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

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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

Revolution

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Review #20: Non-fiction

Revolution by Russell Brand

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Russell Brand has clearly been making some waves lately with his involvement in the discussion of inequality in the world and his call for non-violent revolution.

This book puts everything that you think you know about the staggering wealth and political power inequality in the world alongside things you probably don’t know or choose not to see all in one place and the outcome is a reality that you cannot ignore.

He writes passionately, honestly, and intelligently about so many problems with equality in the world that when reading you cannot help but get swept up in and feel like you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend. Everything he says drips with truth and in many places it was physically painful to realize just how bad things have gotten. Brand focuses mostly on the government and wealth and power inequality in the UK and US, while pointing to the policies of other countries that have more inclusive and, by definition, real democracies. He shows us that inequality doesn’t have to be the norm, that as a collective the disenfranchised can do something about it, and that policies that are more inclusive and representative are possible.

The best part of this book is that it is so very obviously Russell Brand. He doesn’t censor himself at all (read: there will be profanity and crude jokes). He speaks his mind, he stays true to himself and his views and beliefs, and doesn’t sugarcoat or hold back. He calls it like he sees it, and it is unbelievably refreshing to read such an honest account of the world today from someone so influential, intelligent, and passionate as Brand is.

The downside to this book is his use of personal spirituality throughout. His wonderfully honest account of how he found his faith and followed his beliefs to where he is now and the work he’s doing now is great; he holds nothing back here either (you’d know a lot of this already if you’ve read either of his Booky Wooks) which, again, is refreshing. However, I don’t know if it really had a place to be so prominent throughout the book. It’s great to see that he is so passionate about his faith and his beliefs and that he uses his religious and spiritual life to guide him in his work toward this Revolution, but I have a feeling a lot of readers of this book may not feel that way. I was able to see his religion as his driving force and be happy that it works for him while also agreeing with his views on the world and the state of equality and wealth and power. That doesn’t mean everyone will, and I worry that highlighting his religious beliefs may turn people away from the truly important and, well, revolutionary material in this book.

Overall, Brand’s writing is exceptionally engaging and has a way of drawing you in and forcing you to think. I put the book down several times just to let the last passage that I read sink in. I laughed out loud throughout. Revolution is beautifully researched and brilliantly presented. If you read this with an open mind and an honest desire to know the true state of wealth, power, and political inequality, you will not be disappointed with this book. It’s also very refreshing to know that all proceeds are going to creating non-profit social enterprises. I encourage anyone who may be turned off by the religious and spiritual aspects to take it with a grain of salt; just because he uses his faith as the basis for why he believes in the connectivity of humanity and working toward a more equal world doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com