When I was a teenager, for a couple of years, my mother forced me to attend meetings of the ECYD, the youth branch of Regnum Christi. Regnum Christi was the lay branch of the Legionaries of Christ, and the Legionaries of Christ had yet to be exposed as a cultlike organization founded by a voracious pedophile. At the time, all my mother knew was that the rich and conservative homeschoolers sent their daughters to ECYD meetings, so I was sent to the meetings as well even when I begged not to. After awhile, I came to see them as authorities.
Our leader was an excitable and fervent housewife whose fuschia lipstick exactly matched her window shutters, which exactly matched the impatiens growing in the garden out front. She taught full-blown heresy and alarmism on a grand scale. “You can’t see God,” she said. “If you ever saw God you would drop dead. You only ever see Jesus.” And just when I thought she’d misspoken when denying the divinity of Christ, she said the exact same thing again. She told us that our guardian angels were incapable of seeing anything except the face of God and our own activity, and if we didn’t pray to them daily they’d be lonely. She talked about Limbo as if it were settled teaching of the Church. She acted as though Protestants and people of other faiths were evil con artists only pretending to agree with Catholics on some points to be devious: “if they’re not with us, they’re against us!” She claimed that God would send us to hell for not working hard enough to harangue our friends to come to ECYD meetings.
Our leader was assisted by a housewife who used to lead ECYD meetings in Mexico and whose lipstick rarely matched anything; she taught us that it was disrespectful to pray in the bathroom. I stopped praying in the bathroom, even when my painful bowel condition left me crying in there for hours, for fear I’d offend God.
We also had guest teachers, mostly from Latin American countries, who had taken a solemn promise to wear expensive dresses and not pants in order to “bring back the dignity of woman.” They taught us that “Nuestro Padre,” the pedophile Father Marcial Maciel, personally approved everyone who joined the Legion and was best friends with the Pope. They explained that their organization was unique in the Church, in that it always went first to rich and powerful people rather than the poor. “Think what influence we’ll have!” I knew that this was the exact opposite of what Christ had chosen to do, and therefore the opposite of what the Church should do, but I kept my mouth shut so I wouldn’t catch it.
All of these teachers taught us disloyalty to the bishop. This was part of the Leigon’s course of teaching at all times. The bishop was lax; he wasn’t pro-life; he was influenced by liberals and materialists. The Legion of Christ was better than the bishop, because we were carrying out the wishes of the Pope. The bishops were all against the Pope. We were being the real, faithful, conservative Catholics, in defying our bishops. The real Catholics disregarded the bishop and obeyed only the Pope. The Legion was the Hope of the Church, and the Holy Father had said so.By the time the bishop inevitably cracked down on ECYD and the Legion in my diocese, many of us had been brainwashed to expect it and count it as martyrdom. The bishop was against real, authentic Catholicism. We were the Hope of the Church. We were to do everything we could to defy the bishop in the name of the Church.
Shortly after that I was thrown out of the Regnum Christi branch for my peer group, because “Jesus” who spoke from the mouths of the fuscia-lipped leaders didn’t want me. I spent my late teens before coming to the Ohio Valley mostly alone, because all the girls I knew belonged to Regnum Christi but Jesus didn’t want me there. And I’m grateful, because eventually the brainwashing wore off. I realized that open defiance of a bishop is not part of being a good Catholic– quite the opposite. By the time the Legion was publicly exposed, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
If you know of a Catholic priest or religious, in the Legionaries or anywhere else, who openly defies and rebukes his bishop, look out. That is a very bad sign. If they point to one or another thing the bishop said and respectfully point to how it could have been said better, that’s one thing, but it’s quite another if they’re always defying the bishop. Be especially careful if they claim they’re doing it because they’re better Catholics and less materialistic than those in authority over them. And you know you’re in personality cult territory if the religious starts making up a conspiracy theory about the bishop being compromised by liberals or communists or “pro-aborts” or anyone else. That person is asking for your loyalty, not to Catholicism, but to their own personal interpretation of Scripture and Tradition. They’re asking you to accept them, personally, as your magisterium in place of the Church.
I’ll take it a step further and say you should beware of celebrity Catholics in general. Fame and fortune twist people. If the very mention of a certain priest or pop theologian makes people act as though you’ve mentioned a saint, get ready to back away. But at bare minimum, don’t believe a priest or religious who claims to be Catholic and then openly defies his bishop time and again. Don’t obey him if he tells you to do the same. That person is not a better Catholic than the bishop. That person is not acting as a Catholic.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; this we know. They may prevail against certain teachers, though, and those teachers may come after you to turn you against the Church.
I’m grateful to the Legionaries for showing me that.
(image via Pixabay)