|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.
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 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
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?
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.
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, 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.
you become aware of the truth regarding the founder?
had been allegations in the press for years — allegations
we dismissed as preposterous. Just as obviously, we were wrong.
the time of the general chapter in early 2005, Fr
Maciel’s health was failing and a new general director was
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
continue the Adizes process being directed by the POC (Participatory
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
the Legion and Regnum Christi working with bishops and pastors
across North America to serve the Church in joy and
I see us forming apostles who can transform the
secular culture and build a society of justice and love.
see Regnum Christi spreading and helping people from different backgrounds
to draw near to the Gospel and experience the love
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.