The same song on different instruments May 25, 2010
Paul Lennon, in "Our Father Who Art in Bed" mentions two Legionary companions of his, a Spaniard and an Irishman. According to Paul, both were sent to Gabon in Central West Africa "to learn their lesson." I am the Irishman in question now writing a very belated review of Paul's book.
First I should say that although I read and enjoyed Paul's heart-wrenching memoir, I hated the title. Like Paul, I too had serious difficulties with Marcial Maciel the founder of the legionaries of Christ. Although my fellow Dubliner joined the legion a couple of years before me, he left shortly after I did. During our time in the congregation we sometimes existed in parallel universes - I was assigned to work with our most affluent supporters while Paul toiled in the heat and humidity of our missions in Chetumal, Mexico. Our careers overlapped for a short time in Mexico City, where Paul headed "The School of Faith." He didn't live in our community but he joined us most days for our midday meals. That's where I came to appreciate his intellect and his passion for the underdog and downtrodden. At that stage in our lives neither of us talked to each other about our doubts and nascent rebellion against the Legion.
After I published my memoir of my time in the Legion, Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind I re-read "Our Father who Art in Bed." I felt as if I were hearing my own song, played on a different instrument. Our experiences are very similar but told from very different perspectives. Unlike me, Paul actually met some of the victims of Maciel's abuse. Characteristically this "fired him up" - as it should have - and he became an ardent crusader against the abuses of the founder and the dysfunctional aspects of the congregation we both once wanted to love. Meanwhile, I was busy taking care of my new career, playing financial catch-up to support my growing family. Back in 1998 when Paul was meeting with some of the victims, I was quite oblivious to the awful allegations being made about Maciel. If I knew about them, I would not have believed them. Like Paul, I had no personal inkling at all of the level of Maciel's abuse while we were both in the Legion. I chose not to be part of Paul's crusade, hanging on to the positive aspects of my experience in the Legion. History, of course, has vindicated Paul's brave position. This makes his book even more gripping - he is the "naive and sentimental" poet recounting his life, unafraid to reveal the raw emotions he felt. "Driving" our community cars and buses was what distracted me in the Legion. For Paul, I think it was soccer. I was exposed to the debonair side of Maciel the brilliant entrepreneur. Paul was quicker to pick up on the Machiavellian manipulation.
Paul's book is a must read. Indeed, in a fantasy world if we could collate the different chapters in our books, I think the readers would get an even more complete picture of the disgraced fraud to whom we both showed so much loyalty. Meanwhile, to quote the American dentist who revised Paul's teeth, deprived of dental care for so many years in the Legion, saying, "You must come from very good stock!" I suggest the same can be said for his mind, his heart and his soul. His is a seminal book, based on real-life experiences. He could have called his book "Scoring goals on a bumpy pitch!" And then I would have no quibbles.