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.

1 comment:

Frank I said...

Jack -

Nothing earth shattering to say here. Just wanted you to know that I find your insights helpful and valuable.