Friday, July 29, 2011

Taking one for the team

As the once-flourishing Legion of Christ struggles to heal from the scandal caused by the abuse and double life of the founder, we should remember that Legionary priests and members of Regnum Christi continue to do wonderful work. The way forward for them, although painful, is not hopeless.  With Christ and in His Church, things are never hopeless.

Leaving the Legion, after 20 years, I found a new career as an international management consultant. I suggest Vatican Delegate Cardinal DePaolis, and the major superiors of the Legion might learn valuable lessons from the crisis-recovery practices of the business world.

Rupert Murdoch initially refused to accept the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, his loyal lieutenant and CEO of his embattled British newspapers. He steadfastly defended her in the face of demands from politicians that she step down. However, as his News Corp company struggled to contain a U.K. crisis threatening his entire global media empire, he made an abrupt switch. The news of Brook’s resignation a couple of weeks ago was greeted with relief. The public needed to someone to finally take responsibility for the terrible events that happened on her watch. Because with power comes responsibility.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch, who dominated the media world for decades, finds himself under intense pressure to defend his business conduct. He should be asking himself why things worked out the way they did. What caused his “derailment?” Executives derail when the skills (personality style) that were the original source of success turn into fatal flaws.

The Legionaries and Cardinal DePaolis, could learn a thing or two from New Corp’s early reaction to its snow-balling crisis. Up to now, the Legionaries have managed to convey the impression they do not fully grasp the magnitude of the harm caused to the Church by the scandal.

The Legion of Christ announced July 15 that Father Luis Garza, the vicar general of the embattled religious congregation, has resigned and will assume leadership of its newly created “Legion Territory of North America,” which combines the current Atlanta and New York-based territories. I have suggested that Father Garza’s resignation as vicar general and his new appointment “may be a classic Vatican-style political move: Father Garza resigns as vicar general of the Legion in order to take control of the new ‘Legion Territory of North America.’ That way, he is removed from his key position in Rome without ‘losing face.’ Meanwhile, the former territorial directors, Fathers Julio Martí and John Connor, are moved aside.”

However, by failing to demand the resignation of the major superiors, whether or not they are culpable in the Maciel scandal, Cardinal DePaolis is sending an ambiguous message. I suggest senior Legionary leaders should take one for the team and tender their resignations. They already are “Dead Men Walking” since they will be replaced anyway at the next General Chapter. Even if they were not aware of the founder’s double life and not complicit in the cover-up of his misdeeds, it would speak volumes of the Legion’s prospects for reform if they were to exit stage left immediately. The Congregation would gain some breathing room with the media, and with people concerned about the impact of the Maciel scandal.

I think every Legionary should be willing to unambiguously acknowledge the crimes, deformation and bad example of the Founder. The lack of outreach to those abused by Maciel and the tardiness of the reform process may be a combination of deficient public relations, legal niceties, an inadequate understanding of the notion of transparency, and the lack of decisive leadership. But it is coming across as callous disregard for the victims and the good of the universal Church.

Ultimately, the new Legionary “brand” cannot be dictated from the top. There is an urgent need for fresh thinking and input from the younger priests who were less directly exposed to the dysfunctional side of the founder. They too might learn some lessons from the corporate world. To do this, the old guard must step aside.

  1. Re-discover their Core Identity. Get rid or the psychologically dysfunctional approach to the vow of obedience, the relentless recruiting, and fundraising. Re-discover humility, genuine Charity, and the the essence of the congregation that does not need to be changed. Seek some external advice, and include former members who have gained new perspectives.
  2. Re-examine their extended identity. Articulate the most important things internal and external audiences need to know about the congregation and the reform.
  3. Elaborate a “Brand Statement. Tell us what Legionaries and Regnum Christi members are committed to doing and being.
  4. Write a “Positioning Statement.”  Give us a brief, easily understandable explanation of "who" the congregation is and “what” it does. 
  5. Describe the Legion’s “Personality.” If the congregation were a person, what descriptive adjectives would Legionaries choose?  Spiritual? Compassionate? Honest? Charitable? Authentic? Trusting? Understanding? Humble? This exercise could generate some great common sense discussions and buy-in to the new “brand” among Legionaries and Regnum Christi members. 

Changing the “image” is but a first step in the process of the total overhaul of the Legion’s goals, message, and culture, because the “image” has to correspond to reality. Legionaries need to understand, acknowledge, and manage the raw human emotions the scandal has awakened in them, in their families, the clergy, and the Church at large.
Good people will support the generous men and women in the organization who gave their lives to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI has indicated by words and support he wants them to reform and thrive.  It’s time for the Legionaries to “get real,” say what they mean, mean what they say and boldly take meaningful steps to reform now. As a businessman and as a Catholic, I expect nothing less.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Father Luis Garza, LC, to head the new "Legion Territory of North America"

July 15, 2011. In response to a proposal by the directors of the Atlanta and New York territories, the Legion has created the new Territory of North America. Father Luis Garza, vicar general of the Legion from 1992 to the present, has been named territorial director, effective August 1.

It seems to me that this is a classic Vatican-style political move. Garza resigns as Vicar General of the Legion in order to take control of the new “Legion Territory of North America” which has conveniently been created by consolidating the operations formerly headquartered in New York and Atlanta. That way, he is removed from his key position in Rome, to accept a new, "important" assignment without “losing face.” Meanwhile, the former territorial directors, Fr Julio Martí and Fr John Connor, are moved aside.

Fr. Connor, especially, stuck me as one of the few senior Legionaries who demonstrated a practical, almost humble, approach to the Maciel scandal. At a fundraising event for the Legion at the Waldorf Astoria several months ago, he was the only one of many LC speakers, who openly acknowledged the 800 pound gorilla in the room - the awful scandal caused by Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries. It remains to be seen if this move is also designed to manage internal dissent in the United States. 

While Fr. Garza has formidable skills, management experience and powerful connections to contribute to his new job, I suspect that this is really a transitional move designed to begin the process of dismantling current senior LC leadership. Fr. Garza can claim not to have been demoted. He will initiate serious damage control in the all important territory of the United States. His prestige, especially back in his native Monterrey, will not be perceived to be diminished. 

Fairly predictable Vatican politics. It just took longer to happen than I expected. Look our for similar moves in the near future.