The monk, the cow and the apology

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been debating back and forth, in the comboxes of several blogs, with former LC priest Jack Keogh. He’s an Irishman who runs The Monk Who Stole the Cow blog. The name of his blog refers to a folk tale which is posted in the right margin of his blog.
Mr. Keogh is calling upon LC critics to show more charity toward those who remain in LC. Here’s my take on the situation:

A monk and his abbot were passing through a poor farming village atop the cliffs of Ireland when they came across a humble cottage owned by an impoverished Catholic family with three children. Nevertheless, the family took the monk and abbot in for the night. The family shared with the religious what meager milk and cheese the family had, produced from a single cow. This was the only farm animal the family could afford, and they relied upon the cow for their subsistence. Nevertheless, despite their poverty, the family was happy, knowing God was with them and provided for their daily needs.
The following day, as the “good” religious left the village, the abbot ordered the monk to return to the cottage and push the cow off the cliff. The abbot was widely reputed for his “holiness” and claimed “never to have said no to the Holy Spirit.” Therefore the monk obeyed as an ever-obedient co-founder. After all, being pushed off the cliff was the cow’s vocation “from all of eternity.”
About five years’ later, at a village two counties over, villagers discovered that the abbot had a certain unnatural affection for cows. What the penitential books at the time referred to as “unspeakable” sins involving farm animals. Given that this was medieval times – not the modern era where folks are somewhat more civilized – the villagers responded by pushing the abbot over the cliff. But that’s a story for another time…
The monk narrowly escaped the peasant uprising. He made his way back to the initial village under the cover of darkness. Seeing the cottage where he had stayed five years ago, and given the cold wet snow outside, he knocked on the door to request shelter and food for the night. He could not help but notice, as he waited for someone to answer the door, that the cottage was even more beaten up and weather-worn than he remembered it five years ago.
An older man answered in threadbare clothing. He had lost some weight, most of his hair, and his skin was wrinkled with worry. Yet the biggest change was in his eyes: Gone was the spark that had made the family happy, despite the poverty in which they found themselves.
“What do you want?” the old man grumbled.
“I’m a poor monk seeking food and shelter for the night,” the monk said. “You hosted my abbot and me several years ago.”
“Oh, you,” said the poor man.
“Look, I have nothing to give. It seems that everywhere you went cows kept falling off cliffs,” the peasant continued. “After our cow fell off the cliff, the baby died for lack of milk. This broke my wife’s heart, and she died about a year later. She died angry at God for having taken away our baby after showing you and your abbot some Catholic hospitality.”
“That’s blasphemy!” the monk said. “Your wife should have been more charitable with God, not to mention forgiving of our abbot. Then God would have blessed her with the serenity not to give in to the sin of bitterness.”
“Well she might have endured this crisis,” said the farmer, “but for the fate of our middle son. See, he was over in the next village begging for moldy and half-rotten potatoes – of which we ate a steady diet after our cow died – when he witnessed you pushing another cow over the cliff. You did so at the urging of your abbot. Horrified, my son ran to the bishop’s house only to catch your abbot offering the bishop a gift of freshly butchered steak.”
“My son reported what he had seen to the bishop. But your abbot denied everything and both you and your abbot claimed my son was lying out of jealousy for your meal of steak and fresh milk. It was his word against yours. That of an impoverished young boy against two men of the cloth. So the bishop believed you. He reported everything to the Prince, who also believed you and the bishop. The Prince then ordered my son’s cheeks branded with a red hot poker ending in the letter ‘L’ – a sign to all who come across him that he was a liar. Additionally, my family was ordered to turn over our remaining possessions – minus this cottage – to you and the abbot, as restitution for having accused you of pushing cows over cliffs. We never ReGAINED these possessions.”
“Well let’s not talk about past misunderstandings,” said the monk. “Let’s talk about happier things. How is your oldest daughter doing? The Abbot sensed God had called her from all of eternity to a vocation as Consecrated Wench. She would not say no to God, would she?”
“I don’t know,” said the farmer. “After speaking with other consecrated wenches who had left the village, she decided that a more merciful fate awaited her as a galley slave to Moorish pirates. Unlike your abbot, their lust is satisfied in the afterlife by 72 virgins. That’s more than twenty but less than a hundred – in case you can’t count. Anyway, it’s just me left in this hut now.”
“Well let me in and I will keep you company,” said the monk. “It is your duty as a Christian to forgive.”
“Let’s make a deal,” said the farmer. “I’ll forgive you, and offer you room and board for the evening, if you apologize for pushing my cow over the cliff and the pain it caused my family.”
“That’s not fair!” said the monk. “I was only following orders.”
“Those orders brought much evil on my family,” said the farmer. “So you can freeze outside in the snow until you apologize.”
“Okay,” said the monk, whose was feeling the chill of the wind against his soaked habit. “I apologize for the abbott’s ‘unfortunate orders,’ which I cannot explain, and the pain they’re now causing me as I try to find room and board for the night.”
“Well what about the living hell you caused my family?” said the peasant.
“How dare you act this uncharitably!” said the monk. “I know other peasants whose cows were pushed over cliffs and they don’t describe their experience as ‘living hell’.”
“Oh look, here comes a follower of St. Ignatius. I wonder if he needs room and board?” said the peasant. “After all, it’s cold and wet outside.”
“Okay, you’re twisting my arm. Although I am grateful for all the good my abbot passed on to me and others who received his charism, I… uh… apologize … for whatever pain his unfortunate orders, which I find difficult to reconcile with the good I saw while following him from village to village, caused you and your family.”
“A little better,” said the peasant. “But what about the pain YOU caused our family by following his orders. What about the pain your lies caused my son in having him branded a liar when he reported the truth about you, your abbot and cows were falling over cliffs?”
“How dare you judge me!” said the monk. “Only God can judge. Where’s your faith in the Church?”
“Behind you,” said the peasant, pointing to the Jesuit walking up the alley to investigate the situation. “Fr. Ignatius, can I offer you room and board for the evening? It’s a cold night out, I need good spiritual direction to overcome the spiritual pain that has cursed our family for the last five years, and this monk was just leaving.”


  1. Great story Pete! I heard the same story back home in Ireland, last August. Well, almost the same.
    The peasant’s daughter, when she thought her father might want to be a nun, took the next boat to the US where she got a job as a bar maid in Queens, NY. She made a small fortune and married an Italian. Soon after, the opened their own restaurant which they called “The Gaelic and The Garlic.” The remained Catholic but they didn’t go to Mass most Sundays. They did however have their children baptized and to went to Church at Easter and Christmas. They lived happily ever after and had beautiful children.
    The Prince is another story. Eventually he drummed up the courage to ask for the hand of a beautiful princess in marriage. She thought about it for an instant and then said, “No!” The Prince lived happily ever after. Thus the Prince lived the shortest fairy tale known to man.
    When the peasant found the Monk at his door, he asked him to wait (a little bit like your version.) He closed the door and left the Monk in the cold. Then he ran out to the back and got a shovel. He ran around the side of his hovel, crept up behind the Monk and whacked him over the head. The Monk eventually recovered, left his order and went on to be a successful Canon Lawyer.
    Along came the Jesuit. The peasant decided he needed solace (not spiritual direction) so he invited the Jesuit in and they shared a flask of the peasant’s home made(illegal) whiskey. They both got very drunk, bared their souls and sang rebel songs. They discussed the Kelly Report on the Irish scandals and wondered if the history of violence in Ireland and the power accorded to the clergy was the cause of it all? The Jesuit said he would make that the subject of his doctoral dissertation in Rome. Then he went home (with a terrible headache) and obtained scholarships for the peasant’s sons to attend Clongowes – the Jesuit secondary school in Dublin. One of them was featured in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Two of them ended up with business degrees and went on to make loads of money as corporate executives. They both married and divorced.
    The youngest of the sons wrote a book. The theme was about how screwed up the Church (and most human organizations are.) Despite this he wrote, “God manages to write straight on crooked lines.” He urged people to analyze the “big picture.” “The only way to heal awful memories, he wrote, is through forgiveness. You have to find your inner Faith and be very careful of narcissistic and charismatic leaders.” The book was a huge success! He moved to New York to be near his sister. He ate lots of fine Italian food, put on a lot of weight and, married a lovely Irish lass with loads of common sense. He died penniless but happy – he left all his money to Mother Theresa’s congregation.
    Ok! I’m just kidding! Peace.

  2. In exchange for your story, here is a story about Saint Polycarp:
    [Polycarp] it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles, that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me? “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
    (Against Heresies, III.3.4)

  3. @Monk –
    Pete employed wit in penning his version of “the Monk Who Killed the Cow”, but that does not make it funny. You say “great story”, I say “sad story”.
    Pete has woven together themes which permeate the culture of the Legion and Regnum Christi. In his treatment of the theme that “The ends justify the means”, Pete sets the record straight – people actually suffer, and this is not a justifiable end. He reveals blind obedience as a weak moral cop-out. He gives an excellent visual of people in authority “branding” victims as liars. He brings in the plight of the 3gf, as well as the lawsuit against ReGain. He gives an accurate take-off on the LC adherence to engagement in happy talk only. He exposes the manipulative use of faith to induce guilt. He shows the inadequacy of insincere and vague apologies, especially when motivated not by a repentant heart, but out of self-interest.
    Pete’s send-up adeptly lays bare the flaws in the Legion that are responsible for so much suffering and scandal to the Church. There is no worthy witty retort to be made.

  4. Jane –
    I have to respectfully disagree with you here. It seems that you are reading Monk’s comment to Pete of “Great story” as some kind of affirmation of the Legion, or as some kind of flippancy with regard to the real problems within the Legion.
    As I read it, Monk is simply paying a compliment to Pete for his wit in “Legionizing” the monk-cow story, and anything beyond that is reading more into Monk’s comment that is actually there.
    Here is Monk’s own comment on the Life After RC blog regarding this exchange:
    “Giselle – hang in! In no way did I want to suggest that the subject matter is fun. I read Pete’s version of the Monk and Cow and enjoyed it. Decided to write a tongue in cheek response on his blog – it’s actually meant to be funny! Sense of humor and all that, helping us get through trials and tribulations.
    “Then I read Aaron’s harrowing testimony. I immediately posted my support for him on the appropriate thread. Kind of stifled my little humorous interlude.”

  5. We will have to agree to respectfully disagree.
    – “it’s actually meant to be funny!”
    I am sure Pete’s version was not actually meant to be funny. He clearly put a lot of time and thought into it and the result was an accurate parody of a seriously sad tale. I saw Monk’s quick response as his way of joining in on some kind of game, and therefore his version fell flat, like a regrettable joke.
    And yes, notwithstanding the Monk’s later comments regarding Aaron, I found it flippant. But then, I often find myself in disagreement with his light-heartedness in discussing this scandal. I find it to be misplaced and in poor taste.
    My opinion…

  6. Frank, with no disrespect, you have reinforced my point.
    “…it’s actually meant to be funny!”
    I am sure Pete’s version was not intended to be funny. He clearly put a lot of time and thought into it and the result was an accurate parody of a seriously sad tale. I saw Monk’s quick response as his way of joining in on some kind of game, and therefore his version fell flat, like a regrettable joke.
    And yes, notwithstanding the Monk’s later comments regarding Aaron, I found it flippant. But then, I often feel his light-hearted optimism is strangely gleeful and out of place in these discussions.
    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  7. Sorry for the double post, one did not appear after posting, so I reposted several hours later. And voila! Two posts!
    Can we delete one? Maybe the first one?

  8. Something is often “off the mark” in the posts by Monk, inappropriate and incoherent at times. I don’t mean to be unkind. It is a very difficult topic.

  9. Jane – here is a quotable quote from one of my favorite authors G.K. Chesterton:
    “There are two ways of dealing with nonsense in this world. One way is to put nonsense in the right place; as when people put nonsense into nursery rhymes. The other is to put nonsense in the wrong place; as when they put it into educational addresses, psychological criticisms, and complaints against nursery rhymes.” (ILN 10-15-21)
    There is no better tool than a sense of humor to keep a firm footing and avoid slipping into an abyss of despair. I’ve found that to be true in my lfe. Another of my favorites acknowledged the power of humor to overcome adversity: Victor Frankl, renowned Psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He wrote: “I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily. out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable. survivable.”
    I am not laughing AT anybody. I want to laugh with you. A sense of humor corrollates with the ability not to take oneself too seriously and it is usually indicative of the ability to learn from mistakes.
    What do you think, Pete?

  10. Monk,
    I am glad that you have been able to survive having your cow killed off.
    In my opinion, in order for a fable to be good, it should reflect the correct moral order.
    What my children would learn from this story is that the end justifies the means; that a monk who steals is called wise; that blind obedience is commendable; and that evil brings about good, not suffering. The impoverished family becoming wealthy does not negate the wicked deeds of the monk and brother (the family improved despite the evil…the monk and brother committed grievous sins).
    I understand that is not your intent, but it is what the fable teaches.

  11. @Monk,
    Nice quote by Victor Frankl and yes humor is often appreciated. But stating those truths, which most would agree with, doesn’t mean that all attempts at humor are appropriate or helpful. Nor does it prove that some comments can’t be “off” and confusing or in bad taste just because it is written in a silly manner.
    Please don’t take offense. You must know this! This is not a good pattern of communication.

  12. In my opinion Monk is simply psychologically unable to deal with the reality of the Legion and Maciel. He has been trying to “spin” it in his head: it wasn’t so bad, they mean well, he did good things.
    Sorry, Monk. Many years of your life were spent in a cult. The sooner you can look at it from that perspective, the better off you will be.

  13. [quote]The impoverished family becoming wealthy does not negate the wicked deeds of the monk and brother (the family improved despite the evil…the monk and brother committed grievous sins).
    I understand that is not your intent, but it is what the fable teaches. [/quote]
    Well, I think that IS actually the point. The family had the strenghth to grow and prosper, despite the evil deeds inflicted upon them. No-one’s negating the harm caused, the point is that it doesn’t HAVE to become life consuming.

  14. No, I still disagree.
    I am not saying that adversity has to be life consuming. I am saying that the abbot and monk committed grave sins and the fable presents them in a favorable light.
    Yes, the family was able to rise above the trouble, but not BECAUSE of evil. You can’t go around committing evil hoping that it will strengthen or improve people’s lives.
    So if they had starved, whose fault would it have been? Theirs?

  15. Anon2. So now you want to be my shrink! Thank you.
    Here is an alternate version:
    I left when I realized the LC was going cult-like. I left through the big door – didn’t sneak out the window. Went to a godforsaken part of Africa to clear my head. Left the power and the glory to work with lepers (something I wanted to do since childhood.) Made my peace with God. Confronted MM.
    Got on with my life. I didn’t work out my emotions on the Internet (it wasn’t a factor in 1982.) Settled down, married. Developed a successful career in multinationals. No help from or contact with the LO. Decided to write a book – before the scandals (MM) hit the fan. 20 yrs. in the LC, for better or worse, makes it a part of my life. I was treated as badly as anyone here (save the physical abuse.) [This message got stuck before being sent – I’m resending without having checked new posts]

  16. Ah but Gwen, I don’t think it’s the monk and the abbot’s story, I think it’s the poor family’s story. And I don’t believe it does paint them in a favourable light. I do see your point, however your point, and the point of the ‘fable’ are not one and the same. :-)
    If the poor family had just sat there and not attempted anything to improve their circumstances, then yes, they may have contributed to their own demise.

  17. Jane:
    Loved your comment.
    English is not my first language so maybe I’ll have errors in my posts.
    I’m a RC member.
    I’ve been trying to understand the mistakes in the system but you describe them very clearly in my opinion.

  18. @Mrs G wrote:
    If the poor family had just sat there and not attempted anything to improve their circumstances, then yes, they may have contributed to their own demise.
    What if the poor family tried to make things better, but each time just as they were making headway, they came and kicked them in the teeth again – over and over because they felt threatened that the family would let people know what had been done to them?
    Then, finally after the family had no teeth left, they came and offered them a basket of raw carrots and couldn’t understand why they weren’t gratefuly eating them? (The last part is hypothetical)

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