Previous post here.
The next year and a half I spent going through my old experiences
and actually letting myself question and doubt them. I had, in the past, googled "Legionaries of Christ" to try to find my favorite
meditation pages... only to find that several of the top ten links were
anti-Legion websites. At the time I had been horrified to find out that
"we had so many enemies." It seemed then that it would be a sin of
doubt to click on those links. But now, with RC no longer having any
hold on me, I went back and found all those sites. I read testimony
after testimony on the various forums I found. And it all made so much
sense. Every negative experience I had had wasn't an isolated problem,
or a problem with me. It was an institutional problem, happening over
and over to various people. Former consecrated told of physical and
mental breakdowns they'd had, after years of being driven to the
breaking point, and how the second they were no longer able to work,
they were sent home and told "you do not have a vocation." Years and
even decades of their lives were gone, with nothing to show for it ...
not even a hundred dollars to find a place to stay while they looked for
a job. Former legionary priests told worse stories, stories of
physical and sexual abuse ... things I never would have believed before,
but told with such simple straightforwardness I felt inclined to trust
what they said. Many, many of these people had left the priesthood and their faith.
I joined the forums and started to admit, quietly, in bits and
pieces, that I had been mistreated in various ways too. Before I had
thought of everything as "just being really strict," but I began to see
that the way I was treated was a methodical attempt to "form" me in the
Regnum Christi way. I also saw that this method of formation had been
really damaging, and not respectful of me as a person. True, no one had
ever laid a hand on me. But they hadn't had to. They manipulated me
through the rationing of emotional comfort -- lots of "love-bombing" in
the summer program, isolation from my companions, dependence on one
spiritual director for any approval or consolation, and having that one
person tear me down mercilessly if I failed to fit the mold they had
planned for me. And this is what they did to everyone. They
methodically deconstructed our personalities in order to build a new
thing, the "Woman of the Kingdom." And if, after having destroyed us,
they found we were not fit material for what they wanted to build, they
tossed us out, broken. And every bit of it was just so that a Mexican
philanderer could surround himself with the sort of people who would
raise money and wouldn't ask questions.
Facing this reality was very hard for me. I looked at what I had
been before going in -- happy-go-lucky, vivacious, outgoing -- and at
what I was now: indecisive, a little shy, waiting for others to tell me
what I was supposed to be, do, and think. I didn't want to change this much!
I wanted to shout. But I didn't know how to go back to what I had been
before, especially because I didn't want to go back to being thirteen.
I had missed a normal adolescence, and had developed in a totally
different direction than I probably would have otherwise. And yet, for
better or for worse, it had made me into the person I was. Did I really want to change that?
At this time, John and I were engaged, and I felt I really had to
sort through all this before getting married. Our engagement was
rough. I was terrified that maybe I wasn't myself, that John had fallen
for someone who wasn't really me, and that maybe we would be miserable
together once I got in touch with my "real self." I was scared he would
boss me around like my formators had, try to make me into something
else, and I would go along with it because I no longer had the sort of
boundaries that would keep that from happening. Every time he made the
slightest criticism of me or gave me any advice, I would fall to pieces
because I felt like I was back in high school ... powerless, incapable
of answering back.
A few things helped me through. One of them was finding, through
Facebook, a girl I had very much liked and looked up to back in the
day. We made a phone date, and ended up talking for hours. She was
able to help me revise so many of my memories. I would tell her, "I was
sure you all looked down on me," and she could answer, "No, we all
liked you a lot! We just wondered why the consecrated picked on you so
much, because it was obvious you were sweet and were trying so hard."
Or I would say, "I was so lonely, I thought no one cared," and she would
say, "I tried so hard to keep you from feeling that way. I would make
your bed and bring up your laundry for you, because I knew you were
feeling sad." That was incredibly healing.
The other thing was the ex-legionary forum I had discovered. I
spent a ton of time on it, reading the stories, sharing my own. No one
around me understood my obsession. They felt it was unhealthy and that I
should just get over it. But I felt a deep need to really pick my
experience to pieces, to let myself be angry about it, to find out the
reasons for things. I went into a very dark place for awhile, but
awhile before my wedding, I did pull out of it again, feeling much
better than I had in years. I still wasn't sure what I wanted to be.
But I was okay with figuring that out one bit at a time.
Sadly, the forum was shut down around that time. They had posted
excerpts from the Legionary statutes, which were secret and not
released to anyone outside the order. (And for good reason. A reading
of the statutes would turn anyone off of joining.) The Legion sued to
prevent them from releasing the "confidential" material, and the forum
didn't have the money to survive in court against them. I feel
fortunate that I was able to learn all I did from it when I did. Many
of my old companions had no one to talk to about their experiences until
we started our Facebook group two months ago.
Currently, the Legion and Regnum Christi are undergoing a visitation by the Vatican to determine what steps need to be taken to reform them. Many have left, but many still remain inside, convinced that they will be able to remove from their organization everything that Maciel put into it. I myself have my doubts. For one thing, how do you reform something that is rotten to the core, that only existed as a cover for a sociopath? And for another, the voices I'm hearing from inside still sound like the voices from the past. No one wants to speak up, to say anything remotely negative, to admit to the bad. They just want to be done with this reform so they can get back to work ... whatever their work is to be. I can hardly blame them. They've been "formed" just like I was, to ignore criticism, to speak positively, to keep their eyes facing forward, to squash all doubts. They're insulted if you call it brainwashing, but having undergone it, I think that's pretty much what it is. On top of all this, the leadership, apart from Maciel, hasn't changed. The same people are in charge as always were. And if you believe that Maciel abused at least 20 boys, kept two mistresses, and made off with millions in donation money without anyone ever finding out about it or helping cover it up ... well, I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.
My opinion is simple: I want to see the Legion and Regnum Christi disappear. It doesn't have to be overnight. Have them stop accepting new vocations, and shut down their schools. Give them work to do in the parishes, supervised by others outside the movement. Remove the current leadership and replace it with someone from outside. Allow anyone who wants to, to leave and join a new order. In a few decades, it will have died out. Without the patina of being the "perfect Catholic order" with no sinners and no flaws, it isn't going to attract so many people or so much money anyway.
Of course the Vatican has not asked for my opinion. They're keeping their cards close to the chest for now, and we'll see what happens. I hope they make the right call and do not allow this movement to lead anyone else astray.
But as for me -- I'm enjoying life as a plain old Catholic, trying to re-learn how to pray, and loving the vocation that I'm in. Being a mother has healed me in so many ways. I no longer get too upset about my past. It was what it was, it made me who I am today, but it doesn't predict who I will be tomorrow. That is of my own choosing. I am free now.