The many sides of a scandal

Father Maciel and the Regnum Christi Movement are in the news again. This time it’s because of a little old lady who lived in a really nice apartment inside the House of Formation with the Consecrated Women in Rhode Island. Her name was Mrs. Mee. She was a widow and a millionaire, and had much to offer the Movement upon her death. Apparently a surviving member of her family is contesting her will.


When I was a co-worker with Regnum Christi, I lived in the same house with Mrs. Mee for a year, as did hundreds of other young women. All of them probably have their own “Mrs. Mee” story to tell, as everyone took turns going to spend time with her in her room. She liked to talk.


While it’s true that she had fewer restrictions on her personal property, on her living arrangements, and on what she was able to do, we chalked it up to the fact that she was old, and that she’d lived in the world for most of her life before becoming consecrated. I was sometimes as jealous as you can be of an octogenarian, but I agreed, no one could expect her to live the life of a nun in her twilight years, even though mentally, she was as sharp as could be.


I did not think of her as a gullible woman.


After my co-worker year, once I’d gone home to my family, I went back to the Formation House to finish up some projects I’d left hanging. In my little time away from there, I’d started dating my husband-to-be, and when I told him I had to go back to Rhode Island, he planned a trip to visit his brother in Connecticut. Since I was no longer a co-worker, we were able to meet up a few times, and on one occasion he came to pick me up at the Formation House.


I waited for him in Mrs. Mee’s room because it was right there at the front of the place, looking out on the driveway. Mrs. Mee was sort of excited to be a part of a burgeoning love story, and when my beau pulled up and got out of his car, Mrs. Mee came to the window to get a peek at him. She took a look, grabbed my arm sort of breathlessly and said, “With those eyes, he could sell anything! You be careful with that one.”


I didn’t know what her husband had done to earn his fortune, but I could not doubt that Mrs. Mee knew what it took to sell a thing. And for that reason, I don’t know that the Legion sold her something she didn’t want to buy. Indeed, it seemed that she had purchased an exclusive spot in a very desirable retirement home.


In a way, we were all in a similar position. I heard the rumors surrounding Father Maciel about a minute after my first contact with the Movement. If I had wanted to believe them, I could have. I chose not to. But I didn’t exactly think well of him either. People love to say that they always smelled the rat in him.  I smelled it too on the few times I met him, so I can’t say for sure why I clapped my hands and fawned over him with everyone else, awkwardly calling him “Nuestro Padre” when I otherwise didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. In hindsight, it is one of the strangest things I have ever willingly done.


But Maciel aside, Regnum Christi supplied impalpable goods that were not easily available anywhere else in the Church or the world, for that matter: a sense of mission, the promise of conversion and a means to bring it about, a hope for the future of the Church, a dignified liturgy and rule of life, and numerous projects and apostolates to work on that made us feel like we were actually doing something with our faith. All of that combined with the true jewels of the Church (the Sacraments), meant that there was enough good in the Movement to surpass any doubts we had about its founder. Even if the allegations against him turned out to be true, they seemed distant from the realities of our lives.


While visits from the founder to the House of Formation were not terribly common, it’s very possible that his corruption was always there right under our noses, and was in fact, reaching into Mrs. Mee’s pocket book. I don’t know.


In any case, she was right about my husband. While he’s never tried to sell me anything, he’s had no problem bringing home the bacon.

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About Elizabeth Duffy