The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre, 399 pages
3rd Canadian Book Challenge
I only know Linden MacIntyre for his work as an investigative reporter on the CBC show the fifth estate, but he has a future as a novelist if this book is anything to go by. He writes a somewhat suspenceful tale of a lonely man, a priest facing a personal and spiritual crisis.
The long nights in the glebe give him too much time to think about his own troubled childhood, and to drink, and to think some more. (from the inside cover)
I enjoyed this memoir-ish novel of a priest looking back on his career. It wasn't the usual parish priest experience however. Father Duncan MacTavish spent some time in Honduras, and as the Bishop's investigator, was sent in to deal with priests who had gotten in trouble. His job was to minimize trouble and appease the victim. The Bishop hated the word victim, and was all for hushing up events. Eventually, these situations collide with his memories after he is assigned to the parish he grew up in, and he begins to question his own faith, and the repercussions left in a community after the problem priest was dealt with.
I'm not from Cape Breton, but small towns on an island are probably pretty similar, so the Gaelic influence and reliance of the church in small communities was relate able. MacIntyre grew up on Cape Breton (his memoir is called Causeway: A Passage from Innocence) and he draws a picture of life on the beautiful island with descriptions of land and people.
The bay is flat, endless pewter beneath the rising moon. Hypnotic. (page 64)
The story is told in several strands, and the timeline isn't completely linear, a reflection of how the present is coloured by past experiences. The first of the book is filled with foreshadowing and hints of things to come, which made me want to keep reading to find out what had happened, and then as events kept happening, I was turning faster and faster as Duncan's crisis comes to a head. I liked the portrayal of the priest as a real person, with struggles and demons, colliding with the expectations of his community. The hierarchy of the church, or maybe it was just his Bishop, looked more interested in power and protecting their position than in admitting what had happened. The topic of abuse within the church was very timely, and I thought it was a fair portrayal of how things were dealt, or not dealt, with.
I'm not sure what the RC church would think of the book, with its comments on celibacy and the discussion on abuse. They are certainly important ideas to be discussing. Interestingly, my parish has just ordained a rare married priest.