Monday, August 30, 2010

The Legionaries of Christ: Management Consulting

Many of us have lost our faith in large institutions. People feel manipulated and used by their employers. They don't feel any better about their elected representatives. This malaise, increasingly spills over into faith-based organizations.

Most religious congregations would concur that democracies are good and totalitarian systems are bad. Yet, in a way, some have tolerated dictatorships. This is just as true in the corporate world of business. The people at the top often do not have enough information to know what needs to be done.

Of course, there are no guarantees that any organization, religious or otherwise, will continue to thrive into the future. There are myriad ways to go wrong and not even the best laid management plans or (Vatican) oversight can protect from all of them. But still, just maybe, there are alternatives to religious management models that owe as much to ancient military command and control models as they do to a spiritual understanding of the vow of obedience.

As a member of the Legionaries of Christ in the early part of my career, I learned a good deal about leadership and management which has served me well in the latter part of my career both in terms of what works and what is grossly dysfunctional.

As a management consultant, I have to stay abreast of the latest, global approach to management and leadership. Not too long ago, I was reading some ideas from Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies. I decided to paraphrase and adapt an article by Professor Gary Hamel and see if Nayar's ideas could work in the religious environment.

I wondered what might ensue, if I were to apply some of Nayar’s management approaches to the Legionaries of Christ, especially as they grapple with the necessity to move away form the dysfunctional aspects of the methodology bequeathed to them by their founder. Here is what I came up with:

The world has become too complex for the Superior General to play the role of “visionary-in-chief.” Instead, the Superior General must become a “management architect”—someone who continually asks, “What are the principles and processes that can help us surface the best ideas and unleash the talents of every Legionary of Christ?”

Today, as never before, the Church needs leaders who refuse to be seduced by the fatal allure of the familiar.

Is it really is possible to change the management DNA in a religious congregation, approved by the Church and established more than 50 years ago? If so, how can it be done?  Legacy management practices, complicated by a dysfunctional understanding of the (religious) vow of obedience,  reflexively perpetuate the past—by over-weighting the views of long-tenured superiors, by valuing conformance more highly than creativity and by turning tired religious practices into sacred truths.

As Gary Hamel says, “Everybody knows there are downsides to management-as-usual, but are they any alternatives? We can dream about religious congregations where subjects eagerly challenge their superiors, where honesty trumps deference and where the pyramid has been turned upside down—but then again, we can also dream about world peace and cold fusion. That doesn’t mean they’re achievable.”

This sort of skepticism is understandable. After all, the technology of management varies little from religious order to religious order. It is therefore easy to assume that the governing status quo is also the best and only way to operate. This means that while there may be other ways of planning, coordinating and controlling, there aren’t any better ways—at least not for Congregation that must contend with demanding pastoral needs and professed religious.

Dogma often masquerades as truth, and that we are often comforted by the deception. There are many who would prefer a lazy ramble along the gentle contours of the tried-and-true conformity to the Evangelical counsels rather than taking a fresh look at how they might be practiced in ways that might be unproven and different.

“We must destroy the concept of the Superior General. The notion of the ‘visionary,’ the ‘captain of the ship’ is bankrupt. We are telling the religious, ‘You are at least as important as your superior. Pastoral “value” is created between the religious and the souls entrusted to his care. It is the Superior’s job to enable innovation at that level of interaction. Obedience based on “command-and-control” does not foster innovation.

Revolutions don’t usually start with the traditional Church hierarchy. But I think there is space for a model of obedience that feels more like a community than a bureaucracy and operates more like a democracy than a hierarchy.

Suppose the Legion of Christ was to forthright in analyzing the Congregations shortcomings, allowing, if needed brutally frank exchanges.

Suppose the Legionaries agreed that, fundamentally, they are “a service business.”  In a service business, it is first-level religious, not the superiors who play the most critical roles in creating “pastoral value.” The contemporary religious world is filled with people who have knotty spiritual and ethical challenges. When these people come to a particular Congregation of priests they are most likely to be helped by faithful, creative and highly engaged religious. The “value zone” lies at the intersection of religious and the people entrusted to their care. That is why it is vital for the “front-line religious” to have input into the decision making processes.

The top-down hierarchical management model favors those with hierarchical power rather than those who deliver pastoral care – the very place where “pastoral value” is created. Many religious congregations’ management processes are more attuned to the needs of control-obsessed superiors than of pastoral-obsessed religious. The archaic pyramid shackles the professed religious and keeps them from contributing all they can in the ways they might long to. A younger, tech-savvy generation of religious has grown up on the web where they learned to collaboration and to distrust hierarchy.

Think for a moment of a religious management philosophy based on the principle of “reverse accountability.” Superiors should be accountable to those in the “pastoral value zone,” just as religious who profess the vow of obedience were accountable to their superiors.

Suppose all religious had access to the basic financial data of the congregation. It is hard to feel empowered if your superior has all the data and you have very little.  Front-line religious would have positive proof that the Congregation was willing to trust them with strategic information. “Need to know” would be transformed into “right to know.” In such an environment, misappropriation of finances would be substantially more difficult.

Suppose the leadership team were to create a forum (it could be online) and encourage the religious to ask tough questions and offer honest feedback. Nothing censored – every post displayed for the entire religious order to see. Apart from the benefits of commitment to transparency and as way to hold superiors accountable, such a forum could provide an early warning system for critical issues facing the religious order.

Suppose the Superior General had a section on the forum where he could solicit advice on the crucial issues he was wrestling with. Religious would be more accountable on the “pastoral-level” but they would also feel a sense of responsibility for tackling the big thorny issues that faced senior leadership.

Suppose the Legion had a web-based “Internal Service Desk” where any religious could open a “pastoral service ticket.” They would do this if they had a complaint with an internal service group (travel, procurement, school management & etc.). Once opened, the ticket could only be closed by the concerned religious, once their issue had been resolved.  If the issues are not resolved within 24 hours, the ticket gets escalated up the line. Possible benefits: staff departments would be more accountable to those in the “pastoral-value zone.”  Everyone’s concerns handled quickly and efficiently, regardless of rank. A host of new data would be generated to improve internal policies.

Just about every religious order has its own feedback process. Nevertheless, these processes don’t usually focus explicitly on how superiors are affecting those in the “pastoral value zone.” A religious fearful of retaliation will often pull his punches when reviewing their superior. Feedback that only comes from one’s immediate colleagues tends to reinforce long-standing organization silos. If a religious could rate the performance of any superior whose decisions impact their lives, anonymously, and these reviews could be seen by anyone who submitted a review, superiors would be challenged to be more responsive and exercise their authority judiciously.

Suppose the congregation’s planning process incorporated an online, peer-based evaluation process. The result could be a torrent of advice and counsel.

Pastoral-Level Councils. The goal here would be to help religious connect with team members who shared similar interests and passions. Supported by a web-based platform, the new initiative could spawn a host of communities around cultural, recreational and pastoral issues. These loosely structured teams would be a critical source of new ideas and strategic insights. When one of the councils reaches a consensus around a particular recommendation, it is transferred to a dedicated group that pushes the idea towards execution. There would, of course, still be a hierarchy, but its role would be greatly diminished.

Read Professor Hamel's full article, unadulterated by my paraphrasing here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes a story is just a story

The story about the Monk that inspired the title for my blog is not a “theological” fable. And it was NOT told to me in the context of the Legion. In fact, the version I heard portrayed the Monk as a Buddhist and he actually ordered the cow to be killed. So, it would be futile for me to defend the “theology” behind it just as it would be futile to defend the “theology” behind any other fable. It is most certainly not a "Catholic" story. Most "stories" are not "right" or "wrong" - they are just stories!

Why do I say this? Because I have been asked to defend "the theology" of the story of the "Monk who stole the cow"  by someone who says it is not "Catholic" and that it's "wrong."

A business friend told me the fable, after I lost my job. The intent, I think, was to help me see beyond the immediate catastrophic effects of losing my livelihood. The story helped me in the moment – the “takeaway” seemed to be: one can triumph over adversity. Indeed, I retell the story in the prologue to my book about my experiences with Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, because then and there, at the dinner in a restaurant called “Izote” in Mexico, I decided to finish and publish my book. I hoped it would be a story of triumph over adversity.

In my personal journey, I could say that I experienced great losses – starting with leaving my home and family for the Legion, then moving on assignments to six different countries, then leaving the Legion. I worked hard on my new life, and like everyone else, experienced losses – jobs, opportunities, friends who died. Then I found out that MM was a fraud. Another “loss.” But “losses” are part of life. The “final” job loss I refer to above was particularly devastating. It was just a “layoff,” a “cutback” due to an incipient recession. But it affected me greatly, disrupting all my well laid plans towards the end of a fairly long career. I took the “lesson” from the fable to heart and made a “new start.” I founded a company specializing in cross-cultural management issues, of which I am proud, and, I like to think, has done good. I guess it wouldn’t have happened had I not been let go from the multinational I worked at. Not unlike the family that thrived after everything they relied on was taken away from them by the Monk who stole the cow.

So, the “Monk” does not represent Maciel or Me. It’s just a fable! I never quoted it, nor did I put it on my blog, intending it to be anything more than that. Sometimes, as Freud said, “a cigar is just a cigar.”

Roman Polanski and Fr. Maciel

The following comment from Ryan A. MacDonald merits not be lost at the end of a preceding thread. That is why I am re-posting it here. I think Ryan makes some valid points and brings to bear the perspective of someone who knows far more about the tragic case of Fr. Gordon Mac Rae than I do. Ryan is responding to an "Anonymous" commenter on this blog. 
Some of the comments here have been quite interesting, and beg responses from someone familiar with the case of Fr. MacRae and with his posts on Roman Polanski and Fr. Maciel. First of all, for someone who presumably enjoys freedom to tell a wrongly imprisoned man that he "just needs to learn how to forgive" reminds me of what Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as "cheap grace." Flatly, that's easy for you to say. I have read and re-read Fr. MacRae's post on Fr. Maciel, and in no way do I see anywhere therein a defense of Fr. Maciel. MacRae writes with no judgement on whether the man is guilty of none of it, some of it, or all of it. That is for God to judge. The point he makes is that all of this discussion is taking place after Maciel departs the scene and cannot answer for any of it. The greater point is the vast difference in media coverage of the Roman Polanski case and that of Fr. Maciel and other priests who have been accused, some with evidence but most with none. The issue of the varying agendas is crystal clear to me. There are many commentators who now use the Maciel case to attack the reputation of another man who's no longer with us, Pope John Paul II. If you doubt this, just have a look at Joseph Bottum's "The Cost of Fr. Maciel" on the First Things website. I commented there, and some of the other commenters used what I wrote to cast doubt on whether the Church should pursue the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Alma Guilliermo Prieto did the same in the New York Review of Books article cited by Fr. MacRae in his post. It's also interesting that Anonymous seems to call Fr. MacRae's own credibility into question simply because he expressed a contrary opinion on the Maciel case. I think that person just proved Fr. MacRae's central point about guilt by association. It's easy to make these claims, but it's also easy to make them anonymously. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

God writes straight on crooked lines

On a blog which deals with the challenges of life after the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, a commenter asked me to defend my “bad theology" regarding my use of the phrase "God's writes straight on crooked lines." Below is the response I wrote.

First let me distance myself from an understanding or the phrase I’ve seen around LC/RC blogs where the saying is described as “Legionspeak.” During my time in the Legion, I heard the phrase only in the context of “folk wisdom.”  I believe the original saying is attributed to some Portuguese Bishop in the 16th Century. It seems that Thomas Merton also used it, referring to his feelings for some woman. I don’t believe I have used it to “defend” or “excuse” the sins of MM or anyone else for that matter. So here is the way I understand it; please do not saddle me with whatever emotional baggage the phrase has acquired in the LC/RC blogosphere.

The phrase: “God draws straight with crooked lines” is interpreted, I think, by Christians and Theologians as “bad theology.”

I don‘t understand the saying to mean: that God turns sin into blessings. I also don’t think it means that God “could” actually write in a “straight line” within the confines of “crooked lines.” Rather, for a Christian I believe the saying means: “Things don't always turn out the way we'd planned them. Despite our human failings, God still wants what is best for us. Knowing this, we can still trust Him, making sense of setbacks, adversity and changes of plan.

For instance, it doesn’t seem that God “planned” for suffering and death to be part of human existence according to the Genesis story. Those realities came to be because of the “original sin” of Adam and Eve. They include war, nastiness and “man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.”  So, to use the saying in this situation, I think it’s fair to say God wrote a “straight line” right across the “crooked” ones presented by the transgression of our first parents. He sent His Son into the world to make things right.  He used the “crooked lines” drawn by the fee will of Adam and Eve to meet us in the new reality they had forged.
Ever since then us humans are bound by time and an urgent need to make sense of the senseless. In so doing, we sometimes forget God operates outside of the confines of time and space.

As faulty humans, bound by time and a need to make sense of the senseless, we can forget God operates outside of the boundaries of time - in eternity. It's really not a concept that any of us are qualified to argue about with God. To paraphrase Karl Barth, the more we try to “say” about God (in terms of understanding Him), the more likely we are to be mistaken. All we can really know is what Jesus revealed to us. So, the  saying “God writes straight” most definitely does not mean we can rationalize any set of circumstances as God’s Will. And it definitely does not mean that “forgiveness” has anything to do with approval of behavior that is morally wrong.

If we “fast forward” to Jesus’ human “background” it is clear that some of the institutions that shaped the Jewish faith were less than holy. His ancestry did not just include the great and privileged but also the poor and the insignificant despite the fact that we often overly-idealize our “saints.”  Weakness and insignificance are important components in the continuing the story of the incarnation.

Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death (gates of hell) shall not prevail against it.” The Scriptural testimony is clear, and is confirmed by history, the Church has endured century after century despite all obstacles.

God allows evils to happen in order to bring forth a greater good; hence it is written (Rom. 5:20): "Where sin abounded, grace did more abound." At the blessing of the Paschal candle, we say: "O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!" These citations are deep in meaning.  For starters, "sin" and "grace" are loaded words; but they are familiar things. We find them whenever we search within ourselves for meaning. They determine our life.

I think of “sin” as “separation from God.” I think of “grace” as God’s personal intervention in our lives to help us discover the certainty of the eternal meaning of our life, resulting not in a false sense of goodness or self-complacency, although it does help us accept ourselves for who we really are. It enables us to love ourselves. It heals the “separation” from God, from ourselves and from others.  Grace makes us whole again, its peace leaving no space for self-hate and self-contempt.It bestows meaning on our lives. We can always count on it.

That is what “God writes straight on crooked lines” means to me. It makes no sense outside of a Christian view of the world.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Scarlet Letter for Regnum Christi members?

I just saw a posting by Joan Kingsland over at the "Live Regnum Christi" blog.

"The events of the last few years have inspired me to reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. As a consecrated woman of the Regnum Christi Movement I see a striking similarity between the harsh call by some people for the dissolution of the Legion and the words of the puritan women as they awaited the adulteress Hester Prynne to issue forth from the prison wearing her elaborately embroidered letter. These “self-constituted judges” as Hawthorne calls them, deemed that for the good of their society she ought to have been put to death for her sin."

Joan continues,

"for myself and many others who are choosing to remain in the Legion and Regnum Christi Movement, a scarlet letter has been bestowed on us not as a result of our own wrong actions, but of our founder. I have wept at the wrongs perpetrated by my founder and wish to apologize here to all those who suffered from him. I’m sorry for the deep hurt he caused to some as well as for the appalling scandal within the Church. I’m sorry as well for anyone else who has been wounded by Legionaries or members of the Regnum Christi Movement. When I joined the Movement it was for the sake of helping to bring many people to heaven not for causing harm."

It's been a very long time since I left the organization but I relate to Joan's hope:

"that our situation can be remedied with some elbow grease on our part, the paternal help of the Holy Father, the maternal help of the Church and a lot of grace from on high."

 Well said!

Read the full posting here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Hero's Journey"

Dr. Ken Davis is former professor and chair of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and president of Komei, Inc., a global training and consulting firm. His clients have included the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the Republic of Botswana, IBM, the International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. Social Security Administration. I met Ken when I lived in Indiana; we don't see each other very often but we are still friends and business associates. Ken is a passionate lover of books. Amongst his prolific activities, he teaches people how to manage business writing and he maintains a blog, Prospero's Books, about seeing the world as a whole by looking at signs, stories, systems and spirit.

I enjoyed reading Ken's succinct review of my book on Thank you Ken - I value your opinion and your review means a lot to me!

A Hero's Journey, August 5, 2010
By Dr. Kenneth W. Davis (Indianapolis, IN United States)

Jack Keogh's Driving Straight on Crooked Lines is a splendid example of Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey."

The author/narrator leaves his Dublin home and family to follow a dream--to change the world as a missionary. He soon finds himself in a world of contradictions: the huts of Africa's poor and the homes of the United States' and Mexico's wealthiest families; his personal devotion and the politics of power; his vow of poverty and his superior's taste for luxury.

He ends up indeed playing a role in changing the world, and in the process, changing himself. As a result of this change, he returns to build a new home and family.

For anyone interested in the developing world, in the Catholic Church, in organizational theory, or in intercultural communication, Driving Straight provides excellent object lessons--and takes readers on an exciting journey of their own.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people.

A few days ago, I posted some thoughts on forgiveness as an efficient way to deal with anger issues. I was not talking about forgiveness in a religious sense. Today, I cam across some reflections in a book by Sister Joan Chister "God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications). Sister Joan speaks of forgiveness in the religious sense. One particular phrase caught my attention:

 "Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. “We are all sinners,” we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: “There is no one so good,” he wrote, “who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life."

The good sister goes on to point out:

"Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.

Mercy gives a human being who does not “deserve” love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God know of what we are made.The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will “reach out a hand and lift us up.It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.

The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. “The only thing we can offer to God of value,” St. Catherine of Siena said, “is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God’s love.”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Perhaps the true target isn’t Father Maciel at all, or even the Legionaries of Christ.

I don’t know if you have ever visited the blog of Fr. Gordon Mac Rae. If you have any interest at all in the clerical abuse scandals ravaging the Catholic Church, I think you owe it to yourself to take a look.

According to his website, on September 23, 2009, Father Gordon MacRae marked fifteen years in a cell in the New Hampshire State Prison. Father MacRae is 56 years old. The crimes for which he was accused and convicted are claimed to have occurred when he was between 25 and 30 years old. Brought with no evidence or corroboration whatsoever, the claims were accompanied by lawsuits settled by his Diocese for hundreds of thousands of dollars despite evidence of fraud.

In 2005, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Wall Street Journal published an account of the travesty of justice by which Father Gordon MacRae was convicted (“A Priest’s Story.”)
Father MacRae maintains his innocence of these crimes, and could have left prison over 12 years ago had he accepted any of the “plea deals” presented to him before trial. In the years since the panic-driven and selective release of files and other accumulated claims and demands for money – but no evidence – some began to take a closer look under the surface of the case against Father Gordon MacRae. What is found there is troubling to anyone concerned for the state of due process, justice, and liberty in America.

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005:

“Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.”
Fr. MacRae has just written a posting entitled: “Roman Polanski, Father Marcial Maciel, and the Eye of the Beholder.” If you haven’t time to read his comments in their entireity here are some paragraphs which I find thought provoking.

"Consider this picture: the international film industry along with media and political figures throughout Europe have rallied around Roman Polanski declaring that he has suffered exponentially for his ancient offenses. and insisting that “justice” would be served only by his freedom from the tyranny of the American justice system and its focus on revenge. Meanwhile, Cardinal Sodano and a host of others are on the verge of being blacklisted in the Catholic Church for their past associations with Father Maciel, known, postmortem, for a pattern of moral failures.

What would be the media response if it was the Vatican, and not the government of Switzerland, refusing to extradite the accused in a thirty year old claim? Do you think that would merit a two-inch editorial buried in The Boston Globe?

Jason Berry “exposed” in 1988 the very same sex abuse claims, secret archives, and cover-ups by bishops that he and others claimed to expose again in 1994 and again in 2002. Mr. Berry appeared on “Geraldo” with Attorney Jeffrey Anderson who, as I pointed out in “Catholic Scandal and the News Media,” has vowed to “sue the sh–” out of the Catholic Church “everywhere.” But for Jason Berry, of course, guilt by association applies in only one direction.

Ryan MacDonald posted a thoughtful comment on the First Things website in response to Joseph Bottum’s “The Cost of Father Maciel.” Ryan raised another important point. Father Marcial Maciel was the subject of investigation after investigation that went on for years – even decades. He never had any shortage of detractors ready to stand up and allege any number of moral failures attributed to him. Father Maciel survived all these investigations until the bitter end when he was “invited to lead a reserved life of prayer and penitence.”

How is it, then, that only after Father Maciel’s death – when he is no longer here to answer for any of it – does “solid” evidence surface to defame him, his work, his order, and now even his known associates like Cardinal Sodano?

I cannot help but wonder what the true agenda is in the one-sided, postmortem, and shocking revelations in the story of Father Marcial Maciel. There was a hint of this agenda in a long, well-researched article by Alma Guillermoprieto who writes on Latin America for the New York Review of Books (”The Mission of Father Maciel,” June 24, 2010). Guillermoprieto cited Jason Berry’s long investigations of Maciel as one of her primary sources, but nowhere in the long article did she even mention Cardinal Sodano.

In the article, Father Maciel is accused of any number of moral failures from plagiarism to fathering children only to sexually abuse them. The writer, however, at least pointed out in a footnote that some of the most serious testimony about Maciel has been “tarnished somewhat by the revelation that [the accusers] had earlier demanded millions of dollars from the Legionaries of Christ in exchange for their silence.”

In the world in which I now live, that’s called “extortion” and it’s a crime.

But Ms. Guillermoprieto raised a target beyond money. She went to great lengths to point out repeatedly that Father Maciel founded “the most morally conservative” order in the modern Church. not to mention “the distressing question of the Church’s last pope, the popular John Paul II and his relations with the demonic priest.”

Perhaps the true target isn’t Father Maciel at all, or even the Legionaries of Christ.

Consider this picture: the international film industry along with media and political figures throughout Europe have rallied around Roman Polanski declaring that he has suffered exponentially for his ancient offenses. and insisting that “justice” would be served only by his freedom from the tyranny of the American justice system and its focus on revenge. Meanwhile, Cardinal Sodano and a host of others are on the verge of being blacklisted in the Catholic Church for their past associations with Father Maciel, known, postmortem, for a pattern of moral failures.

There is something wrong with this picture. And there is one ominous figure who is taking it all in from his place in the shadows, having the laugh of his long, dark life. As I wrote in ‘The Eighth Commandment,” the climb upward for those falsely accused is very steep. I know all too well “The Cost of Father Maciel” for he has made my climb all the more treacherous.

Joseph Bottum mentioned in passing Father Richard John Neuhaus’ misinformed (but in my opinion, courageous) giving of the benefit of doubt to Father Maciel when they both lived. Without real evidence – and there was none then – it’s what Christians are supposed to do. Father Neuhaus gave that same benefit of doubt to me. I miss his courage, and the sense of justice that came with it."

Some few people on an RC related blog have construed this posting to mean any one of several things:
That I wholeheartedly agree with all of Fr. MacRae's comments, or
That I am seeking to defend Fr. Maciel, or
That I do not condemn Fr. Maciel for his heinous behavior, or
That I do not feel outrage for what Fr. Maciel did to his victims and that - somehow - I do not support the victims.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me re-state my feeling on the Maciel scandal:
Because of what I now know about Fr. Maciel, I despise him and the awful fraud he perpetrated. The notion of the abuse is repugnant, and I repudiate him. I fully accept the Vatican statement of May 1, 2010 which (for the first time) clearly enunciated the sentiments and findings of the Vatican following the Visitation of the the Legionaries of Christ.

I think Fr. MacRae's case is a compelling one. I do not know whether he is guilty of the crimes he is in jail for or not. However, precisely because of his current circumstances I think he offers a different and unique perspective which deserves to be heard. The fact that he may not have all the details straight is not the point - he is in jail. It is the mark of an open mind to be able to entertain a conflicting thought without accepting it. Minds, as someone once said, are like parachutes. They only work when they are open.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

If we do not forgive, we become prisoners of our past

A key element of my company’s approach to leadership development and team-building is what I call “whole person leadership.”  We believe that 90% of being an effective leader is about self-leadership. The charisma, relationships, and vision a leader creates come from the inner core of an individual. Self-leadership includes understanding your strengths and your governing values. It means knowing how to manage your emotions and the emotions of others. When we discuss emotions in organizations, anger is usually mentioned first and seems to be the most pervasive – especially amongst men.

Fear, anger, sadness, and joy are the four possible responses generated in the brain stem, the most primitive part of our brain. They are hardwired into our flight or fight survival response. We know, from physiology, that within less than seconds of becoming angry our brain and body are flooded with internal chemical changes. When this occurs, we operate from our brain stem. It's responsible for the fight or flight response and our autonomic nervous system (breathing, heart rate, body temperature etc.). When we are in this mode, we bypass the rational portion of the brain. This spells trouble because we are not using our neo-cortex, the most evolved part of our brain responsible for our rational thinking. Anger energizes aggressive behavior and is both protective and destructive at the same time.

Anger can be defined as “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism. It suggests neither a definite degree of intensity nor necessarily outward manifestation. It can be an emotional reaction to a perceived injustice.” The word “anger” has different meanings for different people. In common English usage it refers to a very normal emotion. Anger is somewhat further along the spectrum of aggravation and frustration but not yet converted into “rage.” Academics, social workers, therapists and counselors sometimes use the word “anger” in a clinical sense meaning uncontrolled or disproportionate anger.  This latter meaning is what most of us would call “rage.” 

In the mid-1980s, I helped establish an organization called “Cooperation Ireland” that sought reconciliation between the two communities involved in the conflict between North and South in Ireland. With the founder, Dr. Brendan O’Regan I had the opportunity to observe anger taken to the limit in communities on both sides of the border. In the process, I learned an important lesson. Dr. Frederic Luskin, Director if the Stanford Forgiveness Project, sums up this lesson in his book “Forgive for Good

He says, “We brought a group of people from both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland, each of whom had had a family member killed in the “troubles.” Most swore on a stack of Bibles that they would never forgive, they would never move, and they would never change. When we did an exit piece the prevailing sentiment was, “When I came I was convinced that all Catholics (or Protestants) were evil and from Hell and that is really the way I was raised. But, after spending a week like this, I have come to three conclusions. I don’t have any reason to hate them all. They are not all bad. And they suffer in the same way I do. I may never fully forgive the one person who shot my son in cold blood, but he is not going to control my whole life. The world is bigger than that. It is filled with suffering and pain and the people that I met from the other side of this conflict suffer in the same way.”

When I come across anger and conflict in the corporate world I try to use what I learned from the Irish conflict: in order to move on, we need to learn to forgive what happened and then move away from it. If some people in Ireland found a way to reconcile 800 years of oppression and hatred then surely there is hope for our corporate conflicts. My boss at Cooperation Ireland, Dr. Brendan O’Regan staked his hope on developing interpersonal relationships between the two communities in order to achieve reconciliation. We used the word “reconciliation” which was acceptable to all – whereas the word “unification” was a negative trigger-word.

Before working with Cooperation Ireland I had spent twenty years with the Legionaries of Christ. I worked closely with the now disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. Most objective observers would suggest that I had reason to be angry with the Founder who was very manipulative and controlling of his subordinates while, it turns out, he was leading a scandalous double life.  When I made a “leap of faith” and decided to leave the Legion (see my memoir) I found that I had to explain – to myself and to others – why I had spent twenty years in the Congregation, much of it against my better judgment. In so doing, I think I learned another important lesson which has served me well in life and in my work as a consultant.

At first I felt very angry.  Even after making big changes in my lifestyle I still felt controlled by my previous experience. Eventually, I came to realize that some sense of “forgiveness” was the way forward for me. I was helped in this realization by my own experience and what I saw happen with some of my former colleagues who also left the Congregation.  Each of us developed our “grievance story.’ This was our personal version of all the bad things that happened to us, the “terrible things” that others did to us. I saw how easily it was for the “grievance story” to obsess on details, how easy it was to convert it into a distorted account of how someone else was responsible for our present misery. I neither could change Fr. Maciel the Founder nor could I change the rules of the Congregation. All I could change was my own attitude, my own reaction to him. If I didn’t change my “grievance story,” I was allowing someone from my past to continue to have power over me.

These experiences taught me something about forgiveness. First, I think it can be taught, just like compassion can be taught. The key question that helps is “how much suffering are you are willing to experience now from something that happened in the past which you cannot change?”  The answer involves taking information and reprocessing it in the light of the present so as to suffer less. It is about re-perceiving the event from the past. It involves rewriting the “grievance story.” This is what forgiveness is about. Note that I am not making any connection between forgiveness and religious belief. Something bad happened to you, something you did not want. It is something that you cannot change – but you can do something, in the present, to suffer less.

In my personal life, there is no doubt I was deeply connected to the Legion of Christ and to Fr. Maciel, the Founder. Once I left, I soon realized that the best way to get over that close connection was to get on with my new life. This method of untangling myself from the prior twenty years had nothing to do with the past. It was a decision and an action made in the present. “Getting a new life” for me meant finding a new job, a place to live, settling down, getting married and, eventually, raising a family. This process, this focus on actions in the present began to change my perception of the past. I learned to be forgiving of myself and of the Founder. To do this however, I had to try and “disconnect” from the Legion, I had to reformulate my “grievance story.” I have since come to believe that we can learn to forgive to whatever extent we choose.  That is not to say I can forgive everything – but I do see the liberating possibilities of untangling oneself from the past event and focusing on “getting a life.”

Psychologists have found that people who forgive themselves and others experience reduced feelings of restlessness, nervousness and hopelessness. I believe that it is a key component of what we call “emotional intelligence.” In order to decide to forgive someone for past hurts, it can help to clear up a misunderstanding: forgiveness does not mean the offended person has to become vulnerable toward the offender. It does not mean that anger should not be expressed or that justice should not be sought. It is possible to forgive, and at the same time, not trust someone who has inflicted hurt. The resolution of anger with an offender and the investment of trust toward that person are two related but different processes.

One aspect of forgiveness is to forgive one specific person or event. The more powerful and healing aspect of forgiveness is learning to develop the ability to be able to continually forgive when things don’t work out the way we want them to. Maybe this is so powerful because this ability allows us to have an “open heart.” When things are not going the way we expected we don’t need to get so upset.

It is truly life changing to be able to forgive the things that can discourage us, the things that can turn us from enjoying our lives to the fullest. By developing the ability to deal compassionately with the “small” things that our beyond our control, we prepare ourselves for those events in life that will truly test our resilience. We can practice on the unimportant things – the shopper who causes a delay at the checkout, the stressed and impolite ticket agent, the small child crying in the row behind you on the airplane. Then we will be more prepared to forgive colleagues at work, and, most importantly, the people you love. When you are hurt and offended, recall the negative power of the “grievance story,” and try not to fall into the obsessive repetition of how the other person hurt you. Opt for your ability to forgive, in the present.

It is my experience that some former Legionaries and members of Regnum Christi learn to employ anger as a defense against their mistrust and fear of betrayal. I have come to believe that when we do not let go of our anger we may well be controlled by the offenders for the rest of our lives. As John Paul 11 said, "If we do not forgive, we become prisoners of our past." I think that anger can hide strong feelings of anxiety, insecurity and guilt. I see this working with teams of corporate leaders - especially with men. More often than not when I ask workshop participants to name a dominant emotion, anger is the first one to be named. Of the three ways that I know of for dealing with anger (denial, expression, forgiveness) the only one that is healing seems to be forgiveness.

I wonder if sometimes we prefer not to let go of our anger because it is one of the things that "makes us feel alive." Anger can convey a sense of power and I have seen it used to form bonds with others as a group uses it to mask a feeling of emptiness. Revenge sometimes seems like an attractive option because it conveys a sense of power and strength. Forgiveness, on the other hand, conveys a sense of weakness to those who do not understand its power. When I see long term anger tainted with bitterness I find myself wondering if the aggrieved derive some sense of power and attention from what has essentially morphed into a sense of self-pity.

Failure to adequately resolve anger issues arising from experience like those many of us had with the Legion of Christ or the Movement can easily spill over into our married lives, our relationship with our children or our parents. Legionaries who choose to continue in the Congregation or to join the diocesan priesthood will face the same issues. Unresolved anger nurtures a feeling of perpetual sadness. In the measure that we can learn to forgive we overcome the underlying sadness and anxiety. It is not a one-time cognitive decision. It does not mean that we are not assertive or that we have to trust the people that we choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a process, not an event.

Relationships and events often do not turn out the way we planned. Indeed all relationships can be a source of disappointment. Nonetheless, an attitude of forgiveness liberates us from the past. In my case, it eventually allowed me to accept the pain caused by Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ. Then I saw the life changing power of forgiveness on people involved in conflict in my native Ireland. Now, as a management consultant, I see its power in the workplace where it can help untangle interpersonal conflicts leading individuals and teams to newfound productivity and work-life balance.