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.



poman said...

A very interesting post. While I agree in general with the idea of rebranding, I have 2 thoughts:

1. Renaming the Legion and/or RC would most likely be construed by many of the harsher critics as an attempt to hide the true identity, even if this is not the intention. Since there is a general premise among some of the critics that every action of LC/RC is borne of maliciousness/secrecy, this would further enforce that idea. This cannot be the main reason not to rename, but certainly must be a consideration.

2. In relation to point #1, perhaps bearing the "sullied" name of LC/RC would be a necessary "scarlet letter" for us members to bear, a constant reminder to assess all we do in the light of Christ, to ensure our motives are pure, etc. Hard to live with, true, but might bear more fruit in the end. Perhaps.

That being said, rebranding and renaming are valid considerations that I hope are visited. As you well know, what works in the corporate world doesn't always match God's modus operandi. Ultimately I trust in God's provision in guiding the Church in this area.

The Monk said...

Thanks Poman. As a former Legionary, I completely understand how hard it could be to abandon the "Legion" title.

As a consultant, I certainly think it is something to be explored. As I said, I think the "Legion of Christ" name, both in English and Spanish, evokes too many of the less desirable aspects that have become associated with the Congregation. It certainly captures the "conquering" aspect of the Founder's original slogan - but I think it almost excludes the second term "contemplative." ("Contemplativo y conquistador.) Later on, I'd like to address whatever happened to "contemplative" in the evolution of the congregation's spirit. I think it will be a very important concept for the "re-branding."

I completely agree that the notion of "re-branding" smacks totally of the corporate world. However, I think it's still a useful notion in the sense that the Vatican seems to want the Legionaries to engage in "the total overhaul of the [company's] goals, message, and culture."

The task of "re-branding" (whether or not it involves a name change) is up to the Legion and RC members and they should look to what stakeholders and constituents "want." At this stage, the "critics" will never be satisfied (positions have become entrenched) so I wouldn't give them undue consideration in the process.

Viewing what needs to be done from the "consultant" perspective seems to me to be a good (and novel) idea. I hope you agree!

poman said...

I agree that we need to look at it in this way, as you proposed. My comments were not intended to convey any disapproval with the idea. It would be easier, from a human standpoint, to change the name and try to shed the past. But sometimes there is some spiritual penance to be had in maintaining the name, and all the baggage that comes with it. I don't know what is the better option (in light of eternity), but I do know the name change would be easier in many ways.

Adrian said...

A simple syllogism....
The LC/RC charisma comes from Maciel
Maciel was devoid of any true religious sentiment
Therefore the charisma of LC/RC is devoid of any true religious sentiment.

Your idea of re-branding is essential under the present efforts to ring-fence the assets of the organisations, but still leaves the legacy of a questionable founder, hence a weak and dubious foundation.
Re-brand , but a new organisation build by the survivors of the whole sorry mess

The Monk said...

Adrian, I agree with the syllogism (memories of Fr. Morandini S.J. who tried to teach me logic at the Gregorian way back when!) However, in a sense it defies reason that the famous "charism" has to come exclusively from the founder. I suppose those of us who were around close to the foundation helped contribute to the charism. MM certainly launched his "vision" and then a lot of people helped to make it happen... hopefully in ways that are tactically different from what MM wanted.

I know I'm probably close to splitting hairs here. However, if the "charism" comes exclusively from MM then indeed there is a "problem." On the other hand, if there is theological space for co-founders (and, later, "survivors:" as you call them) to contribute and refine the implementation of the original vision of the founder, then maybe something good can eventually come from the whole sorry mess.

I'm thinking, for instance, of the Nokia company. They began as a paper mill on the banks of the Nokianvirta river. Later they morphed into a major industrial force thanks to a merger with a cable company and a rubber firm to set the new Nokia Corporation on the path to electronics. Companies sometimes adopt new strategic directions, including changes in leadership and operational structures to adjust to dynamic competitive environments. Can a religious congregation do this?

Thomas J. Hennigan said...

I guess the idea of rebranding has some value, but one of the problems is that the Legion seems to operate in part like a business. which is not exactly what a religious community should be stressing. It seems to me that what could be rescued from the wreckage of Maciel's poisoned inheritance is the idea of being missionaries and in some way militant, perhaps following the pauline metaphors. However, the military metaphor is not adecuate for a religous community. In fact, much of the discipline imposed on us in the Legion was copied from military academies. Obviously some form of discipline and obedience are essential. Emphasis should be placed on dialogue, as Pope Paul VI wrote that "dialogue is the way of the Church".
As for the idea that the members are the one who need to get involved and discern, that is obviosly correct, but at present probably almost impossible to achieve. This is apparently what the Papal Delegate wants, but is seems that the same superiors using the methods they learned from their master are making it very dificult. Recently they have dispersed several professors of the Regina Apostolorum, one of them ending up in Oslo. No dialogue is posisble when those in charge want to impose their views on the younger members and exile those who don't agree with them. One wonders what the Delegate is doing about this. Apparently nothing, as he admitted that he hasn't even read the correspondence sent him by the members. That is not surprising as he still holds other jobs in the Vatican.
It seems that when the Delegate was appointed the superiors did show some signs of movement towards real change, but now that they have used the usual "love bombing" tactics on him, like a trip to the Holy Land accompanied by Álvaro Corcuera, help to publish one of his book in Spanish, they know that he is not about to make radical moves. The younger members are simply incapable of any such discernment and only think of doing what the superiors tell them.

The Delegate would need to live in Legion houses, get the know as many of the members as as possible, listen to all sides, seek out and promote alternative leadership, but he is doing none of this. In my estimation, unless he radically changes his approach or some other person is appointed in his place, the problem will be falsely closed and there will only be a partial reform. He is also not familiar with the Mexican way of doing things, and this would be an essential factor to understand how the Legion operates. I don't envy his task. He is over 75 and probably deserves a decent retirement after his service to the Church in the field of Canon Law and Vatican bureaucracy. Someone younger and more hands on is needed.

As regards charisms, it is a matter of a foundational charism. Yes, it is not only a matter of the founder, as was the case with St. Ignatius, who had seven other "companions". The charism should be specific and defineable, but in the case of the Legion, that is not the csse. However, I agree that some core idea such as what I have mentioned above should be sufficient to work on and make more specific.