I referenced Regnum Christi in “But My Experience Was So Good!”.
It was very easy to find firsthand accounts of negative experiences from former members of Regnum Christi. Former members often participated in forums and blogs. I believe these people needed to tell their stories and find others who had had similar experiences, and the internet was a very effective way to do this. In particular, ReGain Network, the 49 Weeks blog, and Life After RC (which is no longer online except for archived posts) were setup specifically for former members to tell their stories. You can read many, many of their experiences on those blogs. 49 Weeks was particularly poignant for me to read- it contains stories from young women who attended a Regnum Christi boarding school. In addition, news outlets like Fox News, NY Times, CNN, and others reported on problems within Regnum Christi, Maciel’s abuses, and the Vatican’s reformation of the group.
Here are a few of these firsthand accounts.
“Many nights I was kept awake by the sounds of these boys being yelled at and called horrid names in Spanish. Although I lived one floor above the boys, I was still able to hear the verbal and emotional abuse. Countless times I ventured onto the second floor, I saw with my own eyes the abuse and humiliation they suffered. The scenes of hurt and tears are images that still linger in my mind. I made it a point to sneak downstairs and show these boys what Christian love was. Whenever I went downstairs I would have the boys flock to me and hold on to me, confiding the hurt that they were experiencing. I assured them that they were not horrible and that I would always be there for them.
When I confronted my Novice Master (also house Rector) about what was happening, he dismissed my claim and told me that this was the way things were done in the Legion: Fr. Maciel saw his schools as another form of Minor Seminary, and that the boys had to be put in their place.”
“I was very nervous and had a very bad time of it: thinking about leaving the Legion gave me a huge guilt complex with a fair share of hopelessness. The absence of anyone to talk to made me feel very lonely, and this, together with the pressure from my superiors, destroyed me.”
“I was a shell of myself when I returned home. Having spent an entire year crying every single day, being berated for my emotions, being told to be an example for others and not let them know my pain, being so far removed from my family… it nearly broke me.”
“Because my spiritual directors and formators represented the absolute will of God for me, I obeyed everything they told me without question. If they told me I was proud, I felt I must have been riddled with hubris; if I was late to activities, I must have been lazy and needed to put my desires aside in order to live the Will of God for me more fully… God had put the consecrated [RC lay leadership] in my life to guide me and I never questioned this principle.
…I internalized every single criticism, rule and norm and within a month of becoming a PC, I found myself becoming depressed and I withdrew into myself.”
“My spiritual director (who also happened to be my superior) told me that… I was so proud, I could rival Satan, and that I would never get over my pride. I was absolutely crushed. I believed, starting at that moment and for years to come, that I was probably a case of predestination: into damnation. I carried this burden with me for years. It haunted me and, years later, was the subject of my spiritual guidance for years with a dear and holy Capuchin priest who helped me get past all the spiritual and psychological trauma left from my PC years.”
“I was afraid of ‘not giving my best to Christ’ and of ‘not fulfilling the plan that he had for me’.
…Throughout all this I developed a [guilt] complex that I was not a generous person and I felt that no matter what I did or how I did it, nothing was good enough, and that was why I couldn’t find peace and happiness in the consecrated life. I believed that it was all my fault that things were not working out. This is the idea that was imposed on me, but to this day my conscience can testify that I was as sincere, faithful, and generous as I humanly could have been. This duality between what I was told, and what I thought to be true in the deepest recesses of my conscience drove me nearly out of my mind, and continues to haunt me after being home five years.
…Everything has been very confusing and emotionally painful… I have no desire to ‘slander’ the Movement (they love that word) out of respect for the many sincere and holy members who belong to it, but my conscience would not be at peace if I didn’t at least share my experience in a factual way so that others can make a more informed decision regarding what this organization is really about.”
“Oh, how I hated the chapel! We were always supposed to begin with a ‘balance, an examination of conscience. We all had little books we were supposed to use to write down our sins, and we all had a program (I think that’s what we called it), that spelled out our biggest failing and all the little failings that fell under it. Every year when I made mine, my spiritual director helped me see that I was overflowing with pride. I knew I was proud and independent and a little cynical, but it was hard for me to see my natural personality as a character flaw. So every day, several times a day, I would kneel in the chapel and look at my outline of sins and try to figure out how to do better when better seemed if not worse, at least unnatural. It was unbelievably depressing. Not only was I lonely, I wasn’t good enough, by nature.
…The pressure built and built and built. The more years I was there, the more panicked I became that I wouldn’t make the cut for consecrated. I needed to get with the program and conform if I wanted to fulfill God’s will for me. So I tried harder and harder. I gave up my thoughts and desires, I knuckled under and shut up and quit asking uncomfortable questions… I spent more time in the chapel… I stood in front of the statue or picture of Mary as long as I was allowed, trying so hard to feel what I knew I should feel.
And I got migraines. It started with just a few, then they multiplied and got more and more severe. I didn’t know what they were, and they scared the crap out of me. I thought I had a brain tumor. I was sure I was dying. They literally paralyzed me, gave me intense panic attacks, I saw lights and heard voices, I would get facial ticks, and the pain was so bad at times that I couldn’t help but yell and cry, even during almighty Absolute Silence. My spiritual director advised me not to tell my parents since we were both sure they’d fly me home immediately.”
“Nobody questioned the scrutiny by superiors of all incoming and outgoing mail. I know some companions who used codes to secretly transmit their true feelings. I, personally, once wrote a coded message in my own journal. A request for a copy of Canon Law would have been denied. Mention of Human Rights would have been totally out of place. Nothing was ours. Neither our own words, and with time, not even our own thoughts.”
“Now and again I would hear stories about the bizarre misbehavior of Maciel, but attributed them to embittered alumni.
…I was very young, immature, and held Maciel in awe, so I did not question his actions at the time, only on reflection later on.”
Thomas Berg, a former Legion Of Christ priest, discusses the problems inside Regnum Christi in a 2009 post:
“At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle – in itself valid – that God’s will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal ‘dependence’ on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.
Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding ‘reporting to,’ ‘informing,’ ‘communication with,’ and ‘dependence on’ superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God’s will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.
More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.”
“In another subsequent conference, in 2009, I heard Fr. Luis Garza say that the founder had the ability to nullify our evangelical critical judgment . I clearly grasped the truth and the scope of those words. It meant that we did not pass through the sieve of our conscience judgment: neither its actions, nor its indications or what it asked us to live or do. “How did you achieve this? What prevented me from pondering in conscience what was coming from him or from the directors?” Having shielded my conscience with two principles inculcated and continuously reaffirmed by himself:
- The supernatural spirit of faith and trust, that is, seeing God in him or in the directors and, therefore, abandoning himself in his decisions with absolute confidence, in a heroic obedience, that is, blind and radical, of will and judgment. Being he, the Founder chosen by God, received from God the light to guide and direct us; It was up to us, if we wanted to fulfill God’s plan, to accept with faith, as if it came from God himself, what we received from him or from someone in authority. To pass it for the reason, was to fall into rationalism, which is the same destroyer of faith and trust, undermining them, submission by obedience ceases to have support.
- Charity demanded not to think badly and not to speak badly. Admitting the possibility of judging what came from the Founder or from a director, was to admit that he could be wrong and this was a lack of thought against charity.
In short, prosecuting something that came from the Founder or from a legitimate authority, involved a triple fault or sin: against supernatural faith and trust, against obedience and against charity. And this was an obvious sign of not loving Jesus Christ as He deserves to be loved.”