Leaving the Legion of Christ for Elena Sada was considered a life or death decision. Not so much in a literal sense, but in a spiritual one. He had a prominent career within one of the most important congregations of Roman Christianity, in which he spent almost two decades and became part of high places, but he felt that if he stayed he would “let himself die slowly,” he recalls. She was not willing to live in such an oppressive environment, to “renounce her own judgment” or to abide by “inhumane orders.” When she finally decided to leave, one early morning in November 2001, she had felt completely isolated from her peers for weeks, was much thinner than normal, and had been medicated for depression. “That was the moment when I said I’m dying in here, I have to live. I chose to live and I left, hurt but alive ”.
Sada (56 years old, Monterrey) was part of the Consecrated Women, the female branch of the Legionaries of Christ, for 18 years, during which she became the vocation director for North America, Australia and New Zealand. “I was the first to come to the United States to recruit. My job was to find people who wanted to get in, train the recruiters to get as many people as possible, “says the sociolinguist, who currently works as a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, by phone from the US. After her departure in 2001, it took her another 18 years to piece together her story and pluck up the courage to tell it. The former consecrated now publishes in Spain Black bird (Editorial Mother), a novel in which he reviews his experience, but with “a mind freed from the manipulative structure” of the order.
The damage caused by his passage through the institution founded by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, accused of abusing at least 60 minors, has left wounds that he came to think that he would never be able to heal. “It took me a long time to recover. When you enter the Legion, there is a process of taking away the credibility of your own judgment, putting your thoughts as inferior. We entered very young, and we believed in Maciel, by virtue of the trust we had in society, because it was society that sponsored him, and by virtue of the trust we had in our parents and the Pope, who also trusted him. sponsored ”.
Her first contact with the congregation was through her parents, when she was just a child. Her family, a historical member of the Mexican economic elite, was part of a group of businessmen who founded various institutions, including the Tecnológico de Monterrey, one of the most important private universities in the country. “One of the priests who came to Monterrey in the early sixties to open a breach one day knocked on the door of the house asking for help because he had supposedly had a technical failure with the car. He stayed for hours talking to Mom until Dad arrived. And that’s when he had the opportunity to explain who he was and talk about the schools they wanted to set up “.
Sada, who by her profession takes the trouble to choose her words with precision, floods that memory with “assumptions”. After becoming one of the top recruiters, thinking of that moment triggers a suspicious laugh. “Maybe her car didn’t break down. They knew that my dad was a public figure and that, along with other family members, they were very interested in education. The Legion used tricks to achieve their ends ”. The powerful economic structure of the order is based on the extensive network of schools that began to form in the late 1960s and currently reaches 19 countries.
The practice of ‘blackbirding’
The name of the book, Black bird, opened a dispute that led some fans of the order to accuse him of referring to the antithesis of the holy spirit, represented by a white dove. Sada explains that it is a reference to blackbirding, a 19th-century practice in which people were collected from the shores to use as slave labor. “In the Legion I did that trade, I attracted many people, I was that black bird and, at the same time, many of us were collected under the excuse of a better life, when in reality it was a life of many limitations and disorders.”
Recruitment was a “horrible” job, he says. “The idea was that we did everything possible so that these people came to our centers and once inside the brainwashing began.” After a time as a vocational director, “inhumane orders” began to arrive from her superiors, forcing her to reject people because “they were too fat” or because “they had had a homosexual experience.”
He describes Maciel as an “abusive narcissist” and “a psychopath who created his own reality in which he allowed all kinds of perversity.” Sada remembers when the first public complaints of abuse against the founder began to transcend. “He said that he had many enemies within the Church.” On one occasion, Maciel, who had just got rid of an internal investigation, quoted them. “He told us that the holy spirit inspired him to anticipate a defamatory letter that a priest who was very envious of him, he went to the post office and convinced someone to retrieve the letter and not reach the Vatican. Now I see that what he did is a crime. That letter could have saved many, but it never arrived ”.
The Legionaries of Christ admitted in December 2019 to have a record of 175 cases of abuse of minors within the congregation. A few weeks later, at a government meeting held every six years, they elected a new director and issued a statement in which they stated that they wanted to “convert” and compensate the victims, something that for Sada is nothing more than a wash face. “The Legion has done an infinite amount of damage, not just while Maciel was alive. They continue to discredit the victims and minimize wrongdoing, by not calling things by their names ”.
The writer brings out her more academic side and analyzes the speech of the congregation. “I detect their language because I was educated to use it. The words they choose are ambiguous, they do not mention that the victims are minors or speak of violation of limits but they do not say that this limit is sexual. For Sada, the most serious damage is that caused by “institutional betrayal”. “When the victims approach the institution that promised to protect them and it responds with apparent charity, because at first they listen to them, but they do not do it with the intention of changing something, that causes a very difficult wound to heal.”
Following the publication of the English version of the book in 2018, at least six victims have come to tell her about their experiences. Black bird is for the author a cry of alert to those who “may still be suffering” and do not dare to leave, as she did in 2001. “Maciel told us that we were going to face a great test after his death and that only the faithful they were going to remain in the Legion, this continues to affect many who choose to stay ”.