I’ve been arguing with Jack Keogh, otherwise known as “The Monk,” for months. We’ve butted heads on several blogs, we’ve disagreed vociferously, and on a few occasions, if we’d been in the same pub, I would have leapt across the table and tried to strangle him!
With that history, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I opened “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines.” I think I was expecting a rousing defense of the Legion. Instead, Jack gave a fascinating, deeply personal account of what it was like to be a Legionary in the early days. His writing puts the reader behind his eyes and takes you along for the ride. In the end, his book answered a few important questions for me: What were they thinking? Why didn’t anyone see? Why would anyone have stayed? How do people decide to leave?
It seems like most accounts of Legion life have been written by melancholic introverts with a tendency toward extreme scruples. For these people, Legion life was Hell. The whole structure seemed to be set up to keep introverts miserable, subservient, and broken. Unfortunately, these accounts also repel many current LC and RC – it’s easy to write the authors off. “Well, of course the Legion was a bad experience for him. He was a bad fit! He should never have stayed! After all, it’s not like the door was locked!”
Jack Keogh was not introverted, melancholic, or overly scrupulous. He was an extrovert, set all afire in his quest to save Latin America from the communists. He was an optimist, and enjoyed most of his time in the Legion. He saw Maciel’s crushing lists of rules as mere guidelines, and broke them without guilt, treating punishments as the price to pay for having some fun.
And Jack did have fun. Lots of fun. As a driver, he didn’t have to spend much time in stifling community life. He traveled with Maciel, met heads of state and movie stars, and received glamorous assignments like turning around failing schools, working with cardinals, and establishing a Legion presence in a wealthy New York suburb. He took vacations, went to musicals, and entertained wealthy donors.
As I read, I got sucked in by all the travel, glamour and fun. I had to work to remember that, as the Vatican declared in its communiqué, Marcial Maciel had no religious sentiment or scruples. If I, an adult reading Monk’s memoir, found it so easy to be sucked into the exciting world of the early Legion, is it any wonder that so many boys were ensnared by Maciel’s order?
Still, even as Jack was having fun, there were hints of the revelations to come. Maciel repeatedly condones or recommends acts of dishonesty –For instance, lying about the contents of a lost suitcase to receive a bigger settlement. Or allowing the brothers to build a compartment in the bus so that they can smuggle electronics and alcohol across European borders. Why did they go along with his suggestions? It seems like their consciences were lulled to sleep by the knowledge that Maciel was a living saint. So obviously, these sins weren’t really sins, but simply God’s Providence helping the young congregation save money.
In between all the fun and busy-ness, Jack has doubts about the Legion. He begins to think of Maciel as a ‘slick operator,’ not a living saint, but a flawed man that God is using for great things. Jack has doubts about his call to the priesthood, and is on the verge of leaving several times. Yet whenever he’s about to return home to his family, there’s a new challenge or treat. Legion life becomes fun and exciting again and he doesn’t have time for all that difficult reflection and doubt. In a way, Maciel is almost Satanic, tempting Jack away from his vocation and a deeper relationship with God with pretty baubles – enjoyable but fleeting.
Jack is a golden boy in the Legion – loved, feted, coddled and treated as long as he is useful. Then the day comes when he’s no longer useful, and, like so many Legionaries before him, he’s exiled, ignored, and finally gone.
In the end, I think it was his early faith formation that helped him leave. Even though Jack enjoys himself in the Legion, he has a niggling sense that something’s not right – that the life he’s living isn’t really what religious life is supposed to be like, and that Maciel isn’t really what the founder of a congregation ought to be.
I found myself wondering about the other sort of Legionary—the sort who grew up in a Regnum Christi family, spent his formative years in K4J and Conquest and then went straight into Apostolic School at 12. How can a boy like that even understand what’s wrong with Maciel’s vision? If he’s been formed to be Maciel’s ideal apostle since pre-school, how can he hope to break free as an adult?
Jack was lucky – he had a loving family who was happy to welcome home the prodigal son. Because of his time as ‘Golden Boy,’ he had friends and connections on two continents. He was able to build a good life for himself outside of the Legion. At the same time, I finished the book feeling deeply sorry for him.
The Legion took twenty years of his life. Those are twenty years where he had almost no contact with his family – twenty years that opened a chasm between Jack and his brother, twenty years he couldn’t spend sharing his parents’ joys, and twenty years that his absence contributed to their sorrows.
I also mourned for the Church. As a boy, Jack had dreamed of being an Irish missionary priest and ministering to the sick in Africa. If only he’d tried his vocation with a different order, instead of with the Legionaries!
I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the early history of the Legion, to anyone who wonders why some Legionaries insist that the Legion was a good experience for them, and for any of my friends and acquaintances who still aren’t sure why people are so upset about the damage that the Legion and Regnum Christi have done to the Church.
One huge caveat – Jack does not tell his story straight through from beginning to end. He jumps around a lot, going forward and backwards in time. I found it helpful to make a timeline to keep track. Still, I enjoyed the book – Jack’s voice is unique among ex-legionary accounts, and he gives an excellent view into the founding of the Legion. I didn’t go into this book expecting to like it or to like Jack Keogh. (Honestly, I was ready to rip it apart before I began.) I finished it with a deeper understanding for how Maciel tempted the early Legionaries, and how even those who weren’t abused were seduced and used.
In a way, Jack’s tale is like the story of a young Irishman who is kidnapped by fairies and spends years dancing and eating and drinking under the hill- only to emerge decades later to find that he’s been frozen in time while the world has grown and changed- and the ‘gold’ given to him by the fairies turns out to be nothing but a pocket full of dried leaves.
While it might not be essential for understanding Maciel or the Legion, it’s helpful for understanding the Legionaries, where they’re coming from, and how they might get to where they need to go.