Saturday, July 7, 2012

My past, part X

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.



Anonymous said...

Sooo...I read your whole story. I was also a "PC" through 9 and 10 grade , but in México City. I can only tell you, as I was reading your blog, I felt I was reading my own journal (I don't know if that sentence makes any sense in english).

Anyway, I'm really happy you were able to pull it together, sometimes I still find my self struggling with some insecurities I piked up in the "Precandidacy" (less and less frequently, though) but all and all I've also managed to move on. I'm now in college having the time of my live, remembering my "PC" years more like a bizarre experience and less like a "gift of God."

Heather C. said...

I am glad that you were able to write this through and share it away from being pent up inside! Also, I am glad you found the forum before it got shut down. I hadn't realized your process of rediscovery went into your engagement period, as well, but I think that is just testament to how much wiser than your years you come across as. It's a deeply touching, yet painful, story to read; thank you for your strength in helping to bring it to light.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, this is such a beautiful, courageous testimony. I was a member of RC for more than 5 years, and many of my experiences in the movement and recovering from it mirror yours. Though I never was a PC or a candidate, I spent some time as a coworker. For years afterward I had panic attacks. A few months ago I picked up my spiritual journals and flipped through a few pages. It reads like a journey into madness -- obsessive self-criticism, constant fears about my failure to do the will of God, apprehension about telling the truth about my doubts about RC to my director for fear I would get kicked out, being terrified of having a vocation because I'd been told I had one but had no feeling I was called, the sense of isolation I felt after I left. No one from my family understood the pain that my life in the movement brought to me, and the long process of healing for my faith and my prayer life that had to follow. Even now, years later, I struggle to trust God and others. I am so happy to see that you are happily married and a mom, and that you have persevered in faith. I hope that God blesses you a million times for what you suffered.

Rachel said...

Wow. I just read through your whole story.

I was involved in ECYD growing up. I remember thinking about being a coworker, maybe a consecrated. I knew though that I'd never go to the school (I think I thought my parents couldn't afford it?). I truly believe now that God kept me from that. I have plenty of my own issues without having to add that on!

What really sticks out to me though is how similar your story sounds to the stories of wives in polygamy in the FLDS. I just finished reading one book about one woman (the book is "Favorite Wife") and I'm reading another one. The same techniques of saying "This is God's Will for you" "don't you trust your superiors", the emphasis on being happy all the time (in the one book, it's called "Keeping Sweet"). It's crazy how similar they are.

Actually, it's similar to another group I consider a cult, Bill Gothard's ATI, who's most famous family is the Duggars. A lot of the same issues there too.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I pray that you continue to find healing and that you can help others find it too.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like quite a few of you went through similar phases. As a Catholic, but outsider to RC, it is a wonder that any of you have come past severe self-esteem issues.

I applaud that most of you have freed your spirits from the slavery that was RC. I hope Pope Benedict will do the right thing and make it go away.

Sheila, thanks for referring me to the other sites. Very interesting, some very sad stories. I'm happy for the victories you've achieved.

Theresa UK said...

I'm so impressed by your bravery and courage. I was controlled in a similar fashion by my parents, with similar results, even now when I'm almost 40 I've not really addressed it with anyone other than dh, and even then there are big periods of time that I've blanked out and can't bear to think about. That you have come so far so quickly is wonderful and a real credit to you.
God bless you and your lovely family

Mollie BAker said...

Hi Shelia! After reading your story, I am so, so grateful we didn't agree to let Mary Beth stay past the summer program. She wanted to, because like you, she loved the atmosphere of prayer and all those other girls striving to be holy. At the time, we lived in New Jersey and she was having a tough time with the "friends" she had made. But Chuck said absolutely not, she couldn't stay; and my father-in-law said something that I didn't agree with at the time, but I see now had great wisdom. He said the world is no longer what it was during the days of St. Therese of Lisieux, that a girl of 15 was much too young to be making such an important life decision. I see now that the atmosphere at the school was not one that respected your individuality. I am so grateful you left and that you have found your true vocation!

On a side not, I almost incorporated into RC while we were in New Jersey. But something (Someone?) held me back, and I am very thankful!

God bless you and your family, and thank you for sharing your story.

Sheila said...

I'm so glad this story has affected others. I think society is only beginning to come to an awareness of the damage done by emotional abuse. You find it in RC, in other restrictive groups like ATI (which fascinates me, when I look at the parallels) and even in individual families.

I would encourage anyone who's gone through something like this to write it up and post it somewhere, even if anonymously. I have found it really healing and I've spoken to many others who say the same.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your detailed account. You have amazing strength.

Tiffany said...

Shelia, I just read over all ten posts in your Regnum Christi series. I had remembered you writing them, but didn't go through them thoroughly at the time. I just finished reading a book called "The Vatican Diaries" which contains a chapter on Fr. Maciel. I don't know that I made the connection before between the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, but then I remembered you writing about Regnum Christi. This was *fascinating*. I'm so sorry that you had such a bad experience, but I'm certain that your posts will help others. Thank you for writing them!

Anonymous said...

Sheila, thanks for telling your story. Without getting into my own story here, I want to get in touch about it. You can find me on google+ as +H Daniel.

Perhaps it was very hard to revisit your experiences, but I'm grateful you did because they can be of service to others.

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