Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Juan Pedro Oriol publicly announces his decision to leave the Legionaries of Christ

Fr. Juan Pedro Oriol is a well-known and highly regarded priest in the Legionaries of Christ. It seems that his brothers Santiago, Ignacio and Alfonso, also priests in the Legion of Christ, have abandoned the Congregation or are in the "process" of leaving. Santiago made a public announcement about his own departure. Juan Pablo, likewise has just communicated his decision publicly in a letter to a major Mexican newspaper where he has been a frequent contributor. The Oriol brothers are from a well known Spanish family; their public departures from the beleaguered Legionaries is not without significant public relations consequences for the Order. Malen their sister still remains a senior member of the Regnum Christi lay movement.

Juan Pedro is a well liked priest who has had great success in the recruitment of new Legionaries in Mexico. He says he will continue as a priest, working in the diocese of Guadalajara, Mexico.

The departure of these high profile Legionaries is significant. Like so many of their peers they were clearly upset when the awful revelations about the Legion's founder came to light. It seems they struggled to find meaning in the scandal and that they tried to help reform the Congregation. However, the reasons given for their decision to leave relate to their dissatisfaction with the process of reform and to the lack of transparency of the Apostolic Delegate Cardinal Velasio de Paolis and Legionary leadership. This is not a good sign.

Comments I have heard and internal documents that I have seen support the perception that Cardinal De Paolis and the Legionary superiors are moving far too slowly and indecisively in the face of the magnitude of the scandal.  I understand that the Vatican moves slowly and that the Legion must convoke a General Chapter in order to institute the reforms Pope Benedict has asked for. However, the powers that be are feeding the fires of speculation that it is "business as usual" in Rome; the "old boys network" continues to call the shots.

I support those Legionaries who chose to remain and implement reform. And I wish those who choose to leave every success. Time will tell how effectively former Legionary priests will transition to diocesan life if they choose that route. Based on my personal experience of Legionary formation and mindset I am not at all optimistic. No doubt some will transition nicely and the Church will retain some great priests. Others are not doing so well in the diocesan priesthood. It is by no means an easy transition. Personally, I don't think many of them will survive. I hope I am wrong.

If I am correct, most Legionary priests and seminarians who are advanced in their formation, know this. Where are they supposed to go if the Legion fails? What are they supposed to do? They face an awful dilemma - to continue with a group whose leadership is taking too long to implement urgent reforms or to leave and face difficulties in their adjustment for which they are ill prepared.

In the past, former Legionaries (especially priests) have been considered as traitors by those who remained. Former companions are effectively ostracized and ill informed speculation about their reasons for leaving is subtly encouraged. Departures and the true motivation of those who leave is not discussed publicly. I once met a former companion of mine, still a Legionary priest, who twenty years after I left claimed to believe that I was still working in Africa! I suspect that is why Juan Pedro Oriol "went public" in the Mexican press so that he could retain some "control" over his story and his reasons for leaving.

Once more, I wish him and all Legionaries well. Meanwhile, the slowness of Cardinal De Paolis and the current Legionary leadership does not bode well for the future of many excellent priests and seminarians. Readers of this blog know that I have been patient and have advocated patience with the process.  Given the snail's pace at which the reforms are proceeding it is very hard to believe that current leadership is embracing the changes advocated by the Pope.  Cardinal De Paolis is acting like a consummate Vatican "insider" while senior Legionary leadership "makes hay while the sun shines". 

If I am right about the difficulties Legionaries who attempt to transition to diocesan priesthood will face, both the Cardinal and the leadership are playing an extremely ill-advised game in which more good men will be manipulated, private leadership agendas will prevail and many souls will be hurt.  Pope Benedict will have a lot of explaining to do since it seems his lieutenants do not share his concern nor his sense of urgency.  Perhaps naively I expected far more from the Legion's leaders. They are fulfilling the most pessimistic prophecies of the naysayers. It's way past time to wake up; the coffee is already burnt. The Church continues to suffer from the lack of decisiveness and transparency of its leaders.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How the Vatican deals with "enthusiasts"

David Gibson, writing in the National Post, reminds us of a 19th-century Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay who described a dynamic by which the Vatican co-opts its more fractious elements, harnessing them until they are safely domesticated. In a famous essay on Catholicism, Macaulay noted -as much in consternation as admiration -that the Vatican:

"thoroughly understands what no other Church has ever understood, how to deal with enthusiasts. In some sects, particularly in infant sects, enthusiasm is [allowed] to be rampant. In other sects, particularly in sects long established and richly endowed, it is regarded with aversion. The Catholic Church neither submits to enthusiasm nor proscribes it, but uses it. She considers it as a great moving force which in itself, like the muscular power of a fine horse, is neither good nor evil, but which may be so directed as to produce great good or great evil; and she assumes the direction to herself."

Gibson mentions the Legion of Christ,as an example,

"[It] became a global phenomenon in Catholicism over the past few decades by joining a devotion to orthodoxy and secrecy with an equal fidelity to the Legion's charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel."

To paraphrase Macaulay, in terms of the Legionaries of Christ, it would seem that Pope Benedict has taken charge of directing "the muscular power of a fine horse, which is neither good nor evil, but which may be so directed as to produce great good or great evil." It takes a while to direct the power of a muscular horse without breaking its spirit.  Perhaps the Vatican still knows "what no other Church has ever understood, how to deal with enthusiasts."

Friday, May 6, 2011

From the "Da Vinci Code" to "There be Dragons" - an exercise in public relations

"There Be Dragons" opens in theaters today. Set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, when the founder of Opus Dei Jose Maria Escrivá was a young man (he died in 1975 and was canonized Saint Josemaría in 2002), the movie was conceived by Roland Joffé, an Oscar-nominated English director.

According to a review in the Wall Street Journal, the movie offers a human and sympathetic portrait of Escrivá and, by extension, of Opus Dei.

This is quite a change from the dark portrayal of Opus Dei in the "The Da Vinci Code." According to the reviewer, the  new more sympathetic portrait symbolizes a genuine evolution for Opus Dei, an Institution I believe which has much in common with the Regnum Christi movement founded by Marcial Maciel.

Not unlike the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, the Opus Dei's penchant for secrecy and the influence it wielded in Rome served to amplify rumors of questionable practices and finances that in turn fueled Vatican conspiracy theories. Of course there are differences between the organizations - however I have always suspected the similarities outweigh the differences.

Marcial Maciel, especially during the early years of his foundation, clearly sought to emulate the organizational achievements of Opus Dei in terms of involving lay people in the activities of the Catholic Church.

Favored by the late Blessed John Paul II, Opus Dei flourished.  A well executed strategy of public relations following the controversies awakened by the "The Da Vinci Code" has helped take the spotlight of public scrutiny off the institution. By carefully "flying below the radar" of the latest controversies in Rome, Opus Dei has positioned itself as a more confident, open and mainstream movement in the church.

Would that the Legionaries of Christ learn to quickly move on from the defensive posture that has characterized their public relations reaction to the scandalous revelations of their founder's double-life. Learning this lesson from Opus Dei would be an ironic twist to Maciel's thinly disguised admiration for the "rival" organization.

Shunning: the deliberate avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from, an individual or group.

My last post referred to the way the Legion of Christ treats its former members. It was prompted by the recent celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Irish Institute in Mexico City.  I got some personal mail as a result. Most agreed, or at least understood, my position. Some few suggested that I was being too judgmental and responding to an "understandable oversight" with an unjustified sense of “hurt".  Two people “Anon our of RC” and “Poman”, commented directly on this blog. I set out to respond, quickly becoming aware that this is a sore point for me about which I have strong feelings, and decided to place my remarks here rather than a combox.

I appreciate the measured opinions of both Anon and Poman and think both of them are right!

The Legion has a long history - started by Maciel - of "shunning" those who left the Congregation. He could never tell us that a Legionary left for a reason driven by conscience, health, or perhaps for family reasons. No. Those who left had been caught reading pornography, they had problems with chastity, and they had problems that could not even be mentioned “in order to preserve Charity”. When I heard Maciel forcefully, if somewhat indirectly, imply to the Novices gathered in Orange, CT years ago that those who would abandon their vocations would be condemned to hell, I realized full well what he was doing. Who wants to be associated with anyone who, for sure, is on the road to eternal perdition?

Just like my Legionary peers, I wanted no part of those who had left. They were "traitors" and having anything to do with them would imply that one was not fully "integrated". Unconsciously - then - we became arrogant, uncharitable, and unjust in our treatment of former colleagues. Today, the shunning, by some (not all) Legionaries, is more conscious and deliberate. They should know better by now. It is one of the main reasons that people judge the Legion to be cult-like.

By and large, over the years, the Legion has offered no meaningful assistance to members who left. Outplacement, a profession in which I worked for a number of years, is the "provision of assistance to laid-off employees in finding new employment, either as a benefit provided by the employer directly, or through a specialist service". Those few Legionaries who received financial and other assistance have always been a source of wonderment for the rest of us. What did they know or do, to get such favored treatment? Several LC sources tell me the culture has changed and now things are different. I want to believe them. However, since I wrote my book, I have been contacted by several former Legionaries and consecrated RC people, who have left in the recent past. They happen to mention, in passing, that they received no help whatsoever. Many Legionaries have been “shocked” to read in my book that I (and most everyone else) received no assistance, financial or otherwise, after leaving.

The resentment that this practice has occasioned drove many former members to unite against the Legion. The rest of us who claim to have had both good and bad experiences have had nowhere to come together to maintain our friendships and network. So,  most of us just walked away, still affected by Maciel’s methodology that we shouldn’t ever get together with former Legionaries.

Personally, having struggled with my own adjustment, I've tried to help any LC that sought my help in the process of leaving. I have also offered my resources and experience directly to Fr. Luis Garza, Fr. Alvaro, and the Integer Group (an organization that claims to offer strategic professional support to the Legion and Movement) in order to support those Legionaries who are in transition to lay life ... all to no avail. I know for a fact, that the majority of the Legionaries who leave, have no idea how to write a resume, how to get a credit history and credit card, how to find a job, find housing and how to adjust to lay life. From one day to the next, they lose their Legionary "family" and have to reestablish ties with their biological family. They re-enter “the world” as emotionally retarded adolescents.

This culture, which can be best described as “shunning”, absolutely needs to change and to change quickly. The senior Legionaries who continue with the old ways are totally out of touch with reality and in total denial with regard to this issue. The younger men, having not had the experience themselves, are not aware of the hurt caused by the "shunning". I have had several indications from young Legionaries that say they don’t want to tolerate it. They don't believe in it and I think they don't consciously practice it. However, I can assure you, shunning is still very much part of the Legionary leadership mentality. When the average Legionary meets a former member he subconsciously tenses up, gets defensive (without having been attacked!) conveying the sense that he would rather not have to deal with this person – no matter if the former member is a priest, bishop or lay person.

That said, many who leave, may want to have nothing further to do with the Congregation. And, based on their horrible experiences, there are others who quite understandably would want to see the Congregation shut down by the Vatican. Either way, that is their personal choice which must be respected. However, with regard to the “average” ex-Legionary, if well run multinational corporations find it useful (and profitable) to organize alumni groups, it seems to me that the Legion is being totally obtuse, unjust, and uncharitable when they sever all connections with those who leave. They lose a huge amount of human capital in which they have so heavily invested.

With regard to the Regnum Christi, I think the situation is more nuanced. People who choose to leave must be respected, without judgment, without trying to explain away their choice to those who remain as if it were a moral issue. Just as should be with former Legionaries, they must be spoken of with charity, with affection, respecting the ties that bonded members in the first place. However, I think it is fair to assume that the well-established Legionary culture of shunning has probably been transmitted to RC members and teams by their Legionary directors. How could it not be?  Hence it seems to be a fairly universal experience that RC members who leave also feel that they are shunned. If current members can continue to maintain friendships with those who leave without trying to convince them to return and agreeing to disagree with positions regarding the Movement, they should be encouraged to do so. People lose contact over personality differences, changing personal or family circumstances, relocation, and changes in political views. That’s OK. But to create an environment where a friend who leaves the Regnum Christi can no longer be a friend should not be tolerated. This is something that RC members with a genuine understanding of Charity can change and they should actively work on doing so. Just as long as they understand that those who left may not want to have anything to do with the Movement.

Those of us, who for one reason or another have left the Legion or the Regnum Christ, would be inclined to be somewhat more supportive of the Congregation and the Movement if we did not feel that we were being “shunned”.  Legionaries and RC members who would deny that “shunning” exists do not help the cause.  They simply contribute to the well-founded perception that the Movement is a cult. Those who reject this despicable behavior have the means to effect immediate and tangible change which I, for one, would accept as a token that the Congregation is serious about the Vatican mandated need to reform.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Absent friends: The Irish Institute of Mexico City celebrates its 45th anniversary

[If the following text seems a tad stilted, I apologize in advance. I translated it hurriedly from the original Spanish at the blog I write for the translated version of my autobiography]

On the first of April the Irish Institute in Mexico City celebrated its 45th anniversary with a gala dinner in Mexico City.

I landed in Mexico in December 1966 to start the new school with Marcial Maciel, Fr. John Walsh and Fr.. Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar (RIP). I served as "prefect of discipline" of the primary section for about six years. Shortly after, David Hennessey, another Irish Legionary joined us. Later, I returned from Rome to manage the Institute when Fr Amenabar became seriously ill. Those years were very important in my life – it’s when I fell in love with Mexico, made a lot of great friends and when my work was a source of great personal satisfaction. Throughout my time in Mexico, I was never able to return to Ireland for a family visit. In those days, one’s fellow Legionaries became one’s “family”. Indeed during my 20 years in the Legion I spent less than a sum total of 20 days with my biological family.

I dedicated quite a few pages of my autobiography "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and almost lost his mind" to the founding of the Irish Institutes of Mexico City and Monterrey.

Fr John Walsh, LC, my colleague for 10 years at the Irish Institute (we shared a room at the Legionaries house on Fuente de Flores # 19, in Tecamachalco), blessed the food at the gala dinner. He said, "Friendship is an important link .... For me personally, on this anniversary it was very important to return to the school."

Fr Vincent McMahon, LC, who was prefect of discipline in 1968, was also a colleague and friend. He is currently a well-liked pastor and spiritual director of a diocesan seminary in Holland. Fr Vincent said, "Revisiting the place where I worked after 45 years is always an event. Meeting again with colleagues and friends is a special blessing from God. The Irish Institute was the Legion’s second school, and the first of its kind: an original and revolutionary educational concept. It is a source of great comfort and heartfelt gratitude to see the classrooms full, the enthusiastic young people, the professional team of teachers and staff. The Irish Institute is a Catholic school. The reason it exists, is to transmit Gospel values, to facilitate each student’s personal encounter with Christ. This has been the motivation of all who have worked here, and therein is the greatness of the Institute "

I believe that some 600 people attended the dinner. Among them were alumni, students, staff, employees, teachers and directors who have gone through the school. Many of them traveled from Spain, the United States and various parts of Mexico to attend the event. Juan Musi, a graduate from the class of 1992 and President of the Alumni Society, and others made speeches. Fr Joel Lopez Torres, LC, current director of the school (since 2009), said the "Irish Institute is not just a school, it is a lifestyle, we are one big family and that's what makes us a very special school."

The three Legionary priests referred to friendship, reunion with colleagues, and the large “family” that is the school community. Reading the Legionaries remarks I found myself reminiscing about my time at that particular school. I was a faithful Legionary of Christ for 20 years. My experience in the Irish Institute was perhaps the most important in my life. I was just 20 years old when I was assigned to start the school. There I met Fr Alvaro Corcuera (currently Director General of the Legionaries) when he began his studies in elementary school. Contributing to the beginnings of this important Legionary school and then coming back to reorganize it (after Fr. Amenabar became ill), marked a very important time in my life and in many ways affected my future.

Even though it came as no surprise, not being invited to the event provoked a certain feeling of nostalgia bordering on sadness. I was in Mexico on business at the time and could have easily attended. Just before the event, coincidentally I met another former Irish Legionary, also founder of the school - David Hennessey, who was the first prefect of studies. I thought how nice it would have been if we had received an invitation to participate. What great memories we could have shared!

Why do I mention all this? Why does it matter that we are not invited?

The Legionaries of Christ are in a reform process under the guidance of the Vatican, following the revelations of the scandalous life of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the congregation. Part of the "legacy" of the founder is that Legionaries could not trust each other. We could never be "friends." Those of us who eventually left the congregation - an extremely painful process – following the dictates of our conscience, became, "traitors" in the eyes of our fellow Legionnaires. Maybe it was not said overtly, but that was the harsh reality. Brothers for 20 years, then discarded in the dustbin of history and deleted from the collective memory the morning after leaving the congregation. Such treatment is not fair, nor charitable, nor Christian. Meanwhile, the Legionaries  lost a great treasure in human capital.

The past is past. However, if the Legionaries of Christ really want to discover their charism - which according to the same Maciel was based entirely on the virtue of charity - I suggest they should make a major effort to reconnect with their many ex-brothers who for one reason or another left the congregation. What better way to repudiate the dysfunctional aspects of the methodology of the founder – reuniting, acknowledging, and thanking those who were their companions, our “family”.  Young Legionaries, like the current director of the Irish Institute, Fr. Joel Lopez, see further mounted on the shoulders of the many "giants" who preceded them. The more "mature" (old!) men such as John Walsh and Vincent McMahon, if they were honest and sensitive enough to admit it, must realize they miss their former colleagues who shared the same adventures, training, and prayers.

It could be a very enriching experience for all be able to come together again and exchange ideas. It's almost hard to believe that such a "modern" congregation would not have an "alumni association". The Legionaries would receive great benefits. The alumni would have opportunities for networking, discovering business opportunities and for those that are married, the chance to introduce their new families (spouses and children). Beyond these simple human motivations, the Legionaries would offer a tangible sign that they reject the "old" ways and are willing to demonstrate genuine commitment to reform.

If they were to act graciously and sincerely the many former Legionaries might feel appreciated, respected by their former "family." A lot of Legionaries would feel less guilty. Perhaps we all might even experience true charity, something we did not have much opportunity to practice following the old methodology. I am not "holding my breath" but I live in hope!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Complicity theories. Blessed John Paul II and the Legion of Christ

Over the past several days, timed nicely with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, several Mexican news outlets have run stories suggesting that the Vatican has just released 212 files relating to the Legion of Christ. These documents were allegedly in the archives of the Congregation for Institutes and Societies of Consecrated Life.

I am not citing the media outlets that ran the story because I don’t intend to publicize what, I think, is a blatant attempt to tarnish the reputation of Pope John Paul II. The files are supposed to cover the period from 1944-2002. Of course I cannot know for sure, but I feel pretty confident that all this information has been long since revealed and made public. The gist of the information is meant to suggest that the newly beatified Pope had full knowledge of the Maciel scandal and that, because of this, he should not have been beatified.

The media suggest that the documents were handed over to Fernando M. González, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who already published a damning exposé of the sordid life of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Mr. Alberto Athié, a former (Mexican diocesan) priest and José Barba, perhaps the most vocal of Maciel’s victim, are also alleged to have received the secret documents which they intend to publish in a new book they are working on.

It sounds to me like someone is orchestrating some pre-publication public relations. There is nothing new, immoral or illegal there as long as they don’t have a problem with the “ends justifying the means”.

In another posting, I’ve already suggested that Fr. Maciel’s power and influence in the Church was not nearly as great as Pope John Paul’s detractors would have us believe. The Legion was not everything during his pontificate, nor is its current crisis the end of everything. Be that as it may, I find that those who assiduously report or repeat such reporting on blogs concerning the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi reveal a very strong bias – if not overt hostility – to the Papacy in general and to Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI in particular.

Marcial Maciel harmed a lot of people and inflicted severe damage on the Catholic Church. The Vatican, tardily, has acknowledged this and is in the process of overseeing a total reform of the Legionaries of Christ. The problem will not be resolved overnight. The Congregation will probably implement major changes at their next General Chapter. If they do not, my guess is they will self-destruct. But, at the moment, I am confident that the forces for good and for change will triumph. Meanwhile, the relentless drum beat of criticism of Blessed John Paul II in the mouths of the some of the most acerbic Legionary critics serves a useful purpose: it reveals their thinly veiled second agenda.  That agenda, nicely packaged in “more Catholic than thou” language and concern for the victims of Maciel suggests nothing less than the rejection of the Papacy. It’s good to know what the real motivation is.

As an aside about Alberto Athié, the former Mexican priest who left the priesthood upon experiencing the hierarchy’s negative response to an alleged near death-bed confession made to him by Fr. Amenábar, I have already stated I struggle to accept the totality of his testimony about my friend. I don’t deny Amenabar may have been abused – I simply don’t know. Although I wasn’t there for the events Athié relates, his account differs in worrisome ways from the version given to me by trusted lay people, mutual friends of Fr. Amenábar and me and who were frequent visitors during his hospital stay. My friend is dead and gone. In his final illness he was abandoned by the Legionaries and by the Founder Fr. Maciel, whom he enthusiastically served with notable and contagious joie de vivre during our 17 years together. I know he bitterly criticized Maciel. I am quite confident he would not want his name involved with Athié's  intent to nullify the beatification of John Paul II. And that's why I take Athié's rantings about the Pope with a grain of salt.