The lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ is called Regnum Christi, and the teenagers’ arm of Regnum Christi is called ECYD, a Spanish acronym: “Educación, Cultura y Deporte” or “education, culture and sports.” The arm for little children, which may or may not exist anymore, is called Catholic Kids’ Net. I used to go to ECYD meetings every Thursday, whether I wanted to or not.
The bishop of Columbus, Ohio, had officially run the Legionaries and their lay groups out of the diocese, but they took advantage of being a “lay association” to defy him. So the “Catholic Boys’ Club” changed its name to the Columbus Thunder and the “Catholic Girls’ Club” changed their name to the Columbus Fire, which the bishop couldn’t interfere with, and things went on as they were– only now, they got to boast that they were being persecuted by the bishop for their faithfulness to a conservative pope it was well known the liberal American bishops despised.
We didn’t meet at the churches, who wouldn’t have us. We met at the H’s pleasant little house or the K’s moderate-sized house or the Z’s enormous house out in the country. Half the meetings were led by a woman named Marieli or a woman named Mrs. H, who said we were beautiful girls and going to win so many souls to Christ with our beauty. She said that it was important to look clean and beautiful and keep our hair down, because that would help people see Christ in us. If we had tattoos or body piercing, people might be too busy looking at those to look at the light of Christ. And if we weren’t busy telling people about Christ– well, what would we do on the last day? What would we do when the tears filled Christ’s eyes as we stammered that we meant to but forgot?
We were told to be thankful for Father Maciel, whom we were to call “Nuestro Padre,” Our Father. Our Father Maciel had founded the Legionaries of Christ, affording us this opportunity to save our own souls by bringing other girls to meetings. This was our job– to bring others, not into the Catholic Church, but into the Legionaries of Christ, with our attractiveness.
This week, a report was released by the Legionaries of Christ, detailing what they’ve been up to since they’re inception: and remember, this was the one that the LC themselves released. This is what they’re coming clean about. It can’t possibly be the whole story. But it’s hair-raising enough on its own.
“In summary, from 1941 to the present, 175 minors were victims of sexual abuse committed by 33 priests of the congregation. This number includes at least 60 minors abused by Marcial Maciel. Of those 33 priests, six have died, eight left the priesthood and 18 remain in the congregation, but apart from pastoral treatment with minors, four with restrictions to the ministry and a security plan and 14 forced not to exercise public priestly ministry. Among the priests who abused, 14 in turn would have been victims of abuse in the congregation.”
The meetings not led by Mrs. H were led by Legionaries of Christ’s consecrated women, whom Mrs. H’s daughter called “Consecrates,” as if that was a real word. Elena and Marianna and the rest of them came from Mexico, Spain, and Latin America. Their English was sometimes very good, and sometimes they spoke no English at all. They had stories about coming into a country, announcing that their purpose was “tourist” at Customs, and then going to a tourist attraction so that it wouldn’t be a lie. Then they would go to lead a meeting and win souls to Christ. The “Consecrates” explained that they wore beautiful dresses and skirts instead of nuns’ habits so that nobody would guess they were religious and to make it easier to get through Customs– and “to bring back the dignity of woman” which was so degraded by the scourge of feminism. They were uniformly beautiful ladies– some were strikingly beautiful, and all were of a certain particular type. There were no fat Consecrates, no old Consecrates, and no Consecrates with dark skin. All seemed to come from comfortable homes. It was said that Father Maciel selected Consecrates himself after viewing their dossier; any girl in training to be a Consecrate that didn’t please him, he sent away without explanation. He was allowed to do this because the order belonged to him, and the Holy Spirit was said to be his sole guide. His only superior in the world was Pope John Paul the Second, who was a personal friend.
The Consecrates were particularly disgusted by how “masculine” female athletes looked, which was strange because they made us play sports at almost every meeting. The sports were not optional. No matter how much I protested that I hated sports and wasn’t good at them, they insisted that I had to have fun, fun was an important part of the spiritual life, fun was defined as sports, and forced me to play. I waddled along crying, playing volleyball and everything else that was demanded of me, for Jesus, because I’d be scolded if I didn’t.
“Maciel, who died in 2008, was perhaps the Roman Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile, even abusing children he had fathered secretly with at least two women while living a double life and being feted by the Vatican and Church conservatives. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92, who was secretary of state under John Paul, was for years one of the Legionaries’ biggest protectors in the Vatican.”
I told my parents that I didn’t want to go to ECYD meetings anymore. I didn’t want to go because of all the sports and because the girls were snobby: they only wanted to talk with their friends and not to anyone new, so I sat alone. I also didn’t want to go because Mrs. H kept teaching us heresy. She didn’t seem to think Jesus was God: she told us over and over again that “you can’t see God. If you see God you immediately die. You can only see Jesus.” And just when I thought she’d misspoken by accident, she said it again. She also told us as if it were doctrine that unborn babies go to Limbo and can never see the face of God; and that guardian angels get desperately lonely because they are blind to everything except God and the souls of their individual charges. If we didn’t speak to our guardian angels daily, they would get depressed.
My parents insisted that I go to the meetings anyway; they wouldn’t listen to my objections. ECYD was going to help me make “good Catholic friends.”
Mrs. H told us approvingly that Nuestro Padre Father Maciel always appealed to the richest people in the community, the most influential, the most powerful. He went to them first and most of all. This way, we could bring Christ to the most people. This was the Legionaries of Christ’s contribution to the Church, their special innovation.
“That’s the opposite of what Christ did,” I objected, but nobody listened.
“The report sheds light on a dark chapter of the order’s history of abuse, which was denied by the papacy of John Paul II as he and clerical authorities routinely dismissed accusations by seminarians that Maciel and others committed such crimes. Between 1941 and 2019, 175 minors were victims of abuse by 33 priests in the order, the report said. At least 60, or about one-third, were abused by Maciel himself, it said. Most victims were boys between 11 and 16.”
Some of the girls went off to Regnum Christi camp. I went with them on a few retreats, but never to camp, which was too expensive and I insisted I wanted nothing to do with it anyway. When they came back they had horror stories of how badly run the camps were; the loneliness, the constant compulsory sports, the incompetent lady who had some kind of minimal training in first aid so the camp wouldn’t be closed for not having a nurse on staff. That lady had insisted on popping people’s blisters.
Some of the girls went off on Regnum Christi “mission trips” to Mexico. They came back with stories about staying with a rich family who was friends with the Consecrates and swimming in their pool, then going off to “minister” to the poor families and preach at them during the day. Another time, they stayed in cabins full of bats that, it turned out, carried rabies. Another time, the tour bus driver got angry with all the Americans and started driving them away down an unknown country road, kidnapping them until the Consecrates made him stop. Another time, they ate a meal of tortillas and cactus generously provided by the poor families and prepared in the traditional way– they greased the pan with the inside of the skin of a recently-flayed pig which they’d kept out on the counter to use for several days’ meals. The teenage missionaries, who didn’t even speak Spanish fluently, got severely ill from the rancid pig fat and ended up screaming all night in a dirty rural hospital building with no painkillers. The Consecrates left to get them something the hospital wouldn’t provide and were not admitted back into the building until morning. I would’ve thought the Consecrates would have had something done to them for putting minor children in that much danger time after time, but nothing was. They were doing the work of God, and they had the parents’ permission.
Some of those girls went off to the “pre-candidacy school,” an exclusive boarding school for high school aged girls who wanted to become Consecrates. Only the prettiest, sportiest-looking girls from the best families got to go to the pre-candidacy school. At the school, they received a ring to represent their engagement to Christ and a subpar education as well. They were not allowed to call home except on special occasions; not allowed to go home over the summer; not allowed to go home for Christmas; not allowed to listen to secular music or have any other link to the outside world. They had to take gym class in jogging skirts and wear their hair down in becoming styles, because they were restoring “the dignity of woman” that was taken from them by feminism. Mrs. H’s daughter went to the pre-candidacy school. Mrs. H kept a photo of her in her skirt and becoming hairdo on the refrigerator, where I could see it during ECYD meetings. But I never saw that girl again.
“This is due, first of all, to the associated risks of a boarding school. In addition, various other factors converged, such as the little time that students spent with their families at that time, the insufficient formation and oversight of young directors, deficiencies in affective-sexual formation and a pedagogy that over emphasized discipline.”
That quote is to do with their minor seminaries, for the record, but I know for fact that girls were abused at boarding school as well.
Somewhere along the line I stopped asking questions. Everyone I knew was in ECYD and considered it synonymous with Catholicism. I helped lead Catholic Kids’ Net sessions and other such things. Then the older girls in ECYD, the ones my age, were all asked to become “incorporated” in the adult chapter of Regnum Christi. I went to one of the formation meetings to get “incorporated” because everyone I knew was getting “incorporated.” I missed the first meeting because I wasn’t called about it– all the other ECYD girls my age, the pretty and sporty and rich ones, got phone calls, but not me. The other girls told me about the meetings afterward and invited me to the second meeting.
At the meeting, the Consecrates pulled me aside and told me that I alone was not going to be “incorporated” and should go back and be “an obedient ECYD member” for another year while the girls my age led and preached to me; this was God’s will.
I never returned to ECYD meetings.
Nearly all my peers were “incorporated,” and I was my own self because “Jesus” didn’t want me.
Then, some of the girls started coming back from the pre-candidacy school. A few of the girls stayed, got their gold wedding rings, and took permanent promises of chastity when they were barely adults; then they presumably became Consecrates, travelling around the country. The rest came back in the middle of one semester, because Father Maciel had randomly looked at their dossier and given them the sack one day. The Consecrates would call the rejected girl into their office with no fanfare and strip her of her ring, telling her “Jesus doesn’t want to marry you after all,” then send her home at once. They returned with one to four of their teenage years wasted, with no usable education and no marketable skills, believing that Jesus had jilted them. They returned traumatized. They had mental health problems they hadn’t before; one used to panic and lock herself in the bathroom throwing tantrums. One had an eating disorder, and became addicted to drugs. It was a slow parade of emotionally, spiritually abused young women with pretty hair from rich families, returning with their faith crushed.
Those girls are grown women like me now. I don’t know how many of them still believe in God.
Why was this “order” allowed to go on so long?
Because John Paul the Second was naive?
Is that really reason enough for all of this suffering? Because a telegenic Pope who wrote encyclicals got taken in?
Why were they allowed to continue instead of being disbanded after Maciel was exposed? What excuse could there ever be for that? They have no charism; they were founded merely to provide victims for Maciel, and the abuse went on after that. And the abuse being counted is the sexual abuse of boys– not the spiritual abuse of everyone who got enmeshed in their “lay associations.”
And yet, they go on. The Legionaries of Christ still exists. They still cater to the rich and important. In researching this article I saw that ECYD still exists; they got a new copy of their statutes in 2016.
Can there be any excuse to keep them running after all this time?
Why are the still allowed access to children and teenagers?
(image via Pixabay)
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