Who funded Kari Beckman’s fall from grace?

By Simcha and Damien Fisher

Kari Beckman was going to build Veritatis Splendor, a village of Catholic “true believers” in the heart of Texas. Now, after acknowledging an illicit relationship, reportedly with Texas Right to Life head and Regina Caeli board member Jim Graham, she’s moved out of the property’s luxury ranch and back to Atlanta, and has stepped down as executive director of Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor. 

As for the village, one $3 million loan later, not a single structure has yet been built on the land, and the members of Regina Caeli across the nation are left wondering if their homeschool tuition fees and bake sale fundraising dollars paid for the grandiose Tyler, Texas project, or for any of  Beckman’s other, more clandestine activities of the past year.

Beckman, who founded the homeschool hybrid Regina Caeli Academy in 2003, sent a letter to the members of Regina Caeli at the end of last week acknowledging “a terrible lapse in judgment with a personal relationship.” Multiple sources confirmed the relationship was with Jim Graham. Beckman and Graham are both married. Beckman said she immediately sought forgiveness through the sacrament of confession, and then, months later, confessed to her husband. She said that she and her husband then both went to the board of Regina Caeli and told them “what had occurred,” and then stepped down as Executive Director. 

Shortly before she stepped down, the Board of Directors received an anonymous letter alleging Beckman had carried on an illicit sexual relationship with Graham.  Graham was also, until recently, on the Board of Regina Caeli, but his name has recently been removed from that site, along with Kari Beckman’s name. Beckman’s husband remains listed as a board member. Three other board members are no longer listed on the site, and Nicole Juba has been named acting Executive Director.  

Texas Right to Life is the organization that launched prolifewhistleblower.com, the tipline website that lets people report abortions in hopes of collecting a $10,000 bounty under the controversial new “Texas Heartbeat Act” (SB8), and Jim Graham has been instrumental in the Texas pro-life movement’s hard shift toward the right. The website has gone offline twice, and now redirects to the Texas Right to Life site, but does not currently function as a tipline. The law, which has undergone several legal challenges, has been unpopular even within some factions of the conservative pro-life community, some of whom view it as anything from distasteful to politically reckless to counter-productive.

Graham, who appears in a fundraising video for Veritatis Splendor along with Beckman, has been Executive Director of Texas Right to Life, which was founded by his father, since 1994. Neither Graham nor the media representative for the Texas Right to Life returned phone calls seeking comment.

“This is two heads of very Catholic organizations. We literally do hold ourselves to a higher standard. And to be lectured about virtue while this was going on . . . unbelievable,” said one Regina Caeli Academy parent and former tutor. She asked not to be identified, for fear of reprisal. 

The parent is referring to the fact that Regina Caeli and Veritatis Splendor, including in the very video in which Beckman and Graham both appear, both explicitly framed their organizations as a refuge from the immorality of the secular world. Parents flocked to Regina Caeli in part because it emphasizes the development of personal virtues and traditional values like chastity and self-control. 

“The fact that my kids’ tuition was funding their affair,” the parent said, and then attached a “vomit” emoji to their message. 

 

“We essentially bought them a ranch.”

But it’s not merely a matter of spiritual hypocrisy that distresses this and other Regina Caeli families. The anonymous letter-writer told us they also filed two complaints with the IRS on November 12 asking for an investigation of Beckman’s possible financial misuse of Regina Caeli funds. The complaints accused Regina Caeli of “using assets for personal gain” and “questionable fundraising practices.”

As one RCA parent put it, “We essentially bought them a ranch.”

But the alleged financial malfeasance goes deeper than that. The letter-writer alleged, “Mrs. Beckman uses Regina Caeli as her personal bank account” and that Beckman hand-selected the board to do her bidding, and deliberately hid her financial activities from the families who supplied the money she allegedly spent. Regina Caeli’s most recent tax forms list their total assets in 2018 at $4.2 million, with $3.4 million in liabilities.

The letter to the IRS enumerates four major complaints involving Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor:

-That Regina Caeli Academy employees were pulled from their RCA jobs to launch and raise funds for Veritatis Splendor;

-that RCA borrowed over $3 million from an RCA board member to finance the property for Veritatis Splendor;

-that the RCA board approved the purchase of a $45,000 Chevy Tahoe for Veritatis Splendor, and has been paying for its insurance, even though the vehicle does not serve Regina Caeli in any way;

-and that the property, purchased by RCA, contains a luxury lodge in which the Beckman family has been living for many months.

The complaint says:

 “Fundraising at Regina Caeli was of the utmost importance. Families were required to fundraise in a variety of ways, and were always told that this fundraising was to support the education and mission of Regina Caeli. Of the $423,509.79 that was fundraised between Oct. 20, 2020 and May 21, 2021, how much of that was used for Regina Caeli? How much was used to purchase a piece of land in Winona, Texas so Mrs. Beckman could form a cult?”

The person filing the complaint also had further questions:

“When Regina Caeli Academy used travel and hotel rewards programs for training, campus visits, etc, who reaped the benefits of those massive rewards points? Were those put on Regina Caeli rewards cards, or Mrs. Beckman’s personal rewards cards? Did the Beckman family travel and vacation using those points? 

“Is Regina Caeli going to provide Board meeting minutes for the Board meetings where Jim Graham was present as a member of the Board, while the affair was taking place? 

“Is Regina Caeli planning to undergo a financial audit? If Mrs. Beckman had such a major lapse in judgement with regards to her personal life, what would prevent her from having a lapse in judgement in the financial affairs of the organization?”

 

No board member has responded to our repeated calls for comment. Kari Beckman, Rich Beckman, Jim Graham, Nicole Juba, and Regina Caeli and Vertitatis Splendor’s communications offices have not responded to our repeated calls for comment. Bishop Joseph Strickland, an outspoken booster of Veritatis Splendor, was not available for comment.

 

When Regina Caeli members were first abruptly informed that their school was now an umbrella organization for a quasi-religious megadevelopment in Texas, some complained. 

One member said that she and her husband were assured that, at some point, the finances of Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor would be separated, but that “these things take time.”

“When I and many other families expressed our surprise and displeasure at this being sprung on us out of nowhere, we were basically told, ‘It’s our organization and we can do whatever the heck we want, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,'” one former tutor said. 

 

Regina Caeli families were, however, offered the opportunity to buy land at Veritatis Splendor. On August 4, RCA families received a letter from Kari Beckman claiming there has been a “HUGE and overwhelming response to those interested in purchasing lots” which range in price from $90,000 to $140,000 and are between 2 and 5 acres. Beckman reminded prospective buyers that, while the lots are selling quickly, there is no need to build right away after purchasing one, and that lots may be purchased “for primary or vacation/retreat homes.” 

The former tutor confirms that she knows just one family who invested $90,000 in Veritatis Splendor land, but said jokingly that the rest of her RCA friends had no interest in accepting Kari Beckman as the head of their homeowner’s association.

“No way, Jose,” she said. 

Talking sideways

 

This isn’t the first time Regina Caeli has been accused of a lack of financial transparency. In 2016, a former RCA member filed a lawsuit alleging that, when he asked to review financial information so he could determine how the school was spending the money their group raised and solicited, the director responded that “it was not RCA’s ‘style’ to provide any financial information, other than the IRS form 990’s.” The suit alleges RCA then retaliated against the entire family for their inquiry. The suit also alleged that RCA ran afoul of Michigan charitable fundraising laws. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

While it’s rare for a member to muster a lawsuit against RCA, it’s common for members and former members to complain that their concerns go unheard, and that they’re routinely bullied into silence under the guise of christian charity. 

The school explicitly forbids what it called “murmuring,” allegedly to discourage a spirit of gossip among the families involved. 

 

“Conflict is viewed through a religious lens,” said one former employee. “Instead of taking [complaints] seriously on their merits, this spiritual lens means if you disagree, you’re not just wrong; you’re bad.

 

“It starts with totally appropriate conflict resolution based on [the book of] Matthew: Go to your brother, etc. Keep things in the proper channels of communication. As a first principle, this is good. However, that morphs into culture. There is this total obsession with not ‘talking sideways’ or gossiping. Don’t talk to anybody about any issues you have, from small to big.

 

“But most of the families are also employees. So if I have an issue, I only have one person I’m supposed to talk to, and their next person up is Kari, or one person down from up. There is a near obsession with, ‘Who have you talked to about this?’ If you’re mad, talk to that person. That’s good. But it morphs into a hierarchical obsession with being quiet,” the former employee said. 

 

At the same time, the school exerted a tight micromanagement of its members — sometimes insisting on puritanical standards that contrast starkly with what members now know about Beckman’s private behavior.

 

The school cracked down on staffers who shared photos of themselves in tank tops on social media. There are bizarre stories of moral panic over innocent outings with even the whiff of immorality. 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.”

 

The former employee said that she remembers how Beckman once saw a staff member post on social media about decorating her house for Christmas, and Beckman contacted her to chide her, saying that visible Christmas decorations during the Advent season could cause scandal.
 

This pervasive straight-laced environment has made the revelations of extramarital misconduct especially hard for RCA members to stomach. 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. 

“Apparently, the sexual ethics of one family was so critical to the culture of the organization, but the fact that the executive director is sleeping with a board member is something that can just be chalked up to spiritual attack,” said one former RCA family who had a position in national leadership. 

Multiple sources told us they were willing to speak on the record, but only anonymously, because they feared social or even legal retaliation for what would be perceived as disloyalty. Some RCA families have become adept in creating secret groups to communicate with each under the radar. More than one source has expressed concern that their emails to us may be monitored. 

 

Still worth saving?

 

While members are reeling from the recent revelations, many hope the good fruits of the school can be rescued from Beckman’s influence. Many parents have described the school as something of a godsend, allowing them both the freedom of homeschooling and the structure of the traditional classroom. Mothers of small children often teach with their babies and toddlers in tow, allowing them to be fully involved with their children’s education while leaning on a supportive and nurturing community. 

 

But others believe the very structure of the program routinely becomes exploitative, and is, in practice, uncomfortably close to a multi-level marketing scheme. 

In Regina Caeli’s program, paying members homeschool their own children for three days a week, using a standardized curriculum, and the school provides support and access to tutors and extracurricular activities. Parents who are also tutors receive a discount on the entire program, and all members are expected to fundraise and to recruit new members, in addition to paying tuition. Tuition, which covers two classroom days (for which uniforms are required), ranges from $2,800 per PreK student for a half day to $4,500 per high school student. 

There are twenty-three RCA satellite schools throughout the country, and they are all run on precisely the same plan, down to minutiae of how to dress and how to have parties. In practice, a family of four children will tote up a bill of over $10,000 as a base, not counting curriculum or uniforms. Parents can knock that total down by several thousand dollars by working for minimum wage for what can end up being as much as sixty hours a week, not counting the volunteer and fundraising work the family is expected to provide. 

 

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. And even if they suspected that wasn’t true, they knew there would be reprisals if they questioned it. 

 

“If you have your seven kids and this is their school, and their friends, the only way you can make it work is by working as a tutor,” said a former employee. “You get paid minimum wage plus a fat tuition discount, and the only way you can make it work is to work there, so you’re really afraid to rock the boat, because it will affect your children.”

 

The former tutor quoted above said that several moms have told her, “I feel like a battered woman, going back every year.”
 

A spiritual bouquet and a meal train for Beckman

 

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.”
 

On October 25, RCA families and staff received an email from Nicole Juba, who had at that point asked for increased prayers for Beckman. 

 

“As Mrs. Beckman has started her journey towards recovery, the RCA Board of Directors has become aware of a serious spiritual matter that is the underlying basis for her current physical and emotional suffering. Accordingly, the Board has asked her to take additional time away for both physical and spiritual healing and counseling,” the letter said. 

 

They also requested a meal train for the Beckman family. 

Many RCA members are less concerned with Beckman’s personal suffering, though, and more concerned with the fate of Regina Caeli Academy going forward. The anonymous letter writer has written a second letter to the board on November 14, urging them to divest themselves completely of Beckman’s influence. 

“Although I am relieved to hear of her separation from the organization, there must be follow up from you specifying that her retirement is permanent and irrevocable. She should no longer have access to her email account. There is no need for her to supervise or have any role in the transition,” the letter said. 

The letter calls for Kari Beckman’s husband Rich Beckman to step down as Chairman of the Board, because “many Regina Caeli families have for years believed that the Board of Directors is in place simply to do Mrs. Beckman’s bidding.” The letter writer believes that Kari Beckman is likely to attempt to continue to run Regina Caeli by proxy. 

“Board members must be stewards of community trust. The Board has a fiduciary duty to the members of the organization – not to Mrs. Beckman personally. Can all the members of the Board claim they have always acted in the best interest of the mission of Regina Caeli?” the letter asks.

 

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