Monday, October 27, 2008
Cult Expert Reviews "Our Father,..."
Link to bestseller
ONE BRAVE FORMER PRIEST
By Joe P. Szimhart (Douglassville, PA USA)
Would you, as a loving parent, send your seventeen year old son to dedicate his life to a highly manipulative organization controlled by a sexual predator? Of course, you would not and neither did the loving parents of John Paul Lennon but...it did happen. As told in this book, what happened was a culturally motivated, naive young man from Ireland accepted the glowing promise of Catholic recruiters to help form a new religious movement in Mexico in 1961. Lennon felt drawn to the adventure with holy men who would guide and protect his journey. What could be better? Despite lingering doubts about everything from his sexual expression to the existence of God Lennon signed on and served eventually as an ordained priest in the Legion of Christ for 23 years. He formally left the "congregation" in 1984. This book answers the question, why?
The Legion was founded by a young Father Marcial Maciel in 1941. In many respects, the Legion of Christ and its lay subsidiary Regnum Christi closely resembles Opus Dei, the Catholic organization maligned in The Da Vinci Code. Both are controversial, conservative, hierarchical Catholic groups formed ostensibly to provide members with rules for a saintly life and a way to serve others. Both groups target wealthy donors and aggressively seek favor from the Vatican. Indeed, Opus Dei's founder was a canonized recently. The same beatific fate may not befall Father Maciel as long as strong evidence continues to appear regarding his mismanagement of the Legion and his decades' long legacy of sexual abuse of young men.
J. Paul Lennon's self-published autobiography is the second significant exposé in English of the Legion and Fr. Maciel, the first being Vows of Silence (2004). There are many exposés in Spanish. Lennon's story brings the Legion experience into intimate focus through the lens of his life, his dreams, his sins, and his struggles. Lennon broke with the Legion after confronting the leader publicly about mistreatment of relocated members. He was also fed up with the double standards regarding vows of poverty while the leaders basked in favors and food from wealthy donors. Though Lennon never encountered sexual abuse personally while a Legion member, he documents what he learned after he left the group. Be prepared for specificity regarding Maciel's controversial behavior toward the end of the book. (The title refers to Fr. Maciel's dubious illnesses that required frequent time-outs for days in bed complete with injections of Demerol and erotic massages from boys).
'Our Father, who art in bed' reads well enough as a self-published effort by a first-time book writer. I enjoyed Lennon's anecdotes about his life in Ireland and Mexico. The reader finds a sense of place and culture as Lennon reflects on his struggles to make sense of his psychological isolation while serving others. The Legion restricted every aspect of a member's life including friends. "What friends" asks Lennon on page 111? "I had to have a motive and objective to contact outsiders; all activities not sanctioned by the very detailed rule had to be approved by my superior." He was able to visit his family only five years after he joined. Lennon would not know the songs of Bob Dylan or the other John Paul Lennon and The Beatles until after 1984. Lennon served as a priest in the Washington, DC area for 5 years after he broke away. He applauds the open kindness of Catholic clerics there who restored his faith in the Church. Nevertheless, Lennon requested and was granted a release from Holy Orders in 1989.
Lennon eventually recognized that his Legion experience matched many stories of ex-cult members from any number of other controversial groups. He and other ex-Legionites eventually formed a helping network called REGAIN that has a website. As his book documents, Lennon and REGAIN were sued last year by the Legion of Christ over violation of allegedly confidential information. This book is in part an appeal to the Church, the Legion and the public to recognize the truth of the matter. If nothing else, Lennon's legacy is set as one brave former priest that took on a festering cult that the Catholic Church has yet to adequately lance and to heal from. As a Catholic myself, and a professional consultant about cults, I can sympathize with Lennon's account thoroughly.