What Every Parent Should Know about the Legionaries of Christ

Parents are sometimes surprised by a child’s sudden interest and devotion to the Legionaries of Christ, an organization which all too often the parents know absolutely nothing about. Though bewildered, such parents often take comfort in the fact the legion is an established religious congregation, officially recognized and sanctioned by the Catholic Church, one which prides itself on its declared devotion to the pope and its purportedly close ties to John Paul II. For any parent who wishes to have an ongoing relationship with his or her child, however, there is real reason for concern. With the possible exception of Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ is like no other order of priests within the Catholic Church. Therefore, before your son or daughter runs off to join the legionaries, there are several things that you as a parent should know.

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Family Before Apostolate… Activism Begins at Home

Along with Jacqueline, her husband, Keith, and Fr. Phil, a priest who happened to be one of our mutual friends from canon law school, I found myself savouring the country buffet. Months had passed since the four of us had last gathered for some fun and fellowship. The conversation was not as heavy as what some might expect from three canonists and a catechist. From The Lumberjack Games and smoked barbeque to Belgian Trappist ale and the subtlety with which The Wiggles promotes a Catholic worldview, we all bantered back and forth, laughing and arguing between mouthfuls of country fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and boiled turnip greens.

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Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: An ICSA Seminar for Families and Former Members in Orlando Florida May 17-19

The International Cultic Studies Association (I.C.S.A.) is hosting a three day seminar for anyone who is leaving or recovering from a high demand (cult) group. The seminar will take place in Orlando on May 17 to May 19, with some excellent and knowledgeable speakers.

Space is limited at the ICSA event for families and former group
members in Orlando, Florida (May 17-19, 2013).

Please register now and/or tell others who might be interested in the

Questions or more information, contact ICSA: mail@icsamail.com;


Flyer with information and fax-mail registration: http://icsahome.com/pdf/event_florida.pdf
Online registration: http://icsahome.com/infoserv_respond/event_regproducts.asp
Contact ICSA directly: mail@icsamail.com; PH: 1-239-514-3081; FAX:


Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Seminar
for Families and Former Members


Friday 3:00 p.m. May 17, 2013 to Sunday 3:00 p.m. May 19, 2013


Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center, 1601 Alafaya Trail, Oviedo
[Orlando], FL 32765 (407-365-5571)


This seminar brings together family members and former members so that
each group can benefit from the perspectives of the other. In order to
promote participation by attendees, the seminar will consist of brief
30 minute lectures followed by an hour of discussion on topics such
as the following:


    Overview of joining, leaving, and recovery


    – Why people leave groups


    – Recovery needs of former members


    – Trance and triggers


    – Trauma and recovery


    – Building relationships


    – Breakouts for families, former members


    – Evening films followed by discussion


    All rates are per person and INCLUDE ACCOMMODATIONS AND MEALS from


    Friday dinner through Sunday lunch.


    Double Occupancy – $300


    Single Occupancy – $350


    Current ICSA members and their immediate family may deduct $25 from




    Ron Burks, PhD, holds an MDiv. and an MA in counseling from Asbury


    Theological Seminary and a Ph. D. in Counselor Education from Ohio


    University. He worked for many years at Wellspring Retreat and


    Resource Center in Albany, OH. He and his wife Vicki wrote, Damaged


    Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding


    Movement, published by Zondervan. He and Vicki now live near


    Tallahassee Florida where both are licensed mental health counselors.


    Ron now serves as president of the board of Wellspring and the


    clinical advisory board of Meadowhaven.


    Carol Giambalvo is on ICSA’s Board of Directors and is Director of


    ICSA’s Recovery Programs. She is cofounder of reFOCUS, a national


    support network for former cult members. A former cult member, she is


    author of Exit Counseling: A Family Intervention, co-editor of The


    Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the International Churches


    of Christ, and co-author of

Ethical Standards for Thought Reform

Susan Groulx is a former member of the Tony Alamo Ministries, an
aberrant religious group that has been around since the early days of
the Jesus Movement. She is dedicated to helping individuals who have
been adversely affected by this destructive cult and was involved in
bringing polygamist leader, Tony Alamo, to justice for his crimes
against women and children. She is pursuing a degree in Counseling
and Human Services.

Michael D. Langone, PhD, a counseling psychologist, has been consulted
by several hundred former cult members and/or their families. His
many publications include Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of
Psychological and Spiritual Abuse and Cults: What Parents Should
Know. Dr. Langone is ICSA’s Executive Director and ICSA Today’s Editor-
in- Chief

Judy Pardon, MEd, has been a teacher and a counselor. Since 1992 she
has been Associate Director of the New England Institute of Religious
Research and Meadowhaven, where she has worked with former cult
members, including some who have experienced profound trauma. She has
also spoken widely on the subject and conducted training programs for
human service personnel.

Robert Pardon, MDiv, ThM, is the Executive Director of the New England
Institute of Religious Research and MeadowHaven. He has specialized in
Bible-based communal groups. Much of his work involves counseling,
support groups, working with those born and/or raised in groups, and
helping former members rebuild their lives. To facilitate the recovery
process MeadowHaven, a long term rehabilitation facility, was opened
in 2002. It can accommodate individuals or families who require long
term (up to a year) care to recover from trauma and cult abuse.


ConQuest and Challenge Clubs

Youth programs of the Legionaries of Christ are operated by an organization called ECYD. Although the Legion has claimed on its English language websites that this stands for Education, Culture and Youth Development, its initials were actually derived from Spanish and stand for Educacion Cultura y Deporte (Education, Culture and Sport). ECYD operates a series of clubs and activities for youths which are staffed by Regnum Christi members. It has been described as a sort of Regnum Christi for children with similar forms of spiritual guidance and a similarly heavy emphasis on recruitment. For example, by statute, each club is to have a person on staff in charge recruitment. Like Regnum Christi, it is both an organization which actively runs religious programs as well as an organization which one can join as a member.

Two franchises of ECYD youth clubs which the Legion operates in North America are known as ConQuest Clubs and Challenge Clubs. According to the club’s official website ConQuest is a national network of leadership programs, clubs, and camps for boys and young men 5 to 16 years of age. It adds, ConQuest trains boys to become self-disciplined and confident young men, Catholic leaders who possess moral integrity and are committed to improving the communities in which they live. Challenge is the female equivalent of ConQuest.

Both have the hallmarks ECYD clubs and are clearly associated with that organization, though the actual connection is somewhat murky and confusing. A now defunct Legionary webpage identified them as being affiliated with ECYD, but the Legion now seems to be playing down that connection, at least in North America. The current ConQuest website states in small type at the bottom that ConQuest is a proud affiliate of Mission Network? and that it is Sponsored by Regnum Christi.? A link to another site states, Mission Network is an organization within Regnum Christi that was created to coordinate efforts and optimize the resources of Regnum Christi programs and apostolic works in order to reach more people and more places, with new methods and new ardor.

An older website stated, ConQuest clubs and camps operate as members of CYWN (Catholic Youth World Network) in the United States and Canada. The site described CYWN as a worldwide network of Catholic youth that work in clubs in cities throughout the world to build a new world based on Christ’s values? and described ECYD instead asa program of formation which the clubs employ.

ConQuest operates programs for three different age groups. The Father and Son Program is for ages five to seven, the ConQuest Junior Program for ages eight to ten, and the ConQuest Club for ages eleven to sixteen. A former consecrated member of Regnum Christi describes ECYD, and the ConQuest and Challenge clubs as follows:

People don’t just hop into ECYD. First they are recruited through one of the established means of recruitment, such as Challenge and ConQuest. While most youth groups combine girls and boys, in Regnum Christi they are done separately to force the vocation issue. Challenge is, in short, a means of recruitment to ECYD. They keep track of how many girls they recruit. This is the ideal ECYD/club combination, although in different places you will find different levels of adherence to it. Sometimes the girls know about ECYD in the club, and sometimes the club girls have never heard of ECYD. Sometimes they think the club is ECYD. What is important to the consecrated women that coordinate the groups is that there are numbers incorporating to ECYD.?

Parents who are approached about allowing their children to participate in ConQuest or Challenge club activities have often not been aware of the connection to the Legionaries of Christ or even, for that matter, of the order’s existence. Some actually believed the clubs to be a diocesan sponsored activity. A former employee of the Archdiocese of Atlanta describes such a situation:

We had quite a difficult time with Regnum Christi and the upsurge of their ‘clubs’ in many parishes in Atlanta. They would show up in the parish. People would come and ask about them, thinking we knew all about them, and we would have no information. They would get permission from a pastor and just carry on, many times having their meetings off campus in homes. When they began Challenge, the education commission asked for information as to who exactly they were, what information were they giving the children, where they got it and (asked to) review the materials. All they would say was that it was material approved by the magesterium of the Church! Of course, all requests were refused (as though it were) none of our business. Some of the parents became upset because they were not privy to any of the information either, and the stories the children repeated about their sessions would raise eyebrows.

Among the loftier stated goals of ECYD and its clubs is to serve as an international organization of children and adolescents in alliance with Christ and themselves to build a new world. Marcial Maciel has described it in plainer terms; he calls ECYD an open means of recruitment. The group’s ultimate goal is to convince children to incorporateor join the larger Regnum Christ movement or the Legionaries of Christ.

Recruitment is achieved by what the Legion refers to as cellular action? and through open means of recruitment, whose possibilities it considers to be practically limitless. Members are encouraged to carry out this work on with enthusiasm and discretion.Given that the vigor and continual strengthening of the adolescent sections of Regnum Christi depend to a great extent on the growth and expansion of ECYD, the Legion considers the apostolic work of ECYD to be one of its principal activities and encourages its members to dedicate themselves to it with interest, energy and perserverance.

Apostolic work is a euphemism for recruitment. In Challenge the ultimate goal is to convince girls to become consecrated women i.e. lay women of Regnum Christi who take vows similar to those of a nun, but who do not enjoy the protections canon law provides to nuns. A former consecrated woman writes, Challenge is a club to recruit people to ECYD, to suck young children into a vocation before their critical faculties are developed enough to discern correctly. In ConQuest the goal is similar: to convince boys to become Legionary priests. This is done through a series of activities and retreats from which parents are often excluded. If you were to ever ask if you can attend the retreats or camps along with your daughter,? writes one parent, don’t be surprised if the answer is a gentle, but firm ‘no.’
One mother writes, The Challenge club was pitched to the parents as a wholesome alternative to scouts. I assumed it was just nice kids getting together after school for activities. This is true, in part, but they target these kids to attend retreats at which they can ‘consecrate’ themselves to the movement and become (members of) Regnum Christi. My child never wanted to attend, but did say that the consecrated ladies made her feel guilty for saying she didn’t want to go.

At these retreats children can be convinced to make lifelong commitments without their parents’ knowledge. They are even told to withhold such information from their parents. Another mother writes, I have personally known mothers who have become outraged that their daughters ‘incorporated’ into the Challenge ‘movement’ without getting permission from the parents. In these cases, daughters from three different families felt guilty and confessed to their parents that the consecrated women told them it was their decision to make and their’s alone. They were also told that it was better not to discuss this with their parents until after they had made their own decisions.

Age is not an impediment to recruitment efforts. A mother allowed her son to attend ConQuest activities at a neighbor’s house, which he seemed to enjoy, until he suddenly told her one day that he no longer wanted to participate. He said he was being made to feel guilty for not wanting to be a priest. He was nine years old at the time.

Recruitment is a carefully planned process. As in Regnum Christi, ECYD recruitment happens is stages, going successively from kindness to friendship, from friendship to confidence, from confidence to conviction, from conviction to submission. These stages are also sometimes referred to as interest, friendship, trust, commitment and surrender. The intended target is not aware that he or she is being recruited, only that a friendship seems to be forming and that someone is showing a personal interest in him or her. A former Regnum Christi member described the corrosive effect this had on her view of friendships:These steps were so ingrained in me that I honestly learned not to have ‘relationships,’ but instead, to recruit, using the relationship to recruit members. Even when I started therapy, my first reaction was to recruit rather than to open up completely.?

In these clubs the children themselves are used as instruments of recruitment. Parents of former ConQuest members report that older boys are taught to recruit younger boys. In Challenge clubs girls with qualities which are deemed to be useful are actively courted, often at the expense of others. Former consecrated women often speak of favoritism being shown to certain girls, those whose personalities might attract others into the movement. One former member writes, I remember in Mexico, if there was a girl in the school or in ECYD who was particularly interesting, or had a lot of qualities the consecrated looked for, she was called ‘una bomba’ (‘es una bomba’ ‘she is a bomb’), and the girls who weren’t very enthusiastic or didn’t have a very dynamic personality or abundant qualities were called ‘papas’ (‘es una papa’ ‘ she’s a potato’). So the bombas were very sought after for incorporation, and the papas. . . well, if they didn’t even come to retreats, that was O.K.

Not all parents are bothered by this. Those who are members of Regnum Christi are often actually flattered when attention is lavished on one of their daughters, as one mother whose child is no longer active in Challenge describes it: I did attend the first retreat my daughter went on and it all seemed O.K. When she ‘incorporated,’ I was called for permission but it was explained to me that this is just to show commitment to following Christ. It’s just that lately they seem to be focusing on a few girls and ‘grooming’ them (for lack of a better word) to be leaders once they reach high school. And the moms of those girls don’t seem to have any problem with the attention being focused them ‘ they think it is wonderful. And the uneasy feeling I have lingers on.

Coping with Cult Involvement: A Handbook for Families and Friends

By Livia Bardin MSW

I first began working for AFF (American Family Foundation), the publisher of this book, in 1980, shortly after the organization’s founding. AFF’s founders wanted the organization to study the cult phenomenon scientifically in order to educate youth and the public and help families and former group members more effectively. As a result, AFF has gone through several cycles of professional study followed by the development of practical resources. Available manpower has always been too small to meet all the needs that the organization identified. Therefore, AFF has shifted its focus over the years, sometimes concentrating on educational materials, sometimes on research studies, sometimes on resources for families, and sometimes on resources for former members.

In the mid-1980s, Joan Ross and I began working on what was to become Cults: What Parents Should Know, because parents of a cult-involved person had virtually no practical resources to which they could turn. Many parents praised this book, which provided a general introduction to the subject and concrete suggestions concerning assessment, communication, and strategy.

Despite such praise, I always felt that more was required. Families (spouses and siblings, as well as parents) needed a book that would get into the painful nuts-and-bolts of dealing with a cult involvement and that would help them apply the theoretical notions that others and I wrote about to their unique case. Unfortunately, after the publication of Cults: What Parents Should Know, AFF had to focus its limited resources on helping former group members, more and more of whom were seeking our help.

For nearly 10 years, I waited for an opportunity to return AFF’s focus back to families. In 1996 “opportunity knocked” when AFF volunteer professional, Livia Bardin, expressed interest in planning and conducting workshops for families concerned about a loved one’s cult involvement. Mrs. Bardin conducted her first family workshop in Stony Point, New York in 1997. Subsequently, she conducted workshops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Seattle. She has also presented educational programs on cults to a variety of mental health professional groups, as well as the general public.

Mrs. Bardin was the right person tackling the right job at the right time. She is a diligent student of the cult phenomenon and brings to the field the practical skills of clinical social work. She also knows how to clarify and organize, to cut through the fog that confuses so many families and to illuminate for them that which is important.

Mrs. Bardin developed for these workshops a collection of forms (printed at the end of this book) designed to help families think more clearly about their UNIQUE situations. When I first saw the initial drafts of these forms, I felt great relief! At last, somebody who clearly saw what was needed was meeting that need. She realized that families needed more than words and concepts. They needed concrete tools, tools that would challenge them intellectually and emotionally, tools that would empower them to understand and do something constructive about the distressing situation for which they sought help. The forms she had developed for her workshops are these tools.

This book, which was written to explain these forms, is built on the knowledge and experience gained from years of working with families in workshops and in private consultations. This is not a “fun” book. Nor is it a book that aims to validate feelings of anger, hurt, helplessness, and fear, although it does that to some extent. This book is ahandbook, a tool designed to help you achieve a goal, namely, to help a loved one. As with all tools, the book requires effort to learn how to use it. It is not something that you merely read. It is something that you use, something that you wrestle with, that you come back to again and again.

If you are willing to give the requisite time and mental exertion that this book demands, I am confident that you will find it to be extremely helpful. It may not solveyour problem, for, as Mrs. Bardin states in the Introduction, a cult involvement is often a situation to manage, not a problem to solve. The book will, however, make you confident that you are doing all that you realistically can to manage, if not solve, the problem that has caused you so much distress.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Executive Director, AFF Editor, Cultic Studies Journal
May 2000