This is one of a thirty part exposé on the Children of the Legion. This group of women, then girls, in the Regnum Christi, share their stories of abuse, neglect and the aftermath of being children in the Regnum Christi. For a complete list of stories to date, view Children of the Legion.
I’ve been trying to write down my testimony about my time at the Precandidacy for over a month. Each time that I’ve tried to write down my thoughts, I’ve gotten overwhelmed with the amount of complexity and emotion that I feel regarding those years (in fact this is my fourth attempt to write a coherent account of those 3 years of my life). The PC was a very complex and confusing time in my life and I have a very difficult time explaining it to people because there were so many levels of dysfunction that just sharing anecdotes could never fully explain the toxic environment we lived in. Up until the creation of this blog, I had thought that I was alone in my negative experience of the PC. For years I have kept silent about the psychologically damaging system that I lived with during the most formative years of my life simply because I thought I was the “defective cog” in a perfect system. There were so many rules and norms that dictated our everyday lives and it’s impossible to fully explain the atmosphere it created. If I was to write about every single damaging or strange rule we followed I would be writing a book not a blog entry.
One point that I want to make absolutely clear is that I do not blame Regnum Christi and the Precandidacy for every single hurt or mistake in my life. While the methodology of the Precandidacy damaged my sense of self and gave me an inaccurate picture of God, I am responsible for my actions. Everyone who entered the Precandidacy came with their own baggage, family backgrounds and weaknesses. Certain personalities reacted differently with the system of Regnum Christi and while one girl may not felt that she suffered apparent damage, other girls have suffered intense psychological and psychosomatic results. I believe that even those who had a relatively good experience within the PC may bear hidden wounds because the problems of the PC were systemic; it took a beautiful thing (generosity with God) and used it to mold us into robotic “Women of the Kingdom”
One of the fundamental problems with the PC was the fact that it took very wonderful virtues and principles of the Catholic Church and twisted them in order to manipulate us. Because of His infinite love, God does have a plan for each individual human being. But the concept of God’s Will was transformed into a label that was slapped on every single aspect of our lives and used to ensure our obedient compliance to the schedule, the directors, the norms, etc. However I do no blame any of my formators or the consecrated at all. They were especially integrated within the Regnum Christi mission and I know all of the things they told me were not meant to harm me; they were also following a set of rules. Some of our formators were as young as 21 or 22, they were barely adults themselves and had absolutely no training or experience in the formation of teenage girls.
Not every aspect of the Precandidacy was harmful or damaging. I am extremely thankful to have received an excellent education from several amazing teachers. There was also an incredible amount of international exposure and I was given opportunities to travel to places I would have otherwise never seen. During my time in the Precandidacy I was able to go to Rome, New York City, Boston, Providence and expand my cultural knowledge. But without a doubt the biggest benefit of the Precandidacy was the utterly amazing women that I had the opportunity to meet. I believe that Regnum Christi’s sole redeeming feature is the many holy, sincere and enthusiastic members that simply trying to live their lives according to God’s Plan. I have many fond memories of the times I did spend living with these absolutely amazing girls. But the fact that the institution wasn’t thoroughly evil only confuses the issue. If Regnum Christi appeared to be an evil institution with only evil fruits, people would reject it outright. But a glass of water that is only 75% poisoned is still poisonous, even though there were a few positive aspects of the Precandidacy, this did not outweigh the psychologically damaging ones.
Before I entered the PC in 1998, I was a chatty, outgoing and cheerful 14 year old girl. But within a month of starting school I started to talk about being sad and I walked next to walls with my arms folded, I rarely made eye contact and buried myself in books. I was very sincere in my attempts to be a faithful PC but I was constantly getting bogged down in all of the details and began developing a very scrupulous conscience.
Once I started 10th grade something switched in my mentality, I knew that I was utterly miserable and I wanted to go home. As I began to talk to my Spiritual Director about the possibility of returning home and how unhappy I was, I was constantly asked “are you being generous? Isn’t God asking you to be a PC? Wouldn’t it be so selfish of you to go home when you’ve been called to live this vocation?” Of course when I was faced with this thought, I felt obliged to stay. If God had called me out of thousands of girls to be a Precandidate, it would be so selfish of me to leave just because I was unhappy. I felt that by leaving not only would I be letting my formators down, I would be spitting in the face of God.
I begged my spiritual director to send me home, but she insisted that I had free will and I needed to make the choice. However, I felt the only option I had was to remain at the PC because going home meant betraying God. So I stayed. I began to “act out” in order to force my formators to send me home. I skipped classes and sports, I hid from the consecrated and read my books during meditations and study periods. Even though I knew that skipping all of these activities on the schedule was a sin and I was disobeying God’s Will for me, I was hoping that I would cause enough trouble that the consecrated would give up and send me home. If I was sent home, I wouldn’t be responsible for “abandoning my vocation” and I could finally go home with a clear conscience. But I was so convinced that my formators were the Will of God for me that I would constantly “depend” to them about every single thought I had (including where I would hide, so I constantly had to find new and creative places to hide). Once in a fit of conscience I apologized to my director for all of my infidelity and she suggested that I publicly apologize to the whole school for giving them such a bad example of a Precandidate. Thankfully I didn’t take her suggestion and opted to write individual memos to several PC’s.
After a whole year of misery and being repeatedly told that the Precandidacy was the will of God for me, I was abruptly informed that I was “poisoning the spirit of the Precandidacy” and putting several other girl’s vocations in danger. My formator implied that just because I had a conversation with a certain girl that she had started to skip sports too. I was horrified. I made the decision to leave even if I was abandoning my vocation because I was hurting my friends. I was told that I was such a danger that I should leave before final exams.
When a PC leaves, we were not allowed to tell our friends about or decision or say goodbye to them. We typically packed our things and left after Mass. Once I returned home, I was seized with regret and immediately began begging to return to the Precandidacy. At the time my dad was running a Regnum Christi Retreat Center which allowed me to throw myself into apostolate as soon as I returned home. I was given work as a team leader for the girls club and I began work on a new apostolate that focused on chastity. I was very eager to help with anything that involved RC and I immediately focused all of my energies on helping the team of consecrated and coworkers that were stationed there. I gave talks, wrote schedules, balanced checking accounts, wrote financial reports and set up the filing and administration system for the new apostolate. During this time I was still petitioning the territorial direction for permission to return to the PC. All of my enthusiastic work for the RC section must have been noticed and I was given permission to return to the PC even though I was suffering health complications. It was almost unheard of for a PC to return to the school after leaving, in most cases once you left that was it. But thanks to my dedication, I must have been seen as an asset to the Movement.
I returned to the PC in the second half of 11th grade. I was ecstatic to be back in my beloved Precandidacy and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the schedule, school work and openness with my directors. Thanks to my health problems and the stressful lifestyle, I began to rapidly lose weight. My parents were never informed that I had lost over 20 lbs. in five months and that my skin had begun to take on a gray and unhealthy tone. I was told to eat a plate of candy at evening snack every night in order to help put some weight back on. I remember going to evening snack every evening and gulping down candy in silence wondering if they really thought a plate of jelly beans and chocolate was going to fix things. I was told at the end of 11th grade that I didn’t have a vocation and that I should go home. A big part of me was really relieved, I had given God the first chance, and I was finally in the clear.
When I returned home, my parents were shocked. I had lost well over 20lbs and my face had a gaunt and drawn look to it. I was almost immediately hospitalized under the suspicion of an eating disorder, I tried to explain to them that I didn’t have a problem with body image, I simply wasn’t hungry. After changing my medication and my lifestyle I slowly began to return to a healthy weight. I expressed a desire to be a coworker once I finished high school and I spoke with my 3gf Spiritual Director about the possibility.
Every time I asked my spiritual director about the coworker program, I received a very evasive answer: “well we have to wait and ask the directors”. Slowly the deadline for the program passed and I still hadn’t received an answer, it was suggested that I should go see a counselor. Given my history with the Precandidacy and my difficulties adjusting to “normal life”, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I was diagnosed with depression with clusters of social anxiety and symptoms of OCD. I firmly believe that many of these mental health problems are a direct result of my time in the PC and the very psychologically oppressive system that I lived with.
When it became apparent that I would not be allowed to enter the coworker program, my depression became all-consuming and I turned my anger on God. After years of being told that the Precandidacy and the consecrated life were the highest vocation anyone could aspire to, I felt that I was inadequate in the eyes of God. If I wasn’t good enough to be a PC or even a coworker, how could I be worthy of God’s love? I had screwed up, big time.
When the PC discussion board opened, I realized I had blocked out 75% of my memories associated with the PC, so I’ve been tearing through my journals, memos, practical exams and assorted paraphernalia (yes, I’ve been toting around an enormous amount of PC stuff for almost 10 years) in order to figure out exactly what happened to me during this period of time. What I discovered was both sad and revealing. I found a journal entry that summed up my post-PC thoughts perfectly “Why do you hate me God? You don’t want me as a precandidate, a consecrated or even as a coworker. Why do you keep rejecting me? Do you love me? Why don’t you just kill me off and then you won’t have to keep toying with my life. I hate myself. Do you hear me? I HATE ME!!” The amount of self-loathing and despair was astounding. The system of RC was so preoccupied with fixing all of our little imperfections so that when I felt that I couldn’t measure up to the standard of RC perfection, I gave up.
I was unable to differentiate between Regnum Christi and God, in my mind they were one in the same. Frankly, I was suicidal. I was unable to relax among my peers and I turned to alcohol and drugs to take the edge off of my social anxiety and depression. I was also highly unprepared to deal with both relationships and attention from the opposite sex. Sex ed was almost nonexistent at the PC and was not geared towards those who would not be pursuing a vocation as a consecrated woman. The Catholic Church has such a beautiful view towards the vocation of women and sex and to not educate hundreds of young women about these truths was a grave disservice. I made every single stupid choice with the full knowledge that it was extraordinarily harmful to me and I felt that I deserved every single minute of misery. While I was a PC there were many whispered conversations (spoken under the guise of charity of course) that “so and so had left the PC and now she desperately needed our prayers because she was partying, pregnant, etc.” Faced with the rejection of RC and God and buried under a mountain of guilt, I had turned into “that ex-pc” and I felt more lost and alone than ever.
Despite my outright defiance and anger towards God, He never deserted me. While I never made an overt attempt on my life, I was living an incredibly risky lifestyle and a very large part of me hoped that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. If couldn’t be worthy of God, I couldn’t be worthy of happiness much less life. At the age of 19 I found myself pregnant with my oldest daughter. While I was exceptionally shocked and frightened about the turn my life had taken, I was profoundly grateful. Through the haze of my overwhelming depression I recognized that God was giving me a second chance at life by giving me this huge responsibility for a new life. I named my daughter Eliana which means God has answered my prayer. I knew that my daughter was the answer to the prayer I didn’t even know I was praying.
My journey has been incredible and no one can ever accuse me of living me a boring life. I am sharing these details of my life in the hopes that what I experienced can help others who may find themselves in a similar situation. I also firmly believe that the system that was put in place by Maciel is deeply flawed and psychologically damaging. As a direct result of my time in the Precandidacy I lost my faith for over 8 years and I only recently began to live my life as a practicing Catholic. I’ve suffered from strange nightmares about being trapped at the PC where I’ve been handed schedules, pushed into Spiritual Direction, being told to smile and cover up my sadness, etc. It is my hope that our stories will be heard by those who are recovering from their time in RC and those who are attempting to reform it with the guidance of the Vatican.
While it may be argued that my experience is dated because I left the school in 2001, I believe the dangers of the Precandidacy are far more than just “the schedule was too strict” or “we spent too much time in silence.” The schedule, silence, and strict dress codes were merely symptoms of a very damaging systemic problem. The very foundation of RC is based on deceit and manipulation by a very evil man, those who have lived through “Maciel’s Reign” will have a very difficult time rooting out these very hidden yet flawed thinking patterns. It has come to the attention of the former Precandidates that RC is still actively recruiting to the Precandidacy. Not only does this seem to be a sign that the culture of Maciel and his doctrine of recruitment is alive and flourishing, but it is grossly unfair to the prospective Precandidates. From what I understand the consecrated have made many changes to the PC program, they have more free time, they interact with the outside world a bit more, and they have “formation dialogue” instead of spiritual direction, etc. I’ve spoken with one of the consecrated who is still involved with the PC program and she seemed very saddened about the negative effects that I suffered.
However neither RC nor the Precandidacy has publicly acknowledged the very damaging effects that hundreds of girls have suffered. The Vatican has urged the Legion and Regnum Christi to throw off the mantle of secrecy and lies that they have been practicing for so many years and to adapt an attitude of transparency. In order to heal from the past, the Precandidacy needs to recognize their flaws and attempt to make amends for them.
Continuing to recruit minors is irresponsible until Regnum Christi has completed their process of reform. If a house is suffering from crumbling foundations, doesn’t it make sense to repair and rebuild the foundation before inviting new members to live in that house? It is my sincere hope that many people will hear the voices of the former Precandidates and that Regnum Christi will take the appropriate action for the sakes of the current and prospective Precandidates.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.