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.


Anonymous said...

Yes, you are right. However the Legion is spending most of its time posturing and in their free time have their head in the sand impervious to what is going on around them. Their original strategy was to hang all the evils of the Legion around the neck of maciel and call it a day. Noboby bought that argument. Then their strategy was to try to get their members to forget the abuses and ask for prayers. They would accuse others of not being people of prayer. That didn't work either. Now they are in the cosmetic changes phase. Somehow acknowledging that Garza did not fulfill his obligations without actually stating that and exiling him from Rome to where his popularity remains high according to the vote of confidence he supposed received. It is funny that he really didn't do a great job as territorial director of Italy and they give him a bigger and more important territory ignoring his real accomplishments or lack thereof.

This while exiling Fr. Bannon from the USA where he built up an incredible network in the US and Canada. I wonder who now will "write" their letters (although Fr. Bannon didn't write any of them...). Who is now the image of the Legion in the US besides Fr. Bannon?

So the chaotic cosmetic changes will continue and posturing will continue.

At the heart of the problem is that the people who are supposed to give them real solutions are on their payroll and take orders from the ones they are supposed to be advising so in the end those advisors prefer to give a convenient solution rather than an effective one. I once read how offices were run during the Soviet Union. How office workers would agree at the dumbest ideas, comments and suggestions of the office leader for fear that they would be removed from their position. This is the Legion of Christ par excellence - top people are smug, condescending and closed to ideas other than their own, the bottom feeders keep their head low, speak up rarely and when they do, the simply say what their superiors want to hear.

Until the Legion and its superiors ditch their all-knowing, all-powerful and all-wise attitudes along with a whole bunch of useless maciel baggage, I hardly see the Legion reforming other than on paper and with PR campaigns. There is really no substance to any action Fr. Alvaro and his buddies have taken other than buy time, keep a low profile and deflect any criticism.

irishmexguate said...

Going back to the beginning of your discourse, Jack, I was just thinking: wouldn't it be paradoxical and wonderful that the healthiest part of the Legion is the part Maciel devoted less time to, i.e., the Quintana Roo Mission? That's where the simple, humble, earnest and honest Legionaries ended up, and have stayed, for the most part; and give us Irish our due: John Coady and Bernie Quinn, Pat Corrigan and Raymund Comiskey...