Betrayal: The Crisis in The Catholic Church

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Review #31: Non-Fiction

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Reporters at The Boston Globe

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This is a collection of articles and research done by the “Spotlight” staff at The Boston Globe that brought the groundbreaking story of a Catholic priest child molestation epidemic to light. Betrayal is the work that spurred the film “Spotlight,” named for the department that was tasked with shedding a spotlight on these monumental stories.

And if you’ve seen “Spotlight” and think that was the whole story — you’d be astronomically incorrect.

This book is more of a companion to the film — a jumping off point with the hard facts and figures leading up to the story that is told in “Spotlight” and continuing on after the final credits rolled.

There is so much devastating information contained in these pages. Several times I had to stop reading and just take a breath, knowing these are real people, the story is real, the numbers are real…and this collection is not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s heartbreaking from start to finish, but that is what makes it so necessary. The harder the stories are to tell, they harder they are to hear, the more we absolutely need to hear them.

It was mind blowing how deep the corruption went, just how big this whole thing was. And knowing it was merely one city, one community that was put through so much…it seems nearly impossible to fully grasp the magnitude.

Betrayal is expertly written. It does not shy away from or sugarcoat the most horrific details. It says what needs to be heard. And it is far from one sided. As any good piece of journalism will do, Betrayal delves into the life and experiences not only of the victims and their families, but it largely examines the background of the perpetrators and their families, as well as the Church itself, and the community. It is well-rounded and all encompassing in its research. It is structured to give us the history of religious institutions, the Catholic church and the men in charge, this huge Boston scandal, and the epidemic that seems to be prevalent even now.

Betrayal is a truly tough read, but such an important one that it really cannot be missed. To make a safer future, we must fully know and understand the past.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

I Will Find You

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Review #30: Non-Fiction

I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

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At times equally terrifying and engrossing, I Will Find You grabs ahold of you from page one and demands to be read until the end. Joanna Connors writes with such honesty and bravery about such an uncomfortable topic for readers, and an extremely traumatic one for her, that you can’t help but keep turning the page. We don’t want to to know, and yet, we have to know.

This must be how Connors felt when she decided to research her rapist 30 years after the attack. She documents her experience and tells her survival story with courage and grace, even allowing the reader into the moments she decided she needed to tell her children what had happened to her, something she thought she would never do. Connors brings us along on her journey to find peace, and does it beautifully and intelligently.

Being a journalist, it is no surprise that this book is extremely well written, well researched, and unbiased — amazingly so. It is spectacular the way in while Connors is able to research and write about a man who brutally raped her, as if he were any other person she were covering for a story. She speaks to his family and friends, people who were involved in her lawsuit and other cases against him, and stays mostly neutral.

Though she does explain who she is and why she’s interviewing them to some of the man’s family, mainly Connors just tries to find out who he was, and maybe why he did what he did to her, and to others. In doing so, she touches on so many important and topical issues. This book sheds light on institutional and socialized racism, sexism, domestic abuse, victim blaming, and the failure of our current justice system to really do anything about any of them. I Will Find You is so much more than one woman’s search to understand her rapist and to find closure from her one experience.

Joanna Connors perfectly recounts her rapist’s life, the actions that lead to his attack on her, shedding even more light on the idea that crime begets more crime, violence, more violence. He lived in poverty, was addicted to drugs at a young age, was subjected to domestic violence and a violent life on the streets. Though none of this makes you sympathetic to the man who committed such gruesome acts of violence against Connors and others, it does make you pay more attention to the underlying causes of such acts; it makes you see how society both creates criminals and punishes them for it.

In heart-pounding, stomach-wrenching, thought-provoking prose, Connors gives us an awakening not to be missed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Father of Lies

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Review #22: Fiction

Father of Lies by Brian Evenson

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This novel is dark. It is disturbing. It is uncomfortable. And all of it is completely necessary.

Though written nearly two decades ago, it still speaks truthfully and unreservedly about religion, about cult-like followings, about perversions of the mind. It is difficult to read in many passages, but truly sheds light on using religion and blind faith as excuses to harm others (in this case through pedophilic sexual assault, murder, and incest), and as excuses to trust and protect the unworthy against your better judgment.

Evenson does not hold back. Though less graphic than it probably could have been, there is enough here to make your skin crawl—and it should. This is the point of the novel.

Readers follow first person accounts of Provost Fochs as he rapes young members of his congregation, even murdering one of them, and uses his faith and the name of God to justify his actions. His superiors in the religious community believe him when he denies any involvement in these heinous acts, rationalizing his position in the church as proof enough that he couldn’t be responsible for such evil deeds. However, this simply points out the blind eyes turned in religious communities; Fochs’s superiors didn’t want him to be guilty, so he wasn’t. Eventually, some truths become known to these superiors, and since they’d stood by Foch for so long, they couldn’t now turn their backs on him for fear of damaging the name of the church.

Through the novel, Fochs sees a therapist because he begins acting out and speaking in his sleep, worrying his wife with the things he’s saying—things relating to the horrible acts committed against the young members of the community. Readers are given glimpses into these therapy sessions where Fochs relays his actions as if they were merely dreams, spurred by the news coverage of the events. He claims his dreams are a manifestation of the guilt he feels at letting harm come to the youth of his community, that he is unfit to be Provost since he could not protect his congregation.

Eventually his therapist, Dr. Feshtig, feels Fochs’s “dreams” to be more than that, that Fochs is in fact guilty of the events, and reaches out to Fochs’s family and the authorities to try to bring him to justice.

Through the book, Fochs speaks to what first seems an alter-ego, a man he refers to as “Bloody Head”, a person who encourages Fochs to commit his crimes, and to cover them up, all the time insisting that it is God’s will for Fochs to act this way. It is unclear what this “Bloody Head” character is—alter-ego, demon perhaps—and until the end of the book, is not seen or spoken to by anyone other than Fochs. Until the time when Fochs’s wife interacts with this character, it seemed as if “Bloody Head” represented mental illness, personality disorder of some kind in Fochs. But that cannot be the case if he becomes a flesh-blood-character outside of Fochs in the end.

CAUTION, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

This character becomes increasing confusing when he, through the vary violation to Fochs that Fochs had inflicted on others, miraculously (in Fochs’s mind) gets the investigation of Fochs as the murderer of a young girl stopped. Though Fochs is forced to give a blood sample after a tip is called in, and his blood is a match for some found at the murder scene, somehow, Fochs doesn’t hear from the police again. Evenson doesn’t even explain what happens with the case at all—if it was dropped, if the girl’s brother (who was the prime suspect before Fochs) was charged—it just goes away.

In the end, even though Fochs’s superiors in the church know what he’d done, but because they fought against his accusers previously, they were forced to stay silent to save face. Fochs is transferred to a religious college to remove him from the specific community, and in theory, from a younger congregation. As Fochs himself says in the end, this move is simply a new beginning.

Though there are parts of the story that were confusing, felt unfinished or unexplained, this novel is wonderfully written. It’s very raw, and very real. It calls attention to so many real-life situations—and not just as they relate to religious communities. There are instances of sexism, of victim blaming, that resonate outside of this specific narrative.

Father of Lies is a work of fiction, but the contents of the novel are all too real, and should surely make any reader stop and think about religion in society, of religious leaders who are seen as holy and thus above the law, how we, as humans, see evil where we want to see it and ignore it where we don’t. I would not call this a pleasant read, but it is fascinating in its own way. Do not come into this novel unprepared, but definitely do read it.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com