A post at Angelqueen.org (a pro-Society of St. Pius X blog) and quoted over at Life-After-RC, suggests:
'if we take up a long-forgotten but once-influential case-study, we shall soon discern that the parallels between the L.C. and old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist gangsterism are too numerous to be overlooked."
I agree that there are parallels between communist organizing tactics and some of the strategies "(old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist gangsterism" in the colorful works of the author) by Fr. Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. To some extent these parallels give credence to the author's observation with regard to the oft-commented "activism" noted among the Legionaries
"no chance must be lost to keep the rank-and-file as purposelessly busy as possible. In this, as in so much else, those who run the Legionaries of Christ have proven remarkably devoted students of Marxist-Leninist praxis."
As I write this morning, my business partners in Mexico tell me that traffic in the business section of Mexico City has ground to a standstill because of a major demonstration staged by the teacher’s union in protest of (much needed) Government proposed educational reforms. In the United States we don’t get quite the same exposure to powerful left-wing movements. And we get very skittish with anything, however mildly, associated with "communism."
Granted that there is a connection between LC "methodology" which was mostly made manifest in the first editions of the Regnum Christi organizational manuals, I'd like to suggest we can run the risk of exaggerating the "communist angle" in our critiques of the Congregation. Hence, I'd like to share some recollections from my personal experience of Fr. Maciel (founder of the Legionaries of Christ) from 1962 - 1982, hoping to contribute more light than heat. I've also posted the gist of these remarks over at the Life After RC blog.
I recall Fr. Marcial commenting, quite often, on the declining influence of the Church in Latin America (1950-60s) which he contrasted with the impressive gains being made by communism. He talked (and read newspaper articles to us) of the dedication he saw in communist university students (I vividly remember an example from elections in Brasil) who demonstrated real commitment to their cause in the face of apathy on the Catholic side. I think, an impartial, non-religious, observer wanting to change the world in the first half of the twentieth century, in terms of effective methodology, would turn to the Communists, not to the Christians.
Douglas Hyde’s book "Dedication and Leadership" is, I think, an excellent primer on the relationship between dedication and leadership. Hyde, who on March 14, 1948, handed in his resignation as the news editor of the London Daily Worker, ended his twenty year membership of the communist party. The following week, in a written statement, Hyde announced that he had renounced Communism and, with his wife and children, was joining the Catholic Church. Subsequently, he sought to find something in Communist methods that could be adapted to serve nobler causes. I’m sure those ideas influenced Maciel whether he personally read Hyde’s book or not. (If it wasn’t translated into Spanish, he obviously did not.) Maciel would agree that if you make little demands, you get little response. Hyde pointed out that the personal example of dedicated commitment to a cause is a more powerful recruiting tool than ideology. That dovetails with Maciel’s early thinking as I heard him articulate it.
Hyde repudiated Marxist ideology while suggesting there are positive lessons to be learned from the methodology. For instance: recruit people who are already idealistic. Then, if you want to get people involved, demand a lot from them. Promote a big cause (save the Church in Latin America, for instance.) By aiming high even the most humble of tasks (cleaning the toilets) suddenly takes on a deeper and higher meaning. Remember that the best personal relationships with exemplary individuals are more important than ideology in gaining new recruits. And, above, all, “activism” is essential: get your people engaged, doing things, giving public witness, from the get-go.
I often heard Maciel discuss the effectiveness of an organization based on "cell groups." In a sense, that’s how Jesus and St. Paul operated as they started a somewhat “underground” movement. The notion of organizing through cells, as I recall, was fundamental to Maciel’s early concept for the Regnum Christi movement. Where the Communists differed was they were able to create dedicated leaders who could operate independently of their larger group structure. Maciel always insisted on absolute fidelity to the Pope.
So, there is much to criticize in Maciel’s life and, once again, there are serious and troubling errors in the Legion. However I think that focusing superficially on some organizational aspects, shared no doubt with the best of communist recruitment and leadership practice in early twentieth century Latin America, can quickly become a populist red herring. “Leadership and Dedication” by Hyde is an excellent book – and relevant to anyone interested in the concept of contemporary leadership. It also illustrates where Fr. Maciel derived some of his organizational thinking. The Legion's traditional focus on relentless recruitment, hyper-activism. and using people as a means to obtain an end, however noble, are the results of this approach and are the ones most in need of reform.