Friday, May 6, 2011

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.


poman said...

Thanks Monk for expanding on your thoughts and our comments.

Again, I can only speak from my experience of only being an RC member and not being immersed in the "LC world". I don't deny that any shunning takes place (whether I've seen it or not). I can only confirm that I have never condoned it, never had it encouraged or hinted at, never been told that it is a practice. My experience has been the opposite, all the members I know (in my area) accept that those who have left are sincere in their reasons, or that they really don't feel that RC is for them. Either way, it is not something to take personally, nor are those leaving thought of any less of a Catholic or Christian.

I think leaving any tight knit, passionate group is complex and fraught with difficulties. I know Opus Dei has the same problem, as do many other Movements and groups. But I think a point well taken from your post is that there does not exist in the Legion a well executed, sensitive follow up to those who leave, in particular the priests. This is, obviously from your experience Monk, a leftover from Maciel, but also something that is hard to overcome after years of having nothing. I agree that it needs to be looked at seriously, and I encourage much prayer for this. I believe this is an essential thing to have changed/improved upon on the road to reform.

The Monk said...

Poman, once again thanks for sharing your experience. That is very encouraging. I agree with you that it is a different experience for those who leave the LC. Winds of change are definitely blowing - but I think this is a challenge where loyal RC members could be of great help to their clerical counterparts.

Those used to living a relatively sheltered life, in a close knit passionate group, are more likely to deny the issue, or not have a workable idea of how to deal with it. To give them their due, the LC has made some small efforts to assist in transition - but they are insufficient, unprofessional and they miss the mark. It's an area where some professional expertise could make a huge difference. The public relations consequences are huge. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

"...and they had problems that could not even be mentioned “in order to preserve Charity”.

Wow! That is reason given not to discuss Fr. Maciel`s wrong-doing within RC.

Adrian said...

It is regretable that the current leaders of the Legion still carry on with the old mores . In any organisation, even in competitive business enviorns, any major landmark in its history usually includes some acknowledgement and recognition of the contribution from retired and past members....but not the Legion. Begs the fundamental what is good and salvagable in the Legion of Christ and RC the patrimony of Maciel or of the numerous committed people who dedicated themsleves to Christ in its ranks, even if only for a while ?
This attitude of distain and ingratitude for past work can hardly be classe as charity, more like arrogance.