Friday, January 27, 2012

Focusing on what I know. A response to an important question.


On another blog, I was asked the following question:

Monk: I find your testimony quite accurate of the inner culture around Maciel. But maybe you could share with us something more. In your book you say you worked quite close to Maciel: did you ever see him celebrate Mass in a private chapel, say the breviary or pray the rosary? Did you notice lack of piety? Itis a very strong red flag against holiness.  Scipio,

The answer warrants more space than fits in the comments box of a blog - and besides, I would not want to abuse my welcome an the tread in question. Hence, my more detailed answer here.

I think the points you mention are well documented and I don't have much news to add. However, maybe I can provide a little context as to why Maciel’s behavior initially didn't raise “red flags”. As I've said before, hindsight is 20/20.

I first met MM when he came to visit the Novitiate in Ireland in 1963. I was a first year novice in our brand new novitiate. He took “Questions” and celebrated Mass for the community. But he didn’t stay at the Novitiate. It was a small house with limited facilities. So I didn’t question that. He did seem “pious” in his demeanor when making visits to the chapel.

From Ireland my group went to Rome to help out with chores for the Mexican Bishops staying at the LC seminary for the second Vatican Council. I saw him engage with the Bishops and with the community, although most of his time was spent with a select group of LC who dined with him and his guests. I often served as a “waiter.” I’m not sure if he actually stayed in the seminary – he was forever travelling. I was so busy, I never noticed or cared. It was common to see him make visits to the chapel. Other than when he said Mass for the community, I don’t recall him every saying a private Mass. But his schedule was so different from ours; I simply don’t know what he did.

During my year in Salamanca, Spain, I don’t think he visited. When I returned to Rome, he visited us just before Christmas, staying in one of the small rooms. Or at least I thought he did – because that’s where he would meet us individually. He was so “busy” one didn’t really notice or expect more. He summoned me to that room on the fourth floor and told me, totally unexpectedly, (December 1965) we would travel to Mexico together. I was 20 years old. We went to Cuernavaca to a house “loaned” to him by a prominent benefactor. This same benefactor sent his freshly prepared special meals from Mexico City everyday. It was there I noticed he – nor the other LC priest with us – did not celebrate Mass. But it was a “summer” type home with nothing resembling a chapel. I also noticed he didn’t pray the breviary. I asked about that and was told he had a special dispensation from Rome. Otherwise he seemed so pious and gung ho for the Kingdom, that it seemed irrelevant at the time. What did I know about religious or priestly life?

We went to Cotija, his hometown to spend Christmas. I stayed with his mother, a very kind and extremely devout lady. MM stayed with some other LC at another house. His schedule didn’t coincide much with us. He was working on important stuff I supposed. Who knew – or bothered to wonder – if he was praying the liturgy of the hours, or the rosary? I don’t recall him saying Mass – but, I assum, I thought maybe he said private Masses at his place.

Then we went to Mexico City to open the Irish Institute. Hugh flurry of unbelievable activity and the minor miracle of getting the whole school built, staffed and running with 80 students in about 58 days. His drive, charisma and leadership were extraordinary. He lived at the apostolic school – in a separate house – in Tlalpan. One or two LC would take care of his administrative stuff and drive him. I saw a lot of him when he came to supervise the construction and first months of the Irish Institute and then the Anahuac University. He frequently asked me to drive him and that’s when I got to know him personally. He often went to spend a long weekend in Acapulco. My superior at the time almost always went with him. In short order, he invited our small community to accompany him. It was fun, stimulating and energizing both physically and spiritually.  I felt privileged. He didn’t say private Mass nor did I ever see him pray his rosary. But, that didn’t mean he didn’t do so – his private life was outside of my community. It wasn’t something I was consciously aware of.

I accompanied him on several of his trips – for instance, to visit the newly founded missions in Quintana Roo. We rented a tiny plane to visit the entire area. It wasn’t so easy to drive there – Quintana Roo was quite undeveloped. He just seemed so energetic, so full of passion for the mission, so inspiring. By then, his private prayer life just wasn’t a factor or concern. I never worried about it. He would ask him to seek the loan of private planes and/or cars for visitors from the Vatican. Later, a lay person offered to pay for his trip to Europe via the supersonic Concorde so that he could make the most of his time. She clearly believed in his work for the Church. The lay people we knew were happy to oblige with planes, cars, and favors. I sometimes travelled with him. His demeanor always devout, his conversations always focused on “building the Kingdom” and spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart. Never saw a breviary.

When I ran the Irish Institute, I saw a lot of him. He acted as a mentor, demanding, pushing me to ‘peak performance.” I felt blessed and I thought I was learning from him – and many of the powerful business people I met thorough him - about how to be a highly effective contemporary “apostle.”

When he did say Mass, he stumbled through some of the elements and always had a “master of ceremonies” who would assist at the community events. This was normal enough at the time. Only gradually did I come to believe MM wasn’t really familiar with all the liturgical moves. However, at first, it seemed his devotion was so great that he would get “absorbed” in the celebration of the mystery. The point is, by then he was such a “holy” figure, so “supported” and “encouraged by the Bishops and Cardinals who came to visit that his personal prayer life just wasn’t an issue. I’d say most Legionaries at the time didn’t even notice because they saw him quite infrequently.

One of the key to his manipulation is that he rarely if ever, stayed in our community residences. His private life was private. In a religious community everyone knew almost everything about everyone else. But MM was never part of the community. Back in Rome he rarely stayed at the college – I realized eventually he was staying at the Hilton Hotel in Rome. We assumed he was exhausted from his frequent and long travels and needed some peace and quiet. (Turns out there was more to it than “peace and quiet” but that’s a different story.  And nothing to do with homosexual inclinations.) I was so busy I didn’t give it a second’s thought. There was usually an LC with him, a good friend of mine who I admired and respected. It all seemed so normal, especially after seeing him in action in Mexico. I was a frequent companion with the small group of “hangers on” who ate with him in the guest dining room. He didn’t eat with the community. Totally inspiring, visionary, manipulative, topics almost always related to the Church and LC plans. He always wore his soutane. Sometimes he said Mass for us. Then he would disappear on his travels. We never were quite sure where he was going but we always assumed it was to visit another community in another country. We were thrilled when he would come back, always with exciting news of new conquests or endeavors. It doesn’t take much to get some excitement going in a closed community where day to day routines are so entirely predictable, guided by the buzzing of our time keepers electric bell.

You get the picture. Frequent travel. Private life private. Rarely staying in community. Surrounded by a select few. His helpers, with few exceptions, rotated. No one of us, I think, actually had any idea of the details of his life because at best all we ever got was a glimpse of details, frozen in time. I came to realize I never saw him pray the breviary, or private rosary or private Mass. But I didn’t know so much about the remainder of his life and so I never questioned it, because it was not a concern to me. Meanwhile, the LC – and the Founder – were supported and encouraged by every Bishop and Cardinal I ever met, with very limited exceptions.

I spent more one-on-one time with him than the average Joe LC who hardly had an idea of most of the above. They were living the routine day to day life in a religious seminary with no outside contact. (I got to visit with my family a sum total of 20 days during my twenty years.)  I was never in his most trusted inner circle composed of very, very few. They are not talking. This was a time, when MM was a big part of our lives – let’s say, at least up until 1982 when I left. From then on the “myth” grew and got blown out of all proportion. People wanted to believe. New guys trusted those of us who told them the positive stuff we knew. I really didn’t know anything obviously negative. And we had vows of silence, etc.

I was dancing on the edge when I worked in New York. I was a “Superior,” when I realized (some) of the extent of his manipulation. I talked with a trusted few priest companions about how we had turned into what seemed to be a cult and how we were exhibiting many of the signs of a totally dysfunctional family. At the end, I voiced my major disagreements to my superior who was a bit of a fanatic. He poo-pooed everything I brought up and tried to shut me down using his raw power. I went to MM. Told him my story. He agreed with most of it – which blew me away at the time. Then he sent me to Gabon on a one-way ticket and $100 to fund the trip from New York to Central West Africa

A long answer, I know, Scipio. I hope it serves to give you and the younger guys some context. When I meet with other ex-LC look back now, knowing what we know, it seems like things SHOULD have been more obvious. But, we were not looking for “red flags.” Only when we told each other our distinct pieces of the story, we came to see the whole picture. And I’m talking about a small group that was close to MM. For the most part, the majority of the LC never suspected anything. So, hindsight is great.  We now know the “big picture” and it’s not pretty. We can analyze it ad nauseum. I suspect there’s not a lot new to be learned. Maybe we should be working on healing ourselves and those of you who remain, trying to find some sense of hope and meaning in the Vatican process. So that this doesn’t happen again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The potential and the challenge of shared memories

"By banking on memory, organizations can strengthen employee commitment. Many organizations, even relatively young ones, can project the future as a continuation of the past in order to gain member commitment.
Leveraging the power of shared memories,  the organization's values, purpose, and strategic direction can acquire enduring meaning, because they become personal. 
Collective memories of the organization become part of members’ autobiographical memory, which, in turn, underpins a sense of shared identity, goals and motivations. Members gain a deeper, more personal stake in the organization's goals and purpose. When times are tough and winds of change are blowing the organization becomes anchored in its people."

The preceding paragraphs are my paraphrase of an article  entitled "Academic view: Lest we forget" in the online version of "The Economist." 

Reading the article, which is relevant to companies who wish to leverage their history, caused me to reflect on the shared experiences of so many members of the Legionaries of Christ and its affiliate organization Regnum Christi.
The notion of shared organizational memories becoming "autobiographical" is interesting. It goes to explain the deep bonds that are formed, over the years, among members, which can remain years after the members exit the group. 
Granted the current process of reform being undertaken in the organizations largely as a result of the Founder's biography, the concept of "shared autobiographical memories" also poses a very real challenge.