Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't shoot the messengers

The Legionaries of Christ in a very real sense are still working their way through an organizational disaster.

By now the leadership and the Vatican overseers know that the current situation is not the result of a series of random acts and decisions of Father Maciel, the Founder.  Indeed looking back just a few years we can see a pattern of predictable behavior.

Several people raised red flags – the result however seems to have been an internal lack of action and an attitude of “shooting the messengers.” Some of the messengers alleged sexual abuse by Fr. Maciel and unbelievably – from today’s vantage point – not only were they not believed, they were reproached and shunned for making the allegations.

As the Legion regroups and endeavors to recover, is there a lesson to be learned that can help them avoid similar situations in the future? Should the new leadership that will eventually emerge to lead the group past the scandals and into a brighter future be aware of some basic operating principles that might help them avoid future organizational disasters?

  1. Here are some basic suggestions gleaned from the way enlightened corporations try to avoid “scandals.’ Don’t ignore the warning signals: treat internal and external complaints with the respect they deserve. It doesn’t matter if they are anonymous. Check out the issues – but do not ignore them hoping they will go away.
  2. Create a trusting environment where colleagues can share their concern and fears. Knowledge is power – but only if it is shared. Most people don’t want to cause “trouble” and hence they do not share vital information. Fr. Maciel by means of the Private Vow whereby Legionaries promised never to criticize superiors, ensured that pertinent information was neutralized. That particular Vow is no longer made by Legionaries – but it has to be replaced by an environment where people feel accountable and are willing to share what they learn.
  3. All Legionaries need to share a core value which in English we refer to as “personal accountability.” (It’s not easily translated into Spanish.)  This means that all members must be believe that identifying problems and bringing them forward to the “team” and hierarchy is as important as any other obligation they may have. In the business world this relates to everything from quality control, to safety procedures, to financial processes and to customer service. The same applies in a Religious Congregation.  Members need to be sure their concerns will be taken seriously, that they will not be covered up or ignored and that they will not be reprimanTrustded or ostracized for bringing them up.
  4. It is up to the leadership to support these principles and to guarantee respect, follow up, and commitment. 
Basic principles indeed - but not so easy to implement in a Congregation where there has been an absence of trust among the members, and a tradition of secrecy and denial where tradition of “shooting the messengers.”

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