Madrid - Nelly Ramírez Mota Velasco, the former director of a house of consecrated women in León, Mexico was a member of the Legionaries of Christ for twelve years. In 2009 she learned she was being sent to Madrid on directions from the order, but within a month and a half - the amount of time she was given to prepare for the trip - she realized that things were not as she had been led to believe. She did some research, and found “perverse conduct” pervading the Legion. She left, and wrote the book The Kingdom of Marcial Maciel (Planeta, 2011-Spanish only). On a visit in Madrid, the author spoke with MILENIO about her experiences in the Legion.
Why did you write this book?
I got the idea after seeing that within the Legion there was no awareness of the realities and the truth about Marcial Maciel’s life. By necessity you have to be aware that something is bad before it can be changed. What I have done in essence is to support the condemnation that Pope Benedict XVI made in a May 1, 2010 statement in that talks about how Maciel’s conduct impacted the structure and life of the movement. The objective of my book is to explain how this perverse conduct pervades the Legion.
Was writing the book therapeutic after dredging up all the muck?
Yes. It always helps to be able to express things on a personal level - the work of investigating, of talking to other people. . . who were explaining to me how we deviated from church doctrine, how we no longer had personal freedom, and how there was no respect for intimacy
When did you realize that things in the Legion were not as you had thought, and did they want to make you think otherwise?
I realized it as I was leaving. I had been reassigned to Madrid. Previously, I had been a directress for seven years in León (Mexico). I received this assignment, and I went home for a month and a half, but I dragged the time out because I had begun to receive information, and things were not adding up. It was then, in the summer of 2009, that I began my investigation, and had the idea of writing a book.
How did your uneasiness lead you to begin investigating?
I had received information from outside. I also felt a strong desire for change in the institution. I wanted to know whom I was standing up for. After getting the news about Maciel, I was interested in knowing everything on a deeper level, and then to find out if it was consistent with my ideals. I never got to Madrid. I stayed at home because I realized how things were.
Whom did you tell that you would not be going to Madrid?
My directors. They respected me, and I did not give any explanations. I said only that I felt uneasy, and that I was staying in Mexico.
Did you have any fear in writing this book? Did you receive threats before or after?
Not threats against my life. But several Legionaries visited members of my family to try to convince them that what I was doing was unnecessary because they knew that I was writing something, but not what it was exactly. Previously there had been some moral blackmail. The told me things like, "As you judge, so shall you be judged." They told me that Jesus Christ did not judge, and therefore neither should I.
What is the reaction among Legionaries about the book’s publication?
It varies. There is one group that wants to see a renewal, that is aware of the realities, and another that is steadfast, that thinks any change is an affront to God. I believe that, within the culture of the Legion, a book like this is seen as an act of aggression, which it is not. It is simply a proposal for change, and my objective is to facilitate an internal dialogue. They also told me that they would ask God to forgive me for writing this book.
What did you lose by being in the Legion for twelve years?
I would rather focus on what I have gained by leaving. I have regained my freedom, the closeness to my family, the opportunity to share with friends what I am feeling inside, and above all the power to make my own decisions. That is a blessing.
What form does “brainwashing” take within the organization?
You live in a type of, quote-unquote, free enslavement. The statutes say that obedience means surrendering your judgement and free will. But in the church it is not like that because you have the ability to differ, to not surrender your judgement. You are free to decide if something makes sense to you or not, and that is the value in obedience. In the case of the Legion, that is not the way it is, because even before you approach your superior, you have already surrendered your judgement. They can ask things of you that are against the law, against your conscience, but out of wanting to please God, you accept it.
How does the family come into play?
The rules are very strict. The first year you can talk with them only seven times. After that, you can see them twice a year. You really live a life disconnected from their troubles, from what a family is. You live separated from reality. They completely control you, they read your emails and letters, you have to ask permission to make a phone call, etc.
Do they expect you to meet certain monetary quotas?
There is an annual quota for the consecrated women, but it is not obligatory. But it is a congregation that encourages you to request financial donations. The annual quota for each consecrated is $7,000. In each center they ask for 40% of the annual budget, more than the benefactors contribute, more than they receive.
Did you know Maciel personally?
Well, I don’t think I saw him more that four times. . . he would only pass by and wave.
Did he impress you?
Yes, a lot. But also because of all attention surrounding him. Everyone idealized him. They would say, “Here comes the saint, the great one. . .” They would tell us stories about how he had helped others, how he did not have time to do anything but pray. Later you realized that he did not pray, and did not even celebrate Mass.
Did it ever occur to you that he might be a pedophile? Did you hear rumors, or anything else?
I never thought he could be a pedophile or homosexual, or that he would misuse money. To me he was a saint, a martyr in life. . . In 1997 I found out about the sexual abuse, but I never believed it. I thought it was another test for him.
Did you know his daughter lives here in Madrid?
I found out in 2009. It was a painful moment, not only for the daughter, but for everyone else as well. That was when I began to ask questions. For example, why was this man so idolized?
Is it enough to reform the Legionaries of Christ?
There is an entirely new road to be travelled, as an institution and at the personal level, by each member and by the movement. . .there is an important road to be travelled with the victims.
After everything you have experienced, do you still believe in the church?
I believe there is a need to rediscover it. I believe in the Church because there were other priests who took me by the hand to help me through this process of change.