Thursday, May 31, 2012

Susan's Story

I am among those who did not suffer obvious ill at the PC. I, unlike many, love rigorous schedules and often just suck up and accept arbitrary regulations. I am a stoic by nature, to a fault. So, I did not have the traumatic experiences that others had of feeling pressured, having nightmares, etc. You might say that I was “cut-out” for the PC. Looking back and reflecting, however, I think my experience shows even more so how it was flawed at its foundations and would prove damaging to anyone.

First, as someone mentioned earlier, the PC stunted my ability to make friendships. I had normal, healthy friendships with boys and girls in middle school. But then, at the PC, I had to stop cultivating many of these because it wasn’t really encouraged, was it? Some of these friendships I’m still trying to make up for the two years I lost. And it wasn’t as if the PC made up for this. Now, all those who I was a PC with, I love you! But I don’t think I could say in honesty that I had a true friendship with anyone of you. I wish I could have met you outside of the PC. And this is because I did not open up ONE BIT to any of my “companions.” We weren’t supposed to, so I didn’t. I actually remember thinking ill of one PC who was more familiar to another PC. A little twisted, I’d say, and I still regret it. Oh! And not knowing why or when another PC would leave?! I always was a little dumbfounded by that, but I just kept going on and didn’t question. Another bad fruit: I also became estranged from some of my immediate family. Again, I’m still trying to make up for the distance my two PC years created.

Second, I feel utterly betrayed that RC claimed the simple zeal that is typical of young people. It’s hard not to become almost cynical after you throw yourself headlong into a thing, sincerely believing that you are serving Christ by good means, and it turns out that the seemingly most sound things are actually horrible.

Third, the persecution complex that was fostered at the PC is extremely harmful, I think. I hate sounding like I’m construing things as a conspiracy theory, but it is very unsettling that we were all in a way prepared for persecution (wasn’t there something in MM’s “letters” that talked about a certain number of crosses or something?), that we were discreetly taught to distrust and look down upon other groups within the Church. We all knew that RC was going to be hated wherever it went, but nonetheless, we should keep doing all the good we knew we were! It’s awful. I’m still turned off when I hear defenses of RC and the news about MM saying that we all have crosses to bear, etc…. And remember learning about the movement’s foundation? Wasn’t it strange that it was such a good thing that the letter from the Vatican meant to stop its founding happened to be in the mail office, just not delivered? Didn’t we all think, back then, “What a miracle!” But wasn’t it slightly odd that we held RC sort of higher and better than the Church in a way? And now, I can’t help wondering why it was so difficult for MM to be ordained, why he got kicked out of so many seminaries. I used to think these were all trials sent to prove the movement’s greatness. I definitely don’t think so anymore.

Fourth, to those who think the rigorous norms of the PC are similar to religious life, I can’t really say. But I do know that almost never do nuns leave their orders once they’ve taken their final vows. Yet many consecrated, especially those I most looked up to, were constantly leaving. I never could get my head around that as a PC discerning such a vocation as I firmly held that a commitment of one’s life should be for life. That so many were continually and still are leaving shows a severe and deep flaw, I think.

Finally, thank goodness my Mom started having misgivings by the end of my 10th grade year and pulled me out! That same year, the news came out about MM. If I was at the PC, I think that I would have fallen into the persecution complex, summoned all my stoicism, and kept fighting “for the Movement.” What the heck was and is the Movement?! Good thing I was at home and was in a setting that allowed me to realize that it was good and healthy to question (differing from doubting) that RC was not, in fact, a supreme and ultimate good. I basically cut myself off entirely from RC for a while, mostly because I feared falling back into my previous mindset. I still am fighting against the pressure and guilt of not sticking it out, especially as superiors had said such things to me as, “You will be a pillar in the Precandidacy” or “I look forward to seeing your progression in holiness.” Such things should never be said! It leads to a false and twisted humility.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

C's Story

When Fr. Maciel came to visit us that summer, we all ate outside and he was at a head table and they called me up to meet him. He looked at me and said " you have a vocation to be 3rd Degree Regnum Christi!". That was a lot of pressure to carry around for a lot of years. If he said it, it must be true. It took my brother telling me five years later while I was in the candidacy that I shouldn't hold onto that and it was OK for me to leave, and I couldn't base my decision on what Fr. Maciel had told me. What if I hadn't had my brother there as someone I trusted? I know I would have become consecrated out of guilt.
When I decided to leave the PC after one year I was asked not to, and to wait and think about it because it would be too hard on the other girls if I left right then. I went home that week but with much guilt laid on me for being selfish.

Lea's Story

I've been a bit afraid to write a little of my experience at the PC (actually I feel nervous as I'm typing). I started out bright eyed and bushy tailed as anyone else and CHUGGED the Kool-Aid. I felt pressure from day one of my summer program to stay at the PC because I'm beginning to think now that I fit their little mold. I was crying on the phone to my parents when I made the decision to stay. As a 9th grader, they put me in charge of quite a few things and I felt excited about that, but I never felt like myself. I liked being a leader a little, but not as much as they pressured me into. I HATED it! I didn't want to tell my classmates how to clean the darn classrooms! I didn't want to lead encounters, I didn't want to sing in front of everyone...yet I was pushed and pushed and I never revealed my true feelings to anyone because I was too scared that I wasn't following God's will and (shock! I was freaking 14!)...I also received a letter from MM when I was ONLY 15...telling me how he knew I would make a great consecrated (something to that extent). To be perfectly honest, that was like reading a death sentence. Sorry to be so dramatic, but at 15 that's honestly how I felt. After that letter my life went downhill. Every time we went on an outing I envied other people I would see because they didn't know RC and weren't in the predicament I was in. I also became ill. Started loosing weight drastically (which I was complimented on because I had begun to look too chubby). Finally I had to go to the doctor's several times to have blood tests done because I was jaundiced and no one knew why. (YES, stress can mess you up). How was I treated at that point? I was put in the sick room where the only human being I was able to see in a day was the poor soul who would bring me food. I remember lying in that room forced to listen to a tape of MM talking out loud about spiritual things. It was in that moment I went crazy. He spoke about following God's will. He said that if your do God's will you will have peace and inner joy. I wasn't even close to peace and inner joy. In fact I was in a hole so black life itself didn't seem to matter any could he say these things? How am I trapped in this room, depressed, anguished, exhausted, stressed and so confused?? During my entire time at the PC all I ever wanted was to do God's will. I sincerely did. I loved God so much but I was so confused. "God I'm trying to do your will but why do I feel like ending my life?" At that moment I marched downstairs and called my family. I was out 2 days later. No, I wasn't able to tell anyone goodby. I did visit the next year, but that visit seems like a blur.

Shannon's Story

I was homesick and depressed pretty much my whole (freshman) year as a PC, most especially after Thanksgiving, but I tried to hide it because I was supposed to be joyful and didn't want to go against God's will. There were times I was locking doors at night, and I would think, how hard can it be to run to the airport from here? But I didn't have a way to get there, to get on a plane, to go home. I felt so trapped. 
I also remember times that I was woken up at night to lock the doors again, even though I already had.  A Consecrated had to wake me up, and I know she felt bad, but was told to by someone else. So, I had to walk in the dark through the school when everyone was asleep to re-lock a door (that any of the consecrated could have simply taken care of themselves if they had noticed it!) And I had locked it. That felt very wrong, even in the cloud of "God's will."
Even on the phone with my family, I pretended everything was ok, because I didn't want to complain, be unjoyful, or go against God's will. I know the consecrated must have noticed it eventually, especially in the spring, because all of a sudden they started giving me responsibilities that I would never have been chosen for before, since I was more the quiet type. I was put in charge of a housecleaning group, and told I would be able to go on a camp in another state (which was cancelled). But I had my suspicions even then that the consecrated were trying to make me want to stay. But then my sister came, and I just wanted to spend time with her, so I wouldn't follow the "schedule" completely. I couldn't understand why I wouldn't be able to spend time with my own sister (who I missed so much!) who was in my own house for a month! So, then I brought up that I wasn't sure if I should stay (I couldn't take it anymore), and they asked me if I thought maybe it wasn't God's will for me to be there in the first place. I said yes, because I hoped that meant I could leave (I was afraid if I said no that I would have to stay). It was definitely the hardest year of my life, but God did bring some good lessons and definitely good friendships out of it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Laina's Story

After leaving the PC I felt a lot of peace and relief, and though I got angry and felt unwanted and rejected, it was a slow build over time. During the following two years it crept up on me that my life at the PC, though beautiful in many ways, and valued, was harmful and left me broken. I also kept in close contact with a few other disgruntled PCs, even rooming with a couple of them, and I think hearing their anger and frustration made me feel both understood, and also not as bad off. I was able to move past it and leave it all behind. Not necessarily in a forgiveness act, but just because my two years at the PC feels like a different life, a different world, and I was certainly a different person living it out. It's easier to just leave it where I don't have to look at it anymore. One of the hardest things for me was the restriction on relationships. The silence between sections. The disappearances. That topic is difficult to discuss still to this day. But here are the two things that come to mind when I reflect on the PC.....

1. What saddens me is the complete lack of attention my specific gifts and talents were given. (and every other girl's unique offerings) It seemed there were a small handful of favored PCs who were given privileges, and a small group of "talented" PCs who were the go-to singers or writers and so forth. But there were so many hidden gems who were never encouraged or recognized for their unique qualities. It was always about molding to the type, silencing anything that differed. It's almost humorous to me now, seeing where I have come at the end of all that. As a PC I was told often that I could not sing; my creativity was never used. I remember DESPERATELY wanting to help prepare the Christmas room, or even sing in the choir. But I was never considered "creative." Now, I run an artist collective, I am a producer in a reputable film company, I run a non-profit artist collective, I sit on the board of an International Film Festival, I am a booking agent for a venue that brings in major bands, and I tour with my band which has released two albums. That sounds horrible egotistical and boasting and I PROMISE I am not trying to sound that way.... there are so many of you who have accomplished so much more or things that are so very different. But I use it as an example, one that I think so many of us can add our own "where we are now" experiences to, that show how few of us were given an opportunity to be challenged and excel in our individual gifts. I would love to hear a running list of where everyone else landed with their varied gifts and interests. Though I may not have openly thought this at the time, I look back now and wonder how anyone really thought they knew me. Art is my life and yet I was kept so far from it. I found it so sad as I witnessed so many incredibly talented women around me.

2. One of the most important things I remind myself of is that our formators and most of the consecrated who handled me on a regular basis, were really children themselves! I am already five years older now than most of the women giving me guidance and criticism. I can't imagine having that kind of a responsibility at 21 and 22 years old! Many of them had not even been to college yet. I am not saying that is too young to choose to give your life to God necessarily, but to be in charge of shaping a teenager's world-view and, more importantly, perception of herself? It's preposterous, the responsibility they were given. I don't know if I can really blame them for much. My time at the PC is something I don't think I will ever fully be able to explain to anyone who did not experience it, and in many ways my mind doesn't allow me to fully remember it very clearly. It is the other PCs that I will never forget. Their faces, their voices. There are some of you I could swear I was in the same room with just yesterday. There were moments I cherish, and a happiness that came if from nowhere else than just the simplicity of it all. I will always be grateful for that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sheila's Story, Part I

For years I have been blogging. For years I have studiously not talked about my experiences at boarding school. I've been afraid of criticism, mainly. Unfortunately there's a lot of controversy surrounding the whole thing, so when I talk about my experiences, I'm sometimes accused of stirring up controversy. But for me, it's never been a matter of controversy, it's just my life.

It's taken me years to come to a point where I can be even remotely objective about the whole thing. For a long time, I would brook no criticism, defend to the death even things I had disagreed with at the time. Later, I swung around the other way and couldn't even talk about it because of all the bad memories it was bringing up for me. Now, I look back on it and it's just one of many things that went into the making of me ... not everything, not nothing, just one thing. And I'm done wondering whether it could have been different, what I would have been like otherwise ... it's irrelevant because I am what I am now, and I love my life -- I wouldn't change a thing, if it meant things would be different now. I've come through a lot, both good and bad, to arrive at my present life, which is wonderful. I can't exactly wish any of it away.

So, I've resolved to finally come out and tell my story. I'm going to try to be as objective as I can, and let you all draw your own conclusions. A lot of people I went to school with had completely different experiences, some better and some much worse, so keep in mind that I'm not telling the whole story. I'm only telling my story.

Here are the basic facts. In 1998 I encountered a group called Regnum Christi. They are a lay movement within the Church that still exists. I first joined the youth arm, called ECYD. In 2000, when I was fourteen, I went to a boarding school that exists for girls who want to discern a vocation to the consecrated life in Regnum Christi. The school is officially called Immaculate Conception Academy, but we called it "the precandidacy." In 2002, at the end of my sophomore year, I was sent home. For years I tried to get back there, while being an active Regnum Christi member. Two and a half years into college, I finally left Regnum Christi for good in 2006.

The story starts, as I said, in 1998. I had just finished my years of conventional schooling, one year of public school and two years of parochial school, and my parents had agreed to let me return to homeschooling for seventh and eighth grade. I had been miserable at school, so I was thrilled and ready for some change in my life. A friend of my mom's from church happened to mention a summer camp I could go to. I'd never been to a real camp, and really wanted to go. It was a Catholic camp on a lake, run by these Regnum Christi people I'd heard of.

That summer I went to the camp and had a really great time. Instead of the cliquish and cruel classmates I'd been dealing with, there were lots of really nice girls who were very accepting of my awkward self. I made friends, a real challenge for me usually. The two ladies who ran the camp were my idols. They told us that they were consecrated women, "like nuns, but we take promises instead of vows and don't wear a habit." They were both young and pretty, and wore nice clothes, like businesswomen. They smiled all the time and were always really nice. At one point I was called to talk alone with one of them, and thought I was in trouble. Instead they asked if I wanted to join this group they'd been talking about, ECYD. I said I really, really wanted to, but I would have to talk to my parents first. So I didn't get to join at that camp. The girls who had called home to get permission all had an "incorporation ceremony," where they made promises and got little commitment cards. The commitments were very easy -- a few short prayers a day -- and you got to take a rosary ring home with you. I envied those girls fiercely.

After that I took every opportunity to go to camps and retreats these people put on. At a beachside retreat, I finally incorporated into ECYD myself. I saw it as a way to finally turn my life around, stop the misery I'd experienced with my worldly life at school with the cliques and the dirty jokes and the meanness. Instead I was going to be holy and good and pure, all the time! I felt extremely guilty that I'd been a Catholic for all these years and had never made it my own. So I made it a point to. I read the catechism and the Bible. I changed my radio from the pop station (which I didn't really like, but listened to so I wouldn't be shown up for my cultural ignorance) to the Christian station. I stopped reading trashy novels and switched to the classics. All of this fit in very well with my new life situation -- with Catholic, homeschooled friends and friends I met through ECYD, rather than the popular kids at school who would laugh at you if you didn't play along with their dirty jokes, dating games, and popularity clubs. I even got my formidable temper under some kind of control, and eventually rid my life of the gigantic temper fits I had been in the habit of throwing. (I'm sure my parents heaved a sigh of relief at that one!)

Those two years of my junior high were kind of a golden age for me. I was finally making my faith my own -- even praying the rosary sometimes before going to sleep at night. I began talking to God again, like I used to do when I was very little. I also began to follow my own interests more, beginning to write a lot, to work on crafts, to spend a lot of time outside. My mom supported me in everything, saying the ECYD prayers with me morning and night along with our usual prayers and driving me to club meetings.

That was kind of odd, by the way. We had been told at camp that the "girls' club" was for ECYD members and others who were interested, and yet ECYD was never mentioned. The explanation was that we, the ECYD members, would be the secret heart of the club, and all the other girls would want to join too when they saw us. From time to time the consecrated women would show up for "spiritual direction" with those of us who were members. I never knew what to talk about.

After about a year, I think after my second camp, I had a strange dream. In the dream, I was at camp, but at the end of camp, all of us girls joined the consecrated women. We were dressed as nuns and we were all rapturously happy. I woke up with the idea that I had received a Call. We'd heard tons of vocation stories, and there was always this moment when someone realized they were called to the consecrated life.

I reached for my Bible and flipped it open at random, hoping to "get a word" that would tell me what to do. (I didn't know then, but I do now, that this practice, called the sortes bibliorum, is condemned by the Church as superstition.) I got Isaiah 54 and read until I got to the point when I read, "He who has become your husband is your maker; His name is the Lord God of hosts." That settled it for me. I definitely had a vocation.

I had already heard of this school in Rhode Island where high schoolers who thought they had vocations could go. It sounded like a perfect idea to me, the next step in changing my life to what I wanted it to be -- something holier, better, closer to God. And, since I now had a vocation, I should definitely go!

I told my parents and they were skeptical. In fact, my dad pretty much just said no. "You're thirteen," they said. "You never stick to anything. You'll change your mind."

I didn't change my mind. I stuck by my determination for a whole year. Two consecrated women (they always travel in pairs) visited my home and talked to my parents. They seemed to know exactly the topics my parents would listen to: to my mom, they talked about prayer; to my dad, about the problems in the world and the Church. With me, they were a bit more doubtful. They were not at all convinced by my claim to "have a call" to the consecrated life, but they said there was no problem with me going to the summer program at their school and seeing if I wanted to go.

Eventually, my parents agreed that I could go. I saved up money to help buy my plane ticket, and in the summer of 2002, at age 14, I finally went. My main plan was to stay and go to school there, but my mom and I had tossed around other possibilities too. It was possible, I admitted, that it wasn't for me. My mom was more concerned that they wouldn't let me stay.

I flew out to Rhode Island near the end of July, as excited as I had ever been in my life.
More of Sheila's story here

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jennifer's Story

I was there my freshman year and the start of my sophmore year. I know it wasn't all horrible, but there are many things that left a very bitter taste in my mouth, and I know that overshadows all the fun times that I had on outings, seeing the Christmas room, etc. For whatever it's worth, I just can't bring myself to practice religion anymore. I truly believe it's the result of having everything dictated as "God's will". My life is much more peaceful now without worrying about any of that.

My biggest regret from being a PC is how we weren't allowed "special" friendships. I know I was there with amazing girls, and it kills me that I didn't make lasting friendships. How is it even possible to put so many girls into the same dormitory, eating together, studying together, praying together, and at the same time know almost nothing about them? We should all have gotten into mischief, stayed up late playing ridiculous teenage truth or dare games, and generally been super close to each other. It's been 13 years since then, and I still struggle to make lasting friendships. I have to force "girl time" because it just seems strange to me - thankfully I have a handful of amazing friends, but I feel like it was easy to make friends prior to the PC, and it's something I have to work at now. Somehow that part of me got lost.

Many parts of me got lost, really. I feel like the spiritual direction/confession process was really just another name for stripping away my personality and making me an obedient little PC. I was continuously told I was proud, that I had faults, etc. That really wore on me as a freshman, and I ended up with ridiculously low self esteem. Instead of a lecture, most often I really could have just used a hug. I don't think that anyone was really looking out for me. I had some knee troubles that first year, and was on crutches for what seemed like forever (anyone remember how fast I could swing myself down the glass corridor on those things though? Haha). My doctor wanted me to rehab it by doing some swimming and exercises to strengthen it, but my formators denied my family's request because it would have taken me too far outside of the big-S schedule. While I was hobbling around on crutches, I was criticized for not completing my housework completely - I had the dorm bathrooms at that time. I got a lecture about how I should be able to figure out how to empty the personal hygiene trash bins in each stall. To this day, I'm still unsure how they expected me to pick those suckers up and carry them to the main trash can while on crutches. Same thing for my asthma - I was told to "offer it up" whenever I'd encounter triggers and start wheezing, rather than staying healthy and not sweeping up dust, etc.

Sara's Story

It's been over 10 years since I left RI and I'm still trying to process and get over a lot of the anger and bitterness that I feel towards RC. When I started 9th grade, I was really excited about my new "vocation". A month or two into 9th grade I started to notice a difference in how certain girls were treated (looking back, it was the "leader girls" being groomed for positions). I felt like I could never be one of those sparkling popular girls so I retreated into myself.

10th grade came around and I decided (in typical teenage fashion) that since I couldn't ever be one of the popular girls, I could get attention by being a rebel. So I skipped classes, hid from the consecrated (closets, suitcase room, showers... I got creative lol) and read a million books. I was trying to get them to send me home because I didn't want the responsibility of choosing to "abandon my vocation." For some reason they wouldn't send me home. I finally left at the end of 10th grade, only to get home and have a fit of conscience, and realize that I "needed" to be in the PC. So after begging and pleading I returned to the PC for the end of my 11th grade, only to leave again.

I think one of the biggest issues that I have with everything is the methodology. For a while there, I stopped seeing my friends as my friends, but only as prospective PC's (face to faces). It reduces the value of every human being to "leader" vs "non leader" and how they can be used "for the good of the Kingdom". It makes me sick.

I think a small part of me is still trying to get over the brainwashing. I still have dreams about the PC and it's always filled with the exciting "you're so special" crap.  A tiny part of me wanted to go to the Reunion, to get sucked back into the shiny plastic world of the Movement. It took me years to realize there was anything wrong with the Movement, and even longer to even talk about it.

Greta's Story

I feel I was lucky: I was 17 when I went and had a drivers license! I feel I was so lucky as I got out all the time and while I was good while out, I was able to get to know the people who came with me! I hosted a reunion several years ago now and expressed how the consecrate really left me alone: I never had human formation my senior year, and went for 4 months without spiritual direction. I remember feeling left out of that, but now am thankful! As more and more continues to come out (when I read about fr Williams I was at work and had to call my mom ASAP!), I keep remembering my mom asking me if they were wrong to send me to the PC- I told her no, it was the best thing for me (I needed to be in school to graduate! - never would have gone to college without the PC!). However, the next question my mom asked me still haunts her: "if you had a daughter and she asked to go, would you say yes?" I said: never...

I think that is one of the biggest things I lost: my mother and I don't have a close relationship. It was the worst when I first came back post graduation. She wanted a child with a vocation and I was her last hope.... I took a friend home years ago and the friend made a comment that my mother described me but based on her description my friend knew my mom didn't know me.  She described me as she knew me, a 16 year old teenage girl.  She has never spent quality time with me after I went to Rhode Island. Between college and getting employed 700 miles away from home, she hasn't had the chance to live with me for more than a week or so at a time!

I also came from a dairy farm. Honestly, waking up at 6 and sleeping at 9:30 was a luxury for me! I used to get lectures about how retreats weren't "vacations," but for me they were!

Ellen's Thoughts

I was in the PC for four years, then consecrated until I left in 2009. I haven’t though through everything, but here are some of the things I think about my experience and the institution as a whole:

I had a lot of good experiences, but I don’t think the good should be attributed to the institution. I think the good experiences we had came from the people we were with. I know I met a lot of truly, deeply good people while in the Movement, and am still good friends with some of them. A lot of us deeply loved God and our Catholic faith, and genuinely and generously wanted to dedicate one or more years of our lives to discerning a possible vocation (PCs) or living a life of consecration in the Church (3GF), or just doing some form of good volunteer work in a Catholic context (coworkers). Because we were genuine, enthusiastic and eager to do good, many of us did indeed have good experiences – because of the goodness of our hearts, not necessarily the institution.

I agree with those that say you can’t blame everyone/everything involved in an institution for the sin of one man (MM) or a few (supporters). However, I think that’s a very weak defense. The story doesn’t end there. I didn’t leave RC because MM sinned. I left for two reasons:

1. I came to recognize that his sin was more than a personal sin. Given his position in the institution, he was able, whether deliberately or not, to ingrain the mentality behind his own actions into the overall functioning and methods of the institution.

2. Once the news had come out regarding MMs personal life, the abuse cases, and the need for reform of the institution, I don’t think RC/LC handled the situation correctly. First of all, the Gospel says, “The Truth will set you free,” yet the consistent approach taken was to withhold as much of the truth as long as possible. Even after the Vatican itself began sending communiqu├ęs, directors passed them down with a watered down explanation making everything seem “not so bad.” I don’t think the victims of abuse have yet been directly addressed and dealt with. I don’t mean to imply that LC/RC has withheld truth out of malice. There might be some cases where it has been done for some sort of power or gain, but it is also possible that, in many cases, denial is simply easier than acknowledging a truth that requires change. I know that surface level things have changed (e.g. shorts on outings for PCs, more free time, access to the internet for consecrated, etc.), but I don’t think the deeper issues have been addressed.
And, while acknowledging the truth and addressing the victims of abuse is very important, I don’t think that is the extent of the problem.

I believe that LC/RC hasn’t even begun, at least publicly, to address or reform serious flaws in the congregation that came about due to MMs leadership. These flaws pervade the fiber of the institution at all levels, and until they are addressed, true reform can’t even begin to happen. As long as LC/RC takes the position that, yes, MM, and some other LCs have sinned and made mistakes, but the institution itself is good, nothing will really change, even if consecrated now go around in sandals and ponytails.

As a specific congregation/Movement with its own identity, LC/RC basically became a “subculture” within the Church. There is no problem with subcultures that share the same values as the larger Church, but live them out difference (as the Dominican teaching order, for example, has a different religious culture than the cloistered Carmelites, but both are united with the greater Church in essence and differ in ministry and tradition). LC/RC, however has formed a subculture that mirrors (or at least mirrored) genuine Catholicism externally, but was really a perversion of it. Faith and reason are two very important dimensions of the human person, and I believe that LC/RC perverted both of them. Faith became blind, and often “dumbed down” obedience, in which there is a direct correlation between what the superior says and the will of God. This goes in direct conflict with the true Catholic teaching of conscience, which states that, in the end, we will be held accountable for what our conscience tells us. Yes, we have the responsibility to educate our conscience, but it is to be educated with the TRUTH and guided by reason – the opposite of suspending reason to blindly accept the word of another and assume that we are not responsible for our actions because they have been directed by the superior. And, reason has been perverted by being marginalized. Obedience is always more important than our reason, and even though LC/RC tells its members that they are free to think, it directs them as to how they should think, so the “reasoning” generally follows a set track that has been thought out in advance and fed to the members. Every time my reasoning led me to a different conclusion than what the directors/Movement said, I was “corrected” for being “too rational.” This is completely against true Christian philosophy, which sees reason as one of our greatest gifts from God and a means to bring us to him through the truth. I’m not saying our reason is always perfect, but I am saying that it shouldn’t be marginalized, overlooked, trampled on or put out of the picture. It should be respected and cultivated, not by telling us what to think, but by letting us think for ourselves, explore, discover, discuss, debate, and in the end, draw our own conclusions, even if they differ from the “party line.”

I believe that the greatest tragedy of the institution is not the life of the founder, but the harm it as caused in the lives of individuals and in the life of the Church it professes to love and serve. I don’t just refer to the individuals that were victims of abuse, but to all that have suffered spiritual, psychologically, emotionally, physically or in any other way due to their experience in the Movement. From reading different comments in this discussion and others, it seems that some had very negative experiences and others had, at least on the personal level, positive ones. I don’t think that the good experiences some have had make up for the difficulties so many others go through, or for flaws inherent in the institution. The Church as a whole has also suffered, because many people, possibly some of you included, have lost their faith or have a negative experience of it due to LC/RC. LC/RC took different concepts, terms and aspects of the Catholic faith and used them differently. Prayer has a true meaning. Spiritual direction has a legitimate place in the Church, but it isn’t what the Movement calls “SD”. Obedience really is a virtue, but not as the Movement taught us. Docility, humility, etc. really are good things, but I’m sure many of us can’t stomach the words now, because of the connotations taken on in the LC/RC. This hurts the Church as a whole by tainting some very good parts of the faith. Many of us have a hard time praying, or going to confession, or going to someone for advice, not those things are actually bad, but because we are turned off by the very idea due to a negative experience. And even when we go back to, or discover for the first time, what the Church really means by those things, there will always be a bad residue by virtue of association.

I am still Catholic and still practicing, but I fully understand how some of you might not be. I believe that I am because I had a very strong education in my faith from my family prior to going to the Precandidacy. When I left the Movement, I had something to fall back on from before entering, something much truer that I still remembered. I also did a lot of studying and thinking after leaving to reorient myself with the Church and draw my own conclusions, and I ended up being able to separate “Church” from “Movement.” I sincerely hope that each of you that have in some way been hurt is able to find peace and healing, and draw close to God in whatever way you can, not because you “have to,” but because he IS there, and is worth knowing, even if we feel that the “friend” that introduced him to us betrayed us.

Regarding the Movement itself, I still wish it the best, even though I no longer support it. I still know many people that are in it, and I know that many of them are truly good people. I hope they are able to see the truth and act accordingly, even if it is hard.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Megan's Story

When I was in Kindergarten, my favorite teacher was Sister Vincent, the Music and Motion instructor.  She gave the best hugs – which I really needed in Kindergarten because I had no idea what was going on most of the time, and that can be scary when you’re six.  Sister Vincent and I became pals, and soon I declared my intention to be a nun.  This got a lot more attention than I had expected, so I kept saying it, and saying it, and saying it, and eventually it became true.  I visited lots of convents as a pre-teen.  My parents were thrilled.  By the time I was 12, I was pretty bored by my sheltered life as a home school kid with no extra-curricular activities.  I was ready to go out and slay the world. 
And that’s when I met the Consecrated.  Pairs of them came to visit us every few months.  They gave me lots of attention and told me wonderful stories about the life of a Precandidate – a girl who renounced the world and joined a band of sisters to discern a vocation and be trained in the ways of God, a girl who gave her heart to Jesus so he could mold her into his instrument.  The picture they painted was irresistible.  I had to go.  I attended a couple camps and retreats, and I was always treated like a VIP, and given special jobs and special time with the consecrated.  By the time I was old enough for the Summer Program, wild horses couldn’t have kept me out of the PC.  I was 14 when I arrived in RI – 3,000 miles away from my home and my family. 
           I knew from the start that I was staying for the year, for all the years of highschool and then I was going to get consecrated.  Why else leave my family?  And my family seemed a lot less boring now that I was so far away.  I cried myself to sleep every night for months and months.  I especially missed my little sister, who had always been at my side.  I was constantly turning around to make a joke or criticize someone’s clothes and finding an empty spot where she should have been. 
Despite my homesickness, the first few months were easy.  I knew I was doing the right thing, and the Consecrated were so nice to all of us, and the other girls were so much fun.  The rules were hard, but it wasn’t the end of the world if you didn’t follow them perfectly.  Then things began to change.  The Consecrated weren’t so tolerant of chatting in the hallways.  They started insisting that I walk and sit and talk “like a lady.”  My human formator started hassling me about waxing my facial hair and losing the five pounds I’d gained that summer.  First it was once a week, then it was once a day, then I started hiding in closets when I’d see her, because every time she’d lay eyes on me she’d want “a little talk.”  Eventually I broke down and did what she wanted.
I started to feel really lonely.  We had less and less free time, until finally, free time was the time you spent brushing your teeth, using the toilet and walking to and from meals and activities.  The time we did get to spend working and playing together with our friends was precious.  We had sports every day, which I hated.  I’m a complete clutz and I’m 5’2” on a tall day.  30 minutes of basketball every day was 30 minutes of Chinese torture.  But it was basketball or nothing, so I’d pick an unobtrusive part of the court and try to stay out of everyone’s way.  I had no exercise outside of walking to activities.  When we had an outing on Saturday it was like Christmas.  We could sing whenever we wanted, we could run, we could talk to each other.  It was always so depressing to come home and put on nylons again and go to the chapel.  
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. 
But my relationship with Mary and with Jesus in the Eucharist was supposed to make up for my loneliness and my depression.  So I put all my energy into trying to get the love and friendship I needed from voices in my head.
I’m relating all of this as if I came up with it on my own, but I didn’t.  We had “directed meditation,” in which consecrated would think out loud for us while we knelt in the chapel, we listened to countless formal talks, Gospel something or other where we would read from the letters of the Founder and listen to the consecrateds’ thoughts about the passage, spiritual reading, where we’d read an assigned religious volume, spiritual direction every week, and “little chats” with a consecrated who was in charge of my studies, one who was in charge of making me look like a proper little consecrated, and one other who I think was supposed to help me be better at recruiting other girls to the PC… it’s been so many years, it’s hard to remember every detail.  My point is, these ideas did not spring from my own fertile imagination.  They were carefully placed there.
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 was silent during silence, and I never said inappropriate things when we were allowed to talk (that’s the one that really killed me).  I spent more time in the chapel.  I was the last to leave the chapel for breakfast, I rushed faster and faster through my morning and evening prep so I could have a few extra minutes there.  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.  The migraines went on for 6 months before I finally asked my mom for help.  In all that time, no one rushed me to the ER when I would daily collapse in the hallway or slump over at my desk or in my pew.  No one called my parents, no one offered to schedule a doctor appointment for me.  No one called my parents.  I was 16.
My parents arranged for me to see a doctor in RI, and at one point I remember going to the ER.  The doctors didn’t seem to know what was wrong, and of course I didn’t really tell them my symptoms because I didn’t want to be a whiner.  I figured the tests would show I had cancer and we’d go from there.  Since I hadn't told my parents the pain I had been in for so many months, I was reluctant to tell them how bad it was.  I said I was having these episodes occasionally, and I wasn't sure what they were.  My mom was fairly certain they were migraines, and gave me some tips for alleviating and avoiding them.  I waited a couple more months, still suffering daily, debilitating migraines, but at least feeling somewhat comforted that I probably didn't have a malignant tumor.  They continued to increase in intensity and frequency, until my right foot was difficult to lift when I walked to the showers in the morning.  It was decided that I should go home for a cat scan since the insurance would cover it in CA, and so I left the PC, promising I would be back in a few weeks.  The day I came home, I stayed in bed to recover from the trip and the raging migraine.  The next day I had a headache, but no other symptoms.  The severe and constant migraines of the Precandidacy were apparently only a PC phenomenon, because while I had headaches at home, I only had the massive attacks while under great stress - for instance, immediately after fighting with my parents, who wanted me to stay home from the Precandidacy for good.  At home, I had a few tests and a few doctor visits, and it was determined that I had serial migraines, though no one suggested tchey could be stress-related. 
I eventually persuaded my reluctant parents (with full support of the consecrated, who were calling me at least once a week, and making sure I got a constant stream of letters from my favorite PC's), and back I went.  The migraines started again the first day at the Precandidacy.  They got worse and worse until I couldn’t participate in any activities at all.  I finally broke the news to my parents after several more months of misery, and came home again six months before graduation.  That broke my heart.  I figured that I would grow out of the migraines at some point and be able to return and get consecrated, but Fr. Bannon wrote me a letter a few months after I left and told me it was unlikely I had a vocation.  That was news to me.  I figured he was too busy to bother with me, and I still intended to get well and go back. 
The rest is a story for another day.    

Friday, May 25, 2012

This blog is an account of the experiences of former Precandidates of the Regnum Christi Movement.  Many of us suffered real mental and emotional damage in our years at Immaculate Conception Academy.  We share our stories here to warn parents of the very real dangers of handing your daughters over to this flawed institution.  What you see when your daughters come home for a week at Christmas and two weeks in the summer is not what happens the other 49 weeks of the year.