Saturday, June 30, 2012

The most healing moment

Probably the most healing moment after leaving the legion came about a year ago when I was watching a movie. But to put this all in perspective, I would like to touch on some of the things that I have read on blogs of ex lc and rc, and the experience that I have had.

A girl who identifies herself as Kitty on recently posted this comment:

I was in for 14 years and have been out for 3. I still have my spiritual journal that I kept during that time, but I haven't wanted to re-read it. I feel ashamed of myself, and embarrassed for having wanted so badly to belong, and to fit in, and for having handed over EVERYTHING I had and was.

Not long ago I was talking on the phone with my sister. It was shortly after Thomas Williams revealed he has a child, and the topic turned to the legion. At one point she asked me why I didn’t leave sooner. I was silent. I couldn’t answer at the moment. And to tell the truth it is really hard to put into words the guilt and sense of betrayal you feel when you pose the possibility of leaving.

After that conversation, thoughts came to mind like, why did I even enter? Why did I stay so long? Why didn’t I listen to my conscience telling me I should get out, and other questions along that line? It is a complex thing to explain. Like many, for the first nine years, I was in it to stay until the superiors told me otherwise. But when that “otherwise” finally came, something like self-preservation kicked in, and I started questioning their reason (or lack thereof) for leaving. And since they would not give me a reason, I made it a point to make a statement. I’m not going until you give me a good reason, or as Canon Law says, a “grave cause”. I didn’t have one and they weren’t giving me one.

Regardless of those reasons, guilt followed me out of the legion. I felt guilty for the things I did, the lies I told to protect the legion, the people I hurt in the name of the legion, the time I wasted in the legion, and everything about having been associated with the legion. On facebook I never accepted friend requests for present or past legionaries – even the ones I have fond memories of. I began repressing any memories of the legion, even good ones.

Then came the movie. I mentioned before, I am pretty sentimental. I end up with wet cheeks at the sentimental parts of movies, and I don’t care.  I was watching Good Will Hunting. And when, toward the end, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) says over and over to Will Hunting (Matt Damon), “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. Will, it’s not your fault,” I lost it all. Will felt guilty that he had been abused. But it was not his fault. I too felt guilty that I had been abused by the Legion, but it was not my fault.

I went into the legion with the purest intention of following a vocation God was calling me to well before I knew about the Legion. I did what any legionary was supposed to do, even the harmful stuff, with the good intention of following that vocation. I left the legion to follow that very same God given vocation. AND NONE OF WHAT HAPPENED WAS MY FAULT. I was deceived, abused and mislead, not of my own doing, but it happened.  

That was a turning point for me. From that point on, every time I remembered the legion and felt guilty about it, instead of suppressing it all, I just repeat; “It’s not my fault”. 

Good Will Hunting "It's not your fault" clip on Youtube

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fraternal charity

I just finished my yearly clergy retreat, a very good and enriching experience. It wasn't the first retreat that I have done with the clergy in Brasilia, but there was something very special about this one.

This afternoon, as we were finishing our last meditation and heading for Mass, it dawned on me that the spirit of charity among priests here is very different from what I had experienced in the Legion. Keep in mind that our spirit of silence is pretty relative. For the most part there was silence after the talks, some had a harder time than others, but there were moments when we got a chance to chat.

Among the clergy there are those who know each other very well, especially those who were ordained together. Others, like me, still feel a little like outsiders. But what was remarkable was the lack of leg pulling, cutting one another down because of weight, height, temperament or other physical or personal attributes. That struck me so much that I had to mention it to you. That was not my experience in the Legion.

I remember that Maciel had written a number of letters about fraternal charity, about not picking on one another's defects. But it didn't matter. That was a constant way of treating one another. Mostly because it was how we were treated by the superiors. Maciel himself did it. It was alright for a superior to cut his subjects down publicly, and therefore it was accepted among all legionaries.

In a nutshell, charity did not depend so much on what you said and did to one another, but the attitude of the one that was insulted. If someone easily shook it off and went on his way, the more he was teased. If someone got unnerved, well, he usually didn't make it in the Legion.

I'm not saying there weren't those who sincerely sought to live charity. There were. I'm saying there was a way of treating one another ingrained in the system that only sought to humiliate and destroy. Many of us carried the cross of humiliation silently, out of charity. That cross was heavy indeed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spiritual retreat

I will be beginning my annual spiritual retreat tonight. Please don't think I gave up blogging already. I'll be back on Friday.
By the way, the diocesan clergy retreat is way different than the LC retreats: spiritual themes and not Maciel/vocation/kingdom/faithfulness themes, and silence is relative... really relative.
Pray for diocesan vocations.

We've GOT you

I was in a long battle with my superiors who were trying to get me to sign a letter asking to be dispensed from my perpetual vows. For my part, I wanted them to state clearly why they thought I should leave. For their part, from what they told me, Maciel made the decision and that was that. This went on for years.

One day, I was in the Cheshire dining room waiting for lunch to begin. Fr Bannon walked in, and at one point he asked me a question I didn’t have the answer to. It was something trivial. So I said, “You’ve got me, father.” With all the disdain he was capable of, he started walking away and said, “Yes, brother, we’ve GOT you.”

I “got” the meaning he implied immediately, and my blood boiled. Oh how they wanted to get rid of me but were unable to speak the truth. An order given must be an order obeyed. No dialogue, no chance to redeem yourself. No truth. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

We only want what's best for you

Just a few days ago I watched “Mao's Last Dancer”, a movie based on the autobiography of Li Cunxin, a Chinese dancer who defected in the late 70’s. At one point Li is detained at the Chinese Consulate and questioned by the communist Counsel who says, “We only want what’s best for you”. When I heard those words, I had to pause the movie. I could no longer think straight, let alone follow the plot of the movie.

How many times did I hear those words from my superiors who tried to coerce me into doing “God’s will”, which for a long time was to leave the legion, but also to accept apostolates that I wasn’t cut out for.  What’s best for me? I don’t think at any time a superior was sincerely concerned for what’s best for me. Behind these words was always, “What’s best for the Legion”. They don’t really care for the well-being of individuals. People are assets that need to be maintained for the better fruitfulness or efficacy of the Legion. If an asset becomes ill, treatment is given according to how that asset benefits the Legion. If an asset is seen as unproductive or not useful, it is isolate or removed.

When was the last time I heard “We only want what’s best for you?” Let me put it in context.

Once ordained a priest, and that took not a few years, I was assigned to be chaplain to the Consecrated women and school chaplain. I hated it. I felt smothered, incapable of any real personal expression or initiative, subservient to a group of women I couldn’t talk with and had to go through a superior to find out what they wanted me to do. I was miserable. I began to purposely screw things up so they would get me out of there.

Finally I was moved and made assistant pastor of a parish in Brasilia, just another of the projects the legion accepted to get into an important city, but had no real interest in. When things went sour between me and the superior, as they inevitably would, and I was one foot out the door, the territorial director asked me what I wanted. Still convinced the legion and RC were God’s gift to humanity, I said I wanted to work in an RC section where I could have more initiative, be more active. He said, Ok, he’ll talk to Fr Alvaro and see what could be done.

Three weeks or a month later he came back. He said he had talked to Fr Alvaro and decided that “what was best for me” was to go to Chile to be the chaplain of one of the girl’s schools. My mouth dropped, along with my heart, my will and every drop of desire to be related to that order of manipulating sons of bitches.

I don’t remember what exactly I said. But I made it clear that they really had no interest in what was best for me, because they intentionally did not take into account what I had suffered in the same situation. In fact, they intentionally wanted to put me back into the same situation to break me. I was a useless asset to be eliminated at all costs.  

Not too many days after that I visited Archbishop João Braz de Aviz (who is now Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, taking the place of Card. Franc Rodé). I told him of this incident and recounted my life in the Legion. He listened with jaw agape, and then prayed with me and assured me I would be accepted into the archdiocese of Brasilia. He never said he would do what’s best for me, but that he sincerely wanted to help me. That was a first. That was a relief. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Anger issues

It’s hard to admit, but I have a lot of anger issues. Some of it is personality. Some of it began before I entered the Legion. Most of it comes from knowing I was deceived and used by the Legion. None of it is good. All of it has to come out, hopefully in a good way. I guess that’s the main reason for pulling this blog out of the dust bin. It’s therapeutic. It was when I was transitioning. I’m sure it will be now.

I try not to fly off the handle in the presence of others. But on my own I end up cursing – road rage and stuff. There is so much that I need to get out. And for some time now I have convinced myself that “I’m OK.” But I know now I need more healing. I need to get over the apathy the legion instilled in me so I can help other better.

Just yesterday when I went to the Parish to hear confessions and celebrate Mass I was walking on air. It was just one post here and a couple on life after rc. But it felt so good to let things out, share experiences. There is a lot of hurt inside so many people, myself included, all stemming from an institution touted for so long as the salvation of the Church. It’s not. I wonder if it will be able to save itself.

Thanks for listening. 

While you are useful to us...

My first months in novitiate were unremarkable. I was happy. It seemed like a dream come true.  But I noticed early on that there were other novices the superiors had their eyes on and gave special attention to. I was sure they were going to send me home. Even the remark and the attitude of Fr Owen Kearns who was Candidacy director that year tipped me off that I was not wanted. 

My best friend had dropped me off in Cheshire, and as I was walking into the lobby, Fr Owen said, "Br John, you came back!" What a welcome. How encouraging. That stuck with me for a long time. 

The attitude of my superiors toward me was that of tolerance or indifference while they slobbered over others, that is until my assistant notice the guitar hidden under my bed. When I told him I played bass guitar, everything changed. He said it was God's will that I call home and have my bass brought out. It was God's will that I played in the band. I suddenly became useful for the legion. I played in the band all during novitiate, humanities in Salamanca, Philosophy in Rome, right up until 3rd year theology. That's when I was no longer useful and was told I would have to leave the Legion.

I didn't think the reason they were asking me to leave was my usefulness at the time. But the more I think about it and reflect on the "methodology", the more I see that it is true. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time to get back to blogging

There have been a number of factors leading up to this post. After all, it has been over eighteen months since I have posted anything. It has been nearly two years since "click", the day I definitively stepped out the door into the real world and began to live again. Since then so much has happened. 
I have been made Pastor of a Parish in Brazil, have worked to bring new life into the parish and do a lot of needed renovations. But must of all I have worked to get rid of a lot of excess baggage that I have been carrying from my legion years. It has not been easy, but has been bearing its fruits. 

So it seems to me the time has come to start writing again. Why? because there is so much that I need to get out, and the shared experience helps others who have gone through the same or other nasty experiences. 

I recently read Sheila's story and was moved to write. 
Then I saw started a thread inspired by -9 years of lies.
I have been keeping things to myself, there are only two other priests I can talk to about this, and I don't get to see them very often. I really need to get things off my chest. 

So the time has come to revamp this blog. I thought of starting a new one. In fact there are two others I toyed with. But I was never motivated to write stuff on them. So I will refurbish this one and write stuff that happened to me in the legion. Hope it turns out well.