Our Father, who art in bed: Marcial Maciel by Paul Lennon-Review by Pete Horton

With the Dublin abuse report about to come out it is clear we need to understand the stories of Priests.

Here we have a review of a book written by one who joined an order and who later was a part of an campaign to make people aware of the sexual abuse of the Founder Marcial Maciel.

His story is not about sexual abuse but about clerical power and a cult of personality he endured.

Our Father, who art in bed: Marcial Maciel by Paul Lennon

A Review by Pete Horton

MOMENTS after terminating his 23-year spell in the Legion of Christ, a furious John Paul Lennon stormed outside into the glaring Mexican sunlight. He stopped dead in his tracks as he realised it was the first time in 23 years he’d been totally alone and left to his own devices. He was 40.

After decades of destructive isolation and blind obedience, he had finally snapped, causing a furious showdown between himself and the group’s now infamous founder, Father Marcial Maciel, as he did so.

Twenty years after his ordeal he sits opposite me in a bustling Temple Bar restaurant. He begins to tell me how, aged 17, he was swept up from his humble Dublin roots on a wind of good-hearted optimism.

“I needed to be liked, accepted and appreciated,” recalls Paul on his adolescent mind-set.

“I was possessed by a desire to please, to help, to serve generously without measuring the cost.”

After being recruited from Dublin’s St Vincent’s high and spending a summer with the Legion at their house in the seductive surroundings of Bundoran, Paul and seven other Dubliners were chosen to be among the first Irish co-founders of the sect.

After bidding farewell to their friends and families in 1961, the recruits were whisked off to Salamanca, Spain, where they were drilled into Legionnaires. Things would happen quickly for the new recruits. And for some, their lives changed forever.

From the moment they arrived, the Legion’s discipline intensified. The young seminarians were hit with a regimental timetable and a barrage of strict rules to fine-tune their discipline. The gradual process of indoctrination had begun.

Slowly, ties with family and friends were strangled until loved ones could only be contacted with the permission of a superior. Friendship among recruits was also severed and any access to the outside world slammed shut.

“Although I was oblivious to it at the time, the Legion isolates its members more than many of the ancient orders did,” explains Paul.

“No phone use, no internet access and no TV or radio.”

When Paul finally emerged from the order in the mid-eighties the isolation had been so intense that he’d not heard of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. Astonishingly, he still cannot understand the celebrity of John Lennon, or the reactions he gets every time he uses a credit card.

Gradually, more and more rules and practices were phased in, slowly stretching the Legionnaires’ discipline further and further.

Somewhere in that hazy period the Legion introduced corporal mortification to its recruits – a type of voluntary self-harming made famous in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

Along with his fellow Legionaries, Paul endured years of scraping, grazing and whipping his own flesh with various instruments.

“After so long of disciplining my other senses, the introduction of the cilice, whips and the cilicio [a band of wire metal spikes worn on the thigh] – was no big deal either,” Paul explains.

“Although it was intended to control the flesh, I found it neither calmed nor exacerbated my ‘carnal appetites’.

“It was just a painful nuisance.”

By 1975 Paul had been ordained as a priest in the Legion and was based in Mexico City. He was soon promoted by Father Maciel to found and oversee a school that trained religious teachers – a position he presided over for several years.

But despite his accomplishments, the years of discipline at the Legion – combined with Father Maciel’s lavish lifestyle – were beginning to frustrate Paul. As he approached 40, he and his superiors were slowly drifting apart.

The rift deepened when he was asked to step down from his post at the faith school after a series of false allegations surrounding sexual relations with a married woman.

“The decision to remove me from the School of Faith, where I’d spent seven successful years, backfired badly.

“I was now at the point where my initial awe, admiration and respect for Father Maciel and the order had faded,” he said.

“I was weakened by the constant blind obedience, unanswered questions and self-denial.”

Without warning, the rumbling thunderclouds of the last 23 years finally opened up during one of Maciel’s keynote speeches. Paul’s anger boiled over while watching a room full of fellow Legionaries fawning over their leader while he gloated about the hard work the new recruits had been doing. The flashpoint that would change his life forever had arrived.

“I remember Maciel kept going on and on in a way that devalued the hard work we were putting into the missions,” Paul recalls.

“And as he sat there gloating about the Legion’s new recruits, I couldn’t stop thinking of all those Legionaries being ignored, the ones who were damaged, hurting, or who had been exiled.”

On a wave of anger, Paul did the unthinkable – he stood and shouted at Maciel, interrupting his speech while the audience of priests and brothers looked on in stunned silence.

“What about the brothers who are damaged, leaving, or had left?” Paul snapped.

“What of the Legionaries at the bottom of the pile? Whose work is going unnoticed while you concentrate on drafting in more and more recruits?”

An ugly argument ensued before Maciel demanded silence: “It’s none of your business what happens to others – leave that to your superiors!”

But by now Paul was not backing down, “I just stood there, shouting,” he recalls.

“I fired back that it was my business because those being mistreated were my brothers. And I rattled off a list of former Legionaries to illustrate my point.”

The exchange ended when Paul stormed out of the room, never to return. He scraped together what possessions he had left and tossed them inside a battered suitcase. He fled the group, never to return.

“Immediately after my showdown with Father Maciel I felt shame and failure. “Losing it was precisely what I had wanted to avoid.

“Only several years later did I realise it was my only way out,” Paul explains.

“After 23 years of immersion I did not possess the tools to leave. The Legion had stripped away the mental clarity, self-determination and decision skills I needed to calmly, rationally, walk out of the door.

“Thank God for the subconscious. That survival instinct was all I had left to go on.”

Paul returned home to Ireland, where he would begin his long road to recovery.

It was not until 1997 that the details of Father Maciel’s sex abuse exploded in the American media. It emerged that Maciel had sexually abused several Legionaries while they tended to him during his regular bouts of illness. The alleged incidents took place from the 1940’s onwards. Paul had to hear several testimonies and read several articles before the reality of what Father Maciel did sank in.

Although Paul was not among the victims, the nature of the attacks somehow sounded familiar.

“Somehow everything I read and heard rang true. The stories were all different, but said the same thing.

“Maciel’s method sounded uncannily authentic, the abuse sickeningly real.”

In 2005 Paul took part as a character witness in the investigation set up surrounding Father Maciel. He describes the tsunami of sorrow that suddenly swelled up around him shortly after he gave his testimony. Unabashed, he wept for the victims – some of whom he remembered.

“Maybe it was because I was not allowed to be a brother to them when I was in,” he reflects.

Despite the inevitable outcome of the investigation Father Maciel was not criminally charged. Instead Pope Benedict XVI invited him to “a reserved life of prayer and penitence” in 2006. No explanation was given to the public or the Legion. He died in January 2008 aged 87.

Despite everything, Paul remains a Catholic while denouncing the Legion as a cult, whose methods are a contradiction with the Christian values of more authentic religious orders.

“In terms of assets, power and wealth the order is still growing rapidly in the US,” he tells me.

“It loudly proclaims its orthodoxy and papal approval while flaunting its friendships with people in high places.

“It continues to dazzle the gullible, aspiring elite while intimidating anyone who dares criticise or even question.”

Paul now lives happily in Washington DC. “I have no regrets about my 23 years in the Legion,” he affirms.

“Somehow, I did it my way.”

We invite further reviews and the book can be purchased from us for €20 including postage and packing. Look at our resources section for more details.

Send us a cheque and we will send book out. This offer relates to the Republic of Ireland. All other postal areas send us a mail for personal terms

2 Responses

  1. Posted BY DI as the commentator is unable to access the internet due to Chinese government censorship.
    That’s a short shocking life story. I remember attending Mass while on holiday in a town in County Waterford around 2002-3. There was an Irish Legionnaire priest celebrating. He exhibited a very lengthy meditative attitude after distributing communion. In his sermon he talked about the public school system in USA and stated that many Catholic parents were withdrawing their children because of the value-free amoral ethos, and were making efforts to home school the children.


  2. Mis parabienes unidos al inmenso deseo de tu éxito, brother Paul.
    Un abrazo,


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