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.