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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Meet the New Territorial Director for North America
Interview with Fr Luis Garza, LC

Fr Luis Garza first pic
Fr Luis Garza, LC, territorial director for the territory of North America.

Father Luis Garza, LC, will become director of the Legion’s new Territory of North America on August 1.  This new territory unifies what since 2004 had been the Atlanta and New York territories.  Father Luis has been the Legion’s vicar general in Rome for the past two decades, a position he is leaving to accept this new assignment.  In the following interview, Father Luis reflects on his time with the Legion – and the task ahead.

Fr Luis is originally from Monterrey, Mexico. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering at Stanford University, and entered the Legionary novitiate in 1978. As a Legionary, he earned a licentiate in Philosophy and Theology, followed by a doctorate in Canon Law. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985, and went on to serve as territorial director for Mexico and South America from 1988 to1991, and was then elected as vicar general during the Legionary General Chapter in 1992. In 2003, Pope John Paul II named him a consultor of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI confirmed him in this position for another five-year period.

Were you surprised by this appointment?

When you are a Legionary of Christ you learn early on that you may be asked to pack your two black suits and head to a new assignment at any moment.  That is a reality of our religious life.

In this case, I knew this was a possibility because the territorial directors had proposed unifying the two territories as one way to improve how we serve the Church. And Fr Alvaro Corcuera, our general director, had asked me if I would be willing to head the new Territory of North America.

Of course, I said I would do whatever the Church needs, although it certainly was something that never would have occurred to me in the past. That was a couple months ago, so when the final decision was made I wasn’t surprised. I accepted the assignment because, in obedience, I believe it is the will of God expressed through my superiors.

The new Territory of North America covers a vast area. How are you going to manage it all?

It always is a challenge to fill the shoes of a strong leader. But in this case I have just my two feet to fill four shoes – those of Father Julio Marti and Father John Connor, who have
Luis Garza photo 2
done an outstanding job in their respective roles.  I wish I could be like some of the saints and be in more than one place at the same time.  But I am just one priest trying to serve people as well as I can.

Fortunately, I am not alone. I have the help of God and a very good and experienced team.  I also believe in the holiness and entrepreneurship of the people I will be leading. I want to support them and avoid micromanaging.

And I very much need the prayers of everyone reading this interview.

In many ways, the past years have been a nightmare for the Legion of Christ. How have you dealt with the scandal surrounding Fr Maciel?

I could never have imagined anything like that when I entered the Legion more than thirty years ago. It has been emotionally exhausting and often confusing. It has been painful not just for me personally, but because I know how much others have suffered — and many continue to suffer.  Trying to make sense of it all has been overwhelming. It is really a mystery: the mystery of evil and the mystery of God’s mercy.

At the beginning it was a shock, trying to come to accept that someone who had been such a beacon for me had, in fact, led a double life of deceit and deeply harmed others — and I and so many others had not seen the reality of that hurt.

I am so deeply sorry for the evil itself and for all that pain and suffering. Only God’s grace and the desire to serve and atone have helped me over these past years.

Many readers find it hard to believe that senior officials of the Legion didn’t know what Fr Maciel was doing.  As vicar general, didn’t you have your suspicions?

I really did not.  My relationship with Fr Maciel when he was general director and I was vicar general was extremely businesslike and I never helped him on personal matters. He kept his personal affairs very private.

At the time, I was responsible for the order’s day-to-day operations, and Fr Maciel insisted that I always be in Rome when he traveled. I had to make sure that the Legion was operating smoothly.  That isn’t what a vicar general normally does, but it was the task given me as a result of his advanced age and his frequent travels.
Fr Luis Garza at tomb of JP2
Fr Luis Garza, LC, at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II.

We all thought that when he traveled he was taking some time off, raising money for the Legion or helping people— which he certainly did — or engaged in other activities that were Church related.  I never in a million years suspected what else was going on.

On one side, you have to keep in mind that he was my superior, so it is not that I was supervising him; my role as vicar general was not one of a comptroller. And frankly, I’m not a very suspicious person. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe they are trying to be responsible, especially when I have no other reason to doubt them.  In the case of Fr Maciel, I never observed anything in his behavior around me or when he was at our center in Rome that would make me suspicious. 

Then, as now, I saw my job as serving the Church, bringing more souls to Christ.  Fr Maciel was our founder — and we were convinced he was a good and holy man. None of us thought we needed to check up on him.

When did you become aware of the truth regarding the founder?

Obviously, there had been allegations in the press for years — allegations we dismissed as preposterous.  Just as obviously, we were wrong.

At the time of the general chapter in early 2005, Fr Maciel’s health was failing and a new general director was elected.

Then came the Vatican’s communiqué in May 2006, which announced that Fr Maciel was removed from public ministry. Vatican officials told us that despite the absence of a canonical trial, they concluded with moral certainty that he was guilty and therefore the Holy Father was imposing sanctions.  But, according to the normal procedures, they didn’t share their evidence with us. So I am sorry to say, I simply did not believe that the accusations were true. It was probably denial on my part, but that was my first reaction.

But with new evidence emerging, in June 2006 I initiated a personal investigation.  By September of 2006, I had learned beyond doubt that Fr Maciel had fathered a child. I continued digging and by the summer of 2008, we had a fairly comprehensive picture of the situation.

Why didn’t you go public with the truth sooner and more transparently?

Actually, we had different opinions as to how to handle this. So, we informed Vatican authorities and we discussed the situation with prominent Church leaders, who advised us to first explain the situation to the Legionaries and consecrated members of Regnum Christi in a gradual manner rather than issuing a public statement.

The decision was that we should reach out to each Legionary and consecrated member personally so they could have some time to come to terms with the scandal before having to explain it to friends, neighbors and families. Clearly, we did an imperfect job and we underestimated the public effect. Perhaps there was no way to do this that would have been ideal.

What has been the hardest part of the past couple years for you?

My mission as a Legionary has always been to help form apostles to serve the Church and bring souls to Christ. So how can I even describe the shame of learning that while carrying out that mission there has been a dark element that has caused so much pain and suffering?  It is only the conviction that the Legion is a work of God and that he called me to be a part of it that has sustained me in these dark times. I know that only with God’s grace can I begin to heal myself — and help others to heal.

How do you justify your new position in light of your being one of the senior Legionaries who should have known what the founder was doing?

It is easy to look back and say, “You should have known.”  Perhaps I should have, but the fact is that I didn’t — and I don’t believe I could have known unless I had done something that I am simply against: spying on people. And as far as I could tell, I had no reason to do so.

As for my new assignment, it isn’t something I sought but it is the mission my congregation has called me to. I accept it with faith and frankly with some apprehension because of the challenges ahead. And I see my position as a service to the Legion, the Church and all the people I will be dealing with. I will try to do my best, trusting in God’s help. 

Given all that has happened, how can the Legion restore credibility among Church leaders and the laity?

We can only earn it by loving others and serving. We must earn credibility through hard work, humbly changing how we do many things and being open with people. I hope people will give us the opportunity to regain their trust and I want to thank all those, starting with Pope Benedict and many bishops, who have never let us down and helped us move forward in these difficult times.

All that has happened over the past several years must have taken a toll financially, as well as spiritually and emotionally.  How bad is the Legion’s financial situation?

On the international level, we are solvent from a balance sheet point of view and our income is generally able to pay our current expenses, but relative to our revenue, we have a considerable amount of debt.  In addition, we have to make an extra effort to provide for future needs, especially for retirement of our members as our order ages. We need to move on that front and there are plans we are implementing.

In North America, the situation is weaker.  The Legion has been in a growth mode for the past two decades and has taken on too much debt. The scandal and the world financial crisis have understandably hampered our ability to raise funds. This is a matter I will need to focus on — with a lot of help from God and from many benefactors and advisors.

How are you going to address the funding problems?

There are no magic solutions. We have a great team of people in our development office, so I’ll be working closely with them and our financial team.  Finance 101 says that we need to reduce expenses and increase revenues. This takes time, prudence, hard work and God’s help.  And like every challenge we face, it requires a great deal of faith on our part. Once we solve the short-term problem, we will need to create a financial base in order to better serve the Church.

How can you rekindle the enthusiasm for the mission in discouraged Legionaries and Regnum Christi members?

This is a mission that concerns everybody — we all need to support each other and understand that we have a treasure of God for the Church that cannot be lost. Pope Benedict has made this clear. But it is not surprising that many people are discouraged at this point. I pray that the discouragement will slowly disappear as we go through the amazing renewal that already has begun. There is the review of our constitutions, the Vatican visitation to the consecrated members, the Adizes process that already is well under way in North America — every time I go to our website I see something new that people are doing to evangelize.

While not neglecting the real problems and concerns, we also must acknowledge the positive things and the many fruits God is giving through the effort of so many committed lay people. We cannot stop doing good, we cannot wait for the world to become kinder and gentler. We need to stand up and move on. Christ’s mission cannot wait.

You grew up in Mexico and have spent the past 20 years mostly in Rome – how can you relate to the situation in North America?

When I was in Italy, people would say that I was “too American.” I suppose they could see that America is a country that I admire and respect, especially having done my university studies there. You also have to have in mind that I am not foreign to the US and Canada since I visited them extensively from 1992 to 2004. Anyway, I can only say that I will do my best to learn and serve.

But we should remember that the Legion, like the Church herself, transcends national boundaries. The Gospel is for every person and every nation and it is not from here or there. We certainly retain our individual cultures — I am very much a Mexican — but we are part of a bigger mission, a mission to evangelize with the message of Christ.

How do you respond to Americans who might think our part of the world would be better served by a territorial director who is American?

Perhaps they are right! But I have been asked to serve our mission in North America and will do the best I can.  I would ask only that they bear with me and be patient. Together, with God’s grace, I believe we can do this. I could never do it alone and I will appreciate all the feedback that I can get.

Can we expect more school closings, consolidations and layoffs?

Most of these hard decisions have already been taken by Fr Julio and Fr John.  It seems to me that those were painful but unavoidable steps. I do not know each situation specifically and have lots of homework to do. But I must be honest and say that our financial situation doesn’t provide much room for flexibility. If an apostolate is unable to support itself financially, we probably will need to close it.

Will you continue the Adizes process being directed by the POC (Participatory Organizational Council)?

I have not taken part in the past, but have been told of its many positive effects. In fact, it is helping our operations in several territories. So, yes, it will continue.  There is a planning meeting scheduled for August and I look forward to participating along with Father Julio and Father John.

You were the major architect of Integer, an effort to streamline the organization of employees and different services provided to the Legion and its apostolates. These structural changes have created a good deal of tension between religious and lay staff — how can you bring everyone together to work as a team?

It is true that I was heavily involved in the planning of Integer.  However, I have not taken part in the implementation of this effort in the territories in the last 4-5 years, so I do not have a very detailed knowledge of how it has gone. But we clearly have not been perfect in our approach and changes have been made while we keep moving on.

I believe we need to work more closely together — religious, consecrated and laity — in our apostolates and projects. Our goal to serve Christ and his Church is far more important than any difficulty that we can have in getting along with each other. I believe in the good intentions and esprit de corps of all of us and that we will be able to get through this.  I am sure that is what Christ wants. For me, being able to involve lay, consecrated, religious and priests in all our apostolates is essential. We need to blend the professional and the supernatural in every single endeavor. 

We have lost a good number of Legionaries and consecrated women in North America — how are you going to slow the attrition?

Well, we need to recognize that for the past several years we have been in a great spiritual battle, a battle that has raised fears and doubts. Some have decided to leave, and I pray for each of them and for their spiritual and human success serving God in their new mission.   These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, so I’m sorry when anybody leaves. I also want to apologize for anything we did that made them want to leave.  

All of us — every Legionary, consecrated or lay member of Regnum Christi — need prayer and sacrifice.  We need the spiritual support of our superiors, communities, coworkers and spiritual guides.  And through our review of our consecrated life, Legionaries and consecrated members have the opportunity to consider how we can live more faithfully and fully to serve Christ.

Much of my new job is managerial in nature and I can’t escape that. But I am first and foremost a priest, and my heart is dedicated to supporting our consecrated, religious and priests — they are our treasure. I will try to address their issues and solve the problems that may be causing difficulties for them. I just beg them to be patient; we can’t always control the time frame of change. There are so many signs of hope, since vocations are still coming to our doors and many of our brothers are approaching priesthood or moving on in their consecrated life. For example, it is beautiful to think that this year, 14 Americans will be ordained.

Does the Legion simply have a cultural problem, an inability to understand and work in the “American” society?

I honestly don’t believe that is true. The Legion and Regnum Christi have been incredibly fruitful in the US. But we clearly still have much to learn. We must keep growing in openness and transparency and cooperate more closely with other groups within the Church, under the guidance of bishops, pastors and diocesan staff.

We talk a lot about serving the Church, which is what we do. But I believe we have to focus on our charism— forming apostles and putting them at the service of the Church.

The apostles we form come from all walks of life, all social and economic levels, all educational backgrounds and, in some cases, from various faith backgrounds.  We help them to find their mission, which may be in the priesthood, consecrated life or as a member of Regnum Christi. It may also be in a way that transforms society and serves Christ that has no direct relationship with the Legion at all.

What is your vision for the Legion and Regnum Christi in North America?

I really believe America and Canada have a great mission in the world today. North Americans are creative, hard-working and generous. We will try to serve the Church by being faithful to our charism. We want to bring the Gospel to all people, especially those that are on the fringes of evangelization — and enkindle in them the desire to serve as apostles of the Church.

I see the Legion and Regnum Christi working with bishops and pastors across North America to serve the Church in joy and communion.

I see us forming apostles who can transform the secular culture and build a society of justice and love.

I see Regnum Christi spreading and helping people from different backgrounds to draw near to the Gospel and experience the love of Christ.

I see God healing us from the hurts within ourselves and helping us to reach out to help those whom we have hurt.

What can you tell us that gives us hope for the future?

Jesus Christ. Christ is the great hope for every human being. And I truly believe that North America and its exceptional spirit give hope to the world. If this great continent can be inspired to live the Gospel, we will change the world. And knowing that gives all of us hope.



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