Cult expert, Steven Hassan –Combating Mind Control author- interviews former Legionary of Christ, therapist, cult student and concerned Catholic; link: Paul Lennon
Cult expert, Steven Hassan –Combating Mind Control author- interviews former Legionary of Christ, therapist, cult student and concerned Catholic; link: Paul Lennon
In 1981 the Legion had celebrated its first ever General Chapter. This is a solemn gathering of the top brass with representatives from all the ranks, to examine and approve or revise the Constitution â€“the laws which govern the day to day life of the members. At that time I was the Director of the Legionâ€™s house in Rye, New York. I fully expected to go to Rome to the somewhat mysterious General Chapter. We all knew this was a landmark occasion, and most of us knew that the real purpose was to have General Chapter ratify the Constitution during the life of the Founder. That way the rule of life, the Constitution, would to a large extent be â€œhewn in graniteâ€� because, having fulfilled the requirements of Canon Law which govern the frequency of such Chapters, it would be a long, long time before there would be another Chapter. This, politically, was a very smart thing for the Founder, Fr. Maciel, to do because he had a far greater chance of controlling the outcome than he would have if he waited til he was dead. It he had a little more faith he could have waited til he was dead and supervised day to day operations from heaven. It seemed obvious to me that the representatives to the Chapter would be carefully selected. This Chapter was in no way intended to encourage any real examination or to introduce new ideas. It certainly was no place for dissent. The sole purpose, I believed, was to rubber stamp the Constitution and any changes that might be made by the â€œyes menâ€� at the meeting.
Fr. Anthony Bannon and other â€œinâ€� people
Indeed, for several years before the Chapter the Congregation had started to take on a â€œnew directionâ€�. Lay members of an ancillary group known as the â€œRegnum Christiâ€�, R.C. for short, had been given more and more importance. To be precise, the Legion was more a part of the â€œRegnum Christiâ€�. So, now, the tail was wagging the dog. The Legion which I had joined was now the â€œclerical sectionâ€� of a new lay â€œMovementâ€�. The meanings and implications of the term â€œmovementâ€� was to become a constant topic in the Founderâ€™s writings an in our weekly conferences. Methodology was becoming far more important than the Spirit. Such things as efficiency, integration, and blind obedience had taken the place of an earlier emphasis on the virtue of charity, which had given the congregation its earlier appeal and charism. Coldly calculated tactics were the new name of the game. Deep down the unstated objective was to do better than the rival, secret group know as the Opus Dei. Monsignor JosÃ© MarÃa EscrivÃ¡ de Balaguer, the Founder of the Opus, a Spanish group, was also alive and, although there was no doubt they were doing well, they were also very vulnerable. We were going to make sure that they did not consume our part of the spiritual pie, and unflattering comments on their style and operations were a constant theme of conversation in the Legionâ€™s inner circle to which, I felt, I belonged. They, just like us, were extremely active in the fertile and somewhat naÃ¯ve environment of Mexico, and again, like us, the name of their game was secrecy and tight-knit isolation.
Despite all this I was so sure that I had been successful enough and had demonstrated sufficient consistent loyalty to the congregation that I knew I would be invited to the General Chapter. On the other hand, according to Canon Law, in order to participate in the Chapter, one should be an ordained priest and have finished the full course of theological studies. I was O.K. on both counts since I had been ordained by Cardinal Biaggio in 1976, and received my M.A. in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. I knew that others, like Anthony Bannon, a cold-hearted right-winger from Dublin, would be excluded because of the studiesâ€™ requirement, despite the fact that he was the regional superior for the U.S. He, like so many other Legionaries, had been ordained a priest in a hurry, without formally finishing his studies of theology, while the advance guard like myself and Murphy, had toiled in our â€œapostolic practicesâ€� â€“a sort of internship introduced to the Church, I think, by the Jesuits. Despite all this, Bannon was called as a delegate. I wasnâ€™t.
The Chapter, which I did not attend, was the central event of that year. The final document became required reading and the subject of private meditation. I was a little disappointed that I didnâ€™t get to go but I wasnâ€™t totally surprised. Besides, I had other exciting things to do so I certainly donâ€™t think I overreacted. Like all the other pious Legionaries I prayed hard for the successful outcome of the deliberations in Rome. I knew that Declan Murphy from Dublin was there, as was David Owen, and I felt that at least they might represent the unstated views of those of us who did not consider ourselves â€œholy Joesâ€� and yes men. When the final Chapter documents were released I knew that the Congregation which I had joined and to which I pledged my vows had changed. I felt cheated because the rules had been changed during the game. Many of us had longed and hoped for some relaxation of the rules governing visits to our families. There had been some suggestion that this might happen. In fact I had hoped that even in small ways, now that the Congregation was more established and stronger, that some of the more stringent requirements of membership might have been eased. Small things like being allowed to listen to vocal music and not only instrumental; or to become more involved in local parish life; or to be allowed to speak to priests and seminarians from other orders; to have dinner at the homes of benefactor families who supported us and who, especially in the States, could not understand our isolationism. The fact that I had hoped for some of these changes is probably a sign of how far I had drifted from the new order.
Delegates from the Chapter were dispatched to all the houses to inform the entire Congregation of the wonderful workings of the Holy Spirit, mostly though the person our Beloved Founder. Those of us on the east coast of the U.S. gathered at my place in Rye, N.Y. to hear the news from an unlikely representative: fellow Synge Street H.S. graduate, Declan Murphy. Murphy was responsible for Legionary operations in Washington, DC.
Before his conference I found myself in my room, a tiny little place on the top floor of our three storey residence. I had purchased the property 5 years previously when I was assigned to New York. It was quite an imposing mansion, nestled on the edge of the townâ€™s nature center. It was spacious and quite cheery, perched on top of a hill overlooking Rye High School. God knows what I might have been thinking about when, contrary to all Legionary norms which forbade entry into another Legionaryâ€™s room, Murphy came right in and, in the limited space with only one chair, made himself at home. As usual, I was happy to see him. Mr. Gregarious, the charming Irish priest which whom I felt particularly friendly. He stood a lean 6â€™ 3â€� and considered himself good-looking. This not unfounded belief had probably been reinforced by countless Spanish and Mexican women who thought that any priest who was not a grubby little imitation of the potbellied caricatures they were used to was to be considered handsome and, in a way peculiar to Mexico, somehow very attractive. Both of us were dressed in our long black cassocks. Murphy, despite his jocular friendliness, wasnâ€™t as relaxed as I might have expected. Although I well knew the anxious, insecure side of him, Declan, for most of the time was jovial, competitive and fun to be with. He enjoyed the pleasures of the sense more than most Legionaries, with the exclusion of the Founder. He was more up to date than any of us on the latest music, movies, and news. He traveled extensively with the Founder who used him to great advantage. Declan was probably an excellent companion and gave Nuestro Padre the aura of youthful vitality, charm and good looks that Maciel reveled in. What Murphy got out of this was some great trips to exciting places, the enviable status of â€œinsiderâ€�, and the opportunity to spend a lot of time far from the rules and regulations what bound the rest of us. He, too, in a very special way, was above the law.
The Simmer of our Discontent
The problem, it seemed, was that the news he had to deliver was not very good. It became immediately clear to me that the Chapter, as I had feared, was a farce from beginning to end, although I couldnâ€™t quote Declan as saying that. However, the final Chapter document, unanimously approved, had not been seen or read by all those who approved it. Now Declan had to tell us all that this was the Will of God for us. Thatâ€™s why he was nervous. The bell rang signaling time for the conference. Murphy went down first and I followed a discreet few moments later. There were about 15 of us gathered in the conference area; all of us observed a sort of relaxed relative silence.
The brooding presence of Fr. Anthony Bannon at the back of the room inhibited any subversive jovial activity. I didnâ€™t like Bannon and he didnâ€™t like me. When his mother was gravely ill I had to persuade him to ask for permission to go visit with her. I knew Mrs. Bannon, a kindly woman who lived in a basement flat on Leeson St., Dublin. He did go, but I donâ€™t think he felt any need to be there. His forever gaunt appearance, accentuated by his steel-rimmed eye glass gave him the classic look of a Nazi. He fancied himself as a â€œhard manâ€�, impervious to heat or cold. On one occasion, in a burst of generosity I bought him an overcoat out our my scarce funds because I felt that his stoic blue-knuckled refusal to admit that he was cold in the freezing New York winter was doing the image of our congregation more harm than good. The feistiest of the men at the conference was Fr. John McCormick, another Dubliner and Synge St. graduate. John and I, although we had been class mates since 3rd grade elementary, were never particularly good friends, though we liked each other. He was raring to go. He couldnâ€™t wait to fire pointed, aggressive, angry questions at Murphy. He obviously wasnâ€™t happy with the outcome of the Chapter. I admired him for throwing caution to the winds and for voicing his concerns with such conviction. I also knew that, sooner or later, this public display would catch up with him and would not go unnoticed or unpunished.
Meanwhile Murphy was saying something about it â€œnot being convenientâ€� for us to listen to music with lyrics, another Chapter mandate. McCormick wanted to know why not. Murphy, trying to think on his feet, said something along the lines of Nuestro Padre â€“was we called Fr. Maciel- in his wisdom believed that if one vocation were to be lost because of the pernicious influence of contemporary music, it would be better that none of us ever listen to it. Then I asked: â€œWhat about the 99 of us who might lose our vocations â€“not to mention our minds! -because we couldnâ€™t listen to contemporary music? Wouldnâ€™t it be smarter to get rid of the screwed up fool who was going to lose his vocation anyway and make life miserable for the rest of us to boot? Bannonâ€™s dry cough signaled that I too would be included in the little black notebook with McCormick. There was always a Gabon for people like me. Frankly, at that stage, I didnâ€™t give a damn! I knew that his discontent was going to get out of control. Unlike other occasions when the same sentiments had surfaced, this time I did not care. It had taken me a long time to see the light, and God knows I had tried very hard to be faithful to rules I no longer believed in. I also felt that the Rule to which I had vowed obedience had been radically changed by a rigged Chapter. A time comes when carefully considered thoughts, after having been prayed about, need to be acted on. Now, I welcomed these rebellious thoughts and intended to express them and act on them. Thatâ€™s all I remember from that conference; except that I knew I was not alone.
Gabon Full Circle
Eventually, going to Gabon was compounded by Collette. To understand why, you need to know something of several other women in my cloistered life. Iâ€™ll get to them some other time. Meanwhile, â€œcloisteredâ€� may not be the right word. From the early days of the Novitiate I was appointed as community driver; this job carried with it a certain â€œcachetâ€� â€“or at least I thought it did!; in hindsight, it probably wasnâ€™t good for me. The brief respite afforded by the various sorties mitigated the wear and tear that the Legion methodology works on the personality. I would be down in the dumps but would revive at the opportunity to get outside and drive to the central post office; later on, in Rome, Italy and Salamanca, Spain I would drive our Mercedes Benz 64 seat bus. That would help bring my spirits back up, and to help me convince myself again that my spiritual directors were indeed right. God was definitely calling me. Doubt and unhappiness were signs of my lack of generosity.
So, now, in Bethesda, Maryland, despite the fact that he did not like the Legion and consequently felt ambiguous towards me, my brother kindly offered to help me survive in Gabon. That is how I came to get my pills from the National Institute of Health. He knew far better than I that Gabon was disease ridden; the big problem being the endemic â€œriver blindnessâ€�. He was aware of some research in which he got me involved so as to provide me with some experimental medication; this would keep me immune to the dreaded disease. N.I.H., in order for me to participate in the study and receive the medication, required me to have a physical. Interestingly enough, my cholesterol levels seemed to be fine â€“despite a diet of two eggs and a quart of milk every day for the past 20 years! Thanks to the medication I did not become ill in Africa. I lost about 30 pounds, grew a decent-looking beard, and developed a refined taste for bananas. Other than that I was fine, although I never really got to appreciate fishesâ€™ eyes. An Italian nurse who worked there with us was less fortunate. She left Gabon the same day I did, in a wheel chair, a victim of loa loa.
The Italian nurse reminds me of two, or perhaps three, Italian missionaries at another mission station in Gabon. What they did was never totally clear to me. What was evident was that they were â€œwild menâ€�: their idea of fun was to go gorilla hunting for the dangerous black gorilla. In typical missionary fashion they would go out under-equipped and tempting fate every step of the way; probably another instance of the bravado that comes from working directly for your Creator. Luis used to go visit them now and then and Iâ€™d tag along. They were quite excited about the first dinner I ever had with them. In fact, it was my first dinner outside Franceville. The vegetable, though unfamiliar, were palatable. The meat was gamey, tending towards white, and not appetizing even thought I have always been a meat and potatoes man. What they were having was a man-eating leopard that had been caught and killed that same day by the villagers. I saw its skin salted and stretched out to dry in the sun in the middle of the compound. The taste did something to me. I excused myself and took a little walk around the Italiansâ€™ compound. Someone invited me to peek into their propane powered freezer. The sight of the frozen monkeys, squirrels, and God knows what else finished the work began by the leopard, and I retired to throw up discreetly at the edge of the jungle.
This doesnâ€™t make for good dinner conversation. In a way its indicative of so much that happened in my life. You can tell people about it, but you always remain wondering if they really understand; if they have any sense of the loneliness and sense of isolation that you felt. Now that Iâ€™m married I realize that you really â€œhad to be thereâ€� to understand what it was all about. You had been through Novitiate, a year of Juniorate â€“Humanities- in Salamanca, Spain, two years of Philosophy studies and five years of Theology in Rome, Italy; you had almost no feeling, let along sex, no friends in the accepted sense of the term, and very little contact with the â€œoutside worldâ€�. A cold discipline reminded you that you were doing Godâ€™s Will, and blind obedience kept you on the straight and narrow. Strict poverty kept you detached from things material. You were devoid of most of the experiences of people your age, and yet, had a vast amount of experiences they would never share.
I have read that former military people, who have seen active duty, enjoy a deep sense of satisfaction when they get together with old companions. They need to talk with the â€œbrothers in armsâ€� about things which they believe only they can understand. Those of us who have been so marked by our experience in the Legion probably share a very deep need to â€œstay in touchâ€�. I know that I do!
Why did I join such a mysterious organization at all? The answer is probably more complicated that I know. As a Catholic in the 1950s, when I was a teenager, a â€œvocationâ€� to be a priest was considered a gift from God, and not to be taken lightly. Like countless other Irish youth, I too was concerned with the â€œblack babiesâ€� in Africa. Who would feed them and baptize them? The thought of being a missionary in Africa always appealed to me. In hindsight I have to wonder how aware I was of the demands that go along with being a priest [and religious]. How much can you understand of poverty, chastity and obedience when you are fifteen and living with your parents? Anyway, my parents, both devout Catholics, always nurtured the idea of a â€œvocationâ€�. My mother later told me that she â€œoffered me up to Godâ€� shortly after I was born. I was never really sure, deep down, if she wanted or expected to be taken up on the offer. My father was more sophisticated in his approach and understood that a vocation, in order to be deemed valid, had to be sanctioned by the bishop who â€œcalledâ€� one to the service of God on behalf of the Church. A pamphlet which an ardent recruiter thrust on me summed it all up. It said â€œbetter to have tried and failed than sadly salute the one I might have beenâ€�.
The recruiter for the Legion in Legion was an impressive Mexican by the name of Santiago Coindreau. He dressed dashingly by Irish standards in a well-pressed, double-breasted black suit with Roman collar. Allegedly he had turned down a scholarship to the military academy at West Point. The Irish immediately associated his name with the respected Cointreau orange-based liquor. That maybe gave him credibility or a sense of affinity. He still wasnâ€™t a priest but that did not seem to deter him from being called â€œFatherâ€�. He drove a sparkling black Volkswagen beetle. And he drove it fast. He had little respect for the mundane traffic laws, personified by the gardaÃ on their bicycles or the odd Triumph 250 motorcycle.
Until I got my very first ticket for speeding at age 45 this reality of the law applying to me, just like everyone else, hadnâ€™t fully hit home. However, that â€œsemi-supermanâ€� mentality is probably what allowed me to talk my way out of numerous sticky situations with unsophisticated police officers. Their laws didnâ€™t really apply to someone who was working directly for God. Santiago Coindreau had no doubt whatsoever in his mind that he was a legend and that God wanted me in the Legion. This was the newest order in the Church and, although I never realized it at the time, there were only about ten ordained priests (in the order). The rest were â€œBrothersâ€�, seminarians on the road to ordination. I had skipped second grade in elementary school and consequently had finished high school at seventeen. I figured I could spare a year or two to let God appreciate my generosity and then let me know that he didnâ€™t really want me in the Legion.
The Legion vocation pitch in 1962 Ireland
Father Santiago was very different from your average Irish clergyman, for whom he did not have too much respect and was, consequently, that more appealing to those of us who thought that priests, in some ill-defined way, should be enthusiastic beyond compare. The sort of guy you would want to have in your foxhole if you were under attack. He had, literally, erupted into our senior class room at â€œSynge Streetâ€�, a well respected all boysâ€™ school run by the Irish Christian Brothers. In the final year, as we prepared for taking the â€œLeaving Certificateâ€� examination, it was customary for four or five recruiters from secular clergy and from religious orders, selected on a rotating basis, to come and make a recruiting pitch. Having heard them, there was little question in my mind that I wanted to be a priest. Apart from knowing that I wanted to be a missionary priest, I found it very hard to decide among the competing orders. Father Santiago Coindreau made that decision a little easier. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. No question that he knew how to relate to young people. He introduced himself to the class and as he was doing so, he started to throw copies of Communist magazines to anyone who cared to catch one. â€œThe question is simpleâ€�, he said. â€œDo you want to save Latin America from Communism? Itâ€™s not complicated. Latin America is already Catholic. There are millions of Catholics there. Do you want to help keep them, or go charging off to other places to convert people for the first time?â€� Although I was more inclined to Africa myself, this seemed to make sense. â€œMexico is the leader of Latin America. What it does, the rest of Latin America will imitate. I represent a brand new order. The founder is only fifty seven years old. He wants to develop a group of highly trained, committed, professional priests to reclaim Mexico. The Mexican clergy, right now, is not up to the challenge. They are not as sophisticated, as smart or as educated as their opposition. Will you help us change this?â€� This was different! The Legion of Christ, was the order was known, was not obviously for Holy Joes. First the Communist magazines, then a great pitch and, now, weâ€™ll all standing on our feet saying a â€œHail Maryâ€� in Spanish, for the success of the Legion of Christ. This order was exactly what the Holy Father needed in Latin America! And, the Holy Father was clearly a friend of the Legion. â€œFill out this form and, if you check the â€˜interestedâ€™ box, weâ€™ll arrange for you to come visit our new novitiate in Ireland, at Hazelbrook House, Malahide (County Dublin)â€�. This Father Santiago was so enthusiastic that you knew, if you said â€œyesâ€�, that he and the Legion would be all over you. I signed on the dotted line.
Leaving home and Novitiate
Leaving home had to be the hardest thing I ever did in my life. The thought of not seeing very much of my family again was horrendous. When you are doing the Lordâ€™s work you canâ€™t let human emotion like that get in the way. Iâ€™ll never forget the actual moment of leaving my parents and brother and stepping into the cold, inhospitable world of religious life in the Legion. Seventeen other individuals, each for his own reasons, had come to the same place. Brian â€¦ because he wanted to save the prostitutes of the world. Michaelâ€¦ because he wanted to pray for people that he felt no one else would pray for, like Marilyn Munroe. I didnâ€™t feel like I had a lot in common with the others although, in general, the Dubliners seemed to understand each other better. Davidâ€¦ told me about his girl friend and I told him about mine. That created an instant, deep, unholy bond. He still had her lipstick with him. We decided that was a profanation in such an angelical environment. In our solemn little ceremony he cast it out the dorm window with me as a witness. That was a formal goodbye to the world as we knew it.
Life was hard, tedious and, in hindsight, not very unlike the atmosphere in a concentration camp. That, I know, sounds harsh. But not necessarily untrue. We slept in a converted cowshed on cots borrowed from the Irish Army. The walls were covered in cardboard which Fr. Coindreau had scrounged from some nearly factory. That cold and damp of the Irish climate was exacerbated by the relative silence we observed during the day and the absolute silence imposed at nighttime. Relative silence meant that you could only say what was necessary. Extraverts like myself had views on how much silence was necessary and as a consequence found ourselves continually having to ask for â€œpenancesâ€� for breaking relative silence and similar transgressions. All the carefully chosen bed linen, towels and other necessities so loving purchased by our mothers, became communal property. The reality of this manifestation of our life of poverty hit me when my full length sheets never came back from the laundry. The two stained, oversized handkerchiefs that were returned in their place made me feel miserable. The misery was compounded when we were told that we also would not be having a visit from our families at Christmas.
Cilice and flagellum
One day, after the first few weeks, while changing into my shorts, preparing for a game of soccer, with my bare foot I stepped on some sharp object beside my bed. Further examination revealed that the object was what seemed to be a piece of chicken wire about six inches long. The wire mesh was bent into myriad sharp little points and there was a brown shoe lace attached to one end. It obviously belonged to the guy who slept in the next bed. Brian M., all six-foot-four of him, seemed like a nice fellow â€“but now I realized he was mad. This was some form of penitential instrument in the twentieth century in Ireland you had to be out of your mind to use it. Off I ran with the evidence to the Director of Novices. Visions in my head of poor Brian being hauled off toe Grange Gorman, the local mental asylum. I couldnâ€™t believe it when the Director of Novices, Fr. William (Izquierdo), a totally bald native of the Canary Islands, didnâ€™t share my shock and concern for Brianâ€™s mental health. My disbelief registered and caused Fr. William to ask if I didnâ€™t really understand what it was all about. As it turns out, Legionaries used two penitential instruments. The one which I have referred to was affectionately referred to by some as â€œthe chicken chokerâ€�, and was worn tightly around the upper thigh from after the morning shower, through first prayers, medication (one hour), Mass and breakfast. It caused most of use to walk with a mild limp on the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that we wore it. If perchance while serving breakfast, you bumped your leg against a table, you saw stars. And then there was the flagellum, a neat little whip, crafted by loving nuns in Avila, Spain. Fifteen strokes to the thigh on alternate days were supposed to keep our carnal instincts in check. A misdirected stroke could indeed have a distinct effect on the exterior embodiment of oneâ€™s carnal instinct. I stopped using these instruments, without the requisite permission, after several years because, quite frankly, it didnâ€™t seem like a healthy thing to be doing and, in a peculiar way could serve to arouse the very same urges they were designed to control. So, as it turned out, Brian M. was no more mad than the rest of us.
Two years of intense prayer, stud of exclusively spiritual subjects â€“with the exception of Spanish (language) – nocturnal adoration, silence and no contact with the outside world have an affect on you. You become immersed in your immediate world. External norms are forgotten. Things that seemed strange and harsh now seem natural. Doubts become translated into a lack of generosity. The Will of God becomes very clear. Reinforced by weekly confession and by-weekly spiritual direction with the Director of Novices there is no doubt that God is really calling you to be a Legionary and you ought to be very, very happy and faithful. So, when you write the one page monthly letter to your family you them how happy you are and how fulfilled you feel. If your happiness isnâ€™t apparent enough the Director, Fr. William, who reads all your letters before they are sent â€“and any mail that comes to you- lets you know that you might find a better turn of phrase.
Inwardly torn before Gabon
No wonder then that my brother in Bethesda [twenty years later] was somewhat perplexed by my ambivalent attitude about going to Gabon. Twenty years spent trying to persuade him of the correctness of the Legionary methodology had produced their result. Why, I hadnâ€™t even gone back to Ireland for his wedding! Little did he know who hard Iâ€™d fought to be allowed to go to Ireland for the ceremony. Little did he know that a confrere, Eddie Farrelly, a fellow Dubliner and schoolmate, had simple absconded from the Legion when he got the chance, following a brief assignment in New York. I found out later that the Legion thought that perhaps, because he and I got along so well together, I might be part of the same conspiracy, and therefore it didnâ€™t do for me to go to Ireland for the wedding where I might meet Eddie and be tempted to follow in his footsteps. Besides, at that time Legionaries were simply not allowed to go to weddings, period, unless they were the officiating priest. Try explaining that this is the Will of God to your brother whom you havenâ€™t seen for ten years. Now, as I got ready to depart for Gabon, I wasnâ€™t sure of anything anymore and I donâ€™t think my brother and his wife were ready for this. Thatâ€™s not the way it was supposed to be in the Legion. We were the iron men with all the answers, fully â€œintegratedâ€� into the mind and heart of the Legion. And, what were my parents to think? Faithful Legionaries arenâ€™t supposed to share their doubts. I guess my brother, sister-in-law and I worried about how they might react. Better not to tell them. Donâ€™t upset the apple cart. Write another letter letting them know who wonderful everything was.
Unlike most other moves I made in the Legion, going to Gabon was different, upsetting and not a little scary. Clearly I was going there to make up my mind about my future. I needed some mental space to make the awesome decision as to whether or not I should, or could, continue as a priest in a religious order to which I felt I no longer belonged. I also felt, very strongly, that I could not survive as a secular, diocesan priest. I had never wanted to be a diocesan priest; that is why I joined the Legion in the first place.
Over the years, legion-watchers have identified carefully set strategies on how legionary authorities manipulate members who wish to leave or whom bosses wish to dismiss.
Generally, the naive good-intentioned member, still considering himself under a vow of obedience to the Crucified Lord as well as being closely controlled in a secluded and segregated community, is at the mercy of authorities’ decision-making. Where might one freely go, with neither constant communication with family, in-hand college degree, survival money, employer recommendations or, maybe, even passport? Cases of members fondly saying goodbye to all and happily walking out the front door are few and far between.
There are cases of abrupt dismissals, like a seminarian playing soccer in Salamanca, Spain, being mandated by his religious supervisor, (via another seminarian â€“ another tactic) to hop into the college van and change his shoes: a while into the journey, the member notices his suitcase on the rear-seat. Final destination: Madrid airport. After years of divine benevolence with his vocation, God, according to legionary directors, has suddenly changed His mind.
However, the normal procedure is first isolate the member within a legionary community so that his scandalous doubts may be silenced. Being sent by divine mandate to some isolated community might be the next step to reduce the negative influence such individuals may have on â€œthe peace and harmony of the Congregationâ€�. The mission territory of Quintana Roo, Mexico, is the most noted example while Caracas, Venezuela, has such a historic status in legionary lore. In other cases, members are left alone for years, while maintaining their legionary canonical status, such as Fr. James McIlhargey, RIP, in ConcepciÃ³n, Chile. Australia is still â€˜convict-landâ€™ in such an ideology, while, in the U.S., Providence, RI, Los Angeles, CA, and Rye, NY, are considered â€œcontrolled communitiesâ€� by big brother legionary. â€�Hush moneyâ€� to former members to keep quiet and live their peaceful, and comfortable, lives is part of such an evangelization. Even worse, the gun of blackmail is properly brandished: â€œyou speak badly of us; weâ€™ll foul-mouth you to your Bishopâ€�. Imagine an xLC priest trying to relive the priesthood in a diocese! His silence is almost guaranteed.
An important component to proper, if not Christian, understanding of the â€œmethods in this madnessâ€� is the prominent care the Legionaries take of their image at the Vatican. To have members, especially priests, request departure from either congregation or celibacy might question the authenticity of their â€˜miraculous growthâ€™ in the Church. The simple answer is to make departing members disappear into silence and oblivion in the bold tradition of militaristic tyrannies. Do the Legionaries not fight for Christ, like an army in battle-array?
The ultimate tactic, witnessed by some of us, is to make life â€œimpossibleâ€� if not â€œhellâ€� for a dissenting member, oft in a far-off place. The underlying Machiavellian, sorry Macielian, ethic of the end justifying the means bears fruit in lies, tricks and desperation. The member, cornered in a non-exit situation, is on the verge of another nervous breakdown and bolts for the door, slammed shut as he scrambles for safety. In fear and trembling, his life-long wish is to forget the monstrous nightmare.
The inherent evil in all of the above is the attempted destruction of a personâ€™s faith and family values. To the last, we legionaries joined to serve Christ and Church. Our right to think, question and leave is divine. The Legion has a right to accept or reject members, but with respect for conscience and liberty. Even later in life, no man has a right to anotherâ€™s destiny. They cannot play God. We trust in His justice.
The following is one such story of â€œexit by exileâ€�. The author wishes to remain anonymous.
The bright side to these dramas of hypocrisy by stealth is that by analyzing legionary tactics, we shall be aware, watchful and pro-active. The recent appointment of a Legion survivor as Bishop of Dallas shows Catholics that where thereâ€™s a will, thereâ€™s a way to exit successfully. The truth shall set us free.
AN IDEAL PLACE TO FIND MYSELF
The airport at Libreville, in the early dawn, was pretty much like I expected it to be. Not very different from small city airports, much like Shannon in Ireland or Acapulco in Mexico. Except, that is, for the ubiquitous presence of the troops in full battle dress, complete with automatic weapons. Belligerent looking â€“even trigger-happy looking- just like you see in the movies. They were very much in control and they knew it. Not many white people and those that were there looked like they felt out of place, pretending to be busy, and anxious to get out of there. I never felt whiter in my life.
The unfamiliar French, laced with what seemed to be large doses of a local language or dialect, made me feel uncomfortable too. French pronunciation always made me feel self-conscious. The atmosphere in the airport, for no reason that was obvious to me, was tense. I found myself thinking that Iâ€™d hate to go to jail, perhaps to be shot at dawn, because of some awful mistake due to a mispronunciation of mine. No one was there to meet me and immigration official was decidedly unfriendly. â€œNoâ€�, I didnâ€™t have a work visa or a return ticket. â€œYesâ€�, I assured him, in pidgin French, the Bishop of Franceville is expecting me. Somehow that didnâ€™t seem like it should carry a lot of weight. It didnâ€™t. The official didnâ€™t seem at all impressed. A couple of soldiers were called. They took my passport and told me to wait. Blarney and what I thought was a large dose of my native charm wasnâ€™t going to work here.
Like Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perotâ€™s running mate in the US Vice-Presidential debate of 1992, I found myself asking myself â€œWho am I and what am I doing here?â€� as I sat on the airport bench with my back to a plate glass window. Father Maciel, the Founder and Superior General of the Legion of Christ, the Roman Catholic order of religious priests to which I belonged, had presented Gabon as an interesting place to make up my mind, for myself, as to whether or not I really wanted to leave the priesthood. â€œAt least youâ€™ll get to see Africaâ€�, was how he put it. â€œIâ€™m told it is very pretty with lots of rolling hillsâ€�. He had even shown me a postcard sent to him by Luis, a fellow Legionary whom I liked and who had actually volunteered to go to Gabon. The countryside, depicted in the postcard, looked more like a giant overgrown broccoli to me. The â€œrolling hillsâ€� must have been buried under the lush tropical rain forest. Yet a stint in Africa seemed to make more sense to my overheated mind as we discussed my future at the Legionâ€™s US headquarters in Cheshire, Connecticut. It certainly beat going back to Rome, despite a promise to let me be the driver of the newly acquired Mercedes Benz bus! â€œWhen I was a child I played with the things of children. Now that Iâ€™m a man thatâ€™s a damn stupid way to try to persuade an educated adult to return to â€˜further studiesâ€™ to the â€˜mother houseâ€™ in Rome!â€� was how I tried to paraphrase St. Paul. Meanwhile I was curious as to what Luis might have done â€“or to whom he might have done it!- to get himself to a disease-infested country, slap bang on the Equator on the west coast of Africa. There again, I remembered, Luis was always uncomfortably close to a nervous breakdown, and somehow it made sense to me that he should be there. I wasnâ€™t sure it made the same sense for me.
By now the airport was pretty deserted. As I half expected, all the belligerent-looking commando types had to go home, probably to beat their wives. One of them grunted at me, gave me my passport and quite abruptly walked away. Nobody seemed to care what my next move might be. I guess I wasnâ€™t perceived as a threat to national security. Most unflattering! I got into the last of the small taxis and asked, in more ambitious French, to be taken to an address that had been given to me by Luis. Welcome to Africa!
Three days later, after having taken that long to make contact with Luis, the only person I knew on the whole dark continent -I stayed at a parish house of priests known to Luis-, I got to Franceville, my final destination, courtesy of a one-way air ticket sent to me by Luis. The front seats of the modern jet aircraft were folded down to accommodate crates of animals â€“mostly chickens- as I recall. The combination of people, animals and stale aircraft air created a whole new olfactory experience during flight. The left-over refreshments were given in a plastic bag to a friend of the stewardess. The dark jungle below, devoid of any man-made light, was sort of spooky for our night-time flight. Later we landed in an equally spooky red-dirt â€œfieldâ€�, with no paved runways and no buildings, otherwise known as Franceville airport.
Passengers were met by friends and relatives as they descended the ladder from the plane. I was impressed by the handsome women wrapped in colorful cloth up to the bust, most of them wearing a headdress of the same material. And then there was Luis, the man who was to be my spiritual mentor at a very troubled moment in my life. The holy man who, whether he knew it or not, was going to help me figure out Godâ€™s Will for me. Gaunt and sweaty, he greeted me, loaded my bags and baggage into the back of his four-wheel drive Mitsubishi truck and told me that he was â€œout of Gabon on the next flight!â€� â€œ!Yo me largo de aquÃ!â€�, was how he put it in Spanish.
I couldnâ€™t believe it! Luis was actually hell bent on leaving the next day! We got to the Mission where, somewhat apologetically, he showed me the little outhouse which was to be my room. At least it had a shower stall and a mosquito net. I wondered where Iâ€™d have to grope my way to it if I needed to take a leak during the night. Would I return with all my body parts intact? The full cast of characters at the Mission included a Gabonese bishop who looked and acted aloof or, in plain Christian terms, plain mean; a French missionary in his early forties, an older Dutch missionary, and a specially trained bull dog which was supposed to help you avoid snakes if you had to walk outside at night. Apart from the dog, none of them were particularly friendly. The Bishop, the boss, was not expecting me and didnâ€™t seem to know who I was or what I was doing there. Not that I wasnâ€™t wondering myself. Finally, after consultation with Lerma, he seemed to agree that it would be alright for me to stay. After dinner, he settled down with the others to drink Johnny Walker Red Label and to watch â€œDynastyâ€� in French on a small black and white TV. At the time I couldnâ€™t imagine anything more incongruous: a bishop watching â€œdynasty on a mission outpost in former French Equatorial Africa. My main priority was to convince Luis that he couldnâ€™t leave, that he had a moral obligation to me and, if he really did leave, Iâ€™d be out of there with him â€œlike a bat out of hellâ€�. Speaking of which, that particular phrase took on a whole new meaning for me: my little outhouse bedroom was infested with the biggest and most raucous bats Iâ€™d ever seen. The unrelenting humid tropical heat added to the imagery.
Life began the next morning, literally at the crack of dawn. The details arenâ€™t so important. Luis agreed to stay on for a while longer. The staple diet seemed to consist mostly of fish heads for dinner; no body, no tail; just the head, with the mouth open to show the teeth. â€œYouâ€™ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!â€� they seemed to sing. The Bishop used to get really upset if you didnâ€™t eat the eyes, and he would circle the table, toothpick in hand, like a dark Don Quixote, ready to spear the unwanted eye, all the while explaining how delicious they were. I soon discovered a massive supply of bananas in the kitchen and I am living proof that you can survive on a banana diet. This diet was supplemented with three quinine anti-malaria pills a day and eight anti-loa disease pills. Loa is also known as river blindness, a disease which does tremendous harm in Gabon. It is transmitted by the bite of a fairly small yellow mosquito. Untreated it becomes incurable, causes paralysis and, I believe, death. The old Dutch missionary suggested that the anti-malaria pills (quinine) would make me blind and that it was actually smarter not to take them. That way, if I got malaria I would be able to see myself shake and then I could threat the malaria with the quinine. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. This old-timer from Holland had arrived in Franceville â€“by canoe! – many moons before. He had stopped off along the way to greet Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his hospital at Lambarene, near the mouth of the river. After a long stint in Gabon, the ex-missionary had retired to Holland only to find himself bored out of his mind. Culture shock would be our euphemism for his re-entry. After a few years he had volunteered to return to Franceville. He drove an ancient, impressive Land Rover of which he was very proud. He lived apart from the Mission most of the time in some outpost that I never visited. His hut was illuminated with Christmas tree lights which he connected to the Land Rover. He performed his morning ablutions in his â€œshowerâ€�: a barrel of water perched on his roof which some local kids would help him tilt over.
I opted to consume my daily ration of pills which I got courtesy of the US Government and my physician brother. He had a hard time understanding why I was going to Gabon at all. To say that he was not an ardent supporter of the Legion is something of an understatement. He married right after he graduated from medical school at University College Dublin. With his wife and his two children he lived in the Washington DC metro area and he worked at the NIH. He seemed to love his job where, working in the pulmonary department, and moonlighting â€“when financial needs dictated- in the emergency room of a local hospital. I remember him saying that the emergency room experience had made him realize the importance of keeping fit and of not letting his kids use skateboards. I saw more of him than at any other time since I joined the Legion. [Ed. The Legion has a house in high scale Potomac, MD]. Although he and hs wife always made me feel welcome and the children always seemed delighted to see their â€œuncle X.â€�. . . I always put it down to the fact that I really didnâ€™t have very much experience of family life and had little, if any, contact with them for the first ten years of their married life. I had joined the Legion in 1962, when I was seventeen years old. The Legion was not the sort of organization that would ever epitomize the warmth and togetherness that one associates with family life. Camaraderie, comrades in arms, yes; family, no. Not only did the Legion seem to be very ambivalent about the role of family in the formation of its members, but also contact with the family was not encouraged unless, of course, they had money to donate. That explains why, during my period of twenty years with the Legion, I spent the sum total of twenty days with my family. Psychologists probably salivate at the prospect of getting into Legionary heads to survey the damage.
The [Ed., weaning] process started when, before joining, you couldnâ€™t get a straight answer on how often youâ€™d get to see your family after you joined. As a special privilege for the eighteen of us who joined in the summer of 1962, we were promised a visit at the following Christmas, and one at the end of the two year novitiate. The novitiate is a period devoted to spiritual formation, lasting, in most religious orders, one year. In our case it was a two-year novitiate. No contact with the outside world. No radio, no TV (except to see the news of the Kennedy assassination), no newspapers. Not even the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican publication; that was reserved for when you were studying philosophy and theology and, I suppose, deemed capable of handling such lurid, torrid, yellow journalism. We were housed in a residential property in a place known as â€œHazelbrook Houseâ€�, in Malahide, County Dublin. The connection between â€œhazelâ€� and â€œnutsâ€�, i.e. “crazy”, did not strike us then, but it might have been an omen.
Greetings! Those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer are upon us. I hope you all can get away to enjoy a time of rest at the beach or lakeside or some idyllic mountain resort.
Network has connected us; our common experience can and must be expressed and shared. For years we were members of the Legion of Christ, a religious order that has many of the characteristics of a sect. How did it affect us and how does its affect those who are still in the order?
In this issue of Network X tells us of his assignment to the â€œfront of Gabonâ€� prior to his departure from the Legion.
An interesting development: Network has reached a person within the Legion who is delighted to know there is a support group which can help those who are thinking of leaving â€“but more about that on another occasion! Some possible channels of discussion for future issues of Network:
a) We are planning a reunion for all members of the Network, to be held in the fall somewhere on the East Coast, a get-together for a long week-end. Please let us know what can be a good time for you.
b) What approach should we follow when a young man, feeling a call to the priesthood, shows interest in the Legion of Christ?
c) We know of priests who are unhappy in the Legion, who disagree with many of the policies, practices and abuses of the order. Is it possible to contact them? It would be helpful to let them know there are many alternatives to staying in the Legion. Many of us have found the priesthood in the diocesan life to be happy and fulfilling.
Please pass on Network to others; our membership list is growing gradually, poco a poco. Quisiera tomar esta oportunidad para decir que si alguno prefiere escribir una carta o artÃculo en espaÃ±ol, que lo haga con toda confianza. Todos hablamos, entendemos y leemos la lengua de Cervantes, asÃ que nuestra comunicaciÃ³n puede hacerse, bien e inglÃ©s o en espaÃ±ol.
With no further ado, over to you, X
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