“Crimes of the Father” by Thomas Keneally— Sin and Sacrament

Keneally, Thomas. “Crimes of the Father: A Novel”, Atria Books, 2017.

Sin and Sacrament

Amos Lassen

Father Frank Docherty was sent away from his native Australia to Canada because of his radical preachings against the Vietnam War, apartheid, and other of the time. He had had a satisfying career as a psychologist and monk. Later when he returns to Australia to lecture on the future of celibacy and the Catholic Church, he becomes that they been sexually abused by a prominent monsignor. Docherty was

a member of the commission investigating sex abuse within the Church, and because he is a man of character and conscience, he decides he must confront each party and try to bring the matter to the attention of both the Church and the secular authorities.

The book explores what it is to be a person of faith in the modern world, and Docherty’s courage to face the truth about an institution he loves. Keneally has a clear and of a culture that has been deeply wounded. We see here the “cynical casuistry of a church determined to fight critics down to ‘its last lawyer’, an institution that puts its survival above its soul.”

On his arrival in Sydney, his taxi driver abuses him when she realizes that he’s a priest, and he suspects that she was a victim of sex abuse by a priest so he gives her hid card and tells her to call him if needed. He then discovers that the son of a family friend committed suicide with a drug overdose, naming a priest as abusing him in a suicide letter. A bit later, the taxi driver contacts him naming the same priest as her abuser. This same priest is a prominent member of a church commission set up to conceal sex abuse by the priesthood and pays victims small amounts of money to sign confidential agreements.

Docherty feels legally and morally obliged to report the allegations to the Archbishop of Sydney, even though he knows that it isn’t going to help his application to return to Sydney. The Archbishop also refuses to give any credence to the allegations. He learns that the very same Archbishop was being transferred to the Vatican.

Set in the 1990s, this is a story about sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers and contains some thinly disguised portraits of current figures in the Church. This is a well-written (as we have come to expect from Keneally) and powerful novel that takes on a volatile subject.

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