The schedule was remarkably structured and left very little downtime. We have 5 and 10 minute free times sprinkled throughout the day, but it mostly just gave us enough time to get from one activity to another. As part of our Human Formation, we were also supposed to have a Free Time Program where we designated which free time we would clean our lockers, ask for permissions, try to write a letter home, etc. Literally every second of our day was accounted for, from 6:00 am when we woke up till lights out at 9:30. I had a great deal of difficultly fitting myself into such a rigorous and demanding schedule because it left no time to think, relax or even unwind.
Since the reform within RC has begun, it has been noted that the consecrated were attempting to live a fully apostolic and fully contemplative lifestyle. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to fulfill all of the prayer commitments, run an apostolate and have time for free time. During my 3 year stay in RI, we cycled through various different prayer books that were supposedly approved for the PC’s (at one point we were using the consecrated’s prayer books). I never saw a handbook or written set of rules that laid out the many norms that governed our day. I don’t believe the PC was ever an apostolate that was well thought through, we lived our lives as mini-consecrated because no one had ever had the time to actually define what was appropriate for high school girls. However I was 14 years old, I never took promises of poverty, chastity, obedience and charity and I certainly did not possess the maturity to discern this decision. I was presented with a lifestyle (that was already very harmful to adult women) and informed that it was God’s Will that I follow these rules.
Will of God
One of the most damaging aspects of the PC was the manipulation of conscience and God’s Will. Everything was considered God’s Will: the norms, the schedule, your director, and your spiritual director. If you were told to do anything you were expected to obey instantly with a spirit of supernatural obedience and without questioning. Anytime we were late (even if it was minutes) we were considered outside of the schedule and therefore not living God’s Will for us. I was told by one Spiritual Director that disobeying the norms was a mortal sin and that I needed to confess my infractions in confession (that Legionary must have been bored to death listening to our confessions). When we found ourselves outside “the Will of God” (e.g. the schedule and norms) we were expected to “depend” to our formator and ask for a penance. A penance could be anything from a visit to the chapel to all free times in absolute silence. Absolute silence was kept in the dorms and from the period of time after night prayers till after mass the next morning. It could not be broken, and if you absolutely needed to ask a question, you wrote it down on a piece of paper. Once I asked for a penance because I was having trouble keeping silence in the hallways (never mind the fact that I was a talkative 14 year old girl) and I was told to be in absolute silence for all my free times all day. I’m sure my schoolmates were really confused when I insisted on writing everything down for a whole day.
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; if I was spending too much time with a particular girl, that must be stopped because it was against universal charity. God had put the consecrated in my life to guide me and I never questioned this principle. We were encouraged to be 100% open with our spiritual directors and to “depend” about every thought and struggle we encountered. I have since discovered that our spiritual directions were never confidential and were discussed among our formators and used to decide how to manipulate us.
Openness was a key concept for a PC, if you were not open with your directors; you were not being open with God. In the name of complete openness, we were given the “option” of letting our spriritual directors read all of our incoming and outgoing mail. In 10th grade I struggled with the concept of being unable to communicate with family and friends without every word being read by someone else. I spoke of sending letters without letting my spiritual director read them, but it was “highly discouraged”. In a burst of creativity I wrote my little sisters several letters in pig latin because I knew my Spanish speaking spiritual director wouldn’t understand it (plus my sisters would get a kick out it). I’ve also discovered that my mail wasn’t always forwarded to me if it was deemed harmful to my spiritual progress. My childhood friend wrote me many times about friends at home and the trouble they were getting into, however I only received one letter from her during my entire time at the PC.
The primary goal of the Precandidacy was to encourage girls to become consecrated. Within a few weeks in the school I noticed that certain girls were targeted, they were the “leader girls” being groomed for higher positions. They had better houseworks, more personal attention, were team leaders, went as leaders for retreats, assigned to sit a specific tables, etc. Every single facet of our lives was designed to manipulate us into perfect little “Women of the Kingdom” .
My personality type appreciates rules; I’ve always feel that rules are put in place for a logical reason and therefore they should be followed. So when I was presented with a huge laundry list of norms and rules that dictated my every single action, I was swamped. It was physically impossible to be on time to every single distribution of the schedule, to keep perfect silence, to remember to always be focused during meditation, to have my clothes perfectly ironed, etc. 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.
Another key concept that was practiced was “universal charity”. In theory, it sounded like an excellent idea, everyone would be friends with everyone and there would be no risk of cliques or exclusion. In practice, universal charity meant that no one was allowed to form deep or meaningful friendships with each other. If it was noted that we spent more time with a certain girl, we would be pulled aside and told to spend time with the other girls in the name of universal charity. We were told to be “discrete” and never discuss health concerns, our struggles, or anything negative that would bring down the spirit of the Precandidacy. Our conversations were pretty much limited to “oh this is wonderful; I’m so happy here; aren’t you excited for the outing on Saturday; isn’t Nuestro Padre (Father Maciel) such a saint?” All of our negative thoughts or concerns were to be directed to our spiritual directors or director.
I remember being given many penances for starting to form “particular friendships” with certain girls and I was told that I had a velcro heart that attached to everything in sight. It was my job to cut off all of these attachments and trust only in Christ and my formators. As a result, we were deeply isolated from each other and lived lonely lives surrounded by others. If I saw a companion crying or struggling with an issue I was expected to walk by discretely (perhaps say a prayer for her) and tell my director that “so and so seemed to be having a problem with X”. I deeply regret never reaching out to my companions in true charity instead of the false “universal charity” that I was told to practice. Speaking with my school mates now, we both have to ask “wait, we were friends, right? I always felt like you were a particular friend, but I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t ask.”
The practice of charity also extended to the institution itself. We were told to never criticize either the Movement or our directors and if we had an issue with something we were to take it our spiritual director or proper formator. When I left the Precandidacy, this aspect of charity remained ingrained within me and I refused to look up Regain or any other news source about RC because it was “uncharitable” and contrary to the spirit of the Movement. When I finally began to tentatively voice my opinions about RC, I felt that I was committing some sort of sin: “speak no evil of Regnum Christi” was a principle that I had a very hard time shaking off.
The Cult of Maciel
In hindsight, the level of adoration that was directed towards Fr. Maciel was disturbing. I fell for the “he’s a living saint, we should emulate his every action” party line whole heartedly. His image was all over the school, he was quoted in homilies, talks, and casual conversations. We had prayer cards with his face on them and his quotes plastered on the back and we memorized his poems (the plagiarized El Salterio de mis días) and letters. His letters were read aloud in spiritual reading and during dinner and lunch. When we did our weekly Encounters with Christ (similar to a bible study) we would offer “cases” that were relevant to the bible verse were studying and 9 times out of 10 these cases were about “Nuestro Padre” (Spanish for Our Father) and looking back they were outlandish and definitely untrue. “I know a case about Nuestro Padre when he had a stomach operation. When a LC brother came in, Nuestro Padre sat up because he wanted to give that brother a good example of a Legionary. This is an example of how we should always be good and faithful cofounders and sacrifice our comfort to give good examples to others regardless how much pain we are in.”
Over the years I saw Maciel at many different RC functions. Every time he arrived, he was always surrounded by his “inner circle” LC’s and arrived in a luxury car (and once in a helicopter). When I was in 9th grade we were told that “Nuetro Padre” was coming to visit us and we were beyond ourselves with excitement. In my journal I wrote, “Today, we had to prepare the house just in case Nuestro Padre comes. We don’t know when or where Christ comes. Um… I mean Nuestro Padre.” It never occurred to me that I had just casually mixed up God with a man or that this was an attitude that was cause for concern.
There were very limited contact with our parents and family members while I was a PC. I don’t remember the exact time frame, but we were expected to call our families during a scheduled time for around 30 minutes. Many times I would skip my calling time because I would be too busy with other scheduled activities. We spent very little vacation time with our families: 2 weeks in the summer, 4 days after Christmas and the possibility of 3 days at Thanksgiving. There was a story told that it was a PC who had requested this limited time because spending too much time at home was a danger to her vocation. We were expected to fulfill all of our prayer commitments, wear the long skirts, avoid improper situations (aka boys) and many other norms. We were told that we weren’t supposed to go to movie theatres, amusement parks, etc because it was a public spectacle. If our parents insisted that we attend one of the “public spectacles” we could go, but we were to avoid it if at all possible.
One of the cardinal (unspoken) rules was “speak no evil of RC” and this carried over fully into our relationships with our parents. Even though I struggled with life at the PC from the very beginning, I never told my family. I didn’t want to reflect badly on the Movement and I believed my struggles were my own problems that I needed to address. Parents were very much kept out of the loop, my parents never knew about my dramatic weight loss in 11th grade nor the extent of my “rebellion” and failing grades in 10th grade. When I went home to visit I spoke only good things about the PC, how much I was learning, how much I loved Christ, and how being a PC was such a wonderful vocation. I don’t blame my parents for sending me to the PC, I asked to go and I never confided in them about the true state of my soul. From the outside, the Precandidacy looks like a wonderful place, and if I were in my parents place with the same amount of information, I wouldn’t hesitate to send my daughter to such a “wonderful school”.
During my stay in the PC we were given many formation courses on the methodology of the movement. In fact we were steeped in every aspect of RC in hopes of transforming each of us into the “integral woman of the kingdom”. We had dialogues (meetings) with our formators regarding our spiritual, apostolic, human and intellectual formation. Within each area we were expected to have programs that were neatly outlined that had a goal and means for us to help transform us into happy little drones in Maciel’s army.
Within Apostolic formation we were taught the steps of recruitment, the various tactics used to recruit the leaders and how important it was to spread the kingdom of God to every corner of the earth. It was never said outright, but there was an implied attitude that RC was the absolute best way to be Catholic and therefore everyone should be RC. Parish life and every other movement was only second best therefore it was our responsibility to educate everyone about the wonder that was RC. Recently I started to go through all the papers that I had saved during my time as a PC, I found charts where I listed my siblings and friends and which steps of recruitment I thought they were in as well as my ultimate goals (long term cultivation for the Precandidacy, recruit them for the summer program, etc.) I had listed concrete steps such as make phone calls and letters in order to move them along the prescribed steps. I had ceased to view my friends and family as people that I loved and cared about instead they were means to an end, a way for me to further the Kingdom of God in a methodical and planned manner.
As a whole, the Precandidacy employed a very manipulative and damaging system that failed to take into account the inherent value of each human person. I understand that RC is attempting to reform and I hope with all my heart that each person will find a healthy holy life within the Catholic Church, no matter the route. I’m speaking out in order to find closure and to move past the chapter in my life. In many ways writing these pages have been extremely cathartic and healing. I hope that by writing down both my testimony and thoughts I will be able to finally close the RC chapter of my life and move forward without a hint of guilt.
I have been through a similar set of circumstances involving an Orthodox Christian School in Alaska. We currently have a private FB group where ex-members talk about the abuses we went through and consider what steps should be taken. I am mentioning this because this blog is inspiring to me and I have linked it out group. Thanks for sharing...ReplyDelete
Wow, this is the best description I've heard so far of "what was wrong with it." It wasn't just what personally happened to you (though that is pretty awful too! My goodness, lots of hugs!) but what parts of the system were seriously flawed. And the thing is, it wasn't just innocent ignorance ... Maciel built these things into his movement so that he could use us for his own ends. Still makes me sick, after all these years.ReplyDelete
Thank you for writing your story, Sarita. I can relate so much of what you write here to my own experience, and like Sheila said above, you did a great job vocalizing the problems of the system and that the flaws go beyond mere externals. Reading this has helped me understand that I was not alone in going through so many similar things.ReplyDelete
Personally I think the Church has to do away with this custom of the religious orders screening people's incoming and outgoing mail. It really prevents the person from making an informed decision about their vocation.ReplyDelete
Even though it was done for many years in many religious orders (the usual Legionary/Opus Dei/Miles Jesu argument in favor of the custom) does not mean it is a healthy practice or one that can be continued.
If you cannot even trust people to receive and send mail privately, that shows something is wrong.
Also these groups are overlooking the encyclicals of Pope Pius XI and Leo XIII which essentially say vocation is a FREE choice. Many times these groups present it as a MORAL choice- either join us now or you commit a mortal sin and go to hell. Groups like the Legionaries pitt themselves against Catholic tradition by their teaching on vocation.
I'm So sorry to hear about this! I've only just discovered these testimonies of abuse from the Legion of Christ. When I was 16, my mom took me to visit the college for consecrated women, also in RI (Mater Ecclesiae). She thought it was a good idea at the time. I never attended it but now that I read more into these stories about the program, I'm glad I never enrolled! The question of vocation discernment is one I've struggled with too, I think all Catholic girls do. Having someone coerce me into a religious vocation (I know, it's not the same as a nun...) would have certainly made it worse.ReplyDelete
With my prayers!