Fr. Maciel Poet & Plagiarist

This article was written many years ago  to undermine the blind devotion that Legion, and especially Regnum Christi, members had for this sample of much admired Fr. Maciel’s Lyrical Mysticism. A few years ago Legion/Regnum Christi leadership fessed up that he had plagiarized it from a Spanish patriot. It could still be of some interest; hopefully as a little warning sign to those who blindly believe what their LC/RC superiors and spiritual directors tell them is Gospel truth.

The following article has not been updated and stands as it was written and published about 15 years ago: a tribute to the writer’s prophetic gifts (as recognized for all Christians in the Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium).

Premier Spirituality of Legion and Regnum Christi
Analysis y Commentary

By 1961 LC Co-founder

<There are blows in life so violent –I don’t understand!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them
The silt of all sufferings
Backs up into the soul… I don’t understand!
Not many; but they exist…they open dark furrows
In the most ferocious face and in the most bull-like back.
Perhaps they are the horses of that heathen Attila,
Or the black heralds sent to us by Death. (B.V.)

With great expectations did I approach my mailbox to pick up the copy of El Salterio de Mis Días furtively sent by a friend. I had not seen this text, attributed to Father Maciel, for over twenty years. I opened it reverently on the plane on my way to Mexico: “this edition January 3, 1991, 50th anniversary of the Foundation of the Legion; Ediciones CES [LC Center for Higher Studies, Rome]”, printed in Italy; a slim, cream hardcover enclosing 145 pages of expensive paper. The Psalter itself is shorter, as the book contains some ‘padding’ before and after the actual text. I approach it with an open, respectful and questioning mind:
I have a relationship with this small book. The Psalter of Father Maciel, El Salterio de Mis Días, has been venerated in Legionary communities since at least the early 60s, being considered a special text, for the exclusive use of Legionaries, and later, RC members. Mine were perhaps the first non-Hispanic eyes privileged to read and meditate these personal prayers of Nuestro Padre. Originally, they circulated as a collection of stapled Xeroxed type-written or offset pages, without any introduction or biblical references. As a Legionary Theology Student at the Collegio Massimo 1968-9 on Via Aurelia 677, the writer was also a devout biblical student. In the Psalter he treasured, the content layout was not as tidy or as clear as the present edition, divided now into psalms I to XIV, and each psalm subdivided into sections with Arabic numerals. What better way to familiarize myself with the Bible and show my devotion for Nuestro Padre than to research the biblical references present in the Psalter. With great enthusiasm I set about the task.
The present edition contains a prologue, Latin numerals lower-case vii-xiv, attributed to B.S., who, I assume is Fr. Bernardo Skertchly. I can only imagine what an honor it must have been for him to craft this presentation and thus be so closely associated with The Founder, and having his words in the same publication. The prologue is written in a simple, evocative, and devout style, with ample citations from the Psalter itself, referred to as Smd, an acronym that would seem to confer official status to the Psalter alongside the CLC [Constitutions of the Legion of Christ] and the CNP [Cartas de Nuestro Padre, Letters of Father Maciel]. It is sprinkled with quotations from the New Testament, the Letters of Father Maciel, and contains one citation from Pope Paul VI. Fr. BS tells us that the Smd is a window into the soul of Father Maciel: a landscape of tears, fatigue, suffering and Calvary.

Fr. Maciel’s Psalter starts off sprightly with:
“I know, Lord, that without You I can do nothing,
But I also know that with You I can do all.
I know, Lord, that having elected me
You will always be my strength,
Because you are the One who comforts me.”
Let us pause for a note on the Psalter’s ‘poetic’ style which may very favorably impress the English-speaking first-time-reader, especially the RC Consecrated female, who delves into the Spanish text. The literary poetic value of the Smd cannot be calibrated from the perspective of Spanish 101, i.e. from a rudimentary knowledge of the language of Cervantes. The reader must be mindful of the innate lyricism of the Spanish language in and of itself, which can even overcome a poor English translation. Just think of
“Last night as I lay a-sleeping,
I dreamed –oh blessed hope!–
There was a fountain flowing;
Deep down in my soul.
From what hidden source,
Tell me, water, you come to me?
I never drank before
From a spring as sweet as thee.”

So speaks Antonio Machado, the great modern Spanish poet; with the same powerful metaphors and pathos speaks the Peruvian, César Vallejo, quoted as a preface to this essay [excerpt from Los Heraldos Negros, 1918]. And we all are familiar with the passion and simplicity of Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty love poems and a sad song.” All this without mentioning the Spanish Golden Age of poetry with the likes of Lope De Vega, St. John of the Cross, Luis de León and others who excelled in religious, Christ-centered poetry. So the Psalter needs to be examined against that impressive backdrop.

Remember also that the Psalter, as a collection of poetic prayers, is by its very genre lyrical, emotional, evocative, and metaphorical. Everyday Spanish, with its idioms and saying, can easily conjure a certain poetic, even exotic, feeling. When reading these common metaphors for the first time the non-native Spanish reader may be struck by their force. But one has to distinguish the common from the uncommon. For these reasons readers should not gullibly admire the surface lyricism of the Fr. Maciel’s Psalter. Rather should they ask themselves to what extent does Fr. Maciel rise above common Spanish language clichés when describing his experiences and his relationship with the Lord. And, what would be left of the content and style if the already powerful Biblical images were also stripped away? As an example of the latter let us examine a brief passage in an English that does the original more than justice.

Psalter of My Days, pages 19-20
” II- Psalm of Faith
2. I believe, like Job, when Your light goes out

I believe in Thee, Lord.
I wear my faith like armor to protect me
Against the loud clash of the world
Throughout my sleepless days and
My anxiety ridden nights.

I believe in Your word ineffable and serene,
For nothing will happen to me without your permission.

I believe, like Job, in richess and in poverty,
When Your light grows dim and I grope in the dark,
Looking for the old paths to guide me.
When this black river of doubt
Tries to break my dyke of hope…”

As the reader continues through this psalm he encounters one biblical reference after another in the following two paragraphs:
[…] When I cast my nets over and over again [reference to the miraculous draft of fishes, Luke, chapter 5, used repeatedly throughout this poem]
I believe you test your chosen ones [literally, Book of Wisdom. and how God purifies them like gold in a crucible, 8, 5-6]
Because when the seed falls in to the earth [literally, John, 12, 24]
I would like to surrender to You,
That You put me close to You,
Like a seal on Your heart [literally, Song of Songs, 8, 6]
Notice the plethora of literal biblical references above in two short paragraphs. So abundant are they that footnotes cannot keep up with them. The present version of the Psalter notes only the Song of Songs, 8, 6, omitting the other three which are –to use a cliché- as clear as daylight.

By utilizing the psalm genre Fr. Maciel invites comparisons with the original Davidic Psalter. Exegetes have traditionally attributed the Psalter to King David, a deeply religious, passionate and sinful man living in the 10th century. David’s psalms number 150; Father Maciel’s are 15, a neat tenth of David’s number. The attentive reader might discover some artifice in Smd’s number of 15. Further scrutiny shows how only 14 psalms can really be attributed to Father Maciel. The #15 is not a psalm but an adaptation of the Divine Praises litany traditionally recited before the Blessed Sacrament. Despite this, such an ordinary text is given the title ‘Psalm of Blessing in My Exile’. Thus the last ‘psalm’ would intentionally make 15 and simultaneously, through its title, artificially tie the whole Smd to that painful period in The Founder’s life originally called ‘The War’ and later re-named ‘The Great Blessing’. The title of the last psalm would appear as an attempt to demonstrate how Fr. Maciel had overcome any bitterness he might have initially experienced during those harrowing times.
Another inevitable comparison is between the spirituality of David and Marcial. David committed murderous adultery in possessing Bathsheba, and after his conversion he openly admits his sinfulness and shortcomings and does public penance. Father Maciel’s confession of personal sin is very muted. Though he does ask God to forgive him, it is not clear of what concrete wrongs Fr. Maciel is conscious. Other readers can examine this aspect in further depth. The Psalter of My Days’ lacks David’s full orchestra of feelings returning often to a single note of lament. Moreover, at second glance its spirituality appears less like David’s ardent passion and more like that of the [Innocent] Suffering Servant of Yahweh described in the 2nd Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Fr. Maciel is more intent on expressing his forgiveness of those who gratuitously persecute him than in begging forgiveness of others and focusing on his own shortcomings.
Fr. Maciel’s psalms, nevertheless, do reflect the essential nature of this genre which is a direct and spontaneous crying out to the Lord. Whereas David cries out in his own words, influenced naturally by the Torah and his tradition, Father Maciel frequently resorts to the words of Jesus and St. Paul and to such an extent that often he would seem to simply paraphrase them. This writer was one of the privileged co-founders of the early 60s with access to the original version of the Fr. Maciel’s Psalter. As previously stated, the layout was not as clear. That XV psalm was certainly not present. The opus contained few if any biblical citations. Spurred by his devotion for Nuestro Padre and by his approaching priestly ordination, this writer devoted many hours to finding the Psalter’s biblical underpinnings. Some months before ordination he proudly presented his labor of love to his spiritual father.
I am personally convinced that Father Maciel, or the Psalter writer did not research the biblical references originally but quoted freely from the Scripture as was the custom in the 50’ and 60’ among Spanish speaking preachers. This consideration would not lead us to necessarily conclude that Fr. Maciel read the Bible or the New Testament during his exile. He could have written spontaneously, or dictated his thoughts to someone familiar with the New Testament and endowed with a poetic pen.

Historical testimonies confirm that Fr. Maciel has rarely been absolutely alone to fend for himself since the 50s. He has always had at least one religious or priest to accompany him and assist with his practical needs when leaving the community house, which is often. The companion’s duties include taking dictation, running errands, preparing meals, procuring medications, setting up appointments, traveling with him…Thus a series of historical questions arises at this stage. Who were the religious brothers or priests close to Fr. Maciel when the ‘Great Blessing’ broke out? Who was with Nuestro Padre during his exile, or when the Psalter of My Days started to come together? Did Fr. Maciel have any assistance with the writing or the research? How was this document conceived, originally written, and how did it develop? What are we to make of its authorship attributed to Fr. Maciel, and of its literary and spiritual value? The answers to these questions I will leave to my betters.
When in 1968-9 the devout Legionary biblical student had finished his labor of love, he awaited an opportunity to meet Fr. Maciel in the corridors of the college in Rome. When the big moment came, he shyly accosted The Founder and showed him the results of his efforts. The writer cannot remember whether he had found more citations than the present edition contains. Fr. Maciel took the work—painstakingly hand annotated—glimpsed at it, briefly thanked the young seminarian, and walked away. The seminarian never knew whether his ‘tireless efforts’ had pleased his father, spiritual director, superior, and mentor. He did not keep a copy of his annotations as Xerox was not readily available to him. Perhaps he was hoping it would be reviewed by those wiser and higher up, that a reaction or feedback would be forthcoming. There was none. Humility told him not to lend too much importance to his personal creations or wishes. He soon became busy preparing for his ordination to the deaconate and for his final S.T.L. exams. He did not dwell on his gift, for it was graciously given. Nevertheless, perhaps he secretly desired his efforts would lead others to the vibrant and mysterious Word of God lying under the Psalter of My Days.
Let us close our foray into Spanish religious poetry by returning to Antonio Machado [1875-1938], a member of Spain’s literary Generation of ’98. The apparently naive verses of Anoche cuando dormía, introduced earlier, continue and conclude:

Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamed –oh blessed hope!—
There was a beehive growing,
Deep down in my soul.
And inside, the golden bees
Were making with a flurry,
From bits of old bitterness,
Soft wax and sweetening honey.

Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamt, –oh blessed hope!–
A burning sun was glowing
Deep down in my soul.
It was burning because it produced
Warmth of fireside bright,
And it was sun because it flared
Bringing tears, blinding my sight.

Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamed-oh blessed hope!—
It was God whom I was keeping
Deep down in my soul.”


The Forgotten Legionary

(Still on the Legion’s official books as a member of the Cancun Community)

By John Lloyd Stevens, special envoy

He was a boyhood friend, a fellow Dubliner and a member of the Legion of Mary -though he was more fervent than I.  He joined the Legion of Christ shortly after me and partially because of me; November 1961, as he reminded me when we met. My memory is not what it used to be so I had questions for RC (not the famous one in Chile). He is an ordained priest, still on the Legion’s books and still proudly signs LC after his name.
I was traveling back to Quintana Roo, Mexico, the Legion of Christ’s only Mission Territory-though they may tell you otherwise. The Legion does claim otherwise, with its Catholic World Missions organization, thus demonstrating its penchant for “playing loose with the truth” in order to deceive well-intentioned, generous and hopeful Catholics into donating (manipulative fundraising).


[Open Quote, Legion of Christ statement on their Missions:


Thursday, 19 february 2015 9:53 PM
What We do
Catholic World Mission

Catholic World Mission exists to bring education and the message of Christ to neighbors throughout the world. We bring faith, education and opportunity to people in the mission areas.
Together with some enterprising lay Catholics, Fr. Thomas Moylan, LC, a priest of the Legion of Christ, helped found Catholic World Mission in 1998 for the sake of supporting Catholic education and missionary activities around the world.

Our lay missionaries and teachers catechize, educate and serve the people in their native communities. Catholic World Mission enables poor families to experience the life-changing power of the Catholic Faith, helping them break out of poverty and ignorance and bringing them hope and spiritual renewal.

Fr. Thomas Moylan provides us with sound spiritual advice as well as his insights from 10 years as a missionary in the jungles of Latin America. The day to day operation of Catholic World Mission is handled by qualified lay people who share his vision and spirituality. We cooperate and receive counsel from many other Catholic lay men and women who are active in similar charitable work.

Catholic World Mission is a 501 c 3 religious non-profit listed in the 2001 Official Catholic Directory on page 847.

For more information about Catholic World Mission and our important and urgent mission please contact us at (203) 287-6314 or”

close quote]


The writer bolded a phrase to illustrate the Legion’s “playing loosely with the truth” and also because such an inexact statement is a slap in the face for those Legionaries of Christ who really have been missionaries in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
• Fr. Thomas Moylan, another boyhood friend of mine, fellow student at St. Vincent’s CBS, Glasnevin, Dublin, has been “on the Missions” as the fundraising plug states. The writer has been a missionary too, with RC and with TM, but their service to the poor Maya people could not be more different. In other words, Fr. Moylan was in Quintana Roo for a few years.
• Parts of Quintana Roo could be described as “tropical rainforest” but it also contains the cities of Chetumal, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, the Riviera Maya and many other tourist destinations.
• When Frs. RC, Coady R.I.P., Quinn, Corrigan and Mexicans Valencia, Orozco, De la Torre, Penilla, et al. began their mission work Cancun was just being discovered. Fr. RC has been there since the beginning, 1973, and worked tirelessly until his “retirement” a few years ago forced by diabetes and its consequences.
• Among other assignments Fr. Moylan was the first principal of the Legion’s Instituto Cumbres in Chetumal in the mid-1970s. As far as I can recall he never drove a jeep to the remote villages to spread the Gospel and administer the sacraments to the Maya, “getting his hands dirty,” like the other Legionaries I mentioned.
• A knowledgeable reader has added the further information (loosely translated by the author): Fr. Moylan was principal of the Instituto Cumbres in Cozumel for four years (1981-85). He also spent one year as assistant pastor in Chetumal and about three years as pastor in Carrillo Puerto. So, if we exclude his years working in the Legion’s schools (for the middle and upper classes) we can count about four years of pastoral service in the Chetumal-Cancun Prelature (a prelature is a church jurisdiction which is not sufficiently mature to be considered a fully-fledged diocese)



When I visited the Yucatan Peninsula recently I wanted to see my old friend, RC. I was “touring” with my wife but the bonds of my teenage friendship with RC and our years in the Legion and on the missions spurred me to look for him. He was not easy to find.

RC, now in his 72nd year, was not living in a Legion of Christ religious community. I would have expected him to be in one of the two large communities in the Prelature, Chetumal’s Sacred Heart or Cancun’s expensive residence on Bonampak Avenue, but he was not there. I learned through the grapevine –official Legion sources would not mention this you can rest assured- that he was living in a private home in Merida, Yucatan. And that he was being taken care of by a female friend. Lest your suspicions be aroused, knowing RC I can set your mind to rest: he is the straightest arrow I have ever known. But I did not like the fact that he was not being taken care of by Legionaries in a Legion house or nursing home (It seems the Legion does not have money for that). If we calculate that RC began his assignment in 1973 and “retired” a few years ago because of illness we can conclude that he worked for the Legion of Christ and served the poor people of Quintana Roo for about forty years non-stop. I believe his trips to his native Ireland have been very very rare. I gathered from our chat that for the most part he had lost contact with his family of origin. (Another “Mission Impossible” for further down the line: making sure he and his family are in touch!)

RC developed diabetes and had the big toe of one foot and two small toes of the other removed. On January 28, 2015, arriving in Merida from Chichen-Itzá I began my quest for the elusive RC. My lady friend told me he was living in “the back of beyond” on the outskirts of Merida. But I was undeterred. And I blessed my wife for her solidarity. Sorting through old and new numbers I finally reached him. Hearing his voice on the phone after decades of silence and isolation was a real pleasure and well worth the effort. Unfortunately neither his voice nor his thinking were sharp and it was hard to get his exact address. That did not stop me. From our comfortable Wyndham hotel we jumped in a taxi and made for his home with the data we had. The driver knew Avenue 2000 but insisted in knowing the neighborhood name. “?Qué colonia?”, he insisted and I would call RC. My good friend could not tell me what neighborhood he was living in. (He hardly goes out and when he does so he is chauffeured by his friend, Ma del Socorro.) I continued to prod him. He told me he was in his wheelchair and would have to go outside to the street corner to see the name of his neighborhood on the sign. I was relentless. With that information the driver did an about turn and got near RC’s place. I stepped out and found his humble abode around the corner from where the taxi had stopped. The driver kindly gave us his number so we could call him at the end of our visit.

I pried open the iron gate that led to a front patio. I could finally glimpse him at the open front door with a smile on his face. We were shocked and saddened to see RC in a wheelchair. We asked him to show us how he got around and went into his room and the kitchen directly behind the small sitting room. And I could feel anger well up inside. “Why weren’t they taking proper care of my friend?” Being me I inquired about financial support from the Legion. He told us that the LC was sending him a sizable weekly(?) stipend which he used for groceries and medical expenses. He seemed to imply it was not enough but the amount he mentioned (correctly?) was sizeable by my rapid calculations. I tried to pry more exact information from him but his answers were not clear. During our conversation RC had several serious short term memory lapses, including him blurting out in the middle of our meeting, “Who are you?”; this, instead of making me angry, made me more sad as I realized that his mental health was not the best. (More anger wells up in me but I carry on as if nothing had happened).
-Oh, yes, you are my friend, John!
-Indeed, Ray, I am. Remember when you played the piano at our house?
-Yes, and we took part in a talent contest singing “Down by the riverside.”
He tried to remember the other song we performed at Phibsboro Parish Hall. I remembered the song but I kept the name to myself –for some strange reason.

(To be continued)

Carta Ficticia de un Superior Legionario a su subdito…un poco de humor (Spanish language) -Narcissists can’t stand being teased



Querido Padre N.,

Con mucho gusto acogemos en nuestra humilde casa a un misionero tan fervoroso como Ud. La comunidad de La Antigua, Guatemala, es una casa todavía en formación ya que no contamos hasta ahora con la aprobación formal del Sr. Obispo, Aurelio Victoria. Tenemos plena confianza en que pronto nos otorgara el permiso ya que manda sus seminaristas a Regina Apostolorum en Roma. El P. Luis Alberto ha conseguido permiso de los Hnos. Maristas para buscar vocaciones en su escuela preparatoria y hay algunos jóvenes que esperan ansiosamente engrosar nuestras filas.

Voy a avisar al P. Gerente que prepare el cuarto de visitas. Como miembro de la comunidad Ud. puede concelebrar todos los días -o si prefiere, como era la costumbre de Nuestro Padre- Ud. puede celebrar en particular para conservar su fervor sacerdotal. Con la bendición del Cardenal De Paolis, ahora rezamos Laudes y Vísperas en comunidad para expresar nuestro espíritu y mística de Cor Unum et Anima Una y la caridad delicada y universal que nos legó el Fundador.

Le recuerdo, Padre X, que esta comunidad cuenta con miembros muy jóvenes que gozan todavía del fervor del Santo Noviciado. Siguiendo una sugerencia de Nuestro Padre, le ruego que tenga esto en mente para evitar cualquier atisbo de mundanidad o ligereza que pueda escandalizar a estos hermanos menores.

Con mis mejores deseos para su buena salud y santidad personal, le encomiendo a la Sma. Virgen María, protectora de nuestra pureza sacerdotal,

Afmo. en Cristo, P. Octavio Aceves Mejías, LC, Director Territorial.

How a Cult Stole My Life

By Julia Llewellyn Smith

Author Taylor Stevens was raised in a sect where beatings, starvation and sexual abuse were everyday events.

Forty years later, can she leave the ‘Children of God’ behind her?

Most children would be praised for writing stories. Not Taylor Stevens. Aged 41, Stevens was born and raised in a cult then known as the Children of God, whose members (a term Stevens dislikes since it implies she had a choice) lived communally, usually in squalid poverty, surviving by begging. Children were often beaten, starved, separated from their parents, denied education and sexually abused.

Stevens’s sporadic schooling ended for good when she was 12, but she always had a compulsion to tell stories. “All entertainment – music, television, books – was banned. We were so bored, I used to make up stories to tell the other teenagers when we were sitting for hours in the back of a van being driven to go beg somewhere,” she recalls. “Imagination was my survival mechanism.”

When she was 15, she got her hands on a few notebooks and began writing stories. “I knew my supply was limited, so I wrote really small, squeezing as many words into each line as possible.” Before long, however, they were discovered and the books were confiscated and burned.

“The leaders told me I was a witch and full of devils and performed an exorcism on me. They put me in a room for three days without food. They wanted me to confess my sins. I didn’t know what to say, so I just came out with every doubt about the group I’d ever had. I made strange noises because I thought that’s what they wanted, but I was worrying: ‘What happens if they’re the wrong noises?’ ”

Afterwards, Stevens was isolated from her peers for months. “They thought I’d contaminate them with my evil spirit. They made me read propaganda for hours at a time and then write essays about how it was making me a better person. I just made stuff up to make them happy.” She laughs. “There’s an irony they didn’t want me to write fiction but almost everything I was telling them was fiction – and that gave me the grounding for what I do today.”

Twenty-five years on, Stevens is a bestselling author. Her first novel, The Informationist went into The New York Times top 10, translated into 20 languages and was optioned by James (Titanic) Cameron. Two more, extremely readable, thrillers have been published, another two are in the pipeline.

It’s an extraordinary turnabout for a woman who only escaped the cult aged 29. Today, talking to me from her home in Dallas, Texas, she appears a regular suburban mum, our call’s interrupted by one of her two teenage daughters returning unexpectedly to the accompaniment of frenzied dog barking, then school calls demanding an unexpected pick up for the other. Yet Stevens is far from that stereotype: “I don’t relate to being a PTA mum, where your whole life is, ‘Oh, Susy did this, and then we made cupcakes!’ ” She adds: “No matter how much they love me, no matter how wonderful they are, people can never understand where I came from.”

Founded by David Berg (also known as “King”, “David” or “Moses”) in California in 1968, the cult, today known as The Family or Family International, preached the imminent apocalypse and the shunning of all personal property.

Free love was encouraged within communes (though contraception was banned) and Berg encouraged “flirty fishing”, sending out female members to recruit new members and earn money through prostitution. By the time Berg died, he was wanted by Interpol for inciting sexual abuse against children. In 2005, Berg’s stepson and heir apparent murdered his former nanny and then killed himself, leaving a video claiming she had abused him as a toddler, adding the person he really wanted to kill was his mother – Karen Zerby, still the cult’s leader.

Thanks to its anti-American rhetoric, the cult attracted many hippies and anti-war protesters, as well, Stevens says, as many on the run from the law. Over its 46-year history, it’s boasted 35,000 members, including 13,000 children – today it’s believed to number around 10,000 people. Actress Rose McGowan was born into the cult, her family deciding to leave when leaders began advocating sex with children, while the Phoenix family, including the actor brothers River and Joaquin, were members for a period in the Seventies.

Stevens’s father joined the cult in 1969 aged 23, her mother in 1970 at 18. Leaders “married” them to each other, because, she suspects, both were Jewish. “You’d have to ask them why they joined. My parents were very young, maybe directionless and they were probably approached by a smiley person saying: ‘Why don’t you come and spend the night?’ she says. In her second novel, The Innocent, set in a cult, a character explains the lure: “To release oneself from independence, to follow the Prophet was to be free of responsibility.”

As part of its rejection of property, the cult led itinerant lives, so by the time she was seven, Stevens and her four younger siblings had lived in caravan parks, alongside other members, in five different US states and three European countries. For one brief period, when Berg relaxed the rules, Stevens attended various mainstream schools acquiring a basic education and avidly reading Nancy Drew library books, though she never made friends with “outsiders”. “We led a double life, we just didn’t talk about what went on. We knew we were the chosen ones, superior to them, that they were wrapped up in their worldy ways.”

When she was 12, the family moved to Japan and her education “and my innocence” ceased. In keeping with the cult’s anti-nuclear-family stance – she was removed from her family and sent to various communes where she and the other teenagers cooked, cleaned and did the childcare for hundreds. At one point she was sharing a cupboard-sized room with six people and a bathroom with 20. “They took away our best years, it was full-time child labour.”

She was also sent out regularly to beg, once finding herself on the snowy streets of Osaka in her only footwear – open-toed sandals. “The begging just shredded me, I hated the dishonesty, asking people for money they thought was humanitarian projects, when we had no time for anything except just trying to survive.”

She dreamed of escaping, but – with spies everywhere – never confided her unhappiness. In any case, she had no skills to navigate the outside world. “I was terrified God would strike me dead.” The cult regularly read out “Traumatic Testimonies” where members would recount horror stories of life outside. “They’d say: ‘It may look good out there, but believe me I’d be dead if I hadn’t found The Family.’ ” Outsiders – however much they tried to debunk Berg’s teachings – were treated with suspicion. “You couldn’t even begin to hear what they were trying to tell you, you’d been inoculated against it.”

Stevens moved on to Mexico, where the cult was establishing its hardest-core stronghold to date. “The leadership really was sadistic. They were there to teach wayward north-Americans how to be good cult members and they were so abusive. Children suffered horrible physical discipline for the smallest infractions, it wasn’t about punishment, it was about hammering square pegs into round holes. My whole life has been levels of awfulness, so all I could do was keep my head down as usual and just get through it.”

After Berg’s death in 1994, Stevens used the upheaval to seize her chance to move to a commune in Kenya, “as far away as I could get from leaders checking all the time if we were spiritual enough”. She married another cult member and, hoping to actually help others, rather than beg, the pair set up a mission in Equatorial Guinea, which has one of the worst human rights records and levels of poverty in the world.

“It was the land that time forgot, like walking through the doors of hell,” Stevens exclaims. “It was the most inhospitable place you could live: the climate, the culture of paranoia. We had to bribe the government to let us help the people.” Despite this, they built 3,000 school desks and brought in $30,000 of medical and educational supplies.

Empowered by having succeeded against such odds, the couple, now with a toddler and a baby on the way, moved to Germany. Her husband found a job and they were able finally to leave the cult. “I will never forget how elated I felt the first morning I woke up in our own small apartment, finally free of the eyes that had been watching and judging me my entire life,” she says. “Going to the shops, booking a doctor’s appointment – all the ordinary things most adults take for granted – were so novel for me. Walking down the street alone felt extraordinary, we had always gone out in pairs, it was like being naked. I was frightened God would strike me down, I developed all sorts of phobias. It took a long time to adapt.”

The couple (now amicably divorced – “In the cult environment, you think you know someone because you live with them full time, but you only know who the cult expects them to be”) moved on to the United States, where they continued to live in abject poverty. To make extra cash, Stevens began buying books at car boot sales to resell on eBay. Having previously read “maybe 15 novels” in Africa, she became an avid fan of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels.

Realising she had lived in equally exotic locations as those Ludlum depicted, she decided, aged 35, to write her own thriller set in bizarre and terrifying Equatorial Guinea. “My spelling and punctuation weren’t much but I could string words together,” she says. As evidence of this, soon after The Informationist was published, to huge acclaim, a stranger accosted her saying there was no way she had only a primary-school education and accusing her of having invented her backstory to boost sales.

In fact, though her background is a publicist’s dream, Stevens was reluctant to dwell on it too much and initially wanted to omit it from her author’s biography. “I could have invented a past for myself,” she says. “But growing up, we lied to the outside world about us all the time and I vowed I was never going to do that again.”

She refuses to discuss details of physical abuse, or the cult’s sexual elements, firstly to protect her daughters but also, as one character explains in The Innocent, because it overshadows the dozens of other indignities that thousands of children endured. “There was sexual abuse… But that’s just one of so many dishes served on the smorgasbord of my childhood… Nobody reports about the extreme discipline, or being separated from our families, or education deprivation, or the lack of medical care… That’s not entertaining enough.”

Was it her desire to focus on these other horrors that led her to write The Innocent? “Other people were using the fact I’d been raised in a cult for their own agendas – to sell books, to show cults are bad – I just wanted to let people see what it was really like,” Stevens says. “I wanted to describe dispassionately, without anger, the sadism I had to live through, how no justice was ever served.”

Today, her parents divorced, she has no relationship with her father, partly because he continues to identify with the cult, but, after some rebuilding, has a “solid, loving” relationship with her mother.

Having her own daughters fully brought home to her the horrors of her own youth. “Through comparing my children’s growth and development… to what I had experienced comparatively at those ages, I grasped the true horrors of what I had lived through,” she says. “I can’t comprehend how so many of the parents in the cult could have set aside such a powerful instinct.”

The Informationist, The Innocent, The Doll are published by Arrow, £7.99 each

Former Legionary of Christ, Father Morris leaves helm of Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel

NEW YORK (CNS) — Father Jonathan Morris, program director and talk-show host for the Catholic Channel on the Sirius XM satellite radio platform, has left the station.

Continue reading Former Legionary of Christ, Father Morris leaves helm of Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel

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