Monday, August 22, 2011

"Driving Straight" & Amazon book reviews

In a new Cornell study, Trevor Pinch, professor of sociology and of science and technology studies and author of 14 books, and Web entrepreneur Filip Kesler conducted an online survey of 166 of's "top 1,000" reviewers, as identified by Amazon. The reviewers write about everything from obscure books and mainstream films to such products as the ThighMaster or a dog brush. 

Just who are the Amazon reviewers? The study reveals some of the secrets. 85% of the reviews are written in  exchange for free products - including books. Also, 70% of reviewers are male, and 40% are professional writers.

Pinch said
 " styles range widely, from tongue-in-cheek to stream of consciousness to "extremely well crafted. The quality of the writing can be surprisingly good. These are no slouches."

The English edition of my autobiography, "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" so far has 23 reviews on Amazon. Full disclosure, I did send one (used) copy to a blogger who sometimes deals with the book's topics and asked for a sincere review. She obliged. You can read her review here (it's not on Amazon). 

Three "activists" with regard to the LC controversies requested a free copy of the book. They approached me - I did not contact them. None of them reviewed it., although one of them ( a well known writer) e-mailed me very favorable comments. I guess my experiences were not considered to be "negative" enough.  If my book had "thrashed"  the  Legionaries and the Regnum Christi movement, I have no doubt it would have received a lot more "publicity." Frankly, I preferred to stick to the (always subjective) " truth" of my personal experiences even though that is not a popular position with those who - despite the Pope's on-going support - see no good whatsoever in the beleaguered congregation.

If you have read the book and would like to leave a short review on Amazon, I would much appreciate it. If you are not up to writing your own review, I would also appreciate it if you would "like" the reviews on Amazon that you agree with. Every little bit of input helps! If you want to see a "compendium" of reviews (including some that never made it to Amazon) you can check them at the "Driving Straight" website.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Good News from Madrid: World Youth Day

The controversies swirling about the Catholic Church all too easily obscure the hopeful signs we don't hear enough about.

World Youth Day is is a great worldwide encounter with the Pope which is celebrated every three years in a different country. This year it is being celebrated in Madrid from August 16th to 21st, 2011. The event is open to all young people who want to take part in a festive encounter with their contemporaries centered on Jesus Christ. I am heartened to see the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christ are active participants as they try to move past the scandal bequeathed to them by their deceased founder.

WYD organizers announced that a record number - 440,000 youth - signed up for the event. Among them are approximately 25,000 pilgrims from the U.S.

According to the Zenit new agency, the Pope will be hearing the confessions of several young people on Saturday morning, August 20 in the Jardines del Buen Retiro before celebrating a 10 a.m. Mass for seminarians. This is the first time that they’ve scheduled the Pope for the sacrament as part of the official itinerary.

The Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi members started a "Coffee House" in 2000 at the Rome World Youth Day during the Jubilee Year. Since then, it has been held at every World Youth Day, with 15,000 to 20,000 youth participating each time. This year, they have Priests, religious, and consecrated members from 17 different religious orders or movements who will be presenting their testimonies. In addition to 25 Catholic bands performing live music, there will be moments for prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the attached chapel. Priests will be hearing confessions and offering spiritual direction round the clock. As an additional "background" support, cloistered nuns from 23 convents will be praying and offering up their own Eucharistic adoration for participants.

Regnum Christi, the lay movement of the Legionaries of Christ will have 2,600 youth from more than 20 countries participating in the 2011 World Youth Day celebration in Madrid. They will be accompanied by more than 200 Legionaries and a hundred consecrated women and men.

The concluding ceremony will be a Mass on Sunday morning at Cuatro Veintos Air Base. More than 1 million people are expected to attend. 745 bishops, 13,455 priests, and 4,585 seminarians are planning to be there. More than 60 U.S. Bishops will be participating in WYD Madrid.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

“There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.”

The title of this post "There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true” is attributed to Winston Churchill.

 An anonymous comment on the prior post - about Francisco Gonzalez Parga's book - says:

"I understand the abuse started in the first foundation that failed in Cotija and that Maciel had to leave Cotija since he couldn´t find enough boys whose parents would let them enter. That Mama Maurita knew about the abuse of boys and turned a blind eye.

Is it possible to track down those boys (now adults) who joined Maciel in Cotija and get more information about that first foundation ie how it really was - not how the legionary mystics have painted it...?

The Legion of Christ published its own history book with David Murray and Angeles Conde. It would be interesting to publish an authentic history of the Legion putting together the work of different ex legionary authors along with the efforts Renner, Berry, etc. and the interviews of Aristegui."

I am moving it up here so that I can try to articulate my response. Here goes:


I can't corroborate that the abuse started in Cotija. The temporary house in Cotija was opened in 1940. As far as I am aware, the first (documented) accusation of abuse was made in 1944 when the "founders" group had moved to the donated house in Tlalpan. I don't think any of the Cotija group persevered.

I've never heard of any credible evidence that Mama Maurita (Maciel's mother) was aware of abuse or that she turned a blind eye. I met her for the first time in 1965; nothing in her demeanor ever suggested to me that she might have known, for sure, about any form of abuse perpetrated by her son in the Legion.

There are at least 9 Legionary priests, still in the Legion, who were allegedly abused later on. As I've said before, their silence is hard to understand - I'd want to hear them affirm or deny the allegations. I'm pretty sure that some of the very first recruits are still alive although they are no longer Legionaries; however, I repeat, the first accusation doesn't seem to have been made until 1944. By then, the Cotija recruits had all left.

There is a need for an "updated" history of the foundation - I can't imagine that there is anyone in the LC who believes all the details handed down from those early days - or, as you say, "how the legionary mystics have painted it."

The Legion of Christ: A History"Legionary mystics" is an interesting term. I don't like it, because I don't find it accurate. I joined the LC in 1962 and heard the "stories" related to the early days from my first superiors and, mostly, from Maciel himself. I don't think my generation had any reason to doubt those stories and I suspect that most of what we heard was true. We never heard of any (credible) accusations and we saw nothing to make us doubt the veracity of the foundational stories. In addition to this, I, for one, met many contemporaries of Maciel including some of his first recruits. No one gave a substantially different version of the "history" that had been passed on to us.  In hindsight, of course, I know I never heard the "rest of the story." However, therein lies an important point. Maciel's stories were handed down to the next generations by people the new recruits trusted (I include myself both as "recipient" and "transmitter.") Many of us who passed on the "history" later came to doubt many details of what we had learned. By then, the damage was done. A "believable"  oral history existed. I suspect David Murray's and Angeles Conde's book, to which you refer, is entirely based on those first "stories." At that time, there wasn't much reason to doubt the "facts."

My personal theory is that the post- 1970 (approx.) Legionary recruits were far more credulous than my generation. They were also more orthodox, more right of center, and, of course, they joined something that looked more like an established "institution" fully approved and supported by all levels within the Church. There were no dissenting voices.

When the first allegations of abuse were made public, within the LC we never heard of them... and if we had heard of them we would not have believed them. Hence, I prefer to refer to the "myth" of Maciel. By "myth" I mean an "unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution." The "myth" developed and was passed on by people (including me and my peers) who never doubted the fundamental veracity of the stories. Hence, I don't think there was an intent to deceive or to lie. The further the "myth" was removed from the original source the more it was "embellished" - by people who never even met Maciel.

No doubt the current LC "high command" heard, accepted and passed on the "myth."  It remains to be seen when they found out for sure that it was not true and how and why they seem to have taken so long to debunk it. However, it's naive - and unfair -  to suggest that they themselves were not taken in for a very long time. Long enough for them to find it very difficult to accept a negative, alternative version. It may turn out that they took far too long to react. However, as one who lived the "myth" I'm inclined to give them a break. So is the Vatican.

With regard to non-LC (current or former) testimonies, as far as I can tell most of the commentators have an anti-Church "agenda" that goes beyond Maciel and the Legion. (For instance, anti-Pope John Paul II, anti-Vatican Council and etc. Some of the authors provide enough solid facts to justify the indictment of Maciel, but not to support broader charges against the Papacy.) 

Apparently, some of the older Legionaries who lived those early days, and who according to some testimonies were abused by Maciel, are not talking  - at least publicly. That is a source of on-going irritation for me and many of my peers. We want to know what they have to say.... and yet, it's their prerogative to talk or to hold their silence. The "true" story will eventually emerge but, even when it does, in these "early days" not everyone would believe the "truth."

As far as I'm concerned, I'm not convinced we need much more data. We already know more than enough to form an opinion. The Vatican has condemned Maciel, the Legionaries officially accept the Vatican pronouncements, Maciel's abuses have been credibly documented with an abundance of sordid details. Major lessons will emerge from the Apostolic Visitation. The Legion will reform or die. My hope is that the reform process will work, albeit slowly. When that happens and the LC feels less "threatened" the true story is more likely to emerge. Hopefully, the Church will learn valuable lessons, make the necessary reforms and the remaining Legionaries and Regnum Christi members can dedicate themselves to whatever the Church asks of them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An autobiography by Francisco Gonzalez Parga, former Legionary of Christ

Yo Acuso al Padre Maciel y a la Legion de Cristo: Por sus enganos y abusos: sexuales, emocionales, religiosos... (Volume 1) (Spanish Edition)Yo Acuso al Padre Maciel Y a La Legión de Cristo” is a memoir by Francisco González Parga, who was a member of the Legion of Christ from 1951 to 1971.  It is a paperback, published through Createspace, on February 14, 2011. Language: Spanish; ISBN-10: 1456411330. Available on

I met “Fr. Parga” for the first time when I joined the Novitiate of the Legionaries in Dublin, Ireland in 1962.  He was stationed there from 1962 through 1966. Like me he spent 20 years in the Legion. He was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI in 1966. By then, I had been assigned to help start the Irish Institute in Mexico City.  My autobiography “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind” is mostly about my experience in the Legion – an experience vastly different to that of Mr. Gonzalez Parga but similar enough with regard to the side effects caused by Fr. Maciel’s approach to religious life.

Francisco and I crossed paths several times during our careers in the congregation although I never got to know him well. For most of the time, we were on different continents. I left the Legion in 1982. As I recall, Fr. Parga was often described in some Legionary circles, with a knowing wink from the ones providing the information that he was “different.” That meant Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries, considered him to be “troublesome" or, perhaps, a little “unstable.”

The short book – a total of 140 pages including some 20 pages of appendices – provides the details that I and, no doubt, many of my peers were unaware of.  It is a powerful tale of innocence betrayed by sexual and emotional abuse. It is a cathartic story of survival, of redemption, of faith renewed and happiness regained despite terrible odds.

In my opinion this testimony would benefit from better editing and presentation in order to reach a broader audience. Although the title (In English: “I Accuse Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ”) and sub-title (“For their innumerable betrayals and sexual, emotional, religious and mental abuse…”) are accurate and descriptive of the testimony, I don’t think they do the content justice. Surprisingly, the narrative is far more “positive” than the title implies. The author does not wallow in bitterness or melodrama as lesser souls might be tempted to do. His perspective is that of a mature adult, telling a shocking story by which he hopes his readers, including Legionaries, their supporters and the Church at large, may learn salutary lessons.

Francisco eventually disentangled himself from the dysfunctional relationship with the Legion and its founder. It was anything but an easy separation. The author candidly describes how his personal life unraveled including his battles with alcohol, drugs and prostitution. He does not indulge in lurid details. Thankfully he does not seek to shock us. His simple acknowledgement of his weakness, and the effects caused by the abuse he suffered, is all the more powerful because he does not dwell on them. 

Although the book supplies little new information that is not already public about Fr. Maciel and life in the Legion, the value of this memoir is in the power of the candid, personal testimony of the author.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only four autobiographies written by former Legionaries of Christ. Two of them are written in Spanish. The first one to be written (2003) is called “El Legionario” authored by Alejandro Espinosa. In English, fellow Irishman Paul Lennon was the first to document his story in 2008 when he wrote “Our Father Maciel who Art in Bed.”  My book, “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” (also available in Spanish) was published in 2010.  Paul and I cover roughly the same time frame (1961 – 1982); neither of us was aware of the founder’s sexual abuses before we left the congregation. Alejandro Espinosa and Francisco Gonzalez Parga knew Maciel in the early 1950s.  Along with several others, they claim to have been sexually abused by him. In a broad sense, all four stories complement each other. Although written from different perspectives, and with different “agendas,” combined they offer an intimate first hand look at the early days of the Legion of Christ when Fr. Maciel wielded absolute authority.

Francisco's story is extremely compelling. It pulled me in from the very first pages and affected me on a deep emotional level. Perhaps it had this effect on me because I met most of the characters mentioned in the book.  I am astounded, once again, at how such terrible abuse went unnoticed by most – but not all - of Francisco’s peers and the extent to which Maciel was able to deceive so many people. It is hard to understand how some of those peers who knew what was going on have been able to remain silent for so many years. Based on their denials many of us bought into the founder's manipulations. After all, they were there.... and they assured us that any allegations were no more than malicious gossip.

Francisco came under Maciel's spell as a young seminarian at the age of fourteen. He tells of sexual, emotional and mental abuse by the founder.  The author shares extremely personal details of his life as a Legionary and his life after he left the Congregation. He pulls no punches. He mentions many Legionaries I knew and respected, and his narrative includes places and dates I am familiar with. I find his story compelling and eminently believable.  As he tells his story, he puts his finger on wounds that still need to be healed and he offers keen insight into the dysfunctional personality of the founder and the serious flaws he bequeathed to the Legionaries of Christ.

Mr. Gonzalez Parga is now 70 years old, married to Maria Esther. Together they own and operate a small business, although most of his post-Legionary career has been dedicated to college level teaching. His story and the way he chooses to tell it, give lie to the gossip that surrounded some of his Legionary career.  After reading his book, I feel I know him much better. It makes me sad to realize how much he had already suffered by the time I first met him. I rejoice that, eventually, late in life, he found peace, a measure of happiness and, I think, a deep faith in God. Despite his awful experiences at the hands of a priest to whom he gave his innocent trust, ultimately his book is a tale of redemption.

Father Marcial Maciel, LC, was born on March 10, 1920, in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán, Mexico. On May 1, 2010, The Vatican ordered the overhaul of the Legionaries of Christ, one of the Catholic Church's largest and most influential organizations following an investigation into decades of sexual abuse by the group's founder and systematic efforts to cover it up. According to the statement, Mexican-born Father Marcial Maciel engaged in "very serious and objectively immoral behavior," the Vatican said -- including fathering at least one child and sexually molesting boys and seminarians. The abuse dates to the 1950s and continued into the 1990s, years in which Maciel led a double life, protected by silence and obedience and his ability to sideline his accusers. Father Maciel, LC, died in the United States on January 30, 2008. His mortal remains are laid to rest in his Mexican hometown.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Scicluna: courage needed to meet the victims of abuse

Veteran Vaticanologist Andrea Tornielli has just interviewed Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the man who for almost a decade  has fought alongside Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) in the battle against the scourge of pedophilia. In December 2004, with Pope John Paul's health deteriorating by the day, Ratzinger broke with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Sodano and ordered Msgr. Charles Scicluna,  a canon lawyer on his staff, to investigate the allegations against Fr. Maciel, Founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
Monsignor J. Scicluna, is the “promoter of justice” at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was born in Toronto in 1959 to Maltese emigrant parents. Before his first birthday he returned to Malta with his family. In an interview carried on the website "Vatican Insider," run by La Stampa, Ms. Tornielli speaks to Msgr. Scicluna about the scandals related to priestly abuse.
Msgr. Scicluna says, 
The Church considers children’s’ innocence to be one its most precious treasures, and Benedict XVI’s leadership was and is vital. He had the courage to say: we have made a mistake here, here we need to change…
This is precisely what Ratzinger was referring to in his famous meditations for the Via Crucis on Holy Friday back in 2005, when he spoke of the “filth” that existed in the Church: Those words came from three years of abuse case study; there was an awareness of the need to see priests’ sins for what they really were.
 Scicluna uses strong words to underline the fact that violence shown towards minors by clergymen constitutes “an abuse of spiritual power”. 
“Yes, it is true there is a specific difference between repeated abuse by a lay person and that carried out by a priest, on victims that expect to see in them the figure of the “good shepherd”. If a priest commits the abuse, the trauma caused to the victim is even deeper, the spiritual trust that existed is destroyed and a person’s faith is lost.”
Asked by Tornelli whether the change in mentality that Benedict XVI has asked for, is taking root in the Church, he responds 
“I believe that a change in mentality is only possible for those who have the courage to meet the victims of abuse, to welcome them and to listen to their stories. If this does not happen, one may have read up on every detail of the scandal, be fully prepared, but that person will not be able to fully comprehend the trauma that these immense sins cause. The reaction and anger expressed by the victims of priests is unlike that found in any other type of case, because it comes from deep within the soul”.

A Gregorian University initiative, supported by the Vatican, entitled “Towards Healing and Renewal” will be launched in February of 2012. The objective is to provide "a comprehensive response to the problem of sexual abuse and the protection of the vulnerable."   
Msgr. Scicluna reveals in the interview that that the bishops that will be participating in the international seminar at the Gregorian next February, will need to have met with the victims of pedophile priests in their respective countries, prior to attending. 
“It is a traumatic experience that is life changing, as in my case. Thanks be to God, and to the strict laws that are in place and to the development of a new conscience, these cases have decreased dramatically compared to previous years. ...  We need to continue to support the victims who have for so long been seen as “threats” to the good name of the Church, instead of being treated as individuals who have been wounded in their innermost soul. We need to welcome and help these victims ensuring above all that the traumatic experiences they have been through are not repeated”.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hazy but not lazy days of summer on the blue Mediterranean

I just came across a short video on the Legionaries of Christ website. It depicts pretty accurately a passage in "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind," in which I describe our vacations in a small town south of Naples in Italy. You can read the passage below. Judging by the video, not a lot has changed - except in my time we didn't have backpacks and we certainly didn't have access to sail-boards. It's a nice little trip down memory lane (thanks to David Murray) and it certainly helps answer the question: what do Legionary seminarians (in Rome)  do on their summer vacations?

Summer in Monticchio included two weeks of ‘vacation,’ which we dedicated to intense physical activity. Most days, we would set out in groups of three or four, hiking to a nearby bay that wasn’t accessible by road. Getting there involved about an hour’s trek. We would climb down a steep path, which took us through some small olive groves and, eventually, to the water’s edge. Climbing back up again after a long day of swimming in the sun was a daunting task.
The bay was practically inaccessible by land, so we had the entire place to ourselves. The shoreline was steep and rocky and there was no beach. A large concrete platform, the remains of some former structure, served as our base for swimming and diving. The blue waters of the Mediterranean were always beautiful. Motor yachts and speedboats sometimes came in from the nearby marinas, giving us a fleeting glimpse of a lifestyle far removed from our seminary existence.
Other days, we would hike to surrounding towns, enjoying the magnificent scenery and Mediterranean locale. One of the more adventurous destinations for a hike was to the town of Positano, a beautiful place protected from the Northern winds by the Lattari Mountains. The return trip was about 20 km, which meant we had to run for most of the way, and would have little or no time to eat our sandwiches and visit the town.
The structure of Positano is old and beautiful. The buildings cling in tiers to the rock face. The small houses huddled on top of each other, so characteristic of the area, form the subject of endless photos. The colors are vibrant, and the white buildings create a perfect backdrop for the bright geraniums and other flowers adorning the walls and courtyards. Smells included; leather used for making sandals, the aroma from the restaurants, and the bustle of every day life.
But we didn’t have any time for sightseeing, because no matter how far we hiked or ran, we had to be back to our residence at the appointed hour. Because of the long distance, completing a hike to Positano, and getting back on time, came with bragging rights.