Thursday, January 8, 2009
New Oxford Review of "Our Father" Maciel
3rd review from top
Our Father, Who Art in Bed: A Naïve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ. By J. Paul Lennon. Book Surge Publishing. 379 pages. $15.
Irishman J. Paul Lennon, author of this autobiographical work, was a priest of the now much-embattled Legion of Christ for 23 years. Having left it behind in 1984, he went on to found the ReGAIN Network (www.regainnetwork.org), which provides documentation about the Legion and Regnum Christi, its lay branch.
The Mexican founder of the Legion, Fr. Marcial Maciel (1920-2008), was "invited" to retire to a life of prayer and penance by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 after years of being investigated for sexual abuse. Until that time, Fr. Maciel was convinced that he would one day be canonized.
Through the aid of James Cardinal Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Lennon was able to function as a diocesan priest until 1989 when, a broken man, he left the priesthood to seek recovery from the wounds of his Legionary experience. He credits Cardinal Hickey with showing him kindness and understanding, in contrast to Fr. Maciel, who was known within the order as Nuestro Padre ("Our Father").
To those who were alienated from Fr. Maciel, the secretive and hypochondriac founder was known as El Puma. Lennon's book is one of the few sources in English (others are written in Spanish) that reveal the predatory nature of the highly regarded Maciel. Lennon, who entered the Legion at the age of seventeen, writes that he knew nothing of Maciel's sexual activity with young men until years after he left the order.
The title of Lennon's work refers both to the hypochondriacal and sexual proclivities of Fr. Maciel. Such a title may inhibit some readers from opening the book. Some readers may turn instead to the Legion's own uncritical and adulatory self-history, The Legion of Christ: A History by Angeles Conde and David J.P. Murray (2008), which, Lennon says, is far from a truthful account. Lennon is far less graphic than the DVD documentary produced by Jason Berry (co-author of Vows of Silence, a 2004 exposé on Maciel and the Legion), which premiered in April 2008 at the Fifth New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival.
In contrast to Berry, Lennon writes dispassionately of his subject. He has found solace in therapy to deal with the trauma suffered by the stifling Legionary life. He claims that one chief scar inflicted by this distorted "religious life" is an infantilizing of the personality. An unhealthy view of human sexuality is inculcated by Legionary training, which can only be described as prudishness, or what Lennon calls "angelism." How far this is from Pope John Paul II's theology of the body!
In violation of universal Catholic tradition for seminaries and religious communities, the Legion breaks the boundary between the internal forum and the external forum: A confessor or spiritual director may also be an administrator or religious superior to the same members. This is unimaginable in a normal seminary or religious order, but for the Legion it is common practice. The Founder even heard the confessions of his own subjects!
Paul Lennon was put in charge of a Legionary institution in Mexico soon after ordination to the priesthood. He makes the point that a Legionary school is a base for recruitment to the Legion's novitiate or Regnum Christi. Schools are "fronts" for recruitment, not centers of study or the intellectual life. In fact, all Legionary apostolates exist for recruiting and fundraising, no matter their alleged purpose. This agenda leads to the creation of numerous "front" apostolates. Instead of thinking "with" the Church, the Legion wishes to think "for" the Church, especially in its attempt to dominate Catholic publishing and media.
The Church approved the constitutions of the Legion and Regnum Christi. Will history judge the Church harshly? Paul Lennon is by no means the only victim of this organization. He mentions other names in this book, Mexicans and Irishmen, including his friend Peter Cronin. Fr. Cronin, who initialized the concept of the ReGAIN website, was sued by the Legion's lawyers. These tragedies should have been avoided. Innocent lives were "tossed away" by Fr. Maciel's heartlessness. Lennon describes himself as a survivor, but others have not fared as well.
In recent years, several American dioceses have restricted or banned the Legion and Regnum Christi, including the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul. More recently, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has moved against the Legion. But in an interview on June 11, 2008, Baltimore Archbishop Edward O'Brien said ominously, "I got a call 20 minutes before my meeting with [Legionary] Fr. Raymond [Cosgrave] two months ago. Then I got a letter from another cardinal, and a phone call from a third cardinal the day before I met with Fr. Alvaro." Fr. Alvaro Corcuera is the Superior General of the Legion. In other words, three curial cardinals in Rome protected the Legion from an American archbishop who was doing his duty and safeguarding his people, especially the youth.
While it is possible to oppose the Legion for the wrong reasons, the truth is served by administrative decisions such as that of Archbishop O'Brien. Paul Lennon would argue that such efforts are only a beginning.
- Brian Van Hove, S.J.