Bad Fruits of the Legion of Christ

ICSA Today, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2012, 6-9

Bad Fruits of the Legion of Christ Catholic Religious Order

J. Paul Lennon, MA

The mission of ReGAIN, which emerged in the 1990s, is to outreach, unite, and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement. Past and present members and all those who quest for justice and truth, resolution, and healing are invited to join in this endeavor.

In the light of Vatican investigations and revelations regarding the double criminal life of founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, ReGAIN is no longer a lone voice crying in the wilderness. ReGAIN’s suppressed discussion board has been replaced in the past few years by a new, vibrant, well-informed, and interactive blog that keeps the public informed: Other Web pages in Spanish also monitor the Legion: and

I recognize that there are “good fruits” associated with the Legion, or, to be more precise, the people within the Legion. My focus in this paper, however, is on the “bad fruits,” that which Church authorities diminished, denied, or disbelieved for so many years.

Fr. Maciel’s Accomplices

Of course, the first really bad apple was the founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.[1] Researchers of the Legion also wonder how Maciel could have lived such a corrupt lifestyle for so long without help from others. Maciel was a master of deceit and control, surrounded by a circle of sexual victims and procurers. Another circle of collaborators helped him deceive everyone and stay in power for six decades. The papal delegate seems to have made a real blunder by not dismissing these accomplices. A very prestigious former Legionary, Fr. Thomas Berg, Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York recently wrote,

…First, he has chosen to leave multiple longtime and close collaborators of Maciel in positions of governance in the congregation. Second, and more disturbing, the Cardinal has chosen to forego a thorough and independent investigation into whether any present or former members of the congregation knowingly abetted Maciel.[2]

Not-So-Holy Priests

The image of immaculate Legion priests was deformed by the 2012 revelation that the Legion’s knight in shining armor had fallen off his steed: Legion spokesperson and apologist Fr. Thomas Williams, a director, professor, author of books on moral theology, television personality, and “Vatican analyst,” fathered a child as an active priest; and he and his superiors kept that fact secret for more than a decade. The very orthodox and formerly Legion-owned National Catholic Register reported the following:

Legionary Priest Admits Fathering Child and Issues Apology

Father Thomas Williams is leaving public ministry for 1 year.

Father Thomas Williams, one of the most high-profile American members of the Legion of Christ, is leaving public ministry after admitting he fathered a child.

“A number of years ago I had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. I am deeply sorry for this grave transgression and have tried to make amends,” Father Williams said in a May 15 [2012] statement.

He also apologized to members of the Legion and the Church, “since this scandalous news will damage them as well, at the worst possible moment.”

The identities of the mother and child have not been revealed.

Father Williams also said that he is with his family in Michigan and is being treated for a form of cancer.[3]

Have Other Legionary Priests Been Sex Abusers?

Recently, allegations of sexual abuse by Legionary priests were reported to the Vatican, which then began—another—investigation into the Legion of Christ:

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is investigating seven priests from the troubled Legion of Christ religious order for alleged sexual abuse of minors – evidence that the scandal over the order’s pedophile founder doesn’t rest solely with him, The Associated Press has learned….

The investigations mark the first known Vatican action against Legion priests following the revelations of the Legion’s founder, who was long held up as a model by the Vatican despite credible accusations – later proven – that he was a drug addict who raped and molested his seminarians….

But the Vatican investigation of other Legion priests indicates that the same culture of secrecy that Maciel created within the order to cover his crimes enabled other priests to abuse children – just as abusive clergy of other religious orders and dioceses have done around the world.[4]

Damaging Effects Caused by Legion Training

In 2012, a group of young women who studied at the Regnum Christi Boarding High School in Rhode Island took to the Internet. They describe their blog 49 weeks… this way:

This blog is an account of the experiences of former Pre-candidates (young female high school students being groomed to consecrate themselves to the lay movement founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel). Many of us suffered real mental, emotional and spiritual 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.[5] [bold added for emphasis]

Some common threads gleaned from a smattering of these women’s testimonies demonstrate serious physical, psychological, and spiritual damage:

Major depressive disorder with suicidal thoughts and attempts, dissociation, and so on

Letter from M. to Apostolic Visitor Bishop Ricardo Watty in February 2010:

Your Excellency,

I have been pondering this letter for about a week since I knew I would have the opportunity to present it to you, and my mind began to fill with ideas and emotions. … Zero was my clinical depression before joining the Regnum Christi. During my second year, we were given MMPIs (the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) and made to draw psychoanalytic images. Not surprisingly, I drew a weeping willow tree, a classic symbol of depression, and my MMPI scores were higher than I ever saw when working in a clinical practice. Seven is the number of days I spent under medications after my overdose while the doctors saved my life. My life was saved because as I was about to die from internal bleeding, I received a picture in my head that I could not die because there existed the possibility that I could have a family and a happy life as a writer. Because of that possibility, I was taken to the hospital.[6]

Emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of inept, cruel, and manipulative “spiritual guides,” leading to severe psychological damage

Former Consecrated wrote:

I would like to share one thing with all the former pre-candidates, if you are trying to figure out why you were treated the way you were, I suggest you give up and remember the following - your formators had NO TRAINING WHATSOEVER on how to help you be a better person, how to respect your human rights, how to develop your personal talents or help you discern a vocation. The only training they were given was how to get you to comply with the ideals and discipline ... So, if you feel confused because you don’t understand why someone treated you a certain way well, this might be 80 or 90% of your answer. No one saw you as an END, only as a MEANS to benefit the Movement and enlarge the numbers for the consecrated life.[7]

Anorexia nervosa plus spiritual abuse

Witness M. continues in her testimony (items 3 through 7):

One girl in our class was anorexic and the rest of the girls began to eat as little as possible. When she was in the hospital, I overhead the directress of the school telling the priest not to give her Communion unless she ate.

Physical illness deriving from mental cruelty

10 – the number of pounds I lost when I got the rotavirus after telling my spiritual guide that I didn’t understand how the Movement would fulfill its mission if all we did was work in schools and she told me that I was talking like an enemy of the Movement. My directress ordered me to gain back the weight over the next months but I was so depressed I was barely able to chew food.

Mind control[8]

26 – July 26, 2002, the day I flew home from Monterrey, Mexico so suicidal I could no longer think clearly, but so integrated into what being consecrated meant that I could not help myself from recruiting members on the airplane.

150 – the number of Aspirin I took on Sept. 11, 2003 when I could no longer bear the thought that happiness could never be mine as I was not good enough to be [a] consecrated [member of the Regnum Christi]

Premature recruiting

9 – the age at which they began to recruit me. Please note that I was not at an age in which children have yet developed complex reasoning.

30 – the number of students that were in the 6th grade class I gave Spiritual Direction to in Monterrey as we started to recruit them to consecrated life. I feel guilty as I remember their names and their faces and afraid of what the Movement might have done to them in their futures.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

2,921 – the number of days in 8 years. How many nightmares I estimate that I have had since leaving consecrated life as symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder. I have one that I remember about once a week, so it would be safe to say that I have one every night during the other dreams that I don’t remember.

Ignorance regarding sex and interpersonal relationships, leaving members ignorant, immature, and ill-equipped for real life

Former Consecrated wrote,

One thing I still can’t understand is that there was never any sex ed.! Perhaps this is why so many have had difficulties with sentimental relationships, emotions, dating and even husbands. Maybe you got that education later on – lucky you! Some left their home at 14 or 15 and went back at 18 or in their 20s. During that time many of your friends had their hearts broken, got sharper at dating, lost naiveté and had helpful experiences regarding sexuality (some not helpful at all ha-ha-ha). And then the ex-pc arrives home and the whole guy thing gets complicated, she does not know how to handle it. I find the lack of sex ed. at the PC [Precandidacy] and even 3gf[9] life to also be one of the “damaging” aspects, even if we didn’t clearly notice it. Some 3gf suggested to higher superiors to include some books on sex education during formation years. The answer was no, it was “imprudent” because, what if they got aroused while reading that information? (yep, my jaw dropped too when I heard the answer).

Rejection of one’s cradle (Catholic) faith

Once again, from witness M.:

I still believe in him. However, I cannot ever return to a Church that knew about the horrors within the Movement and chose to ignore it for more than fifty years, long before I ever would have joined, and could have prevented me from ever suffering what I did. I cannot return to a Church where the Pope praised the Movement and Marcial Maciel so many times in public, which was crucial to my entering and believing in it, when the evidence about the group was so craftily being hidden. It is too late to win me back to the Church, but if you act quickly and deftly, you may still be able to save the faith of others.

Spiritual pride and Phariseeism

Frances writes,

It’s been absolutely amazing and eye-opening to me to think back to the insane life that was the PC. Yet, there we were, tucked back in there, us Russian Princesses and Nuns of Narragansett, better than our peers because we had chosen to give our lives to God. Those other mere mortals were living flamboyant and sinfully pleasurable lives; because wasn’t life all about sacrifice and self-denial? For a group that preached “universal Christian charity” it’s amazing to think how much we judged any and all who weren’t doing exactly as we were. “Oh, she must not be generous with God, she is going HOME". “Oh did you hear? So and so had fun/danced/got pregnant/etc. etc.” Seriously?! Who were we to judge or say what God’s will was for someone else? We were better somehow for giving our lives to God, others who were called to vocations such as marriage were lesser beings, not capable of the love and devotion we chosen souls were capable of. The hubris of those thoughts disgusts me even as I write it.[10]

Loss of humanity and freedom

Frances continues,

How is it that 80 girls could live so close together, do absolutely everything together for years, and yet know so little about each other? I think we were only allowed to speak a total of about 30 minutes a day, maybe less. The rest of the time we walked about like drones, taking in what we were told we could take in, nothing more, nothing less.

The very essence of what it means to be a human, to have the freedom to choose was taken away and put inside the tightest of boxes: the schedule. Every minute of every day was planned out, to the point that if you got constipated, good luck. Your free time didn’t allow enough time to remedy that problem.

I remember one year after final exams, going outside and yelling FREEEEDOOMMMM (Brave-heart style) with a couple other PC’s. We earned an intolerably long lecture about the inappropriateness of such behavior. We were teenagers, for Christ’s sake.

12. Harming others, knowingly or unknowingly

Regnum Christi former member Nieves Garcia runs her own Spanish-language blog, Granito de verdad con amor,[11] Grain of truth with love. She holds that no amount of good works can justify the bad works that have been done and continue to be done. Looking back over her 27 years in the Movement, she tells us that

Once truth comes to light, it behooved us to review our way of life. When we did this, many of us realized that we, too, had done harm to others. Hundreds of good fruits do not justify bad fruits. …To justify evil by the amount of good fruits produced is to accept evil as a means to a good end.

I lived 27 years in this institution. I, too, have done harm to others without wanting to. And I ask forgiveness. But I cannot continue to deceive. What I want is for us to become aware, ask forgiveness, and open ourselves to the grace of conversion. We have to change. People are not just numbers or the fruits of my harvest; they are human beings, loved for who they are by God, and they deserve total respect. It is about service, not about appearances. God knows the reality: “Don’t let you[r] left hand know the [good] (sic) works your right hand is doing.” Only in a state of humility will God bless those who love and serve others unselfishly.

There have been good fruits. Great! But we should never do harm to anyone, ever; much less in the name of God.

Nieves Garcia.[12]

About the Author

J. Paul Lennon, STL, MA, LPC, Board member, Regain Network (Religious Groups Awareness International Network). Mr. Lennon was a Legionary of Christ brother from 1961 to 1969 and an LC priest from 1969 to 1984. He served as a Diocesan priest from 1985 to 1989 and received an MA in Counseling from the Catholic University of America in 1989. For the past 10 years he has worked as a Child and Family Therapist in Arlington, Virginia. In 2008 he published a memoir, Our Father who art in bed, A Naive and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ.

[1] See the author’s Fr. Marcial Maciel, Pedophile, Psychopath, and Founder of the Legion of Christ, from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to Pope Benedict XVI, 2nd Ed.







[8] The term mind control has been popularized in the anticult movement by Steve Hassan, as in Combatting Cult Mind Control (

[9] Tercer Grado Femenino; Third Degree Women; “Consecrated” women of Regnum Christi; lay organization of women who make promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience similar to nuns but do not wear habits and for the most part live in regular houses or residences, not convents.