservative “by the book” Catholicism, denunciation sessions, solemn promises and spiritual direction, women had little opportunity to think bad thoughts.
- Repetition of Fr. Maciel’s teachings and routine prayers during times when the women are tired (from excessive time schedule and reduced hours of sleep) provided constant reinforcement of doctrine and Regnum Christi’s way of thinking
- Some events that seem to be spontaneous are reported to have been orchestrated by leaders
- Solemn promise of “loyalty” prevents any negative thoughts or words regarding controversial allegations of drug abuse, child molestation, misuse of sacrament, etc of their founder. He was presented as Christ-like because he was unjustly accused of these things and reacted as Christ did by not defending himself. The women’s understanding of events regarding their founder have been based on biased news reports from LC controlled media and restrictions on TV, Internet and other news sources. Meditations and daily repetition of prayers enforced obedience to superiors.
- The solemn promises of obedience and loyalty and “spiritual direction” have prevented any criticism of leadership. “Everything is approved by the Pope so don’t question it”.
- No outside belief was seen as legitimate because their basic belief system was Roman .Catholic doctrine and Regnum Christi was supported by the Church, by most priests, parents and other Catholics. Target group for recruiting is conservative Catholics. As the statutes had been approved by the Pope everything they did was unquestionable and good.
IV. EMOTIONAL CONTROL
Manipulate and Narrow Range of Feelings
Steve Hassan’s Check List * See Note 1
- Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings
- Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always his fault, never the leader’s or the groups.
- Excessive use of guilt
- Identity guilt
- Who you are (not living up to your potential
- Your family
- Your past
- Your affiliations
- Your thoughts, feelings, actions
- Social Guilt
- Historical Guilt
- Excessive use of fear
- Fear of thinking independently
- Fear of the “outside” world
- Fear of enemies
- Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
- Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by the group
- Fear of disapproval
- Extremes of emotional highs and lows
- Ritual and often public confession of sins.
- Phobia indoctrination inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
- No happiness or fulfillment outside the group
- Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 incarnations, etc.
- Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are “weak”, “undisciplined”, “unspiritual”, “worldly”,
- “brainwashed by family or counselor” or “seduced by money, sex, rock and roll”
Regnum Christi Practice * See Note 2
- Members are reported to be told to always appear happy, especially whenever outsiders are around and to not burden parents or outsiders with negative feelings such as depression or discouragement.
- Parent to child style of relationship with superior, who has total control of women’s lives and obedience promise automatically puts someone in a submissive role. Promise of loyalty meant that the leader was never wrong.
- Excessive number of rules (over 1,000 altogether?) plus the solemn promises plus spiritual direction and denunciation sessions make it impossible to ever live up to what is expected. This keeps the women in a submissive role, never quite able to please completely. Past infractions are not necessarily forgotten according to some members, for instance: “If you leave Regnum Christi all the souls of the people you could have saved might be lost as a result of your selfishness” has been reportedly used to make people feel guilty and selfish about leaving.
- Total reliance on leaders for all basic needs tends to make one fearful of displeasing them in any way. A fear of the evil “detractors” out there, who are trying to destroy R.C builds distrust of outside friends and family members. . The consecrated women have no power – there is total reliance on superiors and so to remain at peace they must believe everything they say and be very obedient.
- Consecrated members are taught that they are Jesus’ spouses, that they are very special in God’s sight and that they are saving many peoples’ souls from damnation. This gives emotional highs. Emotional lows come when they feel discouraged because they are being selfish or not measuring up.
- Members have been required to take part in denunciation sessions (a form of public confession with peers relating to R.C. rules).
- If you question the leaders you are endangering your own position in the group and you may be breaking a solemn promise of loyalty. If you consider leaving, you are afraid of appearing to be weak and unspiritual and not pleasing to God. If you actually do leave you may lose your salvation and all those you could have saved. With no money you would have to find someone else to rely on completely at least for a while. There are reports that people are manipulated in spiritual direction to remain in the group or else bad things will happen to the group and to them. Family members are considered to be well meaning but they cannot understand what it is like to be a consecrated person and they don’t understand the sacrifices made. Consecrated members are encouraged to keep in contact with family members (and encourage them to make donations) but discouraged from discussing controversial issues with them on the basis that the truth needs to come from “approved sources”.
* Note 1: Source is Steve Hassan’s THE BITE MODEL checklist, quoted from his book “Releasing the Bonds” published in 2000 by Freedom of Mind Press, Somerville, MA. The BITE checklist and a wealth of related information has been provided also on his website http://www.freedomofmind.com/
*Note 2: The information provided on Regnum Christi practices is based on personal observation of the writer of this article plus information from personal testimony from others including mostly ex members of RC and L of C.
Disclaimer: The information that the writer has listed under “Regnum Christi Practice” is based on my own personal experience as a father of a 3gf “consecrated” daughter and research plus my own opinions formed by research of available testimonies from ex members. Because of the high level of secrecy surrounding the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, it is difficult to obtain 100 % accurate details of what goes on behind the closed doors where the consecrated women live and the only source of some information is from ex members. Typically the testimonies provided by ex members coincide very closely with information that comes from well respected religious writers, conservative Catholic theologians and members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Some changes are in various stages of implementation since the Vatican carried out an investigation of the founder’s life and took disciplinary action against him, restricting him to a life of prayer and repentance before he died. Further changes are being implemented as the Vatican visitation into the Legionaries of Christ proceeds but there seems to be an attitude that the old ways will continue unless new ways are forced upon them by Vatican authorities. Some of the above claims above have been based on experience up to the year 2007.
Critique of Regnum Christi
Last but not least, we would like to present an in-depth critique of the Regnum Christi. Decades have passed since Fr. Cronin’s discovery of those cult-like features. Today the father of a consecrated member presents a brand new study based on decades of experience with his daughter, her superiors, and the organization.
Regain staff believes that the above evidence makes a strong case for identifying both the Legionaries of Christ and the associated Regnum Christi Movement as destructive cult groups. This opinion is not based solely on what others say about these groups. Many of the men and women with past and present association with the Regain family have endured damaging personal experiences and most are in an ongoing recovery process. Our conclusion is that that the cat is out of the bag re the Legion as a controversial High Demand religious order characterized by information control, isolation from family and friends, secrecy, persuasive “Spiritual Direction” and other potentially dangerous methods.
REGAIN, INC. hopes these articles will help members and “outsiders” better understand the true nature of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement and thus make more informed decisions regarding investment of time, energy, financial resources, and emotional and spiritual involvement.