Anonymous – The Whippers of Christ
Fado, Fado as we say back home in Ireland, meaning, long, long ago, well not really that long ago but about 25 years ago I was a skinny lanky adolescent novice with the Legionaries of Christ in Leopardstown Road, Foxrock (as the Legion would say) in Dublin, Ireland. It was a magical time when I spend half my life in prayer and contemplation and the rest in contempt of the Legion and all its rules. One of the Legion’s indoctrination tactics is to feed you their rules and regulations on a slow and gradual basis throughout the novitiate so that bit by bit you come to accept every single nuance of every rule and norm. If they were to explain all of these at the door of the Novitiate you would never enter in. However they are quite wise to do so as it helps them keep their numbers up and at the end of the day it is all about looking good and being able to boast about the numbers coming in…..which I might add you never hear them boasting about the numbers that leave and lives that they ruin in the process.
Anyway getting back to the tale at hand, one such tradition was the good old fashioned one of physical mortification, via tying various straps around ones limbs to impede circulation and cause discomfort or whipping oneself. Yes, whipping oneself! I still remember one evening in the winter of 1982 when Br. Peter Hopkins, now Fr. Peter Hopkins and a big wig in the States with the Legion, gave us the Legionary spirituality class and introduced the notation of whipping oneself as a penance. Now, I had hear about hair shirts a la Matt Talbot and could stomach the cilicio (I think they were called) but whipping oneself sounded so twisted to me that I stood up and protested aloud that this was against the very law of God, that we were each temples of the Holy Spirit and that this was an insult to the Holy Spirit! Naturally this lead to a counter blast from Peter Hopkins who had to restore order to the community and negate my questioning of a long standing legionary tradition. He tore strips off me that evening in public for questioning him and his authority on this….and being the tender novice I meekly conceded and swallowed my pride on the matter.
As I progressed through formation about a year later in Spain, I was so indoctrinated by the Legion that I even asked for permission to whip myself and lucky for me I was told that only certain individuals who had attained a certain height of perfection were allowed to partake in this. However it did leave me wondering, it took me for ever to accept this tradition and to conform, comply and obey. Lucky for me, God has given me an innate ability to question and this lead to my continuing to question other things and culminated in my challenging the founder to answer a very simple question in public
how many fully Legionary educated priests have left the order he answer was that they were none and that there was one on the point of leaving that he was trying to save his vocation with every concession conceivable and it looked like the person would still leave. Now this was 1983 and the record will clearly show that many Legionary educated priests (not poached Jesuits or poached seminarians) had left the order prior to my questioning the founder on the topic. Naturally I began to feel a lot of heat, so to speak, after asking such a question and lucky for me I left the order a few months later.
I would add that anyone considering joining the order might want to heed Dante’s warning
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate —
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!.