Just back from a series of fairly heavy duty business projects - hence I've not had time for the blog...
I published my memoirs (www.DrivingStraight.com) in April of this year, telling the stories of my 20 years with Fr. Maciel in the Legion of Christ, when he was just starting the "apostolate" in Mexico. Naturally, I've been following events pretty closely mostly to see how my former brothers would react to the Vatican intervention. I still believe most of the Legionary priests are exemplary and a great resource for the Church. That was my opinion when I was a Legionary and I'm not ready to change it - yet. For the moment I continue, cautiously, in the "realist" (meaning I recognize the serious deformations,seeking fairly radical changes, in the short rather than the longer term) camp, but not as optimistically as I once was.
Traditionally, in the Legion, the behavior that is most rewarded is blind, uncritical loyalty to the Legion's superiors and to the mission. There has always been a clear distinction between effective, charismatic types who recruit, fundraise and generally advance the pastoral objectives of the congregation. Superiors, on the other hand, were always chosen from the "integrated" types who could be trusted to obey without questioning. This may be true of other congregations but in the Legion, unquestioning loyalty is deeply ingrained into the DNA. This means they will obey the Pope - but it also means that "integrated" Legionaries do not trust outsiders or anyone who voices criticism. Indeed the more they are criticized the more they close ranks and fight back. In my time we could not conceive of being faithful to our vocations outside of the Legion. We believed in our “exceptionalism.” And then, as now, the rank-and-file had very limited and very controlled access to outside information
Those former Legionaries who broke the news of Fr. Maciel's abuse of minors assert - and I have no reason not to believe them - that many of their peers were either abused by the founder or knew of the abuse. For those many years that I refused to believe the stories of Maciel's "detractors" I realize that I relied heavily on the testimony of those "co-founders" who assured us that the malicious rumors were false. Theirs seemed to be a credible and convincing testimony. Most of us had no idea of the extent of the founder's misconduct which only came to light in the fairly recent past. In hindsight, knowing what I now know, some signs were there but they were by no means "obvious." Will those early co-founders come forward (at least internally) and tell their brothers the "real" story? I don't know enough about the dynamics of abuse to say if that is a possibility.
Current Legionary leadership must still be recovering from being "shell-shocked." If canonical procedures are to be followed, change can only come via a General Chapter - and that will take time. So expecting immediate change in the leadership is flogging a dead horse. Meanwhile, the Legion's public relations machine is woefully inadequate, a result I believe of how out of touch “integrated” Legionaries, and their supporters (Regnum Christi) are with the visceral reactions of concerned Catholics, especially in the United States. Witness how they managed, from a PR perspective, the recent departure of Fr. Santiago Oriel a very prominent and influential Spanish Legionary priest. I don’t at all underestimate the challenges they face and it’s easier to give advice from the sidelines – however, the Legionaries always seem to manage to give the impression that they do not need help. After all, they believe God is on their side. If they could only show some humility, transparency and genuine charity, they might realize how many people want them to survive, despite the odds. How they have treated former members does not bode well for their future. This for me has always been a benchmark of how deeply they are attached to the dysfunctional spirituality of the founder and how deeply ingrained his manipulative methodology still is in the thinking of the group.
For most Legionaries, they must feel – based on long training – they have nowhere to go. It is not easy to leave the Legion. Diocesan priesthood is not a viable alternative for most. Meanwhile, the patience of those who see the need for change, (the less “integrated” ones) is being severely tested. If they leave before meaningful change happens then the prognosis is not good.