ICSA Today, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2012, 10-13
The Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi: A Parent’s Perspective
I feel the need to speak bluntly and openly, and freely share as I would speak to a friend.
I have worked together with Paul Lennon for the past 2 years as coeditor of Regainnetwork.org, the Web site of Religious Groups Awareness International Network (ReGAIN), for people adversely affected by the Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi. My personal struggle associated with these groups is like an ongoing nightmare of grief, false hopes, aggravation, frustration, and anger.
The evil structure and methodology that my daughter was drawn into remains a legitimate part of my own Catholic Church, and that has been doubly painful for me. The Vatican Web site identifies the founder of these groups, in so many words, as a charismatic con man without genuine religious sentiment. Overwhelming evidence indicates Fr. Marcial Maciel’s prime objective for founding his two groups was to satisfy his perverted sexual urges and lust for power and money. He avoided Church censure by using deceit, influence peddling, gifts, and cash payments to obtain protection from certain members of the Vatican hierarchy. His two groups, the Legion and Regnum Christi, are highly profitable businesses that make excessive profits from being, respectively, a Catholic religious order of priests and a religious movement.
In 1992, at 26 years of age, our daughter “Rose” (not her real name) was at a crossroads. She had a master’s degree in theology, was devout in her faith, and had a calling to religious life. She had a good job. Her employer saw great potential in her and offered to sponsor her for a senior-management training program. She attended mass regularly each week, and was ready and willing to devote her entire life to serve God through the Catholic Church that she loved. Rose was recruited into Regnum Christi. She discovered a community of other young, devout, idealistic women who lived as contemplative religious sisters in a secretive isolated community.
These young women seemed happy and loving, and Rose felt she had found an ideal place to serve God. She was a good person then and remains so, not because of her involvement in Regnum Christi (where deceit is endemic), but in spite of it. Although the Legion theology is authentic Catholicism, the structure and methodology of the two groups are destructive to their own members. In spite of an outer appearance of genuine piety, the underlying purpose for their activities is similar to that of other typical cult groups. I won’t focus on all their typical cult characteristics or mind-control techniques, which have already been documented in ICSA articles, on ReGAIN’s Web site, and elsewhere.
Both groups use aggressive recruiting tactics to prey on young, attractive, idealistic Catholic women. They redirect peoples’ genuine desire to serve the Kingdom of God to surrendering themselves to serve the kingdom of Maciel. Rose idolized her founder as a living saint, referring to him reverently as “Nuestro Padre” (our father). Her excessive devotion to him made me feel uncomfortable. As I learned about his depravities, I was revolted to hear her speak about him as her role model.
Rose had mentioned a 5-year formation program. We were shocked when only 5 months later she announced that she had already made her commitment. I believe she was deceived and manipulated into making a decision to hand over all decision-making powers, her human rights, all her money, and her sexuality. At a consecration ceremony, she made solemn promises including poverty, chastity, and obedience. At the time, we thought it was very strange that the Church would allow such a short discernment period, and we felt hurt that we had not been advised about her commitment ceremony in advance or given an opportunity to attend. Later, we learned that at her ceremony she had also made other secretive promises that forbade her from ever criticizing any superior, especially the founder, and promises to never seek a higher office. She was unaware of the many associated obligations that would gradually be revealed once she was already inside the spider’s web.
Because Regnum Christi is a lay movement, not a religious order, its consecrated women have none of the protections that canon law requires for religious sisters. Rose remains a lay person with no contract. I see her situation as a form of slavery.
I was disgusted to learn years later that the Regnum Christi form of consecration that had meant so much to our daughter had not been fully recognized by the Church. To put it bluntly, in contrast to the one of the Church’s “oldest sacramentals,” the Consecration of a Virgin, in which “the acting agent … is God himself” and the young woman “can choose the Church-approved spirituality she prefers to follow,” this arrangement was a cruel deception by the founder to entrap people, to obtain their free labor, and to avoid having responsibility for them when they were no longer cost effective.
Regnum Christi takes credit for the goodness of its members and for the good works they carry out. Considering the extensive resources available to the organization, the good intentions of the members, and the valid prayer life they have, there are bound to be some good fruits; and nobody questions that. The question I do have, however, is whether or not there are any good motives built into the structure of the Legion. Its activities, such as schools, seminaries, and children’s programs, utilize scarce resources that could have produced genuine good fruits had those resources been available to groups with authentic spiritual intentions.
Each Legion activity operates primarily as a profit center, and profit is the primary motivation. (The founder was devoid of genuine religious sentiment.) Tuition fees are very high, and costs are minimized. High-pressure advertising campaigns based on illusory good fruits keep donations rolling in. A major part of the reform process has been an effort to demonstrate that, in spite of any of the founder’s evil intentions, the organizations he founded have a unique religious purpose (charism) that came from God. But after more than seventy years of existence, the Legion has difficulty defining clearly what its charism is. Fr. Maciel was seen as the ideal Legionary. When he fell from grace, he left no saintly example for his followers to emulate.
Some Legion supporters suggest that the good fruits of the Legion outweigh the bad fruits. This position is not theologically sound. I feel distressed when anyone suggests that any bad fruits, such as sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse, are acceptable, especially within a religious group, regardless of how many good works they can show.
I continue to wait for the leaders to show a sincere desire to break from the founder’s deceitful, harmful structure and methodology. Maciel selected and trained the current leaders. A long-term, well-known Regnum Christi ex-member commented recently about the fruits of the organization as “ruined families, disappointed youths, and betrayals of the faith.” Former Legionary priest Fr. Thomas Berg, in his June, 2012 article “The Legion’s Scandal of Stalled Reform” on the First Things Web site, stated that the Legion leaders “continue to embrace and foster a culture of cover-up and lack of transparency.” His and other articles confirm my conclusions to date.
I will mention but a few of the Legionary bad fruits that have affected my family. These include the predicament of consecrated women, alienation from family members, disgrace for the Church and lost respect for the hierarchy, and the effects of mind control.
Hundreds of consecrated women, including some of Regnum Christi’s key members, have left the organization in the past 3 years. There have been reports from some of them about their suffering, including chronic physical illness, depression, and insecurity. Naturally, I am concerned that this portrayal might apply to Rose. It has made me realize how difficult an adjustment it would be for one to leave the group and find another place in life, and to make readjustments. It would be traumatic for most of the women, including our daughter. Considering her controlled environment, does she have a fair opportunity to make such an important discernment? It is agonizing to think about this. The consecrated women who leave have absolutely no money of their own, and (unlike the Legionary priests) they lose their consecrated state immediately. For those who leave, would there be a stigma of being an ex-cult member? I am sure there would be.
At the 2008 ICSA conference, I learned that as long as one of your family members remains in a cult, and once you rule out an exit intervention, as we did, you have to deal with the situation realistically. For us, that left two uncomfortable alternatives: We could decide to have no relationship with Rose, or we could retain a partial relationship with her.
We opted for the partly filled glass, realizing everything would be strictly on Regnum Christi’s aggravating terms. For example, Rose would come home each year at our expense, for only 2 days, and sometimes exhausted from the 3-hour or more jet lag. We were limited to one phone call per month at prearranged times, and she always had to ask permission from her superior before she could speak to us.
Like most parents, I don’t want an empty glass; and I am not satisfied with a partly-filled-glass relationship with our only daughter.
Father Richard Gill, a prominent ex-Legionary priest, has offered his perspective about the future of the Legion and the significance of its founder in that regard. He stated the following in a 2011 online report, “Can the Legion of Christ Be Repaired?”: “It is no exaggeration to say that Marcial Maciel was by far the most despicable character in the twentieth century Catholic Church, inflicting more damage on her reputation and evangelizing mission than any other single Church leader.”
I had waited and prayed for years that the Church would acknowledge all the truth and take appropriate action. I took what actions I could, believing that, if only the Church knew, it would do the right thing. Our Catholic friends became uncomfortable if we shared anything about cults in the Church. I spoke to as many priests and members of the hierarchy as I could. One senior local official suggested that the Legion wasn’t bad, it was simply old-fashioned. Other officials did not seem to be open with us.
I spent months composing a letter to the Vatican, which I sent, not really expecting a response. To my surprise, I received a letter from a cardinal 3 months later. He simply acknowledged my letter and said that competent authorities were looking into it. I later discovered that he was one of the Legionary founder’s closest supporters. I made another attempt, writing to other members of the hierarchy without sending him a copy, but they referred my letter to him. The opening words of his second response sent a chill through me: “Esteemed Sir, You considered it necessary to approach the Holy See…” He ended it by advising me that
the free choice of following Christ in an Institute of Consecrated Life entails breaking ties and involves limitations, accepted with enthusiasm on the part of the person called by God to participate uniquely in the redemptive mission of Christ, even if not understood by others.
He had blocked my end-run attempt, exhibited his power, and put me in my place.
As I became aware of Fr. Maciel’s powerful Vatican allies, and that he had successfully used influence peddling and cash payments to encourage their support, I felt sick to my stomach and discouraged. I lost a lot of the respect that I had always held for the shepherds of the Church.
When the Vatican finally decided to implement a reform process, I was overjoyed and could not wait to see what action it would take. Two years later, there have been only some cosmetic changes. The old-guard Legionary leaders remain in place; and except for some token efforts, they have shown no change in attitude. The aggressive recruiting, ordinations, and consecrations of new members continue. The presence of the Vatican commissioner unfortunately lends credibility to the destructive structure. I think this makes the Vatican look incompetent, and there is even some appearance of complicity. To date, its record in dealing with the Legion and its founder has been abysmal.
On a worldwide scale, the Legion and Regnum Christi have become a monumental embarrassment for the Catholic Church and for Pope John Paul II. New scandals involving deceit by the current leaders continue to unfold, and the leaders keep coming up with weak-sounding explanations.
Recently, a group of former students from precandidacy high schools run by consecrated Regnum Christi women started a blog (www.49weeks.blogspot.com) to share their negative experiences. They have stated, “Many of us suffered real mental, emotional and spiritual damage in our years at [name withheld] Academy. We share our stories here to warn parents of the very real dangers of handing your daughters over to this flawed institution.”
As of June 2012, at least fifteen different women have shared their heart-wrenching stories of suffering from guilt and fear, and trying to live according to militaristic rules. Some mention what it was like for them not to be allowed to have particular friends. One woman said this resulted in feelings of “immense loneliness.” She said that they were not allowed to tell each other about their doubts, sufferings, or physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. They were to share nothing except with their spiritual directors, “who had ultimate control” over them.
It disturbs me when I hear versions of the Legion refrain, “Fr. Maciel was bad but we are good.” In spite of some good works by individual members, I believe that the Legion’s structure and methodology exist primarily to serve itself.
I am concerned about the people, like Rose, who have been taken advantage of and harmed within a recognized but destructive Church movement after they have dedicated everything they have in life, believing sincerely that they have been serving God in a special way. I am appalled that Catholic groups are able to manipulate devout people into becoming fully dependent, but that the groups are then able to dispose of those individuals without obligation or notice. I feel outraged that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is enabling the kingdom of Maciel to continue business as usual without acknowledging the damage it has done to members, and without taking responsible action to provide urgent support and assistance to those who remain trapped.
The young women on the “49 weeks a year” blog have offered support on their Web site for those Legionary priests and consecrated Regnum Christi members who want to leave but who have difficulty supporting themselves, or finding work, or understanding their situation, or who perhaps feel the need for prayer support. Why did the Catholic Church not recognize this need and use either Legion resources or its own to provide support, guidance, recovery, and financial assistance where urgently needed? Perhaps the Church and the Legion leaders could learn from the example of these young women, whose offer is an inspiring example of genuine Christian community in action.
Note: During the week of the ICSA 2012 conference in July, 77 of the former Legionary high-school students sent a letter to the Vatican denouncing the manipulation, deception and disrespect they claim to have suffered from their counselors at the Rhode Island school. The young women are urging the Vatican to shut down the school. Their voices unite with many of us who feel that the Legion and Regnum Christi should be shut down by the Church.
The above content reflects accurately my own opinions based on research over 20 years of being a father of a long-term Regnum Christi member and 2 years of being a ReGAIN Web site coeditor. Because of extreme secrecy, it is difficult to obtain verifiable information in the usual ways. It took years to confirm information from anonymous sources.
Peter Kingsland is a retired professional mechanical engineer who lives in Surrey, British Columbia. Although Peter is not an expert in psychology or cults, he has been actively interested in cultic groups and their founders for over twenty years, since his daughter joined a women's religious group that is a lay apostolate associated with an order of Roman Catholic priests. Working together with Paul Lennon, Peter is co-editor of ReGAIN, a website that provides outreach to unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legionaries of Christ religious order and the Regnum Christi Movement, both of which are under reform by a commissioner from the Vatican. He has written a number of articles based on his experience. Peter remains an active practicing Roman Catholic. He has contributed a chapter for one of Paul Lennon's latest books about the Legion and Regnum Christi: Father Marcial Maciel, pedophile, psychopath and Legion of Christ founder, from R.J. Neusaus to Benedict XVI, 2nd edition.