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.

About Elizabeth Duffy
  • http://www.theloveliesthour.com Lauren

    I’m still struggling so much with all of this. I do appreciate your honest perspective. And, thank you for giving a ‘person’ to the name of Mrs. Mee. So many of my friends are joining, more every day it seems. We seem to have a little bubble down here in Texas. And I’m over here on the sidelines saying “but, but….” and then second-guessing myself. There is nothing more valuable to me than the opinions of my priests and then those who were actually involved with the movement during that time. I can only speculate and guess and read. You know.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Lauren, that’s exactly why I hope more people will talk about their stories and experiences with it. There doesn’t have to be a conclusion, as people will draw their own.

      But it sounds like you have a story to tell too.

      • Elizabeth Duffy

        The following are Comments to this article that appeared on my facebook page. I’m posting them here because they may be of interest to people:

        From a woman who was formerly consecrated:
        “I think it’s one piece of a much larger mystery that gives me spiritual indigestion. We all lived in a bubble during those years… a beautiful myth built on lies and hidden suffering (particularly the suffering of the 20-100 boys that MM abused) and then packaged in the appearances of shining Catholicity and undergirded with some cult like rules to restrict contact with the outside world and keep our critical thinking at bay. Most people in RC/LC were full of good and sincere intentions, but the founder and the few who knew the truth, whoever they were, knowingly hoisted a total sham on the rest of us. To me, the whole thing was diseased from the start. I don’t know how to judge the whole situation — each person’s case is different and the balance of benefits versus damage varies from one to another — but I cannot help feeling an instinctive revulsion to the whole thing. I think Mrs. Mee was happy there, but I am also absolutely sure that she would never have given her money to the Legion had she known the truth about MM. Would any of us have given a second of our time to the Legion if we’d known the truth of how it all began… with a sociopath who wanted to build an empire for his own glory? I don’t think so. And yet it continues… struggling to carry on a reform with people whose mentality has been ingrained in the old ways for years and years and years. I won’t say it’s impossible for the Legion and Regnum Christi to move forward, because there are so many good people involved. But I can’t find anything in it to inspire me spiritually or otherwise.
        21 hours ago · Unlike · 4

        Elizabeth Duffy:

        “I’m so glad for your comment. I’ve been wondering what you gals who were consecrated are thinking these days–and I hope some time you’ll write it all out, if you haven’t already. I’ve been reading old diaries from when I was there, and as I get further and further removed from it, I can see more clearly the delusions I was under. I can’t figure out why I ignored all the warnings though.”
        21 hours ago · Like · 1

        Former Consa:

        “Funny that you should mention writing it all out. I’ve thought about it but I’m still too close to it to be able to write something that won’t degenerate into a total rant. When the news about Fr Thomas Williams came out, a lot of former PCs started speaking out about the way their time in the PC damaged them. Some former consecrated did, too. I came out of the 3gf relatively unscathed, but hearing all those stories made me so incredibly indignant and sad. Many of the girls I knew and taught were under huge amounts of stress — to the point of developing severe medical disorders — mainly because of the rules and the lifestyle of “no particular friendships” and reduced contact with family… and in some cases because of an unspoken pressure to commit their lives to God at the age of 18. So much has come out now… And yet, when I was in the 3gf, I was unable to see it. I couldn’t listen to any criticisms about the Movement without feeling personally threatened. I couldn’t deal with my parents questioning the norms, because for me it was all one sacred package. If any of the norms were wrong, then that meant I could think critically about them, which meant that I would be giving free rein to pride and losing the golden thread of faith… it was a kind of twisted thinking that set faith and reason in opposition, in spite of much lipservice about honoring both. I also wonder if we loved the beautiful dream so much because it fed our pride and vanity that we were “the chosen ones” called to live this amazing vocation at the forefront of evangelization, etc. Yes… I think we were also brainwashed. When everyone thinks the same way, there is a kind of collective momentum of belief and you just get caught up in it.
        21 hours ago · Unlike · 2

        Elizabeth Duffy:

        “Write it. Just tell your story. There doesn’t have to be a “Message” or a conclusion. It’s just your story. Lord knows, I’m telling mine.
        21 hours ago · Like

        A:
        “I’d love to read your story when you get to it! The sad part is that many are still in denial!”
        19 hours ago · Like

        Elizabeth Duffy:

        “I wonder if denial is the right word. Maybe more accurate to say ignoring or overlooking the problems. I know some compare it to the scandals in the Church at large. If Catholicism can survive the sex abuse scandals, they might say that the Movement can survive Father M.”
        18 hours ago · Like

        B:
        “Of course, we have a promise from Jesus that the doors of hell will not prevail against the Church. No such promise about *any* of the “Movements.””
        16 hours ago · Unlike · 2

        C:
        “Since I’ve not been directly involved, whenever I say anything my friends respond with “Well, yes, the movement is going through a purification, but that was all soooo long ago. It’s not like that anymore.”
        about an hour ago · Like

        D:
        “What (Former Consa) described is classic cult brainwashing: “We were the chosen ones…” There were so many red flags for me about the RC/LC — the secrecy; the isolation; the focus on externals; the real psychological brutality used on the members; the hyper-emphasis on raising money and using distortion and deceit to do it; the lack of any real fruits unrelated to the LC itself; the lack of real profundity — I remember reading Maciel’s book in college and thinking to myself that it was as if he went through twenty famous spiritual books and rewrote paragraphs here and there. It wasn’t deep, it wasn’t fresh, it barely felt cogent. My very first experience with LC guys went down like this… Two LC brothers and Fr. Bannon- with their mirror image haircuts – came to my college to recruit the guys via a day of recollection. Fr. Bannon refused to hear the confessions of any young women and the Dean of students told us that he had said he was guarding his chastity. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s bogus.” When I asked one of the brothers what their charism was, he said, “We are the new Jesuits.” I said, “Why don’t you just be the new Legion? We already have the Jesuits and their thousands of martyrs.” Their whole pitch was superficial and geared to close the deal with vulnerable orthodox Catholics.
        about an hour ago · Like · 1

        D:
        “Another story…. When I was with the Daughter of St. Paul in St. Louis, one day two LC guys came in to the bookcenter. They approached me and said – no jke – “We are in town doing vocation work. We need the names of wealthy Catholic families with sons in high school.” I said to them, “wealthy? How much net worth do you exactly require?” It got icy from there.
        56 minutes ago · Like · 1

        D:
        “What I don’t get is how those guys didn’t hear themselves?! How did they not say to themselves, “What are we doing?!””
        55 minutes ago · Like

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  • Susan

    I joined the RC movement in 2005, after watching on the sidelines for years (many of my dearest friends were members, and I couldn’t become one because I was not in communion with the Church. After my marriage was convalidated, I was able to join). I had sat in the pews for daily and Sunday mass unable to receive communion for years, so there was such a sense of accomplishment for me to not only begin to receive, but also to be able to join a movement like RC. I loved the friendships, the 3-times a month Encounters, and being around people who were trying hard to live their faith, as I was – and still am. The consecrated women were (are) so beautiful, holy and joyful! When we began to study Fr. Maciel’s letters, I found myself wondering what was wrong with me – because I felt there was something decidedly phony about them. They gave me a very uneasy feeling. He simply didn’t come across as human. I could never live up to the standards he was demanding. I had a very distinct impression of him through his letters, and it was not good. I was certainly quite distressed when everything came to light, and thought my gut feeling had really been the Holy Spirit – I threw the books of letters away with no regrets. I had heard whispers about Fr. Maciel before, but questions were always dismissed as “accusations coming from disgruntled ex-Catholics.” I’m still involved with RC, because I love the people and the support for my faith, but I’ve distanced myself from a lot of it too. I attend almost nothing except the small encounter group (which I’m not making a priority in my life at the moment, though I intend to go back). It’s one thing when a priest makes a mistake, it’s something totally different when we are faced with men who are near sociopaths whose entire lives have been duplicitous. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Church I love. Again, mistakes are forgivable, but the lies and coverups that have so destroyed innocent lives – there must be some justice for the victims. But, always I remind myself that the Church is of Christ, and I could never leave the Eucharist. It was hard enough being away from it for so long! I do think the RC priests need serious re-formation. They were taught to be utterly dependent on…Fr. Maciel! Wrong, wrong, wrong. They should be utterly dependent upon God. But, their strict formation encompassed many good teachings and qualities that I’m guessing will see them through the tough times. All the RC priests I’ve known have been very holy men who are trying to do good in this world. Well – sorry for the very long comment, but you struck a chord! Also – I would say to Lauren – pray and discern. Don’t struggle – if you have doubts then do not join, at least not at this time. Otherwise, you’ll only be torn later about leaving if it’s not for you. There are so many good movements with the Church, and just being involved in your parish can put you in touch with so many good and like-minded individuals. Sorry for the uber-long comment! Be blessed!

    • http://www.theloveliesthour.com Lauren

      Thank you Susan! I appreciate your thoughts and personal story. God Bless You!

  • j h

    My Mrs. Mee story is that I got in trouble for spontaneously inviting her to have lunch with the coworkers one day. That’s when I knew it was time to go home. LOL.

  • mary

    Thanks so much for providing a calm outlet for women to share; I am sure it is catharctic for those struggling with deep issues. I joined RC but always had trouble with Fr. Maciel – with the cult-like affection shown by so many in the movement, with his writings (the only good things he wrote were John Paull ll paraphrased!), with his seeming perfect standards. I could not develop any real love for him, but did appreciate that he started the movement and the Legion, where I saw way more good than the few things that seemed off or disturbing. Jesus said the weeds and wheat would grow alongside each other, and ultimately I think that sums up the movement. I maintain there is much good, and although I too ‘smelled a rat’ in Fr. Maciel, and felt very guilty about it until I was freed by the truth, I feel there is much value in many of the programs (studying papal encyclicals, emphasis on sacraments) and I was in it to grow closer to Jesus, not Fr. M. I no longer am a member, but support friends who have chosen to remain so, and take advantage of some awesome spiritual opportunities they provide. I do hope the movement proves to be a calling of the Holy Spirit and can continue in obedience and purity in that Spirit.
    I pray for those who have suffered deeply with betrayal and/or abuse associated with the movement, and hope they can find true healing and freedom in Christ.

  • J H

    I was hoping that there would be a bit more discussion here, because my reaction when I hear people talk about their time in RC is usually “really?? You don’t feel at all angry or used??” I guess I do. I remember just a month after being at my coworking assignment house, sobbing to the consecrated and asking, “I just don’t understand why I’m so unhappy”. I don’t think that the consecrated gave me an answer or a reason, but the only logical conclusion was that I obviously wasn’t faithful enough to the norms and if I just tried harder or was holier than I would be happy.

    I remember filling out a report after an ECYD “retreat” and writing down the number of girls who joined ECYD. Somehow, after having nothing to do for 6 months, this report sounded like we had recruited several girls and saved the souls of millions. But it was fake. These girls didn’t have a clue what ECYD was supposed to be, and this wouldn’t change their lives or their commitment to Christ. The numbers were fake, the retreat was fake, and I felt fake. I mean – girls said some prayers, got some cards and were not “enrolled” – it wasn’t a lie, but it was fake.

    I admire people who had the sense that Maciel was a rat, because I thought that there was nothing wrong with him, but that there was something wrong with me. And that’s the tragedy of it. Why did so many girls end up with eating disorders or have terrible relationships afterwards? There was an unrealistic pressure that if you were faithful, you would be happy and serene – because that’s what we saw in Elena Sada and Patricia Bannon, right? Sheer happiness and joy? And now I realize that they were part of the coverup.

    I guess I’m bitter.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      I relate to the feeling of artificiality you describe JH. I especially felt that when it came to practicing what they called the RC “mystique.” I was never quite sure what it was, for one–just a way of being, I guess–one that I initially found kind of creepy, but that I eventually associated with certain dialects and ways of carrying myself that I definitely “put on.” One way it was manifest is that I turned every possible statement I made into a pseudo-question, so that it sounded like I would never make such claims without permission. It was a lilting way of speaking where the last syllable of every line drifted up in pitch.

      And I will never forget the first meal I ate at home on Christmas break–cutting my sandwich with my knife and fork–and my siblings all making fun of me.

      I think the Consa in the conversation above makes a pretty good point though about the fallout being different for everyone. I didn’t have much to lose. I’d already graduated from college. And I had a lot to gain by cutting back on decadence in my life. I never felt sheer happiness and joy, exactly, but I did have some fun sometimes. I’m not bitter about my experiences with RC. But I do think it’s lost credibility on a lot of different levels.

      I don’t want to sound cavalier about the testimonies of the P.C.s that surfaced not long ago–but I always feel reluctant to attribute eating disorders in teenage girls to any one thing. They (eating disorders) were VERY COMMON in public high school too–and secular college. I’m not saying the pre-candidacy didn’t cause them any neurosis, but the teenage years are pretty turbulent from any standpoint.

  • J H

    I think the reason that everyone feels that the fallout is so different from person to person is because we were all so isolated. From where I was station during my coworker year, we had almost no contact with any other RC members. Of course, there was la familia (was that the name of the family apostolate?) but we didn’t really interact with them except at the school. We had no email because we were told that Fr.Maciel hadn’t approved it even though they had asked several times. We still had to ask permission to deviate from our daily schedule via telephone, which was difficult because the consas were on the road and the answer was usually no. And we were only allowed to call our family every other week for thirty minutes. We weren’t allowed to socialize and even our confessor had no idea about the norms that ruled our life because he was a nice local parish priest. Looking back, it was so weird.

    For the next two years I was tasked with starting a young women’s group in a new city – again without support or resources. The final straw was when this group came up with a dynamic apostolate that was essentially discouraged by the consecrated in charge of our area because she was promoting a new speaker, for which we would have to fundraise. Again, the annual retreat was boiled down to numbers of participants, new members and potential candidates.

    While the rate of eating disorders at the pre-c may not have been higher than public schools, the environment was a kind of breeding ground for such issues, and the line between personal problems and spiritual problems always seemed so blurry in RC. Am I struggling because I don’t love Jesus enough? Or is there really something else going on?

    After hearing the revelations about Maciel, it occurred to me that if someone wanted to create an environment that was a perfect cover for a sociopath, what would it look like? The control, the isolation, the constant introspection, the absolute trust and reliance on ones superior…. All of these things are so unhealthy.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute, JH. You write:

      “if someone wanted to create an environment that was a perfect cover for a sociopath, what would it look like? The control, the isolation, the constant introspection, the absolute trust and reliance on ones superior…. All of these things are so unhealthy.”

      Here’s what I wonder, if Father Maciel had not been a sociopath, would there still be a large scale investigation into all the norms of the Movement? Since he snagged a lot of his teachings and practices from other traditions in the Church, people might also encounter the isolation and reliance on one’s superiors in other Movements and Orders.

      What I don’t get is why Maciel needed the movement to shelter him. The world would have allowed him to have mistresses, and he could have found plenty of ways to abuse minors without starting an order involving thousands of people. I wonder if the movement didn’t become a perfect storm that allowed deviance alongside intermittent good intentions.

      As you share your experience, it occurs to me, that part of what allowed me to remain relatively content at the Formation House was a willingness to break the rules. I snuck phone calls home all the time, since I had to be on the phone for apostolate anyway. I had other people (visitors to the house) send emails for me. I stayed up late in the bathroom to write letters. I regularly stopped by TJMAx on my way home from the post-office. And my fellow co-workers and I broke silence pretty regularly. I remember being encouraged by one of the consas to have more fun, to sneak into the snack room at night even. I have pictures of the night the co-workers snuck into the Christmas room and messed around with it, also of us smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee to celebrate the end of Lent at midnight on Holy Saturday. Our superiors knew about these things, and made a minor show of dissatisfaction that often couldn’t mask a smile.

      Something I haven’t been able to reconcile about the movement, is that along with an insistence on obedience, there was a certain kind of disobedience that was sometimes celebrated, even by our superiors–as it was an indication that that individual might possess leadership abilities. I wonder if that was just the humanity of our superiors sneaking through. I don’t think it was calculated. But my brother-in-law who attended the apostolic school recalls a back-handed congratulations at starting a fight once, which means it might have been an attitude that extended beyond Mater Eccclesiae.

  • J H

    I was just thinking about this and realized that my beef isn’t really with Maciel but the entire structure that created him as a kind of idol. Who really wrote the yearly letters? Did he really say that he wanted the traveling consas to drive no more than 68 miles per hours? Was there really a request in his box to give us email that he just never got around to?

    Our exhortations were to be more faithful to the schedule and you’ll have more success. Work with more faith and you’ll attract more girls. I remember the assistant consa getting a worried look on her face because she hadn’t gotten permission to buy shampoo and her companion was having us buy it anyway. I remember also the anxious waiting for a phone call to see f the sick consa would be allowed to go to a doctors appointment. Looking back, it was all a matter of control. You weren’t really going to get into any trouble because you were at the formation house. We, on the other hand, could have been having wild parties and no one would know. So, our reins had to be tighter and the control had to be more psychological.

  • j h

    Along the same lines, we coworkers had such little interaction with each other. It was amazing to hear how many difficulties there were in other sections that we didnt find out about until Easter.

    I didnt feel this way at the end of the year. It really took a while for me to start putting my finger on the disfunction and my complicity with it. You might be right, that your ability and the encouragement to break the rules made it bearable. But that wasn’t a universal experience. The fact that so many people could have such individual experiences when everything was supposed to be so uniform is another sign of the problems that aren’t attributable to Maciel’s personal problems.


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