Thursday, January 6, 2011

Would a drop of honey achieve more than a barrel of vinegar?

I really haven't had a lot of time to post here over the past couple of months. So maybe I should provide some minor background – especially for new readers. The dominant theme is the Legion of Christ and the now disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.

Allow me first to reiterate that, while in the LC I was one of the very first to speak of the Congregation as a cult. Essentially, that provoked my leaving. I think I was the first to describe the LC as a dysfunctional family. It doesn't matter a whit if I was first or not - my point is I've "been there, done that" earlier than most.

After the leaving the LC (way back in 1982) I felt enormous anger towards Maciel and I felt utterly betrayed and shunned by my LC peers who (true to form) once I left wanted nothing further to do with me. I guess I didn't want to have anything to do with them either - but the "shunning" caused a very deep wound. I fought, successfully, to obtain all the requisite dispensations from Rome so that I could marry within the Church at a time when such dispensations were borderline impossible. This is all ancient history, but it's important to note that I am not a "friend" of the Legion. I got on with my life and devoted my energy to more positive things. I've always wanted to live life looking ahead - not through the rear-view mirror.

Over the years, I felt a nagging need to write a book ("Driving Straight on Crooked Lines") about my experiences in the Legion and my personal dealings with Maciel. I guess I wrote it for my kids but I also thought my story might be of use to those who did not understand how so many of us were taken in by the founder. I wanted to figure that out for myself and, I wondered if the 20 years I "gave" to God within the Legion were of any value at all. I read a lot of pertinent blogs to get a sense of what I might have missed during my absence.

My book kindled lots of memories, most of them sad. But not all. We had some good times and we learned a lot. I certainly got to see the world, had incredible experiences (read my book!) holding on to my Faith and realizing that I did manage to do a lot of "good."

Then the Maciel scandal erupted. It saddened me, for the Church, for the good LC/RC, for their families. When I first heard of his betrayals I was quite devastated, then very angry (again!) At about the same time I was going through the agony of meeting with him in Cheshire to decide on the future of my vocation - he was fathering a child!!

Writing the book was cathartic. I felt better when I finished the process. Then came the good part: floods of e-mails, phone calls (some from people I hadn't heard from for 40 years) all of them saying how much my book had helped them. Some said it helped them understand what priests think about; a previously anti-Catholic businessman wrote it had changed his perspective. Former LCs were the most expressive - they said it helped them revisit the good and the bad and to find even more peace. Several current LCs said they liked it and that it gave them a better understanding about the LC's history (1962 is a long time ago for most of them!). Former RCs liked it, for the same reasons. Current RCs have used it for their "Encounters with Christ" (or whatever that is called now.) Paul Lennon, well known to this blog's readers, gave it a great review which I appreciate. So did Jason Berry. A few who left very recently, have said that reading it is too painful, for now.

You're thinking "what's the point?"

Perhaps I have come full circle. I was/am a victim of MM and the "system" as much as anyone else. My heart goes out to the sexual victims. Period. But they are not, by any means, the only "victims” although some of them are the "de facto" spokespersons for the amorphous group of "ex-Legionaries." I can only try to their anger - especially if, as they say, the Legion has not yet reached out to them. I I empathize with the many people affected by the LC/RC are still recovering. It's a process - but there is light at the end of the dark tunnel and I hope they know than and they do not lose hope. If recovery isn't happening after a reasonable amount of time, I'd suggest therapy. Regain has a directory of people who understand the phenomenon and are willing to help. Find a licensed therapist.

I abhor the "old" LC system. And I repudiate MM and his sick behavior. Renewed contact with some LC peers (e-mail) and former LCs has made me aware how much has changed since my times.  Changes for the better - I had heard about some of them but had never believed they were reality. Ethnic diversity and geographic expansion have worked some magic. Not nearly enough for me to feel good about the Congregation where I spent some of the most important years of my life.

The Legion has much more radical change to go through – less action, more spirituality; healthy obedience and chastity, more trust and humility... etc. etc. It would be good if they could "loosen up" and work on appearing less robotic. I believe they have started down that road. Most of them were as devastated by the MM scandal as we are - except they are still on the "inside," victims of his system. No doubt many of them share a lot of blame. Most of them don't. Some don't yet truly comprehend the depth of our upset. Those under 50, I think, do get it. But they too are stuck with the Vatican "process." Of course they want new leadership - but first they have to have a General Chapter. It's also much easier for a Legionary priest to leave the Congregation than it used to be.

Despite the fact that "listening" and "hearing" are not - in my experience - key Legionary competencies, deep down, they must cringe on a very human level when they become aware of the invective hurled against them. In my time, we were very good at not "hearing" criticism and we knew how to handle it within "fortress Legion." To my mind, the virulent criticism has not achieved much. Maybe it's time to see if a drop of honey might achieve more than a barrel of vinegar.

Frankly, I don't care much about the "Legion" or the "Regnum Christ" - two more "clerical" institutions and “clericalism” is a large part of the “problem.” But I do care about the people, the individuals - the generous men and women who, in good faith, left everything to follow Christ in the Legion or the Movement. So the institution treated me and so many others badly but I still care about my former colleagues -I feel the same way about ex-LC and ex-RC. That's why I hope Legionaries can re-discover their place in the Church, that they can "reform." God knows they have enough vocal critics telling them how bad and sick they are, what they should do, why they are to blame and etc.  It would be nice if, some time LC, RC and former members could all feel some sense of unity, having shared so many life-changing experiences. So far, the dominant theme seems to be anger and bitterness. That is a great loss.

Meanwhile the Pope and the universal Church seems to want the Legion and the Regnum Christi to survive and reform. I think the  faithful and hierarchy can learn so much from this experience - about clericalism, about authentic religious life, about contemporary spirituality, about the avoidance of sex abuse, about the dangers of charismatic and conservative zealots. That's why I try to keep a balanced perspective, inasmuch as I can. My father used to quote that Gospel phrase "He who hears you, hears me" with regards to the Pope. I confess I've had my doubts. But deep down I want my former colleagues  to heal and get better because, for the moment at least, that seems to be what the Church wants.

As an aside, I've started a series of reflections on  "How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership" based on my book. Constructive comments and insights are most welcome.


Frank I. said...

Monk -

I appreciate your comments and believe that you bring a valued perspective to this issue. Keep up the good work. For someone like me, who often is in the virulent, anti-LC/RC mode, this helps to see the bigger picture.

Though I still feel that there is a great need to warn other Catholics about lc/rc methods and recruitment, your comments also help me to see the personhood in lc's and rc's that I often overlook.

Anonymous said...

I hope you are correct and that change is in the air.

From what I've heard it seems like denial is still very strong. The lc's who seemed to believe they were superior to other communities and diocesan priests were actually far from an authentic community.

They were a fund raising enterprise that also saw recruitment as their other major goal. That is very different from authentic religious communities. I don't see that they have any basic community charism to reform.

irishmexguate said...

thanks for keeping up the good work. I may be getting tired of being a thorn in Maciel's ass and the Legion's side. We, the prophets, have already spoken and written. Church authorities have finally paid attention to our strident voices, like the ignorant Amos screaming in the desert. The Vatican has taken charge -and control- of the Legion reform, and in the process told us "enough criticism". It seems nobody wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs - are my metaphors scrambled, like eggs? They want to nurse it back to health. A disturbing though from Amos Lennon: are the eggs pure gold or just gilded? Does the goose suffer from lead poising or leukemia?

The Monk said...

"The Vatican has taken charge -and control- of the Legion reform, and in the process told us "enough criticism". Good point! And good luck to all in endeavor - so much depends on it being successful..

Hopefully the focus will be on the goose, not the eggs, gilded or otherwise. Maybe it will end up being more of a duck?

Cindy Bradtmueller said...

Hi Monk,

I read your book and really enjoyed it. It was interesting to hear of your many wordly experiences, sad to hear about your many and lengthy separations from your family, and eye opening in the ways of Legion manipulation. Also I appreciate your insights and opinions on the lifeafterrc blog, to me, you don't hijack the treads.

All of us have had different experiences in lc/rc, we are all different people with different needs and different ways of perceiving things. That is why I like your drop of honey (but only a drop) philosophy because I would rather keep the door open with my friends who are still in RC. I was never treated badly by any of them. I wish we could maintain friendships but since we weren't friends before rc we don't have much in common after rc.

I think that shutting them down would have provided a world of healing amongst us all. We'd all have common ground, providing there wasn't schism. I think that if they had been shut down, the teams would still meet for prayer and scripture study. There would be an influx of volunteers in the parishes. However, I now know that much change is needed in the mindset of each rc member. One change is with regard to how rc/lc perceive themselves in the church family. They need to humble themselves and know that they aren't the only, most holy event available. I don't think I was the only one who felt like this when I was in rc. Anyway, change is needed in each individual before we would want their leadership in parish activities.

Thanks for your insight and telling your story. God Bless you and your family!

Lauretta said...

Jack, I understand your position fairly well, I think, and see your point. I believe, however, that many are concerned that if honey is offered, it will attract more innocent victims into the lair.

I do not see how, at this point, if only Legion members are in control of the running of the group, anything other than more dysfunctional people can be produced. These men know nothing other than that which they have experienced, which is mind-numbing, conscience-destroying cult control. The ones who haven't been seriously deformed, like yourself, have left!

Another "red flag" if you will, for many, is a "peace and serenity at all costs" attitude because that is part of the deformation that occurs in the Legion. You tend to personify that somewhat but I believe that is just your personality. You seem to me to have a devil may care attitude and someone who will find a good time no matter what is going on! And that's not a bad thing. But if a serene attitude has been programmed into you, then it is not good.

I think that your personality kept you from the most destructive parts of the Legion deformation. Imagine, however, a young boy who grew up in a home where he was never allowed to think for himself, his every action was monitored by someone, and he went immediately into the toxic atmosphere of the Legion. I know some who are in this situation. I am so concerned that when they wake up at some point and realize what has been done to them, first at home and then in the Legion, there could be tremendous anger, loss of faith, etc. These young men have been stripped of their dignity and their rights throughout their lives. That is going to be difficult to recover from especially if they have a more sensitive nature anyhow.

I think the Legion tended to attract these types of families so there is probably a higher than average proportion of young men in this situation among them. And they will continue to attract that type of family, at least in the US. They are people who are afraid of the world and sin in general and want to keep their children from committing or experiencing any "sin". That is very unhealthy and one of the reasons the schools need to be shut down. Kids need to be able to grow and mature and we do that by experiencing life in its fullness and learning to navigate through it which is going to involve making mistakes once in awhile.

The Monk said...

Lauretta, thanks for the comment - I cleaned up the "double posting."

Most certainly, I am not for "peace and serenity at all costs," although I get your point - like you, I would have wanted to see an "emotional" response from the LC. That is something that we are not likely to get.

I've never been a fan of Apostolic Schools - no matter the order or congregation. Shutting some down might help, I suppose. Personally, I'd rather see that universal system "reformed." Maybe that is the good that could emerge from this mess - that the Church take a hard look at the causes and consequences and work to ensure that whatever system that emerges is psychologically healthy, consonant with the needs of contemporary young people.

I completely agree about how different personalities affect one's experience of the Legion/Regnum. "Vocational discernment" surely needs to take personality into account because some persoanlity types have had, and will have, disasterous experiences in relgious life.

The Monk said...

January 7, 2011 12:27 PM
Cindy Bradtmueller

I'm sorry for taking so long to respond you your thoughtful comment.

All we can do is process our own personal feelings and judgements. I've been able to see some of the contemporary "good" aspects of the LC/RC, especially outside of the US (my work involves a fair amount of international travel and connections.) I honestly do not think there is any chance of schism.

"Shutting them down" would certainly provide a sense of relief and validation for those many who have been hurt. On the other hand, I suppose I try to consider what effect shutting the LC/RC down might have on the hundreds of good priests and seminarians and "eyes wide-open RC people, who are caught in a situation that is not of their own choosing. My guess is the Church (Pope) is thinking of them too... and, for the moment seems to be concentrating on the greater good.

As a result of the book, I have heard so many comments from all sides. Some of them from people I know and trust and others from people I would never have heard from had I not written the book. I have been quite amazed at the number of LC who have read and recommend my little book - the overriding reaction is that it has helped them understand better where they are coming from. Several have asked for "forgiveness" - some of them claim to have had no idea of how MM/LC treated some of the "loyal" guys who left. They have helped me remain cautiously optimistic.

I think very strong winds of change are blowing in the LC. Change will take time - I choose to hope that it is possible. For people who have been badly hurt and are still very close to their negative experiences redemption of what they experienced doesn't seem possible. I get that. I have been "out" of the LC for a long time and I think the temporal distance has helped... my personal "wounds" are no less real but they don't hurt as much, maybe because time has allowed me to move on. Honestly, I am as ambivalent about the LC as I ever was. But I know good men who are still there... and they seem to "get it." They are frustrated with the speed of change while they continue to do their best, trying to be faithful priests. I feel so sorry for them. I feel even more sorry for those who still do not "get it." (I resent the fact they are so far removed from reality). Still I do believe Our Lord will make things right - with a little help from all of us.

Thank you for your kind comments and wishes!