Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two books ...

A bit from a post by Marci A. Hamilton, a church/state scholar and the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, about a novel and a non-fiction book ....

[...] The Nonfiction Book, Mortal Sins, by Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Investigative Journalist Michael D’Antonio on the Clergy Child Sex Abuse Scandal in the United States

A new non-fiction book is a tremendous addition to the fund of our understanding of this crisis. It is entitled Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, and it is a searing and deeply engaging account of the contemporary battles that have been waged against the culture of secrecy and cover-up maintained by the Catholic hierarchy. The extraordinary quality of the writing makes this difficult story both readable and impossible to put down.

The crusaders for the victims, so hated by the hierarchy, feature prominently. They include survivors and national leaders Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy of SNAP; former monk and brilliant psychologist Richard Sipe; pioneering and visionary trial lawyer Jeff Anderson; and the heroic Fr. Tom Doyle, who is also a central character in the amazing historical novel In God’s House, which I review below.


A Great Southern Novel, In God’s House, on the Beginning of the Abuse Scandal in the United States, Written by One Who Was There

While fact-based books document the truth, it is rare that they fully capture it. Ray Mouton’s recently published In God’s House pierces to the beating heart of the scandal in a riveting novel. It is written in the best of the Southern novel tradition, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greatest.

The irony of this book is that Mr. Mouton was the devoutly Catholic young, Louisiana lawyer who was hired by the Diocese of Lafayette in 1984 to defend the serial pedophile Fr. Gilbert Gauthe, who had made a habit of having the altar boys sleep over the night before altar practice. In Mouton’s words in a 2002 CBS story, Gauthe did “[e]very sexual act you can imagine two males doing” with these boys, night after night.

In God’s House, though, does not focus on the acts of abuse, but rather illuminates the twisted darkness in the hearts of the bishops (and eventually the Pope) as they reacted to the emergence of a scandal for which they lacked the skills, morals, or souls to fix. This is the account of where the scandal began in the United States. Abuse has been going on for centuries, but the public scandal is mere decades ago.

It is to Mouton’s credit that he opted to write a great Southern novel, rather than an autobiography. No one would have blamed him if he had done the latter, given his heroic and early role in this story. But the Southern literature genre is a perfect fit for the clandestine, backward-looking hierarchy, and the deep but often muted suffering of the victims and their families. That means that the story is riveting and truly impossible to put down, despite its 500+ pages! At the same time, it is filled with accurate historical detail, because, of course, he was there.

I do not believe that any other account of the scandal does a better job than Mouton’s novel does of peering into the essential craziness of the men in power in the Church who used theology to justify the persistent endangerment of children by men whom they knew full well were abnormal. Mouton’s character development is masterful, as it brings to life the faces and mannerisms of the evil that is cloaked in clerical garb and installed in the mansions of the bishops. There are echoes here of the South African Dutch Reformists who crafted the foundation of apartheid straight out of their theology, and the American Protestant ministers who enlisted the Bible to justify slavery.

The story starts in Louisiana as it focuses on this one pedophile priest, and I dare not give away too much, but the protagonist is transformed by what he learns, which drives him to eventually find his way to a fictionalized Tom Doyle, a rising star priest who was in the Papal Nunciature in Washington, DC, and, who, to those who know him, leaps from the page as the man we deeply admire. It is worth your while to read both Mortal Sins and In God’s House even if you only do so to become acquainted with this giant in the movement for justice for our children .......


Anonymous Richard said...

Some interesting journalism from the LA Times, very noir,0,3430788.htmlstory

10:08 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the link. So depressing - clerical sex abuse: the awful gift that just keeps on giving. I don't have any hope that the church will fix what's wrong and causing this problem - Francis doesn't seem like he's going to do anything. I was just today re-visiting my own memories of sex abuse - it's really a destructive experience.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

It's hard for me to even imagine what that must be like for you. I really admire the courage it takes to confront that history. I found the article encouraging because despite the best efforts of powerful men, its all coming out now. I'm glad the reporter took the time to dig into the archives to tell this story. Ordinary people are listening, I think there is hope in that.

5:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Richard. The truth shall set us free (I hope) :)

8:14 PM  

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