Thursday, November 11, 2010

Critical thinking.. missing in action for the Legionaries of Christ

Just back from a series of fairly heavy duty business projects - hence I've not had time for the blog...

I published my memoirs ( 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.


Anon out of RC said...

Great insights Monk. If only the LC/RC understood how much us former members are pulling for them to live in the truth, rid themselves of Macielism and get on serving the Church in an honest, healthy way. It really is not about the LC/RC and Maciel's methodology - it is about Christ and his Church. I wish they would all just dump all Macielism and start from scratch. My prayers are constantly with the current and former LC priests and RC friends I love.

Frank I said...

Monk –

Can I ask you a question about an event in Legion history?

First, some background: years ago when I was in the LC Candidacy program, we had periods of meditation where various spiritual works were read to us. Mostly it was Maciel’s letters to the brothers of different communities, but we also had a text read to us that was supposedly written by an American legionary brother who died in an accident. After all these years, my grasp of the precise details might be a bit sketchy, but I think that I can draw the broad outlines accurately.

As I recall, the story about this legion brother was that he was a candidate for the legion during its early years in America, i.e. late 60s or early 70s, before the legion relocated its US novitiate to the facility in Cheshire, CT. As the story was told, this brother was quite gregarious and outgoing. While this brother was in candidacy, the brothers went on a hike in one of the nearby state parks, where this brother suffered a fatal injury. If I recall correctly, I believe the story was that he fell down a steep ravine and died from the ensuing injuries.

After this brother’s death, they discovered a diary he had written which showed a kind of spiritual depth that the others never noticed in this brother, as he was considered to have more of a carefree, happy-go-lucky personality. From that point on, his diary entries were read to later candidate classes, and he was held up to us as something of a model candidate.

My question then, Monk, is do you recall hearing this story or having knowledge of this brother’s death during your time in the Legion? I recall from one of your past blog comments that the legion had you stationed in the US during their early years here, which would have put you here around the same timeframe, but I’m not completely sure if the dates coincide.

Any insight is appreciated. Thanks.

The Monk said...

Frank 1 - your question brought back a lost memory... the story sounded familiar so I checked with a former colleague... and his recollection jibes with what I now remember:

"This is the famous story of Thomas Gleason. He was a candidate in Woodmount before the move to Orange. What made Thomas Gleason so famous or well known, is the fact that his "Diary" was a part of spiritual reading during the Candidacy. Personally, I was very moved by his story. That same summer (1978), some time in August, I believe, Maciel visited the novitiate. During his talk to everyone, he told the story of Thomas Gleason. I was quite moved by his talk - a real good one. Good memories."

So, when I was assigned to New York in early 1977, the Novitiate was already in Orange, CT... Woodmont was only a memory - although we continued to go to the Woodmont parish for Christmas Eve Mass. Later they moved to Cheshire.

Lauretta said...

Monk, I had a question about the Legion's past as well. Do you know if there were any other adults involved in the earliest years of the Legion or was Maciel the only adult when it began?

The Monk said...

Lauretta, Bishop Gonzalez of Cuernavaca, Mexico who seems to have assisted Maciel when he first founded the Legion appointed a priest called Daniel Santana to help out at the basement seminary. He didn't stay for very long. In 1947, he was joined by another priest he had met at the Montezuma seminary - Luis Ferreira. When the first group moved to Spain, some other priests or older seminarians were recruited - Faustino Pardo, Francisco Navarro, Antonio Lagoa, Jose Maria Escribano and others.

As far as I know, in the "earliest years" Maciel was the only adult involved. Hope this helps.

Lauretta said...

Thank you, Jack, for the info. I was just curious as to whether there were any adults that could have/should have seen what Maciel was doing and blown the whistle on him. Seems that there were a few, one of whom I understand did try to stop Maciel. One has to wonder why this was allowed to continue on for so long. That is one of the things that makes me think there was more to the strength of this group than Maciel's megalomania. Either tremendous money and/or "spiritual" assistance.

Keith Keller said...

Jack, very well written! I too, at first, wanted the Legion to succeed. I doubt if it's possible as form the very beginning they play fast and easy with the truth! Br. Thomas Gleason was in the second group of Postulants in 1967. He died in September of that year on a hike. We never went back to that State Park because our Rector, Fr.Ramiro Fernandez LC thought it too dangerous and brought back too many bad memories. My father went to the funeral in Philadelphia. He asked me if I wanted to join him but I hate funerals so I declined. Funny how just two years later I would join them all in Woodmont, the Poli Mansion on Long Island Sound in Ct.!
We read Tom's diary in the Postulancy always trying to figure out who were Fr.N and Bro.N who Tom had trouble with. I think I know now as I had trouble with both too...Those were fun days full of optimism and idealism.

What really annoyed me and made me see the Legion in a different light were the lies told about me and others who left! Until the Legion learns to face the truth and make Superiors from more saintly people rather than from blind yes men I don't see their being exceptional or as we were let to believe: called from all eternity to save the Church!