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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Dozens of women who attended a school run by the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order have urged the Vatican to close the programme, saying the psychological abuse they endured trying to live like teenage nuns led to multiple cases of anorexia, stress-induced migraines, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
The women sent a letter over the weekend to the Pope’s envoy running the legion to denounce the manipulation, deception and disrespect they say they suffered at the hands of counsellors barely older than themselves — trauma which for some required years of psychological therapy that cost them tens of thousands of dollars.
A copy of the letter was provided to The Associated Press by the 77 signatories, a dozen of whom agreed to be interviewed about their personal problems for the sake of warning parents against sending their children to the programme, which exists in the United States, Mexico and Spain.
"I have many defining and traumatic memories that I believe epitomise the systematic breakdown of the person" in the school, Mary said in an email exchange. She developed anorexia after joining in 1998, weighed less than 85 pounds when she left and dropped to 68 pounds before beginning to recover at home.
"The feelings of worthlessness, shame and isolation that are associated with those memories are still vivid and shocking."
Mary, who asked that her last name not be used, blamed her eating disorder on acute loneliness — girls were prevented from making close friends or confiding in their families — and the tremendous pressure she felt as a 16-year-old to perfectly obey the strictest rules dictating how she should walk, sit, pray and eat.
It’s the latest blow to the troubled, cult-like legion, which was discredited in 2009 when it revealed that its founder was a paedophile and drug addict who fathered three children. The legion suffered subsequent credibility problems following its recent admission that its most famous priest had fathered a child and the current legion superior covered it up for years.
The legion saga is all the more grave because its late founder, the Rev Marcial Maciel, had been held up as a living saint by his followers and a model of holiness by Pope John Paul II because of his ability to recruit men and money to the priesthood, even though the Vatican knew for decades that he had sexually abused his seminarians.
Pope Benedict XVI took over the Mexico-based order in 2010 and appointed envoy Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to oversee a whole-scale reform of the legion and its lay branch Regnum Christi. But the reform hasn’t progressed smoothly, with defections of disillusioned members and criticism that some superiors remain locked in their old ways.
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