A group of 77 women who attended a high school run by the Legions of Christ is calling on the Vatican to shut down the program. In a letter to the Pope’s envoy, the women described the psychological abuse that they suffered while “trying to live like teenage nuns,” including anorexia, stress-induced migraines, depression and suicidal thoughts.
The women who signed the letter suffered a wide variety of traumatic experiences. They were forced to follow strict rules, detailing how they should walk, sit, pray and eat. They never had more than five minutes between activities so that there was no time for self-reflection. They were prevented from making friends, had to obey strict silence for much of the day, and had very limited contact with their families.When the girls developed health problems, including anorexia, migraines, sight problems, they were forbidden from telling their parents and were prevented from seeing a doctor or going to a hospital. In the end, the abuse suffered by these women cost them many years of psychological treatment costing tens of thousands of dollars.
On the blog 49 weeks a year, some of the women have been sharing their stories:
- Sarita wrote: “One of the most damaging aspects of the PC was the manipulation of conscience and Godís Will. Everything was considered Godís Will: the norms, the schedule, your director, and your spiritual director. If you were told to do anything you were expected to obey instantly with a spirit of supernatural obedience and without questioning.”
- Tricia wrote: “The continual need to find fault with each and every action and report my failings not only to my confessor but often to my spiritual director and sometimes even peers created a deep sense of insecurity and self loathing. The Regnum Christi Movement implemented several activities to find and express oneʼs faults to the point of creating a scrupulous conscience. More importantly, the danger that persists is that you begin to have a disgust for yourself.”
- Frances wrote: “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.”
- Elle wrote about the difficulty re-adjusting to normal life afterward: “I felt very lost not being able to see Godís plan for me in black and white, literally in black and whiteÖat ICA our schedule for the day was printed and posted and we were told it was Godís will. I didnít know how to deal with boys, dating, coworkers, college, drinking, drugs, or conflicts with friends.”
Some of the women told of broken confidences, where the priest was given a record of their behaviour prior to them attending confession so that he could reinforce messages about “God’s Will” for that child. The practices described by these women are reminiscent of the tactics used by cults to brainwash members, render them helpless and prevent them from seeking outside help or leaving.
The school’s director, Margarita Martinez, claims that they have made significant changes and apologized for the past suffering of the women. She told the Associated Press: “For any errors made by our order in the past, we do apologize. We’re sorry these young women have suffered and been harmed in any way.”
In addition to asking the Vatican to shut down the program, the women say that they are now telling their stories to warn parents not to send their children to these programs.
Photo credit: dslrtravel.com on flickr