Friday, March 26, 2010

My initial reaction to the letter from Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, Director General of the Legion of Christ

Fr. Alvaro Corcuera is the "General Director" of the Legionaries of Christ.

I first met him when his parents enrolled him in the second grade, elementary school, at the Irish Institute in Mexico City which I had just helped open in 1966. My abiding memory of Alvaro, from those early days, are his sensitivity to the needs of others, the warmth of his personality and emotions and the little temper tantrums he use to throw when he was teased. I remember talking to him about those tantrums. I suggested that if he could learn to control them, when teased, it would help stop the teasing. By the end of third grade he didn't throw those particular tantrums any more.

To my recollection, he was never a great soccer player - but the Irish Institute was a very small school so everyone got to play when we competed against other schools. Alvaro always played his heart out. He gained the respect of his peers and his teachers for his determination and loyalty. I find it quite amazing that 44 years later I have such good memories of his contribution to the spirit of our school.

His parents were amazing people, highly regarded in Mexican society. I remember how closely they collaborated with the Irish Institute in the education of the two sons they entrusted to us.

When I returned to Rome to continue my studies I lost touch with Alvaro. Later, I heard he had joined Regnum Christi, the Legionaries lay movement.I wasn't surprised although, like most of my Legionary peers at that time, I was not quite sure that the RC was all about. Then I heard that Alvaro had decided to become a Legionary priest. I guess I wasn't surprised - but I admired him for abandoning the life of privilege which he probably would have lived as a member of a distinguished family to become a priest.

My career took me to New York and then Gabon. Meanwhile, Alvaro continued his studies in Rome. He was ordained in 1985, three years after I left the Legion.

I have had no contact with the Legion since then. However, when I read that he was elected General Director in January of 2006, I wrote him a short congratulatory e-mail. He responded immediately. Much to my surprise, his words moved me to tears. Suffice it to say he was very gracious as he described the impact I had on his life and vocation to the priesthood. Over the next few years, we exchanged infrequent and inconsequential e-mails. I have never met him since I left the Legion.

The Irish Institute of Mexico City celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2006. It so happens that my work as a management consultant requires lots of business trips to Mexico. I vaguely hoped, against hope, that I would be invited to the ceremony. In fact, I let my hope be known to the organizers of the gala celebratory event which took place in the historic "Chapultepec Castle." After all, the founders of the school were Fr. Amenabar from Torrelavega, Spain, Fr. John Walsh, from New Ross,Ireland, Jose Luis Diaz from Mexico and myself. When Fr. Amenabar became ill and could not continue as Director, Fr. Maciel sent me back, from Rome, to "fix everything that was wrong with the school." So I was very involved with the Irish Institute.

I was disappointed but not surprised when I was not invited. However, I was curious about the event and asked many friends who were there to give me their impressions. And here is the point of my talking about this: one and all were captivated by the warmth and interpersonal relations shown by Fr. Alvaro who came to preside the event. The often repeated comment which caught my attention was "he is a real person! So warm! Not robotic!" I got a kick out of that because it was what used to be said about me when I was a Legionary.

As the awful revelations about Fr. Maciel the Founder of the Legionaries became known I felt sorry for Alvaro. I couldn't help but think that he too is a victim. Hindsight is a great teacher but my guess is that Alvaro had to face some terrible dilemmas. His detractors are many. I suspect that most of them do not know him and do not know the sort of man that he is. I find myself thinking of this as I reflect on the letter he sent with the Legion's communique which came out yesterday (see my previous post.)

When Fr. Alvaro says in his letter "(God) He could have redeemed us by simpler paths, but he chose to have his Son laid low and humiliated to show us that if the mystery of iniquity is great, that of his merciful love is greater still" I think he clings to his deep Christian faith and belief in God's merciful love.

I personally relate to to his words "It has been a very painful time for everyone, even traumatic. The sudden uncovering of some facets of our founder’s life that were so removed from what we lived by his side, was a totally unexpected surprise for us all." I understand that people who did not know Fr. Maciel react completely differently to those of us who did. I absolutely condemn his behavior, knowing what I know now. But I understand the pain of those who for many years had no reason to suspect the reprehensible behavior that we have learned about.

My experience corroborates Fr. Alvaro's comment "As is natural, in this process of facing the historical reality and its consequences, each one has followed his own path depending on his sensitivity, cultural background and spiritual foundation." The Legion's awareness of cultural differences is long overdue - part of Maciel's legacy was to obliterate cultural differences in the name of "catholic" "integration." Alvaro goes on to acknowledge that those who have been affected by Maciel are "not [all] at the same point." So true! I see such a wide spectrum of reactions in Legionaries, former Legionaries and Regnum Christi members. We have all been affected - but we have been affected in different ways. And we are all at different stages in the "healing" process and in the management of our anger.

The last comment that I'll refer to here is "Together, we have seen that once we have all read and assimilated this page in the life of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, our task is to take a step forward, individually and as an institution, to close this chapter of our history and open a new one." I take this comment at face value. I am willing to give the Legion the opportunity to collaborate with the Holy Father, implement the recommendations that he will make following the Apostolic Visitation. They have a lot of work to do, many people to reach out to and they need to change their attitude.

I've written the above as one who has been deeply hurt by the behavior of Fr. Maciel and the "institutional conduct" of the Legion of Christ especially with regard to their treatment of former members. I don't need prophetic gifts to know that Fr. Alvaros's words will be mercilessly parsed, criticized and butchered on other blogs. That will be corroboration of his comments about everyone being at a different stage in the healing process. Personally, I choose to believe in the transformative power of God's grace. I know that the only way to heal hurt memories is through forgiveness. Through their communique and the Director General's letter the Legionaries have spoken. Many will say that their message is way overdue. Maybe that doesn't matter any more. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may not come - all we have is today. In short order we'll see, by their deeds, how sincere Fr. Alvaro and his team really is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Monk. I really appreciate this calm overview of Father Alvaro's letter and I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your personal experiences with Fr Alvaro. You have likely known him longer than anyone else writing on English language blogs and so I respect your gracious appraisal of him as a man.