Using terms from the world of corporate marketing, I would suggest that the Legion of Christ is ready for a “re-branding.” The reason for establishing a “brand” is to not only tell “clients” who you are (and what you do) but to understand and address the needs of your audience. If your brand does not “address” client needs, then your “brand” is merely touting your own horn.
The name of a religious congregation and/or lay movement is its “public face.” Revamping that image is a delicate task. Marketing “gurus” tell me that a successful re-branding involves not just changing a name or a logo but rather the total overhaul of a company's goals, message, and culture.
I think it’s fair to say that currently the Legion of Christ is certainly undergoing a total overhaul under the direction of the Vatican representatives appointed to do just that after the shocking revelations about the crimes of the congregation’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, became public.
The name “Legion of Christ” was not the first one chosen by Maciel for his new congregation. The original name was “Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Sorrows.” He soon changed the name to “Legionaries of Christ.” One version for the name change was that Pope Pius XII used the phrase "Sicut acies castrorum ordinata" (Like an army in battle array) addressing a group of the first “missionaries.” I remember Maciel telling us that he liked the connection between the new name, the “militant” spirit of his congregation, and the legions of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, I suspect his choice of name had to be greatly influenced by his first-hand experience of the Cristero war in his native Mexico and perhaps also by the pro-Franco atmosphere in Spain and the romanticized notions of “foreign legions.”
Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that as a desirable outcome from the Vatican directed overhaul would be that the Legionaries conserve and rediscover their foundational “charism.” In his May 1st Vatican Communiqué, the Holy Father spoke of “the need to redefine the charism of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ”. He didn’t say the Legion has no charism at all, or that its charism is somehow up for grabs. Rather, right then and there he put his finger on the heart of the Legion’s charism by identifying its “true core, that of the ‘militia Christi’ that characterizes the apostolic and missionary activity of the Church.”
However, I think the name “Legion of Christ” has become problematic in the sense that the “Militancy” to which it originally referred has been corrupted by an excessive focus on recruitment, retention of vocations at all costs and an unhealthy understanding of the requirements of the vow of obedience taken by all Legionaries. The name of the lay movement closely associated with the Legion is “Regnum Christi.” It seems to me that might be a better “brand name” in the sense that the “Kingdom of Christ” denotes men and women working together as “pilgrims returning to the home of the Father.”
Just as the name for the lay movement “Opus Dei” became the “brand name” for the “priests of the Holy Cross” I think “Regnum Christi is a good alternative for the Legionaries. If need be, the group of priests, now know as the Legionaries, could revert to their original title of “Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Sorrows.”
Re-branding a company, and I suspect, a religious congregation no matter what new name is chosen, involves the following steps. To a greater or lesser degree, ALL members of the congregation need to be involved in this effort. Ultimately, the new “brand” cannot be dictated from the top. In the case of the Legionaries there is an urgent need for fresh thinking and input from the younger priests who were less directly exposed, personally, to the dysfunctional side of the founder.
- Define the Core Identity (charism). This is the central, timeless essence of the congregation that is unlikely to change as it adjusts to new conditions of time and place.
- Re-examine the Extended Identity. These are the meaningful associations that the congregation intends the name to be connected with. To do this, the Legionaries need to understand both their “internal” and “external” audiences and tell them the most important things they need to know about the congregation. I think many individual Legionaries and supporters, not to mention the Superiors, have much work to do on this point.
- Brand Statement. This tells stakeholders what they should they should expect from all interactions with the congregation's priests, consecrated lay people, and their “services”. It is a statement of what they are committed to doing and being.
- Positioning. Most powerful brands serve to provide a “positioning statement”. This implies an indication of key messages, explaining "who" the congregation is and what it does. In the corporate world, we usually try to encapsulate this message in an “elevator speech” that everyone, from the Director General to the newest novice can articulate. A long time ago, while stationed in New York, I was sent back to Rome to deliver a course to the seminarians. I remember causing a lot of consternation when I asked the young men to tell me, in the form of an elevator speech, the fundamental purpose of the Legion. None of them could tell me what it was in the 15 second format of an "elevator speech." I would demand better results after the re-branding!
- Shared “Personality”. If the congregation and/or lay movement were a person, what adjectives would you use to describe him or her? Compassionate? Honest? Intelligent? Sincere? Authentic? Creative? Understanding? Emotionally intelligent? Militant? This last point, I think, could help generate some great common sense discussions and eventual buy-in to the new “brand” amongst Legionaries and Regnum Christi members. I know it sounds trite.... but it would be a powerful exercise.
Changing the name is but a first step in the process of the total overhaul of the Legion’s goals, message, and culture. The president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Austin Ruse, addressing the "thousands of the faithful of the Legion and Regnum Christi who are hurting today," wrote, "Remember the good and holy priests and all the members of the movement who are the charism. Ignore the idle chatter. Hew close to the charism. Either it is false and will die, or it is true and will be your guide to Heaven." That still seems like good advice. Or, as a former Legionary Fr. Thomas Berg stated, “Remember that in many ways, the spirit and charism we have lived is Pauline.” That, Pauline spirit is what I think Maciel was thinking of when he named his congregation the Legion of Christ.
As Legionaries look to redefine their brand, they would do well to heed some other words written by Fr. Berg: “I understand your feelings of betrayal….I can say before God, in spite of my many human frailties, I have been faithful….I have also, more than many of you to be honest, gone out on limb after limb, trying to defend Maciel. I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary. You feel betrayed? You feel rage? I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days (the hardest days of my entire life, emotions like I have never experienced) are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. “ These words express the raw human emotions that Legionaries must revisit as they work through their reform.
TO BE CONTINUED