Effects of Involvement with Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi on Cradle Faith: Questions for Pope Francis, LC Leadership and Catholic Bishops
Presentation at the International Cultic Studies Association Annual International Conference, Stockholm, July 2015
By John Paul Lennon, MA, STL & Aura Bethancourt-Lennon
The author’s experience[i], plus contacts with hundreds of other former members of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi by email, phone and/or in person, led him to believe that involvement with this Movement affected one’s cradle faith. “Cradle faith” being simply defined as the faith one is born into and raised in. It is now common knowledge that former members of this group, erstwhile devout Catholics, on leaving the LC/RC no longer considered themselves Catholics, or even Christians. Some even consider themselves agnostics and atheists. How did involvement with this bona fide Catholic Movement have such a deleterious defect? Further reflection modified that initial a priori hypothesis. There appeared to be a need to find facts and explore this area with the help of a survey.
The experiment would be based on the following rationale: on entering the organization all candidates are devout Catholics. After “walking away” or been “thrown away not all are devout Catholics. How would they describe themselves today? The experiment was designed to solicit feedback from former members visiting a webpage, http://www.regainnetwork.org, for former members and their families.
A member is recruited and belongs to the group for x number of years. He may leave after a certain amount of time, either as a throw-away or as a walk away. Each member experiences his recruitment/joining, belonging as a member and leaving in a personal way. The stages could be hypothesized as follows:
Pre-entry into the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi, it is assumed that the member is in full “communion” with the Catholic Church. Firm and unshaken belief in the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired religious institution; veneration and trust in the clergy (priests, bishops, pope)
- Involvement as a fully observant lay member, abiding by marriage and birth control laws, etc.
- A regular Mass goer who receives Communion (Sacrament of the Eucharist), “goes to confession” (Sacrament of Penance) at least once a year and “contributes to the support of his/her pastors.”
Membership in LC/RC
- All of the above, plus
- Involvement in the Church as a minister, religious or committed lay member of RC
Post exit from the LC/RC Movement some members are unscathed, “keeping their faith intact” while others have left or renounced full communion with the Catholic Church in varying degrees
- Full communion with institutional Catholic Church as in Pre-Entry and good relationship with LC/RC
- Full Communion with Catholic Church but lost faith in the LC/RC organization with an attitude of
- Partial communion with the Catholic Church
- Leaves the ministry and/or religious life.
- No longer fully observant lay member.
- No longer a “practicing Catholic” but does not reject the notion that the Catholic Church is divinely inspired.
- Occasional Mass goer; rarely, if ever “goes to confession”; contributes little, if any, to the support of the ministers, the institution and its works (Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, etc.)
- May not be “married by the Church,” nor heed Church birth control laws
- May not baptize his/her children ‘in the faith.’
- Lost faith in the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired religious institution; lost veneration for and trust in the clergy (priests, bishops, pope)
- Retains partial communion with the Church (some residual attraction to Church such as family tradition, liturgy, sacred music, etc.)
- Joins other Christian community
- Joins other major religion
- Declares him/herself agnostic or atheist
The medium to be used would be the ReGAIN webpage which has a steady stream of former members. The author assumed -not a very scientific attitude but common sense- that some or many of the visitors to the site -which constantly questions the official version of the Legion and the Regnum- would be among the more “disenchanted” Catholics, that their responses could tend to be
“negative” and that some kind of a balancing measure might need to be applied.
A total of 78 valid responses were delivered. Of these only 41 had been former members of the LC/RC; and of these 4 were currently active members. Responses described visitors’ current relationship with the LC/RC in the following way:
Relationship with the LC/RC:
- Average/Non important 13/41
- Poor/Negative 21/41
- Angry/they hurt me 1
- I hate them 2
- Positive 3
- As good as could be 1
Relationship with the Catholic Church:
- Fully Practicing 24/41
- Partially Practicing 8
- No longer a Catholic 8
- * Incomplete response 1
Relationship with the LC/RC: “Average/Non important” answers indicate that a significant number of respondents have “taken the experience in their stride.” This could also indicate that former members have chosen not to dwell on their experience and have chosen to “get on with their lives.” But it is significant that 21 state unambiguously that they have a negative relationship/attitude toward the group they initially joined so enthusiastically and generously.
Recently a Spanish language blog called Legioleaks [ii] was launched on Facebook in which many of the contributing 120 disaffected former members vent their frustration, criticism and anger at their alma mater. While one might wonder “Why are you so angry?”, this begs the flip question “What has the institute done to make these young men so angry?”
In fact, only 3 respondents on the ReGAIN survey described his/her attitude as angry or hating. Therefore, criticisms on the blog may help interpret the finds of our survey and discover some of the flaws in the Movement’s system.
Results of “Relationship with the Catholic Church” could be considered surprising; in the sense that 24 of 41 described themselves as fully practicing Catholics, thus indicating that the respondents cannot be dismissed as “disgruntled ex-members”. Real cause for concern stems from 8/41 considering themselves partially practicing Catholics and another 8/41 saying they are no longer Catholic; in common parlance this means that one out of four “have left the Church.”
Catholic bishops may want to consider this result when they allow the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi to recruit in their dioceses.
Questions for LC/RC leadership
A study of the results prompts the author to raise some questions for consideration by the LC/RC Movement’s leadership:
- Whether there exist elements in the Movement’s training (formation) that tend to alienate or otherwise hurt the members, producing in them feelings of rejection, anger and resentment toward their alma mater upon leaving.
- Whether such flaws in the Movement’s training system are serious enough to cause exiting members to alienate not only from the Movement but also from the Catholic Church.
- Whether the Movement needs to refine its screening process for recruits and its evaluation of new candidates.
- Posters in Legioleaks point out the need for a deeper process of discernment of the religious vocation. The writer presented a pater at the I.C.S.A annual conference in Stockholm, 2015, warning about the dangers of undue influence and foreclosure, i.e. premature commitment to the religious calling[iii].
- Posters in Legioleaks return time and again to the fact that their religious vocation appeared to be a forgone conclusion once they entered the group, prompting the question: Whether the Movement prepares the members for the possibility/option of exiting the organization.
- Whether the members are given the necessary instruments for handling departure and transitioning to a new life outside the Movement.
- Whether departing members have access to their legal documents, academic degrees and a minimum of job training.
- And if the member decides to leave, whether the Movement has -and implements- concrete guidelines to help the departing member leave in a healthy, positive and constructive way.
These results beg comparative studies regarding how other religious orders fare with former members.
on reflection, it would appear that one important factor which was not taken into account in the survey was “for how long” the person had been a member of the group. A priori, this would seem an important element as, if it were assumed that the effects were negative, the damaging effects would possibly grow and worsen over time. Related to this factor would be “at what age did you join”, again with the assumption that earlier exposure could cause more deleterious effects.
Fr. Maciel’s sexual abuse victims:
When cultic abuse is compounded by sexual abuse, the impact on the faith of the victim would appear to increase exponentially. The eight Maciel former seminarians who brought their case to the media and to Vatican authorities feel alienated from Catholic authorities. The spectrum of the survivors’ “faith” –or lack thereof- is very wide and in general terms goes from atheism, through total alienation from the Catholic Church, to minimal participation in the Church. With the exception of Fr. Alarcon, a retired priest, none of Fr. Maciel’s Legion of Christ seminary victims, Senores Barba, Vaca, Jurado, Barrales, the brothers Olvera, Espinosa would consider himself a “fully practicing Catholic.”
[i] Described in detail in Our Father Maciel who art in bed, a Naïve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ, the exiting was long and tortuous. Each one ‘struggles’ with is religious question, and with the whole recovery task, in his own individual way.
[ii] https://www.facebook.com/groups/623513181133578/ Currently with over 1,000 members.
6 thoughts on “Effects of Involvement with Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi on Cradle Faith: Questions for Pope Francis, LC Leadership and Catholic Bishops”
It is hardly surprising if some of those who have walked away in disgust/disillusionment from the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christ, have also chosen to leave the Catholic Church. You see there are three levels to the scandal:
Level 1: Maciel was a criminally wicked and abusive fraudster.
Level 2: Senior people in the Legion knew what Maciel was up to but chose to keep quiet about it. (For example, although Maciel’s mistress and daughter were at his deathbed alongside senior members of the Legion, they announced on the website that “Maciel had gone to heaven” when he died, and they kept quiet about his illegitimate offspring for another year).
Level 3: The Vatican was astoundingly slow and weak in its response both to the initial allegations against Maciel and later to the evidence against him. (This reluctance to act against Maciel goes right back to the 1950s, but was probably at its most unforgiveable during and after the years of Pope John Paul II. By this time there were was a significant amount of evidence against Maciel, but he was close to Wojtyła, and no whiff of scandal would be allowed to compromise the reputation of the Polish Pope!)
It is surely the culpability of senior people in the Church in failing to deal properly with the scandal – what I have called level 3 – that explains why many of those who became disillusioned with LC/RC also became disillusioned with the Church as a whole. The Church is nothing if it does not have moral authority (as Pope Francis himself acknowledged in his September 2013 La Civiltà Cattolica interview when he talked of the danger that “the moral edifice of the church [could] fall like a house of cards”). Yet one can fully understand those who were so badly duped by Maciel and his minions thinking that the Church’s pathetically weak response deprived it utterly of credible moral authority.
In my earlier post I explained why I thought it completely understandable that many of those who walked away from LC/RC should also walk away from the Catholic Church. But having said that, I do also feel the need to urge caution regarding the statistical basis of the survey undertaken. In order for any study like this to be seen as valid and reliable the behaviour of the people being studied needs to be compared with that of a ‘control group’. Actually, in order to test the effect of involvement with LC/RC on “cradle faith” you would need two control groups. One would consist of those who have left other movements/orders within the Church, and the other would consist of cradle Catholics who have never joined a movement within the church. You see many people who had nothing to do with LC/RC have also walked away from the Church – as I did about 40 years ago. I was never a member of a movement (although I did have a brief close encounter with ‘Focolare’) but I am definitely in the category of: “Lost faith in the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired religious institution; lost veneration for and trust in the clergy (priests, bishops, pope)”. And of course the way the Church has handled the whole Maciel/LC/RC affair reinforces my view that any “faith in” or “veneration for” the Church would be utterly misplaced.
Terry, much appreciate positive criticism pointing out scientific weakness of study.
Terry, thanks so much for your supportive and additional comments.
Aren’t we really asked, in the above, if we consider that the church is ‘the’ divinely inspired religon rather than “a” divinely inspired relgion?.
I lost the faith i had in the church all of it, and it was a considerable chunk of faith except that what i had has become mixed with simply liking christianity not just catholic christianity, much as my faith was not total.I lost quite enough for the legion to have been put to shame if such people were not so good at excuses. I would not have lost my faith in the church if I had not met legionaires and members of other sects. I did n=however hold faith in lots of other religons at the same time that doe snot lessen the fact that the part of that mix that hwas cahtolic got totally wipped out.
I never knew that believing the church was divinely inspired was a absolute requisite of the church, i just felt that my religon inspired me to saintlyness and that that was the important part of it,
Also the direction in which my devotion took me changed with time so how to talk of it in anyway but but very lengthily and talking babout things lengthily is something a good manipulator does not allow,.I was a catholic whose effort to be with the lonely got ever stronger but whose absolute adherence to every bit of church belief had lessened. FOr me not wanting homosexuals to practice their sexuality is terrible.
For Rome then the question has become, she came to absolutely despise us when before she liked us though she was did not have what Rome calls an orthodox vision of her religion. legionaires among other street recruiters made me despise the church. The legion damages the church even though mayb ethe people who leave it because of them were not orthodox.
This use of a subject that is a, hard to prove psychic reality, peoples degree of devotion and which is also one they can be made to feel insecure about their own selves about and which is changing so that you can pick the moment in the person whose faith is being questioned life that most suits the arguer, is the sort of reality about peoples and ideas that allows the legion to tie people into knots.
This splitting hairs over changing realities is one of their manipulation methods and it is their manipulation methods that people need to avoid. It is how a manipulater has tied somone into knots whIch a good fighter should learn to teach the inexperienced so that they become able to defend themselves, become able to teach the moves necessary for combating them.
A legionnaire asked me to fight but in general, as in just fight, I had not a clue how to fight, the result was painful.
I think catholics ask they are recruiting people to fight imagining that these will then fight for the church, imagining their verbal tricks will pull these people onto their side.
. A kind person helps people to fight instead of just suggesting they have to learn to defend good without teaching fighting methods. Their manipulation methods which deal in creating confusion are what i want to write about because peopl e who understand t hem will be able to defend themselves against them more easily. .
The reason they try to make people feel their devotion insufficient seems to me to be very ugly, seems to me to be because because they like to use guilt to get more money or work out of people, which nasty shoving around of others through the pain of guilt they excuse because they say Christian work is so important that what any method is good if it gets money, work or what they consider the necessary degree o f Catholicism which is absolutely grovelling, enough devotion out of people.
What does it matter if they cause people suffering in order to manipulate them if they are manipulating them for the holy ghosts sake. So they are awfully good at rubbing away at people using things that are not concrete, quantity of faith, real love, how can anyone describe what that it is, as there is no absolute about love and as their exists tough loving as well as the kinder sort and the more so if they are faced by people who always find a way to make rubbish of other peoples idea of love.
With such un-concrete subjects there is always a possibility that people can be made to feel their idea of love or friendship or faith was not real at all because who knows what is really real love or friendship?
. There are lots of such emotional realities that are hard to pinpoint that they can use to confuse the less good at managing bullies.
If you read about the Opus Dei on hte opus dei awareness network opus libros, you could not help but understand that people who left he Opus Dei did it because the poor grade of friendship between members They could take the work for Christ and the poor, but not the nasty friendships which seemed to have served the purpose of spying on each other not of loving each other. These friendships seemed to them unchristian.The opus dei’s answer was to tell them that hey had left because they could not take the quantity of work asked of them in the opus dei.
So, devotee to Catholicism as I ever was, my devotion would not have been easy to argue with such as legionnaires I would not have satisified Rome’s demands, they would have found some count I failed on.
Should I have believe the church divinely inspired?, The trouble with that is that I believed all religions divinely inspired .
As a child I always heard adults explaining that christianity was best because much kinder than being a Mayan say and that is what stuck with me as the most important requisite for preferring one religion to another. I could see that all religions thought they were divinely inspired and i believe in a good God who would try to inspire all humans in the world, not just one section of the world. A God who would inspire them but who would not forget how long it takes communities to become kinder on the executing criminals front say.
A rub with street recruiters from different parts of Catholicism and later on from one who admitted to me she was a legionnaire though she wont come out publicly about it, A rub with this sort of catholic has made me feel that Catholicism was a heartless and old fashioned religion. After all, those who vote for the right have to be considered heartless, as do those who blacken other religions, so reducing understanding and kindness towards people of other cultures, as do so many things I learnt from street recruiters. I have met many catholics, four i think it is and my acquaintances are not very numerous, who said that the holocaust was alright, How can I be part of a religion whose members see the holocaust as alright,that is to say enough members for me to think that the church had not talked as it should on the subject and legionair I know talks as if the legion all of them feel the holocaust is all right.
For me devoteness had much more to do with a covert but extreme desire to help people, to talk to the lonely, more than to help the poor. I feel the spread of the wellfare state is what helps the poor. My feeling of my own devoteness did not come from feeling the church was divinely inspired.I have always liked rationality much to well for that, it came from the many scrifices i made for the lonely and desenfranchised and to talk to the wicked which i saw as good for them. I believed that wickedness came from having been ignored at some time. I have though come to think it comes from being taught to be rough. legionaires absolutely denty the possibbility that a aperson who doe snot follow their ideas has done anythign to help others.
My kindness got interpreted as garrulity. Manipulation again! Or, you say you are being kind in order to ehlp you flag bare for your good projects or your kindness can be taken as a desire to get on with others to serve your own purposes though your friends be the old or people iwho are ill and such.. I never wanted people to realise that kindness was part of my effort at friendship, it is a bit cruel to say as much.
The evil desire of catholics to find bad motives for the best and most, trying,to me of my acts was a reason among many to think them cruel. As was their efforts to pin things on me without telling me what evidence they had for such evil thoughts. What person can defend themselves from a charge of crime if they dont know at what time the crime took place, what year, prehaps with which boys say. You cant ring up friends who knew what you were doing at that time in order to establish your innocence if you dont know what accusers are talking of. They terrified me.It seems that they could hang anythign on me and i had not way to defend myself. Their accusations were always underhand and by way of indirectr comments.
It seems to me that the charicterisitcs mentioned in the above bit of writing that try to determine that some people who left the church were not real catholics have been designed in order to pretend the legion did nothing wrong. In order to disqualify anyone who has left he church from being considered as true members of the church before their leaving it.
For me no member of the Vatican is a true member of the church. They have allowed things that would make Jesus furious. If only it were just people selling goods in the temple, it has been much worse things than that. Anyone can disqualify others, as true members of the faith. The vatican have not just done something like not being quite sure if the church is divinely inspired, they have done really terrible things.
The Vatican are not followers of Jesus, they have absolutely turned the church into the home of those who follow the ideas of the inquisition, the home of those whose main occupation is trying to find out if people have absolutely good enough faith, while their requirements for such are unrealistic and then punishing those who don’t fulfil their standards when these are difficult to establish.
There is a story of F. Scot Fitzgerald’s in which a child is worried about some sin he has committed, I suppose it had to do with blasphemy, swear words, because the priest’s answer to him was, that it is only in the case that someone has true faith, type a saint who has a total understanding of the nature of God, that any sort of denial of God is a mortal sin. As in, if you have had a revelation that leaves you in no doubt that God is a reality, so that if you deny God you are you really denying what you know to be true.
Would not true faith in Catholicism come under the same banner, as this belief in God, be something that you polish up with years till it becomes something more complete if you are a catholic rather than being something you have to have perfected in order to call yourself catholic. .
It seems that in the first part of the last century theology was such as gave a novelists a more thorough understanding of deep and complex matters than the Vatican have today, who spend their time trying to twist theology around in order to help them to call others no good Catholics.
I have learnt to have a complete disdain for the churches thinkers and preachers. all they seem to be good at is arguing things both ways so as to be able to say what suits them at any given moment.
A true understanding of God is something I was taught that the saintliest of saints strive to deepen all their lives and cannot hope to totally gain, so asking more ordinary Catholics to have it as proof of their real true Catholicness, not to strive for it but to have attained it, is asking them to be as Christ was after his time in the desert, when he becomes one with the father. It is not a reasonable request.
I found when i came into contact with street recruiters, that if i thought of God as I did indeed used to do at that time then I seemed to be encouraging street recruiters and so I gave up thinking of God and to my immense surprise found i was happy enough without him or without thinking of him. I had long before incorporated thought of him into my whole way of being. That is the sort of statement that legionnaires would simply deny and what can you do about people who simply deny things? I find such people make me tremendously frustrated, there is nothign you can do about them.
Mind you, I was maybe just a kind person who would have taken any kind hero as a model with or without a God to back them up or to persuade me to like such.If i remember right Saint Teresa of Avila who said you have to act as you see right, without aiming for heaven or fearing hell. The Dalai Lama thinks kindness is innate to people but that life gets confusing and makes people turn to less nice ways of trying to win through. I stopped thinking of God because of street recruiters but i never wanted to stop doing good. So, the street recruiters truly turned me away from religion,
They also made me afraid to think of Buddha.for like reasons, I did not want to incite them to attack me.
I once liked the story of the head mistress of my school, a nun who said there was a sect of Jews who referred every thought they had to God. If i remember right the hero in the film, “Fiddler on the Roof”, did that and so that was one aim of mine at one stage of my life, it was a thing I strove to do and did for a good while. .
One particular cruel trick of a street recruiter I knew, was to get me to leave Buddhism looking wrong myself. They get to know you well enough to lead you into conversations which get you yourself criticising the calm which stops people from being active, say, and in some way that makes Buddhism look stupid. Sometimes you realise that you yourself have criticised or seemed to criticise Buddhism as the conversation draws to a close and sometimes it was when I reviewed my conversation later in the day that I realised that I myself had made Buddhism look silly without meaning to.This made me squirm with pain. I thought, Jesus said Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed, Peter must have felt like this when the cock crew.
Leading your victim to argue the point of view of the recruiter, leading the person being indoctrinated down the path of a particular argument and leaving them at the end of it, before they could talk of the ifs and buts to that argument, always seemed to me a tremendously clever thing to do. I never got over my amazement and admiration, at least for the cleverness of the trick not for the moral beauty of the ability some had at this form of arguing. I was sure I would never learn to do it and so far I have not.
Using this way of arguing entails stopping the person they are indoctrinating from giving too many replies, from going further with their argument than the person indoctrinating needs them to go.
This is done by the recruiter asking to be allowed to have their say and so stopping you going on.
More simply and for the very sensitive also effective, they simply yawn which stops those who are reluctant to bore people from going on.
Another way to stop such as me talking is by shouting to drown me out or insulting me, so I or the person being indoctrinated stops to lick my wounds instead of going on with the argument.
Getting round such methods of shutting me up is what I call street fighting. In street fighting you have to learn to bore people and make them listen to you when they want to talk or they will stop you talking. It is not a question of arguing with more justice than them but of knowing how to make them hear you out. I learnt to shout them out back, which made my Buddhist, Yogi training training look stupid. I looked like a fish wife. I resent being forced to look so unable to keep my calm.
They talk with scorn of those who don’t express their own beliefs while being excellent at stopping people from having a chance to. Dirty trick.
They let you talk of frivolous things so that you can’t accuse them of not letting you talk ever but stop you if you talk of anything serious. Another dirty trick. This is not argument it is manipulation.
I feel that they were very unkind for using such hurtful methods to try to bring me round. Feeling they perfered unkind methods of course undermined my belief in Catholicism. I don’t expect the followers of Christ to be as unkind as they can. Of course the followers of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who said that heretics should be killed, would have no trouble with unkindness.