Friday, April 29, 2011

"Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" is positively reviewed as an account of "pinball with my head and my heart as the bumpers"

The following review of my memoirs "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind" appeared, to my surprise on this morning. I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here because I sense, with a good measure of personal satisfaction, that the reviewer seems to "understand" the meaning and intent of what I tried to say. Perhaps this review may shed some light on the opinions I express here, especially for those who have never read my book. The reason I started this blog in the first place was to continue ruminating on the memories that the process of writing the book awakened.

Some of the "remarks" I've made over time are analyzed "out of context" with the overall thread of this blog. That's OK! The review that follows, I think, helps "center" my perspective. I thank the reviewer for taking the time to write such a well crafted review. Indeed I very much appreciate the 23 kind people, mostly strangers, who have taken the time to post reviews of my memoirs on Amazon.

Pinball with his head and his heart as the bumpers, April 29, 2011

This review is from: Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind (Paperback)

Once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down and barely did until, with mixed feelings, I finished it. Other Catholics -- whether in or out of the Congregation in question -- may have similar mixed feelings but will find this book illuminating. Founders and CEOs of companies or organizations -- as well as their followers and employees -- will surely benefit from reading it.


Born amidst global conflict -- on the very day the Allies postponed the invasion of southern France until after that of Normandy -- and having traveled around the globe, apparently always conflicted, Mr Keogh recounts his experiences as an itinerant (up-and-coming, down-and-out, out-the-door and recovering) Irish-born priest in arguably the most controversial Catholic religious order in Church history, the Legionaries of Christ, which was born, also in 1944, in Mexico and experienced rapid-fire growth from the 1950s onward in Latin America, Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia.

Few human beings have shared Mr Keogh's experiences; nor can anyone dispute his experience. But all of us can relate with Mr Keogh on one or both of two dimensions: (1) navigating, building and surviving a "dysfunctional" yet fast-growing organization under the auspices of a charismatic but corrupt founder and leader; and (2) reconciling the tensions between one's head and heart, between one's apparent vocation in life and one's certain aspirations to live, always with a view to beginning again ... personal reinvention for the sake of survival and flourishing.

These two dimensions are cleverly paired in this memoir, with Mr Keogh's personal experiences -- mostly prosaic, some profound; alternately sad and funny; always engaging, insightful -- serving as a morality play that allegorically develops the situation of a man in a dysfunctional organization, within which the man's own struggles for sanity and sanctity mirror the deep challenges of the entity in which he finds himself but of which he is really not.

The Tension

The argument of the memoir's action shows palpably that organizations imprint themselves on their people -- whether regimes : citizens or companies : employees -- and organizations get their imprint from their founders. This observation is as old as Plato, with echoes of Homer, and pivotal in the western tradition of political philosophy (follow the thread on foundings and empires from Plutarch to Machiavelli) to say nothing of western history. It certainly applies to the organization in which Mr Keogh grew up as evidenced by the Vatican's judgment on its founder, Fr Marcial Maciel and on the Legion of Christ itself, in the 1 May 2010 communiqué, which was issued after this book was published.

The "Crooked Lines" of the title pertain to the stringent rules and entangling caprice, the routes and rigors, the twists and turns, and the many contradictions in Mr Keogh's over-long vocational journey ... the "Driving Straight" pertains to his willful determination, drive and directness throughout, as well as to his struggling from one beginning after another toward an ending that satisfied his very humane, all-too-human quest. The book is Augustinian in its exploration of reconciling memory, Thérèsean in its consideration of the challenges of religious life, Ignatian in its sustained examination of conscience. Yet, too, it is simply a very modern man's cathartic effort to make sense of his experience: the challenges of a man on a mission that's not unlike pinball with his head and his heart as the bumpers.

The Denouement

The first chapter's subtitle establishes the theme, "The Beginning of the End," that ensuing chapters develop. Mr Keogh weaves one beginning and ending after another, together, occasionally dropping or diverting from the threads but always moving, on a circuitous global journey (Ireland, Rome, Spain, Mexico, USA, Gabon), under the looming presence of Maciel, whom he came to know well but never quite well enough. Some of Mr Keogh's revelations about the founder of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi are shocking in retrospect, but fall far short of the full recitation of Maciel's derelictions and sins in the mentioned communiqué.

Still, these revelations and supporting observations by Mr Keogh suggest, as did his wife ultimately, the fire accounting for all the smoke. Mr Keogh's epilogue on leadership pulls no punches on his "narcissistic, charismatic leader" -- "I must face the fact that I formed my conscience, and spiritual life, according to the precepts of a hypocrite, liar, and perhaps a sociopath." -- even as Mr Keogh extols, with pride and gratitude, the good in the world achieved by what Maciel founded and led, of which he was a part but does not, in the end, seem to have been indelibly stamped by, contrary to his own assertion.

For what makes this book uplifting is how Mr Keogh -- who slowly pieced together Fr Maciel's motives by observing his behavior and came to a realization that the idealism, the spiritual value of the Legionaries of Christ were undermined in the process of institutionalization -- escaped that inevitable imprint. In counter-Hollywood fashion, Mr Keogh realized that it was his unsullied heart he should follow, not his tortured head. Yet the slow evolution of his reasoning about his feelings and aspirations, putting them in perspective of the reality he came to see and the faith he surely retained, is instructive for anyone who finds himself in a dead-end situation. The natural means he pursued, with a grasping after supernatural context, to come to terms with that reality and his faith make this book, which is otherwise light-hearted, full-bodied and often question-begging, compelling, worth a read and serious consideration.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Do the Legionaries of Christ recruit the best and brightest?

Along comes Frank who left a thoughtful comment on the last post. I respect his opinion on the saga of the Legionaries of Christ, the Regnum Christ and Fr. Maciel although I don't always agree with him. Nor does he always agree with me. When you have two guys who agree on everything you really can do without one of them. So, again, I welcome Frank's contribution which deserves a longer response than would fit in the comments section.

Essentially, Frank disagrees, strenuously, with my use of the terms "best and brightest" as applied to the Legion of Christ's recruitment efforts. Ultimately, I think "best and brightest" are emotionally laden terms for those who see the Legionaries as arrogant. Let me dive right in addressing myself directly to Frank's comment.

First, I had no idea I “stepped on a landmine with my 'best and brightest' assertion.”

Second, I disagree with your [Frank] characterization of all Legionaries as “basically grifters in Roman collars, taking and using the genuine work, success, and achievements of others and appropriating it to themselves.” I’d like to hear evidence for such a global statement.

Third, I use the terms “best and brightest” in the sense they are used, corporately, in the fields of recruitment and retention, also referred to as “talent management.” For example:  Microsoft’s recruiting statement:  “Microsoft is always on the lookout for the best and brightest talent around the world. People who truly enjoy the challenge of defining the future of technology and making a real impact on the world. And there you are!”

It has been said that there were two people in the old west – the Quick and the Dead. The Quick knew that it came down to not only talent and ideas, but execution. The Dead thought only talent mattered — with predictable results. Maciel was one of the ultra-Quick. (Don't forget academic achievement was not his forte - it's not at all clear how much he actually studied after his teenage years.)

People and their behaviors, integrity, hard work ethic, proactive nature, moxie, and much more either make or break an organization. It’s about all about getting the work done, in good times and bad.  Organizations compete in a knowledge based economy as centers of excellence – without leaving dead bodies at every gun fight. This means they need recruits who are capable of learning to manage a community of people with a common mission willing to routinely operate at levels of peak performance.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don'tTalent must be recruited since it cannot be imparted or acquired after the hire. If an organization wants leaders it needs to hire leaders. If they want managers they need to hire managers. The idea that organizations need to hire the “right” people, is one that Jim Collins stressed in his book “Good to Great”: "People are not your most important asset. The right people are. Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats."

The Legion, for better or worse, has been all about execution. They recruited people to do a specific job – i.e. expand the organization as quickly as possible by enlisting the help of influential people (finance, ecclesiastical, politics) who could bring leaders and resources to the table. In other words, I don’t think Maciel set out to recruit individuals who he thought might, initially, make great contributions to the world of theology, philosophy or psychology. The Legion sought the “best and brightest” for the job at hand.

In terms of raw execution, it is difficult not to admire the expansion the congregation has achieved in a relatively short period of time. Maciel clearly articulated the need to generate critical mass, quickly. After the Congregation was solidly established he envisaged his Legionaries making significant academic contributions. But first, he had to get the Congregation established, approved and with a global presence. This is what he consistently told us.

Now, I don’t want to give you [Frank] the impression that I gave great thought to the “logical implications” of my statement. I didn’t and, yes, I penned my opinion in a hurry when it occurred to me to say something "positive" about the Legion on Holy Thursday morning. Maybe I should nuance what I intended to imply when I referred to the Legion’s record in attracting the “best and the brightest”. 

I was recruited by a Legionary seminarian from Monterrey, Mexico. Take my word for it – he was one of the best and brightest. He later left the Legion - I understand he is now a military chaplain with some elite US unit. He wasn’t the academic “type” but few theologians, philosophers or poets could have achieved what he did, singlehandedly introducing the Legion of Christ to Ireland, while on his “apostolic practices”. Some Irish Bishops to this day dislike the Legion, accusing them of having recruited their "best and brightest vocations" only to lose them later on. They remember our man from Monterrey.

Amongst the first Irish recruits there were guys who placed at the very top of Ireland’s national “leaving certificate” (taken in the last year of high school) examination. Others were accomplished musicians and sportsmen (including nationally ranked track athletes, swimmers, tennis, and golf). In the most common acceptation of the terms, I think they could be classified as being amongst the “best and brightest” Ireland had to offer – at least in terms of potential. However, I repeat, the Legion wanted them for their ability to execute and that’s what they were trained for.

When I went to Salamanca, then Mexico, and later Rome I encountered a host of guys who I would consider to be amongst the best. Several of the LC students in Rome won top honors at the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities. Some of them obtained their doctorates under challenging conditions. I’d rather not mention names (I would be dating myself) but one Mexican Legionary single-handedly “founded” Regnum Christi in Madrid, providing the model for everything that was to follow. Another, one of the first directors of the Instituto Cumbres, was widely regarded as “brilliant” by the high echelons of Mexican society. He was a very shy man who enthralled and educated audiences in the Faith. Others founded new schools, universities, social works and attracted influential leaders world-wide to support their apostolates. The LC is now behind one of the most important charities in Mexico which truly makes a difference in peoples lives.

I shouldn’t exclude so many incredible guys who put their enormous talents to use developing the missions in Quintana Roo. Some of them were sent there because Maciel maybe thought they were “trouble-makers” – but what counts are their generous efforts and their pastoral achievements. A former Legionary (fellow bus-driver in Rome) became a Bishop in Washington, DC in short order after leaving the Legion. He is now the Bishop of Dallas. His brother is a respected Prelate in the Vatican. Other LC (I believe) are involved at high levels in Vatican IT and media.

To conclude, I don’t for a minute believe (as you imply) that “this year’s newly-ordained legion priests are superior to those priests ordained for the dioceses of New York, Arlington (VA), Denver, Wichita (KS), or any other diocese?” Frankly, I don’t know anything about this year’s crop of priests – whether diocesan or Legionary, so I can’t opine.My perception remains that, in general, the Legion (up to now) has been able to attract highly talented young men. They recruited the "best and brightest" for the specific job they wanted to get done. They need men who could execute and implement ventures capable of attracting influential leaders.

In my memoirs of the Legion (Driving Straight on Crooked Lines) I mention that Legionaries (at least in my time) felt “superior”, in some senses, to diocesan priests. In my opinion, this had nothing to do with intellect or academic achievement. It had everything to do with our (perceived) “execution”, zeal, and commitment. We felt we were the elite, Special Forces, ready to go anywhere in the world to do God’s work on a moment’s notice. That was not what diocesan priests signed up for. Many of us had not experienced this level of “zeal” in our contacts with diocesan clergy before joining the Legion or afterwards. Of course we thinking like over-zealous teen-agers – that is the way Maciel trained to perceive ourselves. Put it down to the “exuberance of youth” a trait that became a negative characteristic of some, emotionally immature, Legionaries. I think the recent scandal and the process of the Vatican visitation and reform will change what is left of that mentality in short order. In fact, I don’t see that “superiority complex” anymore but maybe I haven’t had as much exposure to contemporary LC as you have.

So there you have it Frank. I always appreciate your thoughtful and usually conciliatory comments. I submit we may have had different perceptions of the meaning of “best and brightest” and hope the above addresses your concerns.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Comments on the "top ten" list

Anonymous@April 26, 2011 1:21 PM left a comment on my previous posting. Despite the heading "Top 10 Reasons Why Monk’s Praise of the Legion is Premature" I am assuming the comments are well thought out and written with the best of intentions.

Most people who have followed this blog or read my book (Driving Straight on Crooked Lines) know that I do not consistently "praise" the Legion. On Holy Thursday, out of respect for the day and the celebration of Priesthood, I chose to write a list of 10 things I "like" about the Legion. Surely the Legionaries have had their fill of negative comments, over these past two years, many of them well deserved.

By and large, Legionaries are committed, zealous, well-trained young men who left all to follow Christ - not Fr. Maciel. They have happily made great personal sacrifices to abandon careers, marriage, family, and personal wealth to follow the Lord. So many of their avid detractors have not "put their money where their mouth is" as so many of these generous young men have. Hence, I still think it appropriate, to pause, offer them encouragement, and constructive criticism.... at least during the Easter Season.

I appreciate receiving comments on this blog and enjoy reading a larger volume of e-mail from readers who wish to opine. That's why, I am taking the time to comment on the 10-list from Anonymous. The original comments by Anonymous are in black, my remarks are in red. I thank Anonymous, in advance, for taking the time to comment here.

  1. The same group of macielista LCs hold positions of leadership and influence, including Fr Luis Garza, Fr Evaristo Sada, Fr Anthony Bannon, Fr Alvaro Corcuera.
True. As far as I can tell from what I remember of the Constitutions and etc., no changes will happen until the LC holds a scheduled General Chapter. I guess they could also convene an “Extraordinary” General Chapter. This means they need to have new leadership prepared, and capable of being elected (assuming the next Chapter is not “rigged”). They will also need to have finished the comprehensive revision of the Constitutions and other Vatican mandated chores. So, I suggest it’s a waste of energy expecting anything major to happen at least until about 2 years after the end of the Visitation. That’s the way the Vatican cookie crumbles whether we like it or not. Aside: do you honestly think Fr. Alvaro wants or enjoys the job he has? I don’t know the answer – but from what I remember of him, he must absolutely hate the position he is in! I thought Fr. Bannon was out of the hierarchical loop.

2. The good and holy priests existing within the Legion cannot and do not trust their leaders, yet have to live in obedience to these leaders.  

Agreed. That’s what a vow of obedience (in any traditional congregation) means. The “new” leaders will have to earn their trust. All Legionaries need to re-examine and re-learn the concept of trust. (By the way, absence of trust is one of the great flaws in many corporations – it’s not specific just to the Legion.) Maciel, unfortunately, did not foster trust; he actively destroyed the notion. LC who remain (both Superiors and subjects) will have to learn the concept of trust. When they do, so many good things will happen for them.
3. The Legion has barely scratched the surface when it comes to apology and restitution to abuse victims. 

Agreed. I have no idea why they are moving so slowly. My guess is there have to be major financial considerations involved. No doubt there are lawyers advising both the LC and the Vatican. I wish they would have made a humble request for forgiveness. I am pretty confident there is more to this than meets the eye. Maciel's victims are more numerous than those who were abused sexually. I've no doubt the Vatican (despite what anyone says) is calling the shots.

4. The Legion continues to lay all problems, scandal and suffering at the feet of the dead founder, and there is no accountability for harm that has been done by other LCs or the RC movement which has cause deep suffering and loss of faith for many

I think it’s somewhat more nuanced than you state. Honestly, I believe all Legionaries (and RC members) are victims of Maciel’s manipulations, deceit and crimes. Most of them had no intention of being colluders or collaborators in deceit. I have to believe they are all suffering. Very few people had any idea of the “big picture” regarding the founder. He truly was a genius. The names of those who are accountable will become known. I’m not sure what we gain by learning the names immediately. Personally, I have a problem with so many of the founding Legionaries who apparently knew of the abuse but never came forward. They are still mute about the details – maybe they were abused too? Those who eventually came forward to tell us of their abuse did so when many of us had already left and when others became so involved that the accusers did not seem credible.  It's easy (and very naive) to blame the current leadership for everything - but, in my opinion, they too were deceived. Each one in his own measure bought into the pre-existing Maciel myth handed on by their predecessors. 

5. No one has ever come clean regarding the cover up of the founder's double life.

Disagree. The founder’s double life is now a matter of record, acknowledged in LC publications, web-sites, and events. No doubt specific people were aware of certain despicable aspects of the founder’s life. The problem is I think, very few people grasped the “big picture”. So there were lots of “little” cover ups. For instance, Maciel rarely stayed overnight at Legionary houses he visited. People just assumed that he said his prayers when he went to his hotel. (He wasn’t saying prayers in certain hotels…- intelligenti pauca -). Because of the myth, and the cult-control, people chose to look the other way or, better yet, not see what was happening under their noses. I think you have to have lived in a true cult-like environment to understand that. It's not "rational" from the outside. That's the point - no real rationality or critical thinking.
6. The RC consecrated continue to fall under the leadership of the Legion, these holy souls giving their lives to Christ are not yet treated with honesty, in terms of their status n the Church, the quality of their education, health care, and so on (yes, there is an ongoing visitation, which they had to ask for).  

The point is there is an on-going visitation which they “asked for". Yes, the treatment of the 3GFs perturbed many Legionaries, including me. Bottom line, they were kept entirely isolated from most Legionary priests. I’m willing to give the Visitation a chance to right wrongs. I guess that’s the point of the investigation.  If nothing happens, then I’ll be singing a different tune.  The 3GFs are very aware of their “problems”. I suppose it’s reasonable to wait a few months until the reformation process concludes. By the way, in my time Legionaries had no health insurance, hardly ever visited their families, ate donated food (past expiration dates) and in many instances lived in very real poverty. That wasn't the side the 'public" saw. We were ridiculously idealistic, obsessed with being faithful to our "vocation" and I suppose, most Legionaries expected as much from the consecrated RC members.
7. The Legion continues dishonest practices, like inflating numbers (example: 70,000 RCs? Entire sections have been decimated, they should be truthful about the numbers and they are not)   

I don’t have any access to the numbers so I can’t comment, although I don’t trust “the institution” either. Inflated numbers is the least of their problems.

8. The Legion continues to operate Apostolic Schools and to recruit young boys to these schools, despite reams of modern evidence for the value of growing up in a loving family life with a mother and a father in contributing to a healthy development.   

Apostolic Schools were a fixture of Church life long before the Legion came along. They are still very common in the diocesan structure of many countries (Spain is a perfect example.) I don’t agree with them – although to be truthful, I have met many truly excellent priests who started out in Apostolic Schools 

Many of the things we criticize about the Legion are actually more common in religious congregations than many Catholics are aware of. As an aside, the religious congregations of women in the US are undergoing a Vatican visitation. They are none too happy about it and not all are being "cooperative". The LC, at least for now, seem to be more accepting of needed reform.

9. The Legion has still not presented to its members or to RC a frank and factual explanation of the true history of the founder, his depraved double life, and the fictionalized accounts, such as the facts surrounding his death.  

Agreed. The challenge ahead is to separate truth from fiction and not to tell any more lies. I suspect we have yet much to learn about the true dimensions of Maciel’s “double life”.  However, we have enough information to make informed judgments. The Vatican already has. There needs to be a “pastoral” dimension to all of this if only to protect the innocent and abused.  I’m as curious as the next guy, but I’ve already had my quota of sordid details and am in no rush to hear the remainder.
10. The Legion continues to characterize those that leave the Legion as cowards, and those that stay as heroic.

I  have no personal evidence of this in the fairly recent past. In my time those who left were traitors, plain and simple. We were denigrated and calumniated at least by Maciel. Guys I have spoken to who have left (let’s say in the past two years) don’t seem to agree with your characterization and those who stay seem to be able to maintain a certain “friendship” with those who leave. That was a pleasant surprise for me.  The Legion has been extraordinarily short-sighted and callous in its treatment of former Legionaries – especially of those who left the priesthood. 

That said, my take is that not many former Legionaries frequent the few blogs “designed” for former LC/RC.  Maybe I am wrong; but I think there are hundreds, if not thousands, of former LCs who left and went on with their lives. They don’t ventilate on blogs. In some few countries there seem to be robust groups of former LCs who get together with wives and children – some of them support the LC, others don’t. I wish that had been an option in my time.

Just in case you are new to this blog, let me assure you I am not a "supporter" of the Legion; I was totally used by Maciel for the best part of 20 years. When I left, after what most would have considered a "successful" career with the Legion, I asked him for a loan of a few thousand dollars to get started in my lay life. I had no credit, no funds, and I refused to "use" the excellent connections I had made as a Legionary. Maciel declined saying he did not want to set a precedent. That was the last (of very many) "straws" that broke this camel's back. With very minor and trivial exceptions no Legionary has officially reached out to me - no apologies, no thanks, no friendship, and no support. However, the Pope has explicitly declined to shut them down and has facilitated a "mandated" reform. The Legionaries who remain. to collaborate with this mandate, are victims too. That's why I seek to be cautiously constructive.

Thanks, again Anonymous, for your comments.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Beatification of Pope John Paul II and Fr. Marcial Maciel

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul IIGeorge Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His two-volume biography of John Paul II comprises Witness to Hope  and The End and the Beginning. Over time he has been a defender of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, a critic and a proponent of the reform of the congregation and, mostly, a balanced commenter on the role of the Maciel scandal and the place of the Legionaries of Christ in the Church.

He has just made an interesting commentary, in the context of the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II, on the the sordid case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, whom the late Pope supported.

To focus so much attention on Maciel at the time of John Paul II’s beatification, as if his case offered a privileged window into a 26-year pontificate that changed the history of the Church and the world, is rather like obsessing on the disastrous raid on Dieppe and the bombing of Dresden at Winston Churchill’s funeral. It’s grotesquely disproportionate, from any serious historical point of view.

Given this long-standing concern that has surrounded the work of the Legion of Christ, an outsider would be unlikely to share Fr. Gill’s (a former Legionary of Christ priest) assessment that Fr. Maciel has inflicted more damage on the Church’s reputation and evangelizing mission than any other single Church leader. The Legion would have had to be far more successful and far more trusted than it ever was for this to be the case, let alone for an impartial observer to regard the damage as in any sense fatal. 
Again, a little distance is salutary. I am not saying that people were not hurt (though I am remembering as well that a great many were also helped). But with a little distance, we find that the Legion’s power and influence over souls was not as great as Fr. Gill might suggest. The Legion was not everything, nor is its current crisis the end of everything. Unless the Church herself falls, there remains to all of the fallen a source of grace and healing. [emphasis mine]

The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the LegacyJohn Paul II was clearly deceived by Maciel, who was a master deceiver. The relevant questions here, in terms of John Paul II’s beatification and its judgment that he lived a life of heroic virtue, are whether John Paul II’s failure to see through Maciel’s deceptions was willful (i.e., he knew about Maciel’s perfidies and did nothing about the situation), or venal (i.e., he was “bought” by Maciel), or malicious (i.e., he knew that Maciel was a sociopathic fraud and didn’t care). There isn’t a shred of evidence that would sustain a positive answer to any of those questions. To even think that such could be the case is to utterly miss the character of the late pope.

But during the period of the reform effort, we must not lose sight of the fact that many Legion priests and members of Regnum Christi continue to do wonderful work. The way forward will be long and hard, but it is not hopeless. Perhaps, above all, that is what I mean by perspective. Things are never hopeless. Not with Christ. And not in Christ’s Church.

"Things are never hopeless. Not with Christ. And not in Christ’s Church." Sounds to me like a fitting comment for the Easter Season.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

10 Reasons to Like the Legion of Christ

In the Catholic Church, Holy Thursday is the day that commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and ministerial priesthood.

It is an appropriate day to appreciate the work and dedication of all good priests.

Amongst them are a great many priests (and seminarians, future priests) in the Legion of Christ who have helped thousands of people to grow spiritually, learn their faith better, and engage in apostolic work.

I acknowledge that some people who have been hurt by the Legion of Christ are convinced the organization must be destroyed, that it cannot be reformed. I understand their position. However, as we prepare for Easter, I would like to say something that we don’t see often enough (hardly ever!) on blogs dealing with the Legionaries of Christ: reasons to appreciate their good work and achievements.

10 Reasons to Like the Legion of Christ

1.- Professionalism: Legionary priests and seminarians are enthusiastic, well-educated, and disciplined. They take their commitment very seriously.

2.-They attract great vocations: One can complain about the methodology but historically they have had a great ability to attract the best and the brightest.

3.- Appreciation for the Liturgy:  Devout and “professional” celebrations, first-rate Gregorian chant, reverence and respect. No ill fitting vestments for the Legionaries.

4.- Thriving Lay Movement: current membership of Regnum Christi is still claimed to be about 70,000 youths, adults, deacons and priests in more than 30 countries. One outreach program “Missionary Families” has gathered a total of over 200,000 “missionaries” who have visited 9 million families in 12,000 towns and communities in 30 countries, including the United States. Give them their due: the whole notion of “lay movements” is fairly new. The Church is not just for priests anymore.

5.- Evangelization & Missions: They are directly involved in the catechesis and sacramental care of the native Mayan people in the 19,360 square mile missionary territory of Quintana Roo, in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. 28 Mano Amiga schools serve more than 16,000 children underprivileged children in 7 countries. Last year almost 60,000 people benefited from free medical care from quality doctors and nurses, including a team of 200 medical missionaries who offered their care free of charge. The priests I’ve known in Quintana Roo are superb missionaries, most of them doing their very best despite the scandal. 

6.- Communications: Excellent publications such as “Sacerdos Magazine,” the “Ecclesia” scholarly journal, the electronic newsletter, “e-Priest,” and an abundance of professionally managed websites in multiple languages. 

7.- Education: They have an excellent, international system of schools and universities. They focus on three objectives: Teaching cultural and scientific knowledge, Educating sensitivity and human faculties, Forming the knowledge and practice of their Christian faith.

8.- Loyalty to the Pope: this key attribute is built into their DNA. Hopefully, it will be the feature that ultimately enables total reform of the congregation.

9.- Efficient Fundraisers: like it or not, religious congregations have to raise funds. They have had extraordinary success even when one discounts the financial abuses of the founder

10.- Youth Outreach: despite excesses in recruitment, the Legionaries are outstanding in their efforts to effectively reach out and offer attractive programs for young people - in a field where the Church has been losing ground.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"I Err, therefore I AM" Thought provoking lecture for people with strong opinions about the Legionaries of Christ

Readers of this blog know that I am a fan of
They also know that we are approaching the half-way point of Holy Week.

Those who follow the saga of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ know that there are a host of fiercely held positions about the disgraced Founder and the future of the Congregation. Some believe and hope that reform is possible, others want to see the Legionaries suppressed. Others find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the scandal. Others criticize the Vatican and condemn Pope John Paul II because he supported Fr. Maciel.

Those good men who remain in the Legion, collaborating with the Vatican, trying to discern and be faithful to their calling do so in the sight of highly opinionated onlookers. Most of the onlookers, especially those who frequent blogs about the Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi, believe they hold the correct, rational position. Indeed they assume that those who do not agree with their carefully thought out positions are ignorant, stupid or evil.

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of ErrorKathryn Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker with a credible (if not necessarily enviable) claim to being the world's leading wrongologist. Her freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, TIME Magazine, the Boston Globe, the "Freakonomics" blog of The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. She is the former editor of the online environmental magazine Grist, and a former reporter and editor for The Santiago Times, of Santiago, Chile, where she covered environmental, labor, and human rights issues. She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East. A graduate of Brown University and a former Ohioan, Oregonian and Brooklynite, she currently lives in New York's Hudson Valley.

Karen just recent spoke, at TED, about "Being Wrong."  The video lasts 17 minutes and fifty two seconds.

If you have strong opinions about the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Maciel, and the Vatican, you owe it to yourself to spend 17 minutes listening to Karen. If you are a Legionary, or you are related to a Legionary, you should find some solace in her words. You may find yourself revisiting the notion of "God writes straight on crooked lines". No matter your opinion, Holy Week is a good time to ponder the words of St. Augustine, "I err, therefore I am".

Here is the link to TED: Kathryn Schultz: "On Being Wrong".

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ (5): Acknowledge the crimes

On May 1, 2010 the Vatican issued a statement condemning Maciel as "immoral" and acknowledging that Maciel had committed "true crimes" and that he had led a "life deprived of scruples and authentic religious feeling."  The Vatican statement was remarkable in its tough denunciation of Maciel's crimes and deception.

I am still cautiously optimistic that the Legion of Christ can be reformed and that it still provided great service to the Church.

However, I want to know that every single Legionary of Christ is willing to unambiguously acknowledge the crimes, deformation and bad example of the Founder.

Admittedly, I have only one case to cite where a Legionary priest of my generation sought to explain to me that “the Vatican’s condemnation of Fr. Maciel did not come directly from Benedict XVI and that it was “manipulated” by enemies of Fr. Maciel.”   This is one case too much

In general, Legionaries as a corporate entity have managed to convey the impression that they do not fully grasp the magnitude of the harm caused to the Church and to countless individuals, by the Founder.  In part this is the result of deficient public relations, a tardy realization of the notion of transparency, the apparent lack of decisive leadership by the Vatican delegate, and the deluge of news about priestly pedophilia.

As a result of reading my autobiography about my life as a Legionary, many former colleagues have written to me, clearly repudiating the behavior of their founder. On an individual level, I am sure most Legionaries now do. Organizationally, there is no room for leeway here. Any Legionary who wishes to be part of the future of the Congregation needs to be extremely clear in his total personal acceptance of the Vatican pronouncement.

Hence, I think it is important that every Legionary and every member of Regnum Christi must be able to articulate “the very grave and objectively immoral actions of the founder which have left deep wounds” include.
  • Sexually abusing dozens of teenagers, their religious vocation, human dignity and freedom.
  • Gave sacramental absolution to some of these children, thereby also corrupting their conscience.
  • Fathered more than one child with more than one woman
  • Diverted large sums of money from legitimate charitable donations, using them to finance unholy aspects of his personal lifestyle.
  • Deceived the people of God, the Legionaries, many bishops and cardinals and the Vatican by distorting the truth and manipulating people and institutions for his own purposes.
  • Tainting thousands of Legionaries, Regnum Christi members, benefactors and the Church in general by introducing dysfunctional, cult-like elements into his formation methodology, including an unhealthy understanding of the vow of obedience, suppression of critical thinking, fostering emotional immaturity amongst his followers, introducing Private Vows (now suppressed), draconian prohibitions with regard to Legionaries contact with their families, exaggerated focus on recruitment methodology to the detriment of healthy spiritual life, promotion of an elitist mentality, and the callous abandonment of  so many former Legionaries whom he routinely branded as traitors and to whom he (and the Legion, as an institution) offered no pastoral care.
  • His organization, to date, at least according to those who have made their claims public, has not adequately and charitably dealt with the victims of Fr. Maciel’s sexual abuse including monetary compensation and public apology
  • It is (now) impossible to believe that Fr. Maciel did not have accomplices within the Congregation. This must be publicly acknowledged. I can well understand that few knew the “whole story” and how everyone who came into close contact with the founder was adroitly manipulated. It’s not so much a question of “naming names” as it is of acknowledging that he could not have behaved to the extent he did without internal colluders.
I know, from personal experience, that what I am suggesting is not easy for those (I include myself) who personally knew, collaborated with, and thought they enjoyed the special favor of the Founder. The wounds are still extremely raw. It is never easy to denounce the sins of “a beloved father.” Time – and perhaps therapy for some - will heal those wounds.

Wearing my “management consulting hat” (aware the Legion cannot be treated as just another management challenge) I would suggest, in order to give credence to the acknowledgment of Maciel’s crimes, Legionary superiors and their spokespersons stop using the unctuous, manipulative, pseudo spiritual language they inherited from Maciel such as “I write this to you in the presence of the Eucharistic Jesus,” or “as we contemplate these ineffable mysteries… accepting the part Christ wants to assign to us….because we too are co-protagonists….this is how I present to you…”

There are many good people still willing to support those good Legionaries who generously gave their lives to Christ. The Church more than ever needs good priests, priests willing and able to engage in contemporary society. That's the sort of priesthood most Legionaries intended to live. The Vatican has indicated its desire, including support, that the Legion reform and thrive.  Now, in American parlance, it’s time for the Legionaries to “get real,” say what they mean and mean what they say and boldly take the next steps to re-articulate and live their Charism – this is their most urgent mission as “co-founders.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ (4): Team Discussion: video recap.

In this little "series" about looking at the LC's challenges through the eyes of a management consultant, it's time to take a little break.

Let's engage for seven minutes and twenty seconds  in a light-hearted team-discussion activity.  Wait for a quiet moment and then watch this video. 
  • Does it recap what we have been talking about? 
  • Can we apply any of the "messages" to the current situation? 
  • More than 7,000,000 people have enjoyed it on YouTube so, at the very least, it can serve as a bit of a "reality check." Is this how "normal" people think?
  • Enjoy thinking with your emotions (for a change!)
  • The narration is in English with Spanish sub-titles. 
  • The message is sage and uplifting - at week's end a little optimistic advice may do us the world of good. See it through to the end...  you'll enjoy it. 
  • Discuss amongst yourselves!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ (3): Recruitment and Retention

Recruitment and retention

Most companies today are faced with the dual challenges of recruiting the best and the brightest and with developing and retaining the recruits. Fr. Maciel understood this "human capital" imperative very well. However, I don’t think anyone would now challenge that the methods he used to achieve those two objectives infringed upon Legionaries fundamental right to freedom and personal choice. I think it’s fair to say that early recruitment and retention could be characterized by the sign Dante would have posted at the gates of Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter in” (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate).  My personal experience with the Legion's "recruitment and retention methodology" is sufficiently documented in my autobiography “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines.”

The Legion's approach to the recruitment of new members and - even more so - the methodology used to retain those recruits has worked incredibly well. It has also seriously hurt and damaged hundreds, perhaps thousands, of good young men. I think most Legionaries are aware, by now, that it the methodology is seriously flawed. It will require a massive shift in the corporate mindset to disassociate "retention at all costs" from the organization's ethos and objectives.


In terms of recruitment, Fr. Maciel stressed the need to attract “leaders.”  By example and constant admonition, he showed us what he meant by “leaders.”  Unfortunately, he over-emphasized non-essential qualities like power, wealth, good looks, skin-color, education, and personality. By so doing, he distanced himself in many aspects from the criteria of the Jesus Christ he claimed to serve. No doubt many of his early followers were recruited so that he could train them to be "mini-Maciels," or, at least, the image he had formulated of the perfect “physiognomy” of Christ.  If the Legion’s recruitment criteria have not already been revised, it is something that needs urgent attention. The "conquering mindset" Maciel inculcated into Legionary thinking will take longer to eradicate.


Retention of his recruits is where Fr. Maciel made some of his most egregious mistakes, utilizing methodologies that are in total contrast with contemporary Catholic practices.  Intentionally or not, his methods resulted in the creation of a cult (cleverly disguised as a fervent, orthodox, religious congregation) within the Church.

Because of the serious moral aberrations mixed into these retention policies, there is no place, or need, for such draconian methods in a "re-branded" Legion. The whole process of “vocational discernment” needs to be urgently revised. My guess is that in order to quickly and effectively reform the process, the congregation needs the input of respected Catholic experts – many of whom are to be found in the ranks of the diocesan clergy. Renewal will require a different, psychologically healthy, understanding of the vow of obedience. Legionary obedience will be the subject of a separate commentary.

Some changes have been made

Some helpful changes have already been implemented – such as the elimination of the private vows ("never to criticize a superior or to seek office for oneself [or others] within the Congregation.") It seems that Legionaries now have substantially more access to their families that I could have envisaged in my wildest dreams, back when I was a member. I am pleasantly surprised with the volume of Legionaries participating in social media such as Facebook. All of these are steps in the right direction. Others may have been taken that I am unaware of.


There are other, subtle forms of “retention” that need to be urgently addressed. For example, Legionaries need to be very aware of what educated people consider to be “cult-like” behavior in order to eliminate anything that smacks of such behavior. I believe many Legionaries have taken too long to understand what their critics mean when they accuse them of “being cult-like.”  They are well-trained and have an ingrained mindset to dismiss and refute such accusations without really understanding them.

Another cult-like trait that needs to be eliminated is the feeling of “superiority” and “pride” which Fr. Maciel instilled in his troops. Recent events may have helped deprive them of that erroneous notion, but the sooner Legionaries realize that they labor in the same vineyard as the rest of the Church’s ministers, the better. This means far more genuine collaboration, submission and camaraderie with their brother priests and religious from different congregations. The latter won’t be easy because of the reputation which precedes them.

Spiritual Exercises

Another retention technique needs serious and urgent revision: the annual “Spiritual Exercises” which have been nominally based on the methodology of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. 

I hated doing those spiritual exercises in the Legion style, with their sick focus on sin, and the eternal consequences of “infidelity” to the “vocation” decided by God for us, for all eternity.  As with other topics, I have been quite amazed at the number of former Legionaries who share my disgust with Maciel's approach to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola – it turns out that one of my former colleagues who was a highly regarded “preacher’ of such retreats, hated them even more than I did! Memories of my "spiritual exercise", a week long retreat undertaken usually during Holy Week, have forever contaminated my experience of what should be a joyful Easter season.  It’s beyond my purview to suggest how authentic Ignatian spiritual exercises should be delivered, but the “old” way that I experienced was counterproductive, unhelpful and dysfunctional. Maybe some Jesuit experts could be persuaded to collaborate on the development of a more healthy approach for the Legionaries.

Confession, Spiritual Direction and Governance

I suspect changes have already been made to separate the functions of superiors, confessors and spiritual directors. This is an area of vital importance and in need of scrupulous vigilance. It includes a rigorous revision of internal reporting requirements which in recent practice would seem to have been unethical, unnecessary and in violation of all sorts of sacramental and professional confidentiality.

Time for genuine "team-building"

This list of issues to be addressed, could go on for ever. The best way to address them is probably one at a time.

In order to be productive and effective, my guess is that Legionaries will need to take a lot of time away from their habitual “apostolates” – especially from their recruiting activities. I suspect they need to dedicate themselves to some serious, genuine, internal team-building.  I’ll mention this in a separate post – but I believe that at the root of many issues which make life difficult for Legionaries is the capital issue of trust.

When I was a member, no Legionary would dare question that we all, implicitly, trusted each other. We “trusted” the Pope, our “superiors” and our “brothers.” The truth is, we trusted no one because we were explicitly trained not to trust anyone other than our Legionary superiors. And we didn’t know it.  Maciel did a magnificent job of destroying trust, thereby destroying the foundation of community life not to mention “normal” psychological behavior.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ (2): "charism."


From the (admittedly artificial) perspective of a business consultant, in a sense it defies reason that the "charism" (vision, strategy, objectives) of the Congregation must come exclusively from the now disgraced founder, Fr. Maciel. I would suggest that many of his first followers and those of us who worked with him when he was starting his first schools and universities, helped contribute to the charism. 

The founder, Maciel certainly launched his "vision" and then a lot of people helped to make it happen. Thanks to his forceful leadership, it was not easy to adjust his “foundational” strategy. It was simpler to obtain minor tactical adjustments – like the evolution of dress codes or the introduction of mixed kindergarten schools. The latter, I felt at the time, was one of my major achievements while working at the Irish Institute. He actually gave me "permission" to open a mixed kindergarten at the Irish Institute in Mexico City - while he told me that if I were to be challenged by my superiors, he would deny giving me permission!

If there is strategic and theological space for the influence of the co-founders and now the "survivors" (those who have remained in the Legion after the death of the founder, collaborating with the Vatican representative) to contribute and refine the implementation of the original vision of the founder, then the “charism” can legitimately be refined.
Companies habitually need to adopt new strategic directions, including changes in leadership, operational structures, and objectives to adjust to dynamic competitive environments. Organizationally, I don’t see why the re-formed vision, mission and objectives that emerge from the next General Chapter, under the guidance of the Pope's representatives, should not be construed as the Church sanctioned “charism” of the Legionaries of Christ. This is the re-branding I mentioned earlier, involving not just changing the “image” of the congregation but rather the total overhaul of its "charism": goals, message, and culture.

Even when love shrinks, God wants you happy.

Today, I saw "plugs" for two new books, both on the same channel (Fox News.)

Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor's DivorceThe first is called "Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor's Divorce" by Sharyn Wolf. The author is a New York State–licensed psychotherapist who has worked with couples for twenty years.  She has been a frequent media commentator on celebrity marriage and divorce most notably as an eight time guest on the Oprah show. While she talk about her nationally bestselling books that instructed millions on how to flirt, find mates, and "stay lovers for life," she was going home every night to a dark secret: a totally failed marriage of her own to a good man she just couldn't leave.


God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God's HelpThe second book is "God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God's Help" by former Legionary of Christ priest, Fr. Jonathan Morris. Morris argues that self-help can only take you so far; what we need is God-help. His new book offers a life-long spiritual program that teaches how to open oneself up to God's loving presence in order to become everything He created you to be—joyful, flourishing men and women. In other words, God wants you to be happy.  

Fr. Jonathan's book has nice endorsements from Fox celebrities Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Fr. James Martin S.J, (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything), Keith Ablow M.D (The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life ) and pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, also endorse the book.

Both books are written by people who, not too many years ago, did not fully understand their circumstances. Wolf explains how it is possible for two good people to make each other totally miserable and yet still be unable to leave. In fifteen years of marriage, she and her husband had sex three times.  She analyzes her relationship and a marriage that was on its last legs as she dispensed advice to others. Fr. Morris, meanwhile, recalls his time in the Legion of Christ, "I cannot tell this story without being overwhelmed by grief. Had I known as an idealistic young man of twenty-one that saying yes to God would mean to follow in the footsteps of a man [Marcial Maciel, disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ] some psychologists would later call a psychopath or sociopath.… I would instead have chosen suburbia and a white picket fence."

As I heard the "plug" for the Morris book, I thought of my own time serving as a Legionary. I recalled how I only learned how unhappy I had really been when I left the congregation. This sense of not knowing, at the time, how unhappy one truly is, seems to be a common theme in conversations with former Legionaries. Later, when I was employed at a large, regional outplacement firm, I often heard similar comments from executives who were "let go" from prestigious companies. Once they landed a new position, they couldn't believe how unhappy they had been with their prior employer.

The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary SocietyI suppose I see a parallel in both books because the authors have had to walk a mile on "the unhappy side", one in her marriage, the other in his formation and early priesthood. The fact that both are willing to mention their respective troubles lends credence to their positions. 

Suffering presents a challenge that reminds us of our own mortality, weakness, and powerlessness. That's how I think we those who have suffered in some way can give the rest of us strength. I've always loved Henri Nouwen's paradox of the "Wounded Healer," a book from which I drew much inspiration during my time as a Legionary in Rye, New York.

Father Morris's book is not about Maciel, nor the Legionaries of Christ. But I am glad that he does not gloss over his experience without mentioning his time in the Congregation. I trust that mature reflection on that experience will have helped him delve deeper into the notion of evangelical happiness which is rooted in the virtue of Hope.

Despite the fact that Sharyn Wolf was a national bestselling self-help author, her husband couldn't bring himself to read a single one of her books. Communication between them  failed utterly. Yet through it all, they stay together—even though neither on
e knows why. Sharyn and husband have more in common with some Legionaries of Christ than either of them suspect!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ (1)


Using terms from the world of corporate marketing, I would suggest that the Legion of Christ is ready for a “re-branding.” The reason for establishing a “brand” is to not only tell “clients” who you are (and what you do) but to understand and address the needs of your audience. If your brand does not “address” client needs, then your “brand” is merely touting your own horn.

The name of a religious congregation and/or lay movement is its “public face.” Revamping that image is a delicate task. Marketing “gurus” tell me that a successful re-branding involves not just changing a name or a logo but rather the total overhaul of a company's goals, message, and culture.

I think it’s fair to say that currently the Legion of Christ is certainly undergoing a total overhaul under the direction of the Vatican representatives appointed to do just that after the shocking revelations about the crimes of the congregation’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, became public.

The name “Legion of Christ” was not the first one chosen by Maciel for his new congregation. The original name was “Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Sorrows.” He soon changed the name to “Legionaries of Christ.” One version for the name change was that Pope Pius XII used the phrase "Sicut acies castrorum ordinata" (Like an army in battle array) addressing a group of the first “missionaries.” I remember Maciel telling us that he liked the connection between the new name, the “militant” spirit of his congregation, and the legions of the Roman Empire.  On the other hand, I suspect his choice of name had to be greatly influenced by his first-hand experience of the Cristero war in his native Mexico and perhaps also by the pro-Franco atmosphere in Spain and the romanticized notions of “foreign legions.”

Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that as a desirable outcome from the Vatican directed overhaul would be that the Legionaries conserve and rediscover their foundational “charism.” In his May 1st Vatican Communiqué, the Holy Father spoke of “the need to redefine the charism of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ”. He didn’t say the Legion has no charism at all, or that its charism is somehow up for grabs. Rather, right then and there he put his finger on the heart of the Legion’s charism by identifying its “true core, that of the ‘militia Christi’ that characterizes the apostolic and missionary activity of the Church.”

However, I think the name “Legion of Christ” has become problematic in the sense that the “Militancy” to which it originally referred has been corrupted by an excessive focus on recruitment, retention of vocations at all costs and an unhealthy understanding of the requirements of the vow of obedience taken by all Legionaries.  The name of the lay movement closely associated with the Legion is “Regnum Christi.” It seems to me that might be a better “brand name” in the sense that the “Kingdom of Christ” denotes men and women working together as “pilgrims returning to the home of the Father.”

Just as the name for the lay movement “Opus Dei” became the “brand name” for the “priests of the Holy Cross” I think “Regnum Christi is a good alternative for the Legionaries. If need be, the group of priests, now know as the Legionaries, could revert to their original title of “Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Re-branding a company, and I suspect, a religious congregation no matter what new name is chosen, involves the following steps. To a greater or lesser degree, ALL members of the congregation need to be involved in this effort. Ultimately, the new “brand” cannot be dictated from the top. In the case of the Legionaries there is an urgent need for fresh thinking and input from the younger priests who were less directly exposed, personally, to the dysfunctional side of the  founder.

  1. Define the Core Identity (charism). This is the central, timeless essence of the congregation that is unlikely to change as it adjusts to new conditions of time and place.
  2. Re-examine the Extended Identity. These are the meaningful associations that the congregation intends the name to be connected with. To do this, the Legionaries need to understand both their “internal” and “external” audiences and tell them the most important things they need to know about the congregation. I think many individual Legionaries and supporters, not to mention the Superiors, have much work to do on this point.
  3. Brand Statement. This tells stakeholders what they should they should expect from all interactions with the congregation's priests, consecrated lay people, and their “services”.  It is a statement of what they are committed to doing and being.
  4. Positioning.  Most powerful brands serve to provide a “positioning statement”. This implies an indication of key messages, explaining "who" the congregation is and what it does. In the corporate world, we usually try to encapsulate this message in an “elevator speech” that everyone, from the Director General to the newest novice can articulate. A long time ago, while stationed in New York, I was sent back to Rome to deliver a course to the seminarians. I remember causing a lot of consternation when I asked the young men to tell me, in the form of an elevator speech, the fundamental purpose of the Legion. None of them could tell me what it was in the 15 second format of an "elevator speech." I would demand better results after the re-branding!
  5. Shared “Personality”. If the congregation and/or lay movement were a person, what adjectives would you use to describe him or her?  Compassionate? Honest? Intelligent? Sincere? Authentic? Creative? Understanding? Emotionally intelligent? Militant? This last point, I think, could help generate some great common sense discussions and eventual buy-in to the new “brand” amongst Legionaries and Regnum Christi members. I know it sounds trite.... but it would be a powerful exercise.
Changing the name is but a first step in the process of the total overhaul of the Legion’s goals, message, and culture.  The president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Austin Ruse, addressing the "thousands of the faithful of the Legion and Regnum Christi who are hurting today," wrote, "Remember the good and holy priests and all the members of the movement who are the charism. Ignore the idle chatter. Hew close to the charism. Either it is false and will die, or it is true and will be your guide to Heaven." That still seems like good advice. Or, as a former Legionary Fr. Thomas Berg stated, “Remember that in many ways, the spirit and charism we have lived is Pauline.” That, Pauline spirit is what I think Maciel was thinking of when he named his congregation the Legion of Christ.

As Legionaries look to redefine their brand, they would do well to heed some other words written by Fr. Berg: “I understand your feelings of betrayal….I can say before God, in spite of my many human frailties, I have been faithful….I have also, more than many of you to be honest, gone out on limb after limb, trying to defend Maciel. I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary. You feel betrayed? You feel rage? I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days (the hardest days of my entire life, emotions like I have never experienced) are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. “  These words express the raw human emotions that Legionaries must revisit as they work through their reform.


Monday, April 4, 2011

"I was blind but now I see" A consulting approach to reforming the Legionaries of Christ

Readers who have ever watched the adventures of "Thomas and Friends" - a TV series for children - may remember that the star of the show, Thomas the Tank Engine, often has "an idea fly into his funnel." Over the past couple of weeks, I've had some thoughtful communications from friends who once were my colleagues in the Legion of Christ. Hearing from men I have not been in  touch with for 30 years certainly caused a lot of ideas to "fly into my funnel."

Yesterday was the Fourth Sunday in Lent in the Roman Catholic liturgical cycle. As I listened to the biblical and New Testament readings I hoped to garner some nuggets of inspiration to get me through the week. The priest delivered a fairly good homily - but, as is too often the case (in my view), he ended up condemning "the world" and the "unhealthy" culture we live in without giving a contrasting optimistic and encouraging message - a message that might help me get through the ups and downs of daily living. For instance, granted the biblical themes, I couldn't figure why - once again - he did not speak of the positive effects religion can have on our lives. It seemed to me, for instance, that the reading from the Gospel of John, about an early memory of a cure by Jesus, offered an opportunity for some extended teaching on "conversion" and its positive mental and spiritual consequences.

The first reading from the book of Samuel said: "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart."  That got my attention!  Then, from Paul to the Ephesians: "Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth." Finally, from the Gospel of John, the following phrases dove directly into "my funnel": "As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."

As I tried to concentrate on the readings, I found myself thinking of the aforementioned former-Legionary friends. Like them, and most other former Legionaries that I know personally, a common thread seems to be that we describe our religion as being more "spiritual" than in days of yore. Less reliant on the external trappings - the Institution - of the Church and the dictates of the hierarchy. The specific men I refer to above greatly impressed me with their easy familiarity with the Scriptures, with their solid knowledge of philosophy and theology and their lack of "bitterness" when speaking of the many years spent as Legionaries of Christ.

Conversing with them was good for my soul. I hope it was good for them too.These men epitomized much of my experience of the Legion before the founder's crimes forever sullied the waters for all of us. I regard them as good, kind, compassionate, talented, and gentle men. I am proud to call them friends. At Mass, I reminisced about our conversations and wondered how men like us allowed the Legion to become so focused on results and our own "integration" to alienate us from the spirituality that we re-discovered after leaving the Legion.

Less all this sound excessively pious, let me say that I also found myself "distracted" with thoughts of an upcoming consulting project during which I will be working with a corporate high-level multicultural team. My task will be to leverage the strength of their diversity, enabling them find common purpose and shared values to help them come together as a high-performing team. This is what I do for a living. I wondered, what would I suggest if the Legion of Christ were to hire me as a "consultant" to help them address their efforts at renewal?

Like some of my readers - and very many former Legionaries and current blog-reading members of Regnum Christi - I find little solace, help, or compassion in some blogs, both in English and Spanish, that profess "to foster love for Christ, while analyzing the place of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi in the Church." Beyond providing a forum for venting and nitpicking pretty much every move made by the Vatican in its effort to reform the Legion, I don't see much effort to offer constructive criticism or to support well intentioned Legionaries and RC members who wish to conform to the expressed desires of the Holy Father with regard to the Legion. It seems to me that enough dirty linen has been dragged out and displayed in the public forum - I don't think there is much more to be learned that will change our opinion of the reforms that are clearly needed and which are, apparently, already underway. I do think there is room for constructive input.

So, in the spirit of the liturgical season, as the Church prepares for Easter, I'd like to dedicate the next several posts to what I, wearing my "international management consultant" hat, would suggest to the Legionaries of Christ if they ever solicited my opinion. The Legionaries have had to swallow - some of them still gagging -  bitter medicine. I would like to offer positive, measurable steps they might implement on a personal and organizational level in order to complement the efforts already under way in order to achieve the stated goals of the Holy Father. I sincerely welcome comments from readers who might want to contribute their thoughts to this endeavor. It's so easy to tear things down - the real challenge is the rebuilding and remediation of an organization that affects, and has affected, the lives of so many people. From the outside, looking in, after years of separation, we might be ab;e tp offer some helpful suggestions.

Getting back to the Sunday reading, the Pharisees in the Gospel story "a second time called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He [the blind man] replied, “If he [Jesus] is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” Those of us who have had the experience of living many years within the Legion and Regnum Christi organizations and who can relate to the blind man's exclamation, "I once was blind, but now I see" have much to contribute. It will be up to the Legionaries to choose to hear, and act, upon our thoughts. As I have learned in my work with leaders and teams, leaders emerge to deal with problems. I don't know who the new leaders will be - but I am sure some of them are already listening.

To be continued!

PS - I did write an article on "The Story behind the story: Lessons in Leadership" based on the events described in the book "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines."  It received good comments from fellow management consultants. Click on the link to the title of the article if you would like to read the PDF file.