Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Breaking the Code of Silence

Former Legionaries priest Fr. Berg breaks the code of silence.

Q: What would be your suggestions to the five visitors?

A: I will limit myself to one overall suggestion: help the Legionaries to engage in an honest and objective self-critique. What I have found most unsettling of late is the kind of group-think that has settled in among the Legionaries: "We really don't think there is anything wrong with the internal culture of the Legion, but if the Holy See tells us to change things, we will." The docility to the Holy See, though laudable and correct, masks a huge internal flaw: the Legion's corporate inability to engage in a healthy self-critique. This is no time for a business as usual approach, but that has been the impression one generally gets from the Legionaries over the past five months of the crisis.

That inability to see and honestly recognize the flaws and errors that so many people outside the Legion are able to see speaks volumes. The Legionaries should be reminded that it is not the task of the Holy See to reform the Legion. The Legion will only be genuinely reformed when it reforms itself from within. But that can only begin with a self-examination that arises from within the Legion and owns up to the Legion's errors.

The unhealthiness of the code of silence, the cancer is a metastatic condition from the lowest level of the pews to the highest levels at Vatican.

Q: What are the issues you think should change in the internal culture of the Legion, especially related to the recently suppressed "vow of charity", meaning the vow not to criticize one's superiors?

A: At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle - in itself valid - that God's will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal "dependence" on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.

Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding "reporting to," "informing," "communication with," and "dependence on" superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.

More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

Steve Skojec gives pretty disturbing witness to the particularly disturbing dynamics at play in the Legion

This cannot be emphasized enough. What I saw when I was on the inside was not just the fostering of dependence on superiors and spiritual directors, but a fostering of co-dependence. This leads to a deformation of conscience and will that all but completely strips individuals within the system of their ability to make independent, conscientious decisions.

Which is why, in my opinion, there are a number of Legionary seminarians - and even priests - who do not now, nor have ever had, a priestly vocation. I didn't have one, but that didn't stop superiors I loved and respected from telling me that they "knew" I had one. That kind of certitude in a system where the priests calling the shots are telling you "God's will" can be an insurmountable obstacle to young men (or women) discerning whether they are called to the religious life. And the Legionaries' frequent insistence that even those signs that would ordinarily be considered evidence of a different vocation (say, a strong desire for the married life) are nothing but further indications of God's call to ecclesiastical vows often seals the deal.

I spent many years trying to overcome the guilt I felt about following my heart instead of my superiors' and spiritual directors' wishes that I become a Legionary. Intense, gut-wrenching, faith-damaging guilt. And I was only in their clutches for a relatively short time.

Do read both of these extraordinary posts.

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