Aspects of Concern Regarding Legion of Christ

ICSA e-Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006

Aspects of Concern Regarding Legion of Christ Mind Control Reflected in Its Rules, Norms, and Ex-Member Testimonies

J. Paul Lennon, M.A.

This paper analyzes the daily life of Legionaries of Christ in light of certain characteristics associated with mind-controlling groups. The stifling of questioning, mind-numbing meditation routines, excruciatingly detailed rules concerning everyday behavior, and control of incoming and outgoing information are examined to support the author’s contention Legion of Christ exerts excessive control over its members thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

To know by experience and simple reflection that the Legion of Christ’s doctrine and praxis contain “elements of concern” is one thing. To write about these concerns more objectively and “scientifically” is quite another. The emerging literature on cults, sects, and new religious movements has been a great, if recent, revelation to me and other ex-Legionaries. In 2003 the American Family Foundation (now International Cultic Studies Association—ICSA’s) invited me and my colleague, Juan Vaca, to discuss our experiences in the Legion of Christ at their conference in Hartford, Connecticut, October 18, 2003 (see Dr. Michael Langone’s introductory comments to this conference session [Langone, 2006] [1]). This opportunity encouraged me and other members of REGAIN, a fledgling recovery organization focused on the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, to further explore these organizations’ effects on us.

This is my first attempt to examine the Legion of Christ from a more objective, external perspective than I have taken in the testimonies, opinions, and essays I have written during the past fifteen years. The result is still an essay in the true sense of the term and, as such, requires further study, restructuring, and honing.

My departure point is the already-classic “Checklist of Cult Characteristics” developed originally by Dr. Michael Langone of ICSA and recently revised by Dr. Janja Lalich. I will focus on three characteristics and attempt to show how they are reflected in the Legion of Christ’s theory and praxis. An additional (fourth) feature, taken from the writings of Steven Hassan, will round out this study. The article affirms that the combination and interplay of these four factors leads to an alarming degree of member mind control. [2]

Characteristic One

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

In the original version of a testimony I wrote a few years ago, titled “Me and Maciel (Founder of LC)” for the Unity Publishing [3] Web page, I described myself as “Born to Question.” This characteristic of mine, which was basically unconscious when I joined the Legion, doomed my Legionary career from the onset. If I had been told up front about the non-questioning clause in the Legion’s doctrine, I might have saved myself and others a lot of grief. By questioning, I mean that I would simply ask, ”Why this?” “Why does the Legion do it this way?” “Why can we write home only once every month?” and so on. After I joined the organization, I gradually realized that the Legion had its own particular “style,” which involved unquestioning obedience to superiors, no doubting of its doctrine, methods, or actions, and enthusiastic conformity to the Legion Way. This One Way Only is fleshed out in the Constitutions and Rules, Norms and Instructions, and in many detailed teachings contained in what were originally called the Legion’s Epitome and Traditions.

A Vow to Silence Criticism and Critical Thinking

Besides all the written rules, the Legion operates in the context of several unwritten, undergirding principles, such as

Do not question the Legion Way and what you are told by your superiors.

Never publicly or privately express doubt.

Dissent is not allowed.

These principles, which together comprise the Legion Way, are in part formally expressed and reinforced by a portion of The Private Vows (Los Votos Privados): “never to question the person or actions of the superior and to alert the superior as soon as you find out someone has done this.” [4] These Private Vows (plural, because there is another part, never to aspire to positions of leadership) are professed in a private place immediately after the three “public” vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. This prohibition de facto with one fell blow stifles not only criticism, but also critiquing and, ultimately, the exercise of one’s critical faculty. According to the spirit of the vow, expressing doubt about an order or about the Legion itself is also off limits. As I reflect on my experience with the Legion of Christ and my struggles with doubts and inquiries, and I ponder why doubting and questioning were taboo, I encounter an underlying Legion dogma that can be summarized this way (my words):

The leader has been chosen by God to found this institution as the best means of eternal salvation available here and now. Inspired by God, neither the leader/founder nor the institution can be wrong. They are always right and always know what is right for the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members in all their life circumstances and even to the minutest detail. To doubt is to lack faith, an offense to God who has inspired the leader and his God-work.

Doubting or questioning is not allowed, and is discouraged and even punished by the leadership. Dissent can be cause for immediate sidelining, exile, or dismissal. The dogma leads to the injunction “Don’t Question, Don’t Doubt, and Don’t Dissent,” an integral part of the Legion life. Like other elements of Legion training, this precept is instilled gradually and subtly, beginning with a member’s first contact, and it must be adhered to all during the Legionary’s life. Assimilation of this principle is an essential part of being “integrated” or in full adherence to the Legion, which is the goal of the training, or “formation,” process. Its integration is also a condition for becoming a superior.

Repressing Doubt

A member must be on his guard against doubt at all levels. Internally, a member should not entertain doubts of any kind in his mind about his calling, the Legion, or the superior’s judgments or actions. He must banish all doubt immediately, just as he would a bad or “impure” thought. If he allowed such questions to remain in his mind, he might begin to entertain the doubts, which might in turn lead him to openly question. Internal questioning can lead to externally expressed questioning, which could eventually lead to dissent.

Interpersonally, a member should not share his doubts with other members because doing so might be contagious and cause the other members to doubt. He would then be guilty of “scandalizing” his brothers, one of the most grievous of sins.

Obedience and Trust

As co-founders, members also had the “privilege” of maintaining regular personal spiritual correspondence with the Founder, Superior General, and General Spiritual Director. This meant writing to him personally at least every month. So the rule-observing Legionary should report his doubts to his spiritual director (who, during my experience, was usually also the superior). The director/superior in due course would then tell the member to dismiss these temptations.

Whenever Father Maciel had time, he would reinforce the rejection of these doubts in a personal letter and/or indicate that superiors take some course of action—change, removal, new assignment to solve this problem. The inquirer often was unaware of such recommendations.


A peculiar feature of the Legion is that, early on, superiors and spiritual directors assure new members that they have a divine vocation or calling to the Legion. On one occasion, Nuestro Padre, Fr. Maciel, considered shaming to be a sufficient remedy for a member who doubted his vocation to the Legion:

The next day on a hike, one of my classmates was casually speaking with Father Maciel. Then the rector came between the two of them and said in Spanish, “Nuestro Padre, this Pre-candidate has doubts about his vocation.” He [Father Maciel] then told my classmate what he [the rector] had just said. You could imagine the embarrassment for this guy right after a conference about how doubting is bad. “You don’t have doubts about your vocation, do you?” Father Maciel said in Spanish, translated by the rector. “Don’t you know that Christ needs you?” [5]

It appears that the fear of members doubting or questioning is so strong in the organization that the founder has been known to censure a member not necessarily for questioning his doctrine but merely for requesting information. This is the testimony of one of the first American members:

Nuestro Padre [Maciel] used to call me “El Preguntón” [pejorative, “the questioner”]. I tried to ask him as the Founder as many questions as possible to get his true “spirit,” as I thought he was going to pass away at any moment. Anyway, I once submitted a question when the Legionaries and Regnum Christi from Madrid and Mexico got together outside Madrid for the first time in ’73 or ’74. I asked whether in the Legion our tactics seemed to be that the end justified whatever means we used. Needless to say, Nuestro Padre wasn’t pleased. This was “una pregunta tipo queja” [a question-complaint, meaning “criticism”]. After that, it was downhill. I was kind of isolated. I was always saying the wrong things to Fr. D. in Rome. [6]

Shunning, Sidelining, Exile

The above testimony continues, “They sent me from Madrid, Spain, to Tlalpan, Mexico City on the grounds that I had “psychological problems,” which meant that I was not sufficiently “integrated” into the Legion.” The writer interprets this sudden change of plans as a kind of punishment or banishment from the mainstream of his Legion training.

My luggage was stolen at customs. I took it as a sign from God. All I wanted for one and a half years or more was for someone to tell me I didn’t have a vocation. I waited up for Nuestro Padre two nights in a row in the rain till after 12 midnight. He wouldn’t see me; but I did get to leave.

In my experience, a rather innocent question in public regarding Teilhard De Chardin’s theological orthodoxy was met with “We will not allow theological dissent in the Legion. If you want to leave, the door is wide open!” So what began as a request ended up as a threat of dismissal from the Order. Unwittingly questioning a superior’s attitude—he had smirked when he denied my request for a visit home—was cause for my first assignment to the Quintana Roo Missions soon after my 1969 ordination. I had disclosed my nonconformity to Nuestro Padre in my periodic spiritual direction letter to him. Although I was close to finishing an MA in Educational Administration, I was obliged to accept my change of “appointment” against my desires, opinion, and judgment. Another quirk of Fr. Maciel’s management strategy is reflected in the fact that he gave me another reason for the move.

Public dissent can often warrant more severe punishment from the Legion than shaming or shunning a member. The following story is one of several “public” events in the Legion’s history that are either suppressed or rewritten. Out of respect for my ex-confrere I have not mentioned his name.

In my testimony mentioned earlier, I describe how around 1980 a prominent Legionary, previously Provincial for Mexico, lost his position as Anahuac University Chancellor for expressing a difference of opinion with Father Maciel regarding Regnum Christi recruiting at the university. On reflection, I see that the whole episode, which took place in front of a large group of priests and other religious persons, could even have been a “setup” to ensnare the unwary chancellor. Fr. Maciel laid the groundwork for the confrontation by joining with the recruiter in casting the chancellor in a bad light. The chancellor felt his competency threatened, and so rose to the bait and argued with the founder. Soon after, he lost his position and never again held another leadership or prestigious post in the organization. For decades, he has lived a secluded life in a small house in Mexico City, accompanied by a few other padres from his time.

Guilt and, if Necessary, a Verbal Whipping

The praxis of curbing doubts of any kind, suppressing questions, and rejecting ambiguity is not limited to Padre Maciel, as is evident from Andrew Boyd’s testimony. When Andrew became aware that the Legion was not his path, the house superior responded with a guilt trip. As Andrew recounts,

I remember it so well. While I was at dinner, the rector came through the door and pointed at me, motioning for me to come outside.

“So, Andrew, how are you doing?” He said in his high, at first soft, voice.

“Fine, Father. Why do you ask?”

”Well, it’s just that your brother was a little concerned for you because you might not go on with your vocation. Is that true?”

“Yes, Father, I have been thinking that I really don’t feel at peace here and don’t think...” I was cut off.

“Then go home then!!!” he shouted, throwing a football to the ground. “Go on vacation and don’t come back! You keep doubting; so you could never be a Legionary! Now pick that up!” (pointing at the football he had just thrown down) “Fr. X told me not to let you in. He said, “No, father, don’t let him in, he is too proud.” But I believed in you, Andrew; I wanted to give you a chance. How could you disrespect me, and lie to me so much! Has anybody else in your life, besides your family, tried to help you as much as I have? I feel so hurt that you have been lying to me this whole time.”

The argument went on for hours, with us screaming at each other, being heard by the community, which was outside doing Stations of the Cross. I tried to give him reasons why it wasn’t for me but he wouldn’t accept anything. He eventually gave up, and I felt a little sorry for him. I could tell he was upset. I know he wanted me to stay, especially since he had me commit to the community to going on to the Novitiate...[7]

Characteristic Two

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

When I first read this characteristic, with its examples such as “chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routine,” I dismissed it as being “too far out” if applied to the Legion of Christ. On second thought, however, I decided a brief analysis might be worth the effort.

One Clearly Defined Meditation Method for All Members

Strangely, the Legion problem with meditation is not what a modern American might suspect. A writer as perceptive and experienced as Margaret Singer would be totally off target. In the “Meditation May Not Always Be Good for You” discussion in Cults in Our Midst, [8] she mentions meditation techniques that, to an ex-Legionary, seem exotic, exciting, and modern. Ex-Legionaries, in contrast, complain of the rigid routine of following a prescribed, one-size-fits-all meditation method. The main dangers meditating Legionaries of my generation experienced were not Singer’s “Blackouts, lack of sensory filters ... anxiety attacks ... Altered states and memory difficulties ... Loss of boundaries ... Inappropriate and unrelated bursts of emotion ... Muscle jerking ... Seizure...” or “Visual hallucinations.” Boredom and blunting can produce the same numbing effect. The Legion prescribes to its members a uniform and universal “discursive-affective” meditation method.

Prayer can [which in Legion parlance means “absolutely should’”] be discursive-affective. This prayer form consists of intellectually analyzing [“desentreñar con la inteligencia”] a basic idea or a life principle so as to probe it and personalize it. This is not a purely intellectual activity. It is a heartfelt reflection, in the light of faith, on the mystery of one’s own life seen from God’s perspective. This deepening should lead to motions of the will whereby the soul is united with God, expresses it’s love for Him, thanks Him for his benefits, asks for help, acknowledges its condition of sinful creature, and surrenders trustingly until it culminates in a conversion of heart or in a decision to live from now on in accordance with truth contemplated in the light of God. [9]

Thus writes Father Maciel, or his scribe, in the Legion’s Principles and Norms. Note the characteristically Legionary way of denying the obvious, or saying the opposite of what is actually meant, as in “This is not a purely intellectual activity.”

For legionaries, the so-called discursive-affective method is definitely more discursive than affective. In fact, it appears rather as a strenuous effort of will power that imposes itself on intellect, emotions, and imagination, and stifles all personal creativity. From the perspective of a legionary, prayer is another means of forcing myself to comply with the Will of God as infallibly manifested in Legionary Rules and in the orders of my “legitimate superiors.” Prayer is to drill into my mind the Legion mystique: that God has chosen Fr. Maciel from all eternity to found this order, later called “movement.” God’s will is manifested infallibly in the mandates and even the wishes of my legitimate superiors. Meditation is the means whereby the Holy Spirit convinces me of this truth that cannot be doubted. My own meditation experience played out as a lifeless and confusing exercise, and sounded my meditation’s death knoll. Never once did a spiritual director suggest that I try some other form of mental prayer; and if I learned about other methods, I did so purely on an abstract level.

A Constant Stream of Activities, Formulas, and Prayer Exercises

The Legionary’s daily regimen is a constant stream of activities, prayer exercises, and formulas designed to keep him constantly enthused about his calling to the Legion. He begins by waking to the battle cry of “Christ our King!” He instinctively replies, half-asleep, “Thy Kingdom Come!” He immediately bolts into the shower and rushes soon after to the chapel to begin first prayers, which are recited in chorus led by the chapel director. He then returns to his cubicle or room to the mind-numbing fifty minutes of meditation, which conclude with a ten-minute examination of meditation. Then it’s on to Mass, with another series of choral formulaic responses.

A Legionary should be always busy and never idle [“desocupado”]; he must never have his mind, heart, or hands vacant, according to the saying “idle hands do the Devil’s work.” The world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly assailing the Legionary, and he must always be on guard and busy, working or praying—which usually means reciting prayers. The Legionary has many “acts of piety” to perform during the day that help to keep him mentally busy. Seventeen daily “means to cultivate the spiritual life,” already sketched in the Constitutions, [10] are further fleshed out in the Principles and Norms of the Legion of Christ [PNLC]. [11] Periodically (weekly), the Legionary must use ten more means, which culminate with Spiritual Direction. [12] Other exercises, examinations, and prayers are prescribed monthly and annually. Add to all this that the Legion formation and apostolic life is intense and pressured, with debilitating work routines. Thus, there is little, if any, room for personal or individualized spirituality, or for doubting.

In the weekly cycle, three activities contain potential “denunciation” elements: Team Balance, Encounter with Christ, and Spiritual Direction. The first is a revamped form of the monastic “chapter of faults.” In a Legion house or community in which there are more than a few members, the community is divided into “teams” for various activities. Once a week, each team meets for an hour to perform its “balance”: “Members tell each other the defects or faults they have noticed [during the week] and analyze the team’s spiritual and apostolic situation.” [13] While the PNLC strongly underline the charitable nature of this exercise, “members should accept the observations made by others without justifying attenuations or explanations, unless there are serious reasons.” [14]

The Encounter with Christ, a form of Gospel Team Reflection with a practical edge geared toward the apostolate, also contains an element of revision. At one point, team members review their “commitment sheet” [15] [Hoja de compromiso—i.e., list of spiritual obligations] and in turn, without further comment, state out loud in front of the others whether or not they have complied with each item. Nowhere is there room for questioning, enlightened discussion, or positive criticism of rules, systems, or structures.

Mind-Numbing Spiritual Direction?

One would think that the Spiritual Direction aspect might provide a means for the member to find a way out of the rigidity of mental prayer, and the constant pressure and hurry by means of a relaxed dialogue with the spiritual guide. Introductory numbers to the section on Spiritual Direction actually place the Holy Spirit center-stage. [16] However, the choice of the term direction rather than guidance is ominous. The norms soon become more concrete and practical. They give the director a lot of power to “direct” the “directee,” who is cast as ideally docile. The directee is not supposed to ask questions. There is no room for doubting, for discussing one’s personal tastes, wishes, insights, or ambivalence. Everything is clearly laid out in the Constitutions and in Nuestro Padre’s letters and conferences. Spiritual direction is another means to implement that clear plan of God for members in the Legion.

According to PNLC, “A good session of spiritual direction” requires, besides, on the directee’s part:

1. Prompt and simple docility to listen to and follow the Director’s counsels, without trying to subtly induce him to elect one’s own tastes and wishes; 2. Perseverance along the path the Director traces; 3. Discretion: the directee should confide to others neither his problems nor the specific pieces of advice he has received. [17]

Spiritual Direction should be structured and practical, tending toward compliance with commitments. Exploration and discernment are discouraged in an atmosphere in which so many points must be covered.

It is necessary to prepare well for spiritual direction for it to be useful. Beginning with the program of life reform and the resolutions of the previous session, be sure to present: 1. General situation of the soul; 2. Progress in union with God which covers interior life, life of piety—mainly mental prayer, Eucharistic life, and conscience examination, sacramental life, practice of the vows, fidelity to the means of perseverance prescribed by the Legion; 3. Heartfelt living of the Legion’s spirituality and methodology; 4. Personal problems and consultations; 5. Future work projects from now to next spiritual direction session.

Despite the enlightened nod to the Holy Spirit as the main actor in the process, a present-day Legionary is obliged to do precisely what a 17th Century Spanish seminarian was required to do—i.e., “render an account of his conscience.” Note also that the Legionary’s relationship with his spiritual director, “prompt and simple docility,” is eerily similar to the obedience “he owes” to his religious Superior. [18]

One way or the other, Legionary Spiritual Direction does not provide a way out of the asphyxiating grip of multiple prescriptions. When the directee must always remain within the Legion “box,” he learns not to ask certain questions, not to use his critical faculty. The repressed mind goes numb.

Devotion to The Letters of Nuestro Padre

Another major contributing factor to mind-numbing is the Legion’s devotion to the Letters of Nuestro Padre [Letters of Our Father (the founder); in Spanish, Cartas de Nuestro Padre, or CNP]. From the time he takes his temporal vows, the Legionary is given access to at least ten volumes of letters the founder has written to members over the years. A lighter version of these, called “Envoy,” has been edited and adapted to lay members. The Legionary novice is given a time slot every day to read these letters; he also is encouraged to use them as material for his daily meditation. The letters are placed on the same spiritual footing as the Bible, or the Gospels. The prescriptive nature of the Letters of Nuestro Padre [CNP] leads “meditation” in a decidedly practical and disciplinary direction. The constant routine reading and rereading of these writings reinforces the effect of meditation, endless activity, spiritual exercises, and direction to create the undoubting Legionary special-forces prototype. This is the desired effect of the laborious years of formation: “Ours not to reason why; ours but to do or die!” [19]

Characteristic Three

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Regnum Christi Lay Members

To examine in detail how the leadership controls the lives of Regnum Christi (RC) lay members, a study of that organization’s Statutes and Manual [20] would be needed, which goes beyond the scope of the present essay. Suffice it to say that it is common knowledge that lay members, according to their levels of commitment (1st, 2nd, or 3rd Level), are obliged to follow many rules and regulations that are similar to those of the religious and clerical members.

Third-level RC lay members follow a lifestyle similar to Legionaries and are bound by celibacy. Female members’ rules appear to require an even more demanding lifestyle. A second-level married male, 2o Grado [2gm], has rules that govern his family life and his financial obligations toward the Movement. In exchange for handing over control of his earnings to the Movement, he receives many perks, including scholarships for his children to Legion/Regnum Christi schools, being able to live in a suitable residential neighborhood with a possible rent supplement, being placed in employment with the Movement or with Movement friendly businesses, and so on. These members marry people who are at the same level of commitment because only 2nd Level women would understand and accept such a sheltered and controlled lifestyle.

Legionary Religious Brothers and Priests

It is clear that LC leadership dictates in great detail how Legionaries are to think, feel, and act. First, there are the Rules, the “Holy Rules,” as they stand in the Constitutions of the Legion of Christ. There is some uncertainty about exactly when, how, and to what extent the Constitutions have been approved by Vatican authorities. Nor is it completely clear how many constitutions there are, because different versions have been presented to authorities and to members on different occasions. The writer is consulting one of the official versions for general member use that contains a total of 420 entries [rules]. The 3rd Part, Spirit and Discipline of the Congregation, contains 200 rules governing the members. These rules cover spirituality, recommended virtues, union and charity, the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, “private vows,” vow of fidelity and charity, practices of piety, sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, means of perfection and perseverance, religious discipline, correspondence, contact with family, use of the media, things to avoid [discipline], and the obligation of constitutions.

According to Catholic Church tradition, the constitutions or rules of a religious order or congregation are not expected to be too numerous. The LC Founder, however, in an effort to circumscribe the member’s life more clearly and exactly, has created an additional manual. Principles and Norms of the Legion of Christ (PNLC) is a catch-all for many other norms from Legion “tradition,” which the Leader was not able to include in the Constitutions. The 1984 version of the PNLC is more than 90 pages long and contains 840 entries [norms] that describe in further detail many areas covered in the constitutions. Following is the Table of Contents of this version:

1st Part: Orientations for Legionary Life Detailing the Stages of Novitiate, Studies, Apostolic Practices, and Priestly Life (6–96)

2nd Part: Principles of Self-Denial (97–114)

3rd Part: Guide for Legion Life: Detailed Rules for Acts of Piety, Daily, Periodical (115–338); Detailed Rules for Activities (339–439); Certain Virtues (440–573)

4th Part: Specific Legionary Traditions (574–807)

“Founder’s Final Exhortation” (808–840)

In the “Founder’s Final Exhortation,” the founder, invoking the Holy Spirit, gives thanks to God for all the holy legionaries, “good and faithful servants,” and addresses the problem of those members who are not “holy and faithful.” He explains how to detect and contain those who have fallen prey to sensuality and pride, passion, and the devil’s snares, and who fall into the clutches of spiritual “lukewarm-ness” [tibieza espiritual]:

As the Founder, I, interpreting the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ, prefer a Legion with a hundred obedient and holy men than a Legion with five thousand undisciplined men walking every day more along the easy highways of the world than along the narrow byways of the cross. [21]

To an ordinary founder, guide, or legislator, this commentary might seem a sufficiently detailed elaboration of rules and norms. But Father Maciel feels the need to further describe how he expects his members to think, act, and feel. Perhaps his peculiar “charism” is being able to describe in concrete behavioral terms how he expects a Legionary to act. A good example of this gift can be seen in another Legionary formation instrument, the Norms of Urbanity and Human Relations. [22] The Table of Contents of this manual of behaviors and procedures is as follows:

1st Part: Aspects of the Legionary’s Social Formation

Personal Appearance and Presentation (6–19)

Personal Hygiene (20–28)

Good Manners: In General, with God, with Other Legionaries, with One’s Own Family, with Women, with RC Consecrated Single Women, with Families on Apostolate, with Bishops, Priests, and Religious (29–95)

Dress (96–148)

Table Manners (149): Before Sitting Down (150–157), Sitting Down (158–165), Serving Oneself (166–178), Eating (179–199), Using Cutlery (200–225), Particular Foods Such As Bread, Soup, Pasta, Cheese, Eggs, Beef, Fish, Chicken, Vegetables, Salad, French Fries, Fruits, and Desserts (226–265)

2nd Part: Building Maintenance (266–333)

The Chapel (272–285)

Reception Area (286–289)

Library (290–304)

Conference Room (305–310)

Sitting Room (311–317)

Dining Room (318–319)

Kitchen (320–322)

Showers and Bathroom (323–329)

Gardens (330–333)

The detailed norms followed by all Legionaries explain why members often appear to “outsiders” as very similar in their presentation, or “cut to the same pattern.” A sampling of norms also gives the reader a feel for the Legionary’s peculiar style and demeanor as a carefully groomed and poised individual. A certain “over-controlled-ness” or stoicism may also be present, which can create some uneasiness in the more observant. Some of these external norms also prevent the Legionary from being emotionally expressive, and put him constantly on guard as he socializes. Occasionally, controlling instructions sprinkled among the pragmatic curb the Legionary’s openness to his fellow members. He must be wary lest “confidences” lead to exchanging notes, discussing, and eventually criticizing some aspect of Legionary life. The following selected norms reflect such instructions: [23]

A Legionary’s face belongs to others. Appear always joyful and serene as a manifestation of interior wealth. On the other hand, avoid withdrawal, insecurity, and timidity; let the face show no worry, sadness, somberness, or disgust; nor let it express too much exaggerated or noisy happiness. (9)

[With other Legionaries] Be very respectful in your manners, avoiding any familiarity or informality, such as putting one’s arm over the shoulders and not touching or pushing; neither privately or publicly should the familiar “tú” form be used in addressing each other but rather “Usted” [Translator, “the formal”]. [54]

[With confreres] Never manifest to others your emotional states, difficulties, or problems. Reserve these for those persons to which you are supposed to bring them. [57]

Note in the preceding example the reference to bringing problems only to the spiritual director/superior, where they will be treated in a fashion suitable to the organization’s goals.

After visiting a center or apostolate, always present its positive, stimulating, and edifying aspects and never express to others [Translator, i.e., Legionaries] any problems or negative effects that were noticed. [61]

[With one’s family] Never let sadness or nostalgia enter relations with the family. And members should not let them know about their mental or emotional states when they are going through some depression or current difficulty, so as not to trouble family members with problems that are related exclusively to their relationship with God and with the Legion. [66]

And here’s an example of the minute detail involved in the norms, in this instance, how to use cutlery:

Hold cutlery by the top part of the handle, without stretching the index along the back of the knife or on the fork’s prongs. [200]

Do not cock the little finger when using cutlery, the glass, or the cup. Refinement must always be accompanied by simplicity. [201]

This summary perusal of the Norms of Urbanity and Human Relations leads us to conclude that, besides prescribing in detail many external aspects of the Legionary’s daily life, this instrument further attempts to control interpersonal relationships between members, between members and their families, and goes so far as to legislate the members’ management and expression of personal thoughts, opinions, judgments, and emotions. One could conclude that the detailed prescription of the Legionary’s daily life ends up being a form of mind control. Steve Hassan states,

…mind control may be largely understood by analysis of the three components described by Leon Festinger, a psychologist, in what has become known as the “cognitive dissonance theory. “These components are control of behavior, control of thoughts, and control of emotions.

Each individual component has a powerful effect on the other two: change one, and the others will tend to follow. Succeed in changing all three, and the individual will be swept away.

Hassan continues his explanation, “However, from my experience in researching destructive cults, I have added one additional component which is vital: control of information.” [24]

Characteristic Four

If you control the information someone receives, you restrict his free ability to think for himself. [25]

Cloister and Correspondence

Information control is another basic and pervasive Legion characteristic. The physical arrangement of Legionary “formation” centers and community-house boundaries are well defined, and no one can leave without the Rector’s explicit permission. And when one does leave, he must always be accompanied by another religious person while outside. [26] Legionaries, as members of a Religious Congregation [Order], must observe the rules of Cloister, and strictly follow the norms regarding leaving the Center, as described in Article 1 of Chapter VI of the Constitutions.

Inside the house, the religious member is isolated from the outside world, and information intake is strictly controlled. A Legionary may write to his parents once a month. He should not dedicate his time to social or frivolous correspondence with his family or outsiders. [27] All incoming mail is “reviewed”—i.e., censored, as the following excerpts detail:

The Rector or Superior of the Center or another religious designated by him is to check all incoming letters and hand out those he thinks suitable. In the works of apostolate, the Director of the apostolate should not do this but rather the Superior or Assistant Superior of the Center for Apostolate to which the Director belongs. [28]

Our religious are allowed to answer the letters they receive as long as it is not a regular exchange or a friendship that, in the opinion of the Rector or Superior of the Center, could harm them or simply make them waste time they should devout to the apostolate.” [29]

Without a just and serious cause, the Rector or Superior of the Center should not allow our religious, especially the young ones, to send letters to women. ”[30]

The testimony of an ex-consecrated female member of Regnum Christ seems to indicate that this branch has similar rules, and that, parallel to male branch praxis, these rules are often not explained up front when members “enter” the organization; rather, they are informed about the rules gradually, after they have made their promises:

I was told I would study in Rome, my innocent friendships could continue (specifically with men), and that I had a vocation more obvious than they had ever seen. So, to me, it seemed like the perfect fit….

There are some specific incidents which I would like to share. The first was about the sudden death of my friend. He and I knew each other for a long time; we went to prom together and were very innocent friends. I got a call from my best friend and she told me he had been killed in a drunk-driving accident. I didn't know what to do so I went to my directress. She was very stoic, to the point, and told me that I couldn't dwell on this and try to forget about it. This was my first year so I was eager to please and tried to follow her orders. I was never able to deal with it, let alone even send his family a card!!! It didn't feel right…[31]

Contact with Family, Outsiders, Women, and Confreres

Our religious are to live their consecrated life in a spirit of detachment regarding their relations with their families, and they should strive to direct these relations fundamentally towards winning them over for Christ. [32]

As strange as it may seem, there are occasions when members forget to write the monthly letter to their parents. This can happen when they have left home at a very young age and might be distanced from their families of origin, which weakens the family bond. Principles and Norms advises the Legionary to carefully obey [“observe”] the norm about writing “as a sign of gratitude and affection, and to prevent family conflicts with the Legion.” [33]

Religious members and priests who live in the same country as their parents may visit them twice a year but should not spend the night in their family home unless there is no Legion house within a few hours’ drive. Legionaries do not take vacations with their families, but together, in community.

Regarding “outsiders” [extraños], “No one may dine with lay people outside the Center without express permission from the Rector or Superior … the religious should not eat with the same person or family more than once a year.” [34] Control of social contact extends not only to family and “outsiders” but also encompasses one’s confreres in other religious communities or houses. Number 47 of Principles and Norms regulates “Communication and Gathering between Communities”:

In the Legion it is not usual to have communication or socialization between different communities in the [same] Center of Formation or between different Centers of Apostolate in the same city or country and this because of methodological reasons in the formative and educational system. [n. 781]

The next two norms in the Principles describe how certain exceptions to the rule are to take place. The phrase “methodological reasons in the formative and educational system” is very vague. One reason for this might be to control information and to contain any problems that are present inside a community. According to the popular wisdom of a Mexican bishop during the recent sexual abuse scandal, “Dirty linen should be washed at home.”

Reading Materials and Media Use

In keeping with a tradition of consecrated religious life, Legionaries never go to the movies. They are allowed to see no more than six movies a year in the religious house, and these are censored for content, with the projectionist carefully screening any erotic passages. Television use is also strictly controlled with specific directives: Watch the news, debates on serious topics, Church events, scientific and cultural programs,

...but not theater or similar performances (opera, zarzuela, operettas, ballets, etc…) nor festivals of popular music; to watch five sports events a year. Radio is to be used as an alternative to television, following the same norms.

Our religious are absolutely forbidden to have radios, televisions or similar instruments in their rooms or offices. [35]

If Legionaries absolutely need one of these items, they must get permission from the Territorial Director through the Rector or Superior of the Center: “The Territorial Director must consult General Director about each specific case and never grant permission without his consent.” [36]

Rules for newspapers and weeklies are also strict:

Having heard the opinion of his Council and of the Doctrinal Committee of the Territorial Technical Advisory Team, the Territorial Director must give written authorization for the specific newspapers, weeklies, and other periodicals that our religious receive in each Center….[37]

Moreover, none of our religious, least of all students, are to read novels or other worldly compositions unless it is for legitimate and weighty reasons that the Rector or Superior of the Center is to seriously consider.” [38]

Beyond the rules, a member should obtain permission from the Rector or Superior to read any other materials besides those explicitly “fed” to the community. In summary, all information that enters the community and reaches the Legionary has been censored, or at least filtered by the Superiors according to the “spirit” of the Constitutions and to the Superiors’ criteria. The member does not get to choose the sources or content of incoming information.

Legionaries should also avoid informing outsiders about what happens inside the community. The following rule appears among “certain things our religious should avoid”: “Without express permission from the Superior or Rector, no one may inform outsiders about the activities or plans of the Center, or lend books or written documents or audiovisuals reserved exclusively for our use.” [39]

Incommunicado: Phone and Internet Use

In case the attentive reader thought there might be a loophole in all these regulations, “No one is to visit outsiders in their home, meet habitually with them or speak with them on the phone without a special or habitual permission from the Rector… and then only for apostolic reasons.” [40] Students, religious, and priests do not have permission to use the Internet outside what is laid down in the specific norms. Access to the “public” Internet is blocked to regular members unless they can have an exemption because of their apostolic activities, in a parallel way to phone use. Thus, the Legionary, not only during his long training period of ten or more years, but also afterward, in the cloistered “house of apostolate,” is very isolated. His access to “outside” information is strictly monitored, censored, and shaped to the Legion’s spirit and mystique.


I have explained and applied three dangerous cult-like characteristics to the Legion of Christ religious congregation of priests, and, by extension, its Regnum Christi lay movement—characteristics that allow leaders to control members’ behavior, thoughts, and emotions, which in turn leads to some degree of mind control. Control of information is a linchpin in a system and environment that is mind controlling.

Based on the above data and testimonies and using the Langone and Hassan paradigms, there are grounds for serious concern that the Legion and its Regnum Christi lay movement exercise mind control of its members. It is my contention that further anecdotal evidence and scientific data will bear out this conclusion.


[1] Reflections on the Legion of Christ: 2003-2006, by Michael D. Langone. ICSA e-Newsletter, 5(2), 2006. []

[2] Note: Spanish is the original and only language of the Legionary of Christ founder and legislator, Fr. Maciel, and the original and official language of Legionary documents.

[3] Originally posted in “Legionnaires of Christ” section, “Me and Marciel (Founder of LC)” subsection on Website. The descriptor is edited out in the present posting.

[4] Constitutions of the Legion of Christ (CLC), Cheshire, CT, USA. 3 January, 1991. Art. 5. The Private Vows (Los Votos Privados), canon 314.

[5] From “Too High a Price,” Andrew Boyd testimony, available online at

[6] Communications from Keith Keller U2U to irishmexican43, June 26, 2003 discussion board, available online at

[7] From “Too High a Price,” Andrew Boyd testimony, available online at

[8] Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives, by Margaret Thaler Singer. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1995. pp. 139–149.

[9] Principios y Normas de la Legión de Cristo [PNLC] [Principles and Norms of the Legion of Christ], by Fr. Marcial Maciel, L.C. Reajo del Roble, Spain: Fest of Pentecost. June 10, 1984, no. 139.

[10] See CLC, Chapter III, Acts of Piety.

[11] PNLC, pp. 118–216.

[12] Ibid. pp. 217–276.

[13] Ibid. p. 254.

[14] Ibid. p. 258.

[15] Ibid. p. 264.

[16] Ibid. pp. 271–272.

[17] Ibid. 275.

[18] I, together with other members of the 1960s, remember that our obedience was described as “blind, prompt, joyful and heroic.” About the time of Vatican II, the term blind became unacceptable. The English version of the LC Constitutions presently reads: “Their obedience should never be blind. It should be fully conscious and loving, with the same characteristics as the obedience our Lord Jesus Christ lived and practiced before his heavenly Father: motivated, prompt, joyful and heroic.” (Constitutions of the Legion of Christ, n. 301). Once more, a word change here, a nip here, and a tuck there seem to solve the problem of mind-numbing obedience and control.

[19] Variation on quotation from “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1864).

[20] Original Spanish titles: Estatutos del Movimiento Regnum Christi and Manual del Regnum Christi.

[21] PNLC, p. 837.

[22] Normas de Urbanidad y Relaciones Humanas could be diversely rendered in English as Norms of Urbanity [Etiquette/Courtesy] and Human Relations; 333 norms, undated and unsigned.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Combating Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan. Rochester: Part Street Press. 1990. p. 59.

[25] Ibid.

[26] CLC, canon 372.

[27] CLC, canon 382.2.

[28] CLC, canons 383, 1&2.

[29] CLC, canon 386.

[30] CLC, canon 387.

[31] Former member testimonial, “Half Truths, Empty Promises…” Available online at

[32] CLC, canon 388.

[33] PNLC, p. 790.

[34] CLC, canon 380, 2.3.

[35] CLC, canon 394.

[36] CLC, canon 394.

[37] CLC, canon 397.

[38] CLC, canon 400, 1.

[39] CLC, canon 402.

[40] CLC, canon 369.


This paper was originally presented at the American Family Foundation (AFF) Conference, Enfield, CT, October 18, 2003