Sheila’s Story, Part X
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.
The next year and a half I spent going through my old experiences and actually letting myself question and doubt them. I had, in the past, googled “Legionaries of Christ” to try to find my favorite meditation pages… only to find that several of the top ten links were anti-Legion websites. At the time I had been horrified to find out that “we had so many enemies.” It seemed then that it would be a sin of doubt to click on those links. But now, with RC no longer having any hold on me, I went back and found all those sites. I read testimony after testimony on the various forums I found. And it all made so much sense. Every negative experience I had had wasn’t an isolated problem, or a problem with me. It was an institutional problem, happening over and over to various people. Former consecrated told of physical and mental breakdowns they’d had, after years of being driven to the breaking point, and how the second they were no longer able to work, they were sent home and told “you do not have a vocation.” Years and even decades of their lives were gone, with nothing to show for it … not even a hundred dollars to find a place to stay while they looked for a job. Former legionary priests told worse stories, stories of physical and sexual abuse … things I never would have believed before, but told with such simple straightforwardness I felt inclined to trust what they said. Many, many of these people had left the priesthood and their faith.
I joined the forums and started to admit, quietly, in bits and pieces, that I had been mistreated in various ways too. Before I had thought of everything as “just being really strict,” but I began to see that the way I was treated was a methodical attempt to “form” me in the Regnum Christi way. I also saw that this method of formation had been really damaging, and not respectful of me as a person. True, no one had ever laid a hand on me. But they hadn’t had to. They manipulated me through the rationing of emotional comfort — lots of “love-bombing” in the summer program, isolation from my companions, dependence on one spiritual director for any approval or consolation, and having that one person tear me down mercilessly if I failed to fit the mold they had planned for me. And this is what they did to everyone. They methodically deconstructed our personalities in order to build a new thing, the “Woman of the Kingdom.” And if, after having destroyed us, they found we were not fit material for what they wanted to build, they tossed us out, broken. And every bit of it was just so that a Mexican philanderer could surround himself with the sort of people who would raise money and wouldn’t ask questions.
Facing this reality was very hard for me. I looked at what I had been before going in — happy-go-lucky, vivacious, outgoing — and at what I was now: indecisive, a little shy, waiting for others to tell me what I was supposed to be, do, and think. I didn’t want to change this much! I wanted to shout. But I didn’t know how to go back to what I had been before, especially because I didn’t want to go back to being thirteen. I had missed a normal adolescence, and had developed in a totally different direction than I probably would have otherwise. And yet, for better or for worse, it hadmade me into the person I was. Did I really want to change that?
At this time, John and I were engaged, and I felt I really had to sort through all this before getting married. Our engagement was rough. I was terrified that maybe I wasn’t myself, that John had fallen for someone who wasn’t really me, and that maybe we would be miserable together once I got in touch with my “real self.” I was scared he would boss me around like my formators had, try to make me into something else, and I would go along with it because I no longer had the sort of boundaries that would keep that from happening. Every time he made the slightest criticism of me or gave me any advice, I would fall to pieces because I felt like I was back in high school … powerless, incapable of answering back.
A few things helped me through. One of them was finding, through Facebook, a girl I had very much liked and looked up to back in the day. We made a phone date, and ended up talking for hours. She was able to help me revise so many of my memories. I would tell her, “I was sure you all looked down on me,” and she could answer, “No, we all liked you a lot! We just wondered why the consecrated picked on you so much, because it was obvious you were sweet and were trying so hard.” Or I would say, “I was so lonely, I thought no one cared,” and she would say, “I tried so hard to keep you from feeling that way. I would make your bed and bring up your laundry for you, because I knew you were feeling sad.” That was incredibly healing.
The other thing was the ex-legionary forum I had discovered. I spent a ton of time on it, reading the stories, sharing my own. No one around me understood my obsession. They felt it was unhealthy and that I should just get over it. But I felt a deep need to really pick my experience to pieces, to let myself be angry about it, to find out the reasons for things. I went into a very dark place for awhile, but awhile before my wedding, I did pull out of it again, feeling much better than I had in years. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. But I was okay with figuring that out one bit at a time.
Sadly, the forum was shut down around that time. They had posted excerpts from the Legionary statutes, which were secret and not released to anyone outside the order. (And for good reason. A reading of the statutes would turn anyone off of joining.) The Legion sued to prevent them from releasing the “confidential” material, and the forum didn’t have the money to survive in court against them. I feel fortunate that I was able to learn all I did from it when I did. Many of my old companions had no one to talk to about their experiences until we started our Facebook group two months ago.
Currently, the Legion and Regnum Christi are undergoing a visitation by the Vatican to determine what steps need to be taken to reform them. Many have left, but many still remain inside, convinced that they will be able to remove from their organization everything that Maciel put into it. I myself have my doubts. For one thing, how do you reform something that is rotten to the core, that only existed as a cover for a sociopath? And for another, the voices I’m hearing from inside still sound like the voices from the past. No one wants to speak up, to say anything remotely negative, to admit to the bad. They just want to be done with this reform so they can get back to work … whatever their work is to be. I can hardly blame them. They’ve been “formed” just like I was, to ignore criticism, to speak positively, to keep their eyes facing forward, to squash all doubts. They’re insulted if you call it brainwashing, but having undergone it, I think that’s pretty much what it is. On top of all this, the leadership, apart from Maciel, hasn’t changed. The same people are in charge as always were. And if you believe that Maciel abused at least 20 boys, kept two mistresses, and made off with millions in donation money without anyone ever finding out about it or helping cover it up … well, I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.
My opinion is simple: I want to see the Legion and Regnum Christi disappear. It doesn’t have to be overnight. Have them stop accepting new vocations, and shut down their schools. Give them work to do in the parishes, supervised by others outside the movement. Remove the current leadership and replace it with someone from outside. Allow anyone who wants to, to leave and join a new order. In a few decades, it will have died out. Without the patina of being the “perfect Catholic order” with no sinners and no flaws, it isn’t going to attract so many people or so much money anyway.
Of course the Vatican has not asked for my opinion. They’re keeping their cards close to the chest for now, and we’ll see what happens. I hope they make the right call and do not allow this movement to lead anyone else astray.
But as for me — I’m enjoying life as a plain old Catholic, trying to re-learn how to pray, and loving the vocation that I’m in. Being a mother has healed me in so many ways. I no longer get too upset about my past. It was what it was, it made me who I am today, but it doesn’t predict who I will be tomorrow. That is of my own choosing. I am free now.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.