Legion of Christ as Cult-like Org By Fr. Peter Cronin

with thanks to a member of the  CORK BRIGADE OF THE OLD LEGIONARIES ARMY
Legion of Christ as Cult-like Org

By Fr. Peter Cronin

Fr. Peter Cronin’s critique of the Legion as a cult-like organization in the
form of an email he wrote to Pat Kenny, host of Ireland’s the Pat Kenny
Show, on October 23, 1996. Peter had already drafted a similar document for
the Network newsletter earlier. Peter gave this same testimony to Pat Kenny
of the “Pat Kenny Show” in Ireland and did a extensive interview with Pat
live on national Irish radio a few years back. http://www.rte.ie is the station’s
web address. Thought it might be a way he can continue to lead us, after his
sad and sudden parting on Sept 19, 1999.

“I am a Catholic priest, the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church, a
large Catholic parish in Silver Spring MD, just outside Washington D.C. Last
week I was in Ireland for a wedding and heard some comments on your radio
program concerning the Legion of Christ. This got my attention as I spent a
long period of time in the order, from 1965 to 1985.

In 1965 at the tender age of 16 I finished the Leaving Certificate at

Drimnagh Castle and, with some 20 others, joined the Legionaries who were

then at Belgard Castle in Clondalkin.

The postulancy ran through the summermonths after which we entered

the novitiate (two years) and then took our religious vows. I was sent to
Salamanca in Spain for a year to study the classics and Spanish and from
there to Rome for studies of philosophy. After three years in Rome I was
assigned to the Irish Institute, a Legionary school in Mexico, where I
worked from 1971 to 1975. I then returned to Rome and studied theology for
the next three years. In 1979 I was assigned to the novitiate in Connecticut
where I continued working at the novitiate until the summer of 1985 when I
left the Legionaries of Christ. I am now a priest of the Archdiocese of

The question at the center of the discussion I heard on your program seemed
to be whether the Legion was a religious order in the normal sense of the
word or a sect. In my own experience the order combines elements of both
realities . It is an extremely conservative order which has modeled the
formation program for its students on the early Jesuits and much of its
apostolate is copied from Opus Dei. It has a Constitution and Rules,
specific apostolates and activities such as other order have.

At the same time the Legion uses many of the strategies and policies more
characteristic of sects or cults and in this it parts company with
mainstream religious congregations of the Church. Let me give some examples.

The order has the most high-powered recruiting program known to the Catholic
Church. Numbers of recruits are important, seen as proof of the validity of
the Legion and a way of impressing authorities in the Church. However, the
screening process is minimal, and there is no true discernment of a
vocation, of whether this way of life is good or healthy for the given
individual. The good – human, psychological or spiritual – of the candidate
is never a consideration. Everybody has a vocation to the Legion until the
Legion decides otherwise. Once the order gains access to a young person, all
its powers of persuasion and attraction are trained on the unwitting target.

The Legion recruits many young people, the younger the better, in their mid
teens for the novitiate, even earlier for their Vocation Centers. In these
schools boys as young as 11 and 12 are influenced and guided toward a life
in the Legion. These schools exist at least in Mexico, Spain and the U.S.
(Center Harbor New Hampshire). The idea is to influence the person as early
as possible, to “form” that person in the spirit of the Legion so that no
other influence can distort or stain his vocation and ‘legionary  personality”.
He must be removed from any other influence. The youthfulness  and
immaturity of the candidate make him vulnerable to brainwashing.

Once in the order the person is subjected to the most intensive “formation”
program, i.e. brainwashing. The Legion’s term for this is ‘formation’.
Brainwashing is brought about by a combination of different elements which
influence and control the person with great effectiveness: for example,
‘spiritual direction’ and ‘confession’. Canon Law states that seminarians
and religious should have complete freedom to choose a confessor and
spiritual director. In the Legion that is not the case, there is no freedom
at all: all Legionaries have spiritual direction and confession with their
Superiors, in the novitiate, through their years of formation and even as
priests. This is an aberration because it places the person completely in
the control of the superior. It means that that superior who recommends or
not a person for promotion to vows or orders or positions of responsibility
in the order has access to the internal conscience of the person in
question. Confession and spiritual direction are essentially tools in the
hands of the Legion to brainwash the individuals to stay in the Legion, to
convince them that they have a vocation from God to the Legion, to conform
totally with the Legion and the wishes of the superiors, and a way in which
the Legion gains total access to the conscience and mind of the person.
Legionaries are constantly exhorted to tell the superior/ spiritual director
everything , to hold back nothing, to have no secrets. Other tools of
‘brainwashing’ are the continuous series of conferences,
talks,retreats,exhortations that the communities constantly receive and
which repeat and reinforce the essential message.

In all this, the basic message, the bottom line, is that the members have a
‘Vocation’ to the Legion and this vocation is from God and they have
received this vocation from all eternity. It is God’s will that they are in
the Legion. If they are not faithful to their vocation they are endangering
their eternal salvation, they risk damnation and hell. This message is a
constant drumbeat throughout life in the Legion, perhaps the most consistent
and all-pervasive ritornello that is communicated and repeated in many
different ways.

From the moment he joins, a person in the Legion of Christ is submitted to
total control in everything he does, everything he says, everything he
thinks. The Legion refers to this as ‘integration’ and a Legionary must
strive to achieve perfect integration of behavior, of mind and of will. This
means conformity with the will of the Legion in everything. He must be
transformed into the legionary personality and to do this must lose his own
personality. All forms and expressions of ‘individualism’ must be stamped
out. this is stressed from the very beginning. However, it is done in a
subtle way, very gently at first, with smile and good humor, barely
noticeable to the victim.

When we joined the Legion we thought it was a mainstream order like the
Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits. We were deceived in that many things were
not disclosed to us until a later date. There was always a shroud of secrecy
– visits home, the apostolate of the Legion (Regnum Christi.). The ground
was constantly shifting and changing. It would take years before we would
get the full picture.

The person who joins the legion is systematically separated and distanced
from any other influence, especially from family, culture, the wider church
and society (‘the world’). People outside the legion are referred to as
‘outsiders’, they are viewed with the utmost distrust, communication with
them is monitored and usually discouraged (except when the Legion is trying
to attract them for the aims of the order. Legionaries are forbidden to
communicate with outsiders and must report on conversations and any dealings
with people outside the order.

In the Legion of Christ the individual has no privacy, either physical or
psychological. He has no space of his own as the superiors enter his room
without knocking, go through his room, personal effects and belongings when
he is not there (and this without his knowledge). He has no time to himself
as every waking moment is scheduled and intensely regimented. Members are
encouraged to spy on and report on other members in a continuous way: “we
must help brother John and what better way that to keep the superiors
informed as they , more than anybody else, can help him.” There are rules
(literally thousands of them) which direct and control every action and
movement of his life (eating, drinking, walking, speaking..)

The secrecy of the order towards the outside world is another sect-like
trait: in the order this is referred to as ‘prudence’ or ‘discretion’ or
‘spirit of reserve’. Outsiders are seen as a threat; the members are
actually forbidden to communicate with anybody outside the community
without  permission from the superior, and this includes family members.
No information about the order – its practices, rules, customs, schedules,
plans, constitutions, rulebooks – can be given to the outside.
Try asking them for a copy of the Constitution, for their rulebooks,
the complete edition of the letters of Fr. Maciel the manual of Regnum
Christi, the Chapter document…


There is total control of communications from the outside world and the with
the outside: all letters to and from the outside, including those of parents
and family, are opened and read by the superiors. This is true for novices,
religious, at all stages of formation, and priests. All newspapers,
magazines and books are read and censored by the Superiors. There is no
possibility of having a confessor, spiritual director or advisor outside the
order. This is forbidden.

The control of communication with the outside world is also exercised within
the order and between members. Nobody can ever confide in another member in
any way within the order, especially if he has a problem of any sort. He
must discuss it with the superior and only the superior. There is a constant
supervision, vigilance of the superior at all times. NO friendship is
allowed between members.

Within the order there is a total lack of dialogue, discussion, disagreement
or dissent within the order. There is no room for any disagreement with the
Legion. The member has to accept everything the order says without question.
The motivation – every rule, every order, every idea of the Legion is
divinely ordained, directly inspired by God and, therefore, unquestionable.
The moment one questions a policy, a rule, a decision that person is
punished and maybe even banished, sent to some out of the way place (like
the missions in Quintana Roo, Mexico) where he can have no influence on

Another sect-like trait of the order is the difficulty involved with
leaving. It is extremely difficult to get out as one is constantly guided,
encouraged to stay with all sorts of arguments, and one is especially
saddled with a guilt complex: “you are betraying your vocation, you have a
responsibility toward the souls who will be lost because of this move.” When
one takes the decision to leave, he is carefully isolated from the other
members of the order, by being transferred to some other house, or a
campaign of rumor is spread among the other members – “be careful with Fr.
Peter, he has problems..” This experience is common to all who have left:
the sense of isolation and loneliness with which one leaves the Legion of
Christ is terrible.

Once you leave the Legion you will never hear from the order again. I spent
twenty years in the Legion. since the day I left I have never heard from the
order, have never received a letter, a phone call, much less an invitation
to visit, or a visit from them (even though for 11 years I have lived within
a few miles of their center outside Washington). I received absolutely no
assistance or support to relocate to another diocese, no help toward
continuing in the priesthood, absolutely no interest in me as a person nor
as a priest. For twenty years the Legion had been my ‘life’, my ‘family’, my
‘world’, but from the moment I stepped out their door on July 27 1985 I
never again heard from them. I came to this diocese directly against their
wishes and getting the necessary documents to incardinate officially here
was very difficult. Leaving the order is the only way one can disagree with
the Legion and the Legion takes it as an insult or a rejection.

EXITING AS EXODUS: This started out as a brief email message but once I
started the floodgates opened. I have taken a long time to get my life
together but now feel that I have the Legion of Christ out of my system, it
is a thing of the past. About five years ago I started a “Network” of former
member of the order which has grown to thirty – some priests, former priests
and others who spent a few years in the order as students. There is a
similar network in Spain. We communicate a couple of times each year, many
of us get together here or in Ireland and are able to share experiences,
stories, even ‘funny incidents’ (to steal a Paddy Crosby phrase!) A movie
could be made of some of the escape routes and strategies and the survival
stories. I often refer to my former parish in Bethesda MD as our
‘underground railroad’ as the former pastor (Msgr. James Reddy, an Irishman
now deceased) was most welcoming and supportive to several priests as they
were leaving the Legion and transitioning to a new life). Many people were
deep hurt in the process of leaving the Legion and take years to recover.
From me leaving the Legion was my ‘exodus’, the liberation in which I
experienced strength and presence of the Holy Spirit. Happily, our Network
has been able to help others who are leaving or who had just left.”

See more articles written by Peter:


One Response

  1. For more information on Fr. Peter Cronin [RIP in Silver Spring, MD, USA, 19 September, 1999, at the early age of 50] and for in-depth critique of Fr. Maciel, the Legion and the Regnum Christi see


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