Questioning Fr. Neuhaus’ ‘Feathers of Scandal’ Defense of Fr. Maciel & RJN’s Reply

Regarding Pedophilia, Scandal Time III, the Legion & Fr. Maciel


By J. Paul Lennon, MA


As a Legionary of Christ member for 23 years –15 as priest- and presently as a mental health therapist, I have a couple of points to make: one about ‘Scandal III’, your article in First Things [August-September 2002]; the other about Father Maciel, Founder and Superior General ‘for life’ of the Legion of Christ. Because of your dim view of psychology and psychologists, and perhaps of ex-priests who have not followed your ‘fidelity, fidelity, fidelity’ precept, I hope you will not dismiss off-hand my person or my opinions.




What is pedophilia?
Let me begin by saying that I agree with you that pedophilia is not a result of celibacy and that marriage does not solve pedophilia, or lust. However, I also believe that pedophilia and homosexuality are two different things. Definitions may help clarify this statement. My point is that your article is lacking in a real knowledge of the nature of pedophilia and gets off onto theological and philosophical tangents that distract from the issue.

Beginning in The No-Mercy Route you pick up on journalist Goodstein’s image of ‘seventy-year-old Father X’. The Father X. hypothesis is that here is this nice old priest who had one ‘slip’ many years ago, repented and never did it again. Now the bishops are going to sacrifice him to their ‘zero tolerance’ policy. You come back to this image several times to show just how unmerciful the bishops policy is. However, in this instance and in others throughout your article you seem to ignore the true nature of pedophilia, tend to minimize its gravity, and even sometimes appear to ‘blame the victim’.

At the same time you also seem to slide from the concepts of pedophilia and ephebophilia to homosexuality, placing them on some kind of a continuum of deviousness. You state that in the second installment (June/July) you noted how the ‘pedophilia’ crisis “was now recognized by almost everyone as a crisis created by adult men having sex of various sorts with adolescent and older teenage boys.” I, however, believe there is a consensus among psychologists and moralists that Pedophilia is a peculiar form of sexual abuse involving deception and/or an abuse of power, authority or status. The only difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia –which are essentially the sexual abuse of a minor-, is the age and development stage of the victim: before or after puberty, erection and ejaculation. In other words, whether the offender prefers younger or older minors, and how sexually responsive s/he needs them to be to achieve gratification. I may have overlooked your working definition of ‘pedophilia’. A generally accepted definition [Porter, E., Treating the Young Male Victim of Sexual Assault, Safer Society Press, 1991] would go something like:

‘Contacts or interactions between a minor and a person, usually at least five years older, when the minor is being used as an object of gratification for the more powerful individual’s sexual needs or desires.’

Yes, Father Neuhaus, there is such a thing as ‘no-contact abuse’. This would include contacts with exhibitionists and solicitation to sex, etc. In effect, the ‘sin’ is in the mind and heart of the beholder, as Jesus teaches. Let us remember: pedophilia is not about the actions of the minor but about the reactions and actions of the adult or older, more powerful individual.

The Father X hypothesis
I would consider the Father X benign simile quite devious, especially the way you keep building on what began as a hypothesis. The good Father X takes on a life of his own in your article. Now just let us suppose that Father X had ‘only one abusive incident with a minor, thirty years ago, that he had repented, that he has put his life back in order…’

That one offense was, nevertheless, very serious. Did he receive appropriate consequences and remedial treatment? Did he apologize to the victim? Did he make reparation as best he could? Did he take a serious look at his behavior and tendencies?
Do he, you and your readers realize that once is too much and that a victim can be scarred for life because of one invasion of boundaries, one -as you would put it- ‘impure touch’ of Christ’s little ones.
There is a kind of ‘clerical privilege’ that pervades the articles. It would seem you are saying: Let the victim get his therapy and seek healing while Fr. X gets back to the important business of touching the Body and Blood of Christ.
Are we saying that Fr. X. was caught only once? Could there have been other occasions when he was not caught? Were there other accusations and this the only one that stuck? A real pedophile is not content with a one time fix. Real pedophiles are ‘repeat offenders’.
Pedophiles are notoriously ‘slippery’ and usually respond with blanket denial when confronted. They will stonewall until they are convicted. Many offenses go undetected because the victim is silent or not believed. So offenders usually get a lot of ‘freebies’ before they are caught. How many ‘freebies’ did Father X. get?
Non-violent pedophiles usually need to lay elaborate plans and strategies in order to trap a victim. This is called ‘grooming’ and it can take weeks or months. So in this sense there is no real ‘one time only’. It is not a ‘slip’, like the impulsive pinching you described so well. It is more like a pinching you were thinking about for some time. One might consider it a premeditated accidentally-on-purpose slip.


‘All that glitters is not gold’ regarding the Legion of Christ. Years of experience as a priest and now therapist have led me to be cautious. When someone or something is ‘too good to be true’, it usually is.

In your article you omitted mention of the sexual abuse allegations against Father Maciel, Founder and Superior General ‘for life’ of the Legion Christ for whom you have a predilection. I was fortunate never to have experienced any sexual abuse while in the Legion. However I did experience Father Maciel’s absolute power in governing, his harshness, his public humiliation, his sarcasm and ridicule when commenting on members’ and ‘outsider’s shortcomings. No one, who knows him closely, except his lackeys, would ever consider him ‘saint material’. I did not want to believe the stories when they first appeared. Not until I had heard the testimonies of his accusers –some of whom I had known personally and had no reason to doubt- did I start to believe that something like that could be true. From my point of view, sexual abuse would only be another form of the abuse of power I had come to associate with Father Maciel. You, in your trips to Rome, etc., have experienced the nice side of the Legion and Father Maciel. You are friendly to their cause. They ‘groomed’ you and now they ‘cultivate’ you. You are a benefit to them. You have succumbed to the ‘Master of Deceit’. But you cannot say you know either Father Maciel or the Legion in an intimate way and on a daily basis. You have not lived in community with him for a prolonged period of time. You are impressed by the appearances, by the results, by the glitter…

About the sexual abuse aspect, let me tell you a short story. In 1970, just after our ordination, a colleague of mine was sent as a new superior to the Apostolic School [junior seminary] in Ontaneda, Santander, Spain. Several boys approached him accusing one of the staff, another LC priest, of getting some of the little Spaniards into bed with him. The newly arrived superior knew that Maciel had previously sexually abused the abuser. As a blindly obedient religious, and according to his LC training, he immediately notified Father Maciel. ‘Our Father’ told the priest in question not to worry; that he would take care of everything. Within hours, the Territorial Director, Fr. Rafael Arumí, was dispatched from Salamanca to Ontaneda. The offending priest was summarily sent packing without any process. At that time the Legion was starting a new apostolate: the Mission Prelature in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. The offending priest was sent there. He remains there to this day…-if he is still alive…

Since originally drafting this letter to the editor some months ago I have learned that another serious epidemic of pedophilia struck the Apostolic School in Ontaneda, Santander, Spain in recent years, causing the instution to be closed down. This is one of the reasons others and I are concerned that Father Maciel, because of his influence in the Vatican, is getting off scot free and that, subsequently, sexual abuse is being condoned from generation to generation in the Legion. You do understand now how important it is for Father Maciel to totally deny the allegations and discredit his accusers! Otherwise, well-meaning people like you will, sooner or later, start to question…

I, for my part, will not consent with my silence to the continuous endangerment of innocent boys, no matter how apparently holy and worthy the cause.

Paul Lennon MA,



Fr. Neuhaus graciously replied to this letter with a short note, quoted literally:

Dear Mr. Lennon,

I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.

I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from “having no reason to doubt” that “something like this could be true” to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.

If you have not already, you might search the FIRST THINGS website for the article in which I explain why I do not believe the charges against Fr. Maciel.

Thank you for writing.


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus”


This elicited a second letter to RJN, which was not posted through oversight but will soon appear.

jpl 9/10/04

Author: Da Man from Cabra West

Dubliner, Legionary of Christ [1961-84], mental health therapist living in the Washington DC are since 1985, bilingual Spanish, 13 years in Mexico, married to a pretty Guatemalan; I am "amateur writer", translator, co founder of REGAIN, INC,, Legionary of Christ "expert", member of International Cultic Studies Association.

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