Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Psychoanalytic Critique of Cults in the Catholic Church: Part I

A few days ago, during my daily-randomized ritual of news browsing, I found the story on Fr. Maciel's scandalous double-life. I do admit that such a story brings out the worst in us--and maybe that has something to do with it--nonetheless, this story just won't stop itching. For days now I have spend considerable amounts of time scouring commentaries, points, and counter-points in English and in Spanish and the biggest question I ask my self is: why? A few friends of mine have asked me if I am a member of Regnum Christi, and, since I am not, why do I care so much? Other friends who are members of RC have asked me why I insist on torturing them with my commentaries and inquisitions. So, this question of, "Why do I care so much?", has moved me to write this very different--even risky--kind of entry. I am not entirely sure what I have to say, but, after some thought and reflection, I have a general idea.

You see, there is something special to me about this tragic cycle of events that has affected Regnum Christi and the Catholic Church at large and, at the same time, I am completely removed from it. In the nonsense that can be our consciousness, I seem to have woven these events together to my own life. What I mean to say here is that, for some reason, there is a deep connection for me between the scandalous events and lessons coming from these current events and my own life in the Church. For years I have flirted with the idea of writing about my experiences, but there was never anything to make them relevant or interesting. You see, I do not have what seems the "standard" stories that garner immediate attention. Yet, I find myself in deep empathy when I hear those stories. It is as if I did in fact go through those cycles myself, even though I know that I did not; at least not directly.

Those are the psychoanalytic reasons. But there are many more, I think. For too long has the genuine goodwill of certain people guarded other well-intentioned people from making critical statements about the general organizations they belong to. Organizations that have, and continue to, wreck havoc on many lives in the name of something is not as they say it is. Let me be clear. Painfully clear.

Many movements in the Church that have responded against the "modern turn" of the post-Vatican II church and the evils of secular society at large in the name of orthodoxy, radical calls to holiness, evangelization, and more, have implicitly or explicitly claimed a monopoly over the faith. A monopoly over God. They often guard against critique by citing the radical nature of their call and uniting it to the radical witness of the saints and, especially, the martyrs. That way, any strong arguments against, or ridicule of, their work can be relegated to "persecution". Guarded by these and other methods of seclusion, they... Wait a minute. Let me be even clearer. I will name names.

I am talking about organizations in the Church that were sprung from a variety of things (e.g. the Cursillo movement, the "Duquesne revival", the protestant evangelical/Pentecostal movement, the tele/stadium-evangelical movement and more) and collectively created the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. You see, this movement did not exist on its own within the Catholic Church. It was mostly supported by private, lay initiatives like prayer meetings that grew into communities and traveling retreat-like gatherings and seminars (most popularly being FIRE rallies and The Life in the Spirit seminar). The community I am most familiar with is Bread of Life Charismatic Covenant Community in Akron, Ohio, founded by Dick Herman and run by an inner circle called The Servants of the Cross. Their remnants, that is their founder and the inner circle, can be found today in a Mexican mission called, Seguidores de la Cruz (Followers of the Cross). The community itself does not exist anymore, to my knowledge.

The larger cultural impact this community and others like it (and I am told that most other ones were not as draconian as this one) served as the vehicle for the rise of many other movements; even ones that are not charismatic in their worship. One of these is Regnum Christi. While RC predates the Charismatic renewal by several decades, perhaps the most popular face of the American Legionaries of Christ (their order of priests) is Fr. Johnathon Morris, LC. He comes from a family who were registered members of Bread of Life. And, I should say, that this family have been nothing but kind and generous to me and I count several of the younger siblings as my friends. And Fr. Johnathon isn't the only one who left a community for RC. I met several of them when I was in Rome at a private screening of "The Passion" enabled by Fr. Johnathon who was the spiritual adviser for the movie shooting. And I know of many, many more.

One "person" left-out of this discussion is my alma mater: Franciscan University of Steubenville. And I intend to leave them out. This is not blind affection, but, in my life, the University has had nothing, or at least very little, to do with this psychoanalytic memoir directly. At least not with this chapter of it. Nonetheless, with very little trouble, thick lines could be drawn to connect Franciscan to this movement for historical purposes.

Now, I do not want to sound like--or actually be--a bitter former member railing against something that made me mad. I am very sympathetic to the work done by this movement. When I say this I am not just posturing. This movement saved my father from drug addition in the seventies and served as the first place I learned exegesis through reading scripture and other books. Also, generalities are cheap. Very cheap. I will happily retract what I say in the particular, that is, in the case by case or person to person basis, but, make no mistake, the general phenomena I describe was and is real.

So, when I continue, I hope to do the work that seems appropriate to take place in Regnum Christi--because they got caught. What I mean here is that many informal and formal movements on the past century have gone unquestioned--or, to put it another way, never got caught in a way that forced them to question--and, even if they have now disappeared, they should be held accountable to the truth. The truth that no one has a monopoly--not even a weak monopoly--over God, or those things that flow from such an excessive source. To pose as such is to create idols that substitute for the things we want and--here is the heart of my point--the methods used to preserve that spoken or unspoken monopoly are not religious or spiritual. They are nothing more or less than degrees of social manipulation that are in direct conflict with the freedom and authority of the human conscience to exist in whose image it is made in. To be blunt, my first point is to say that such methods (the ones I will soon describe in greater detail) are the line that separates the religious movement from the cult.

More to come.

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