Splendor of Truth / Spiritual Abuse
News broke yesterday about Kari Beckman, the leader of a Catholic homeschool organization, Regina Caeli Academy, and a future Catholic city/community in Texas called Veritatis Splendor. She has reportedly been having an affair with one of her organization's board members and the head of Texas Right to Life, Jim Graham.
Simcha and Damien Fisher wrote an excellent report about this, including many statements from members and former members of Regina Caeli Academy. It’s well worth reading. What they described was a cult-like community run by a narcissistic leader.
This community was first and foremost built around fear, fear of the outside world. The world is horrible and will corrupt you and your children, but our community is a fortress of safety. This fear creates the perfect environment for exploitation and abuse, because all a leader has to do is threaten to kick somebody out.
The testimonies reveal so many red flags.
Irrational fear of the outside world
Financial impropriety and lack of transparency
Focus on rigid sexual morality and modesty
Shaming people who express concerns
Blame shifting when confronted
All of this couched in spiritual language with spiritual stakes, in other words, all of it is wrapped in spiritual abuse. Here are some excerpts from the Fishers’ reporting:
"Several members recalled that, when they applied to teach for Regina Caeli, they were required to sign a statement of fidelity to the magisterium, and that, during their interview, Regina Caeli recruiters asked them if their marriage was canonically valid, and whether they use contraception."
"The school cracked down on staffers who shared photos of themselves in tank tops on social media."
"A group of Regina Caeli families travelled together to see a production of The Nutcracker, and although it was not an official school outing, they had used the school email to communicate about it, and Regina Caeli heads considered the trip problematic because the tutus worn by the dancers were too short, and deemed the show ‘soft porn’.”
“As exhausting, frustrating, and dissatisfied as parents were, and despite how frustrated they became with the school’s lack of transparency over how tuition and fundraising money was spent, several parents reported feeling like they had no choice but to continue with the school. A family’s entire educational, social, and spiritual community would be at the school; and they have been told repeatedly that their children’s souls will be in danger if they attempt some other form of schooling.”
Then, as abusive leaders usually do when confronted, Beckman shifts responsibility away from herself. Also from the Fishers’ report:
“But Beckman and her supporters have done their best to portray her as the victim in the current scandal.
She said in her letter to RCA members that keeping the secret of her relationship ‘left me feeling despondent and it began to take a physical toll on my mind and my body.’
She said, ‘I have been in therapy and have been receiving daily spiritual direction in order to get strong enough to face my shame. My therapist has diagnosed me with Complex PTSD due to the circumstances which led to my fall.’
She said, ‘I do not expect your forgiveness nor do I expect your understanding. I am struggling to forgive myself and to make sense of what I did. I am sorry this did not come sooner, but honestly, I was not in an emotional place to make good decisions.’”
There’s no acknowledgement of the harm she caused others, let alone remorse for that harm. And even if what Beckman says here is true, and that’s a big if, there’s an ethical obligation to notice when you've become too impaired for your responsibilities and to step down so that others are not hurt by your impairment.
I believe that Beckman’s fall from grace is justice, and there’s a lot of reasons to be happy about justice.
We should rejoice when power is taken from those who abuse it. As Pope Francis says, “true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others.” The Church rejoices, along with Mary, when God casts down the mighty.
However, as good as we ought to feel about justice, we cannot forget that behind this story are spouses and families who are in a world of hurt. Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and head of the pro-life organization New Wave Feminists, wrote a thoughtful post reminding me of that.
After making it clear that it was good that this scandal came to light “because it was more than just a personal matter. It crossed over into business dealings, and possible donor fraud,” Destiny said:
“It wasn’t wrong to write the article. Donors needed to know. The participating parties need to be held accountable. But please don’t forget, especially those of you in the family values crowd, that this is breaking a very real family apart. And that’s never a cause for celebration.
We shouldn’t have to know the people involved, or be guilty of those same transgressions ourselves, to see the humanity of those walking through it. Because if we believe in human dignity from womb to tomb, then when something needs to come to light, we should make sure it does, but also not forget about the very real, very flawed people and marriages on the other side of our screens becoming very broken by it.”
My own conscience needed her comments.
Please read both of these articles. Hopefully this story will help people see the red flags in other abusive communities and organizations.
Simcha and Damien Fisher’s reporting:
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s post: