The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre
Random House Canada, Toronto, 2009
Winner of the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
This is another Canadian title I couldn’t wait for. Thanks to Amazon.ca, I own this one.
Linden MacIntyre is an investigative reporter with the fifth estate, a news show broadcast on the Canadian network, CBC. After reading The Bishop’s Man I would love to see his news stories.
This is a novel about the Catholic Church and sexual abuse. It is a novel about power and the abuse of power. Father Duncan MacAskill, the narrator, has been his bishop’s clean-up man, sent to visit priests, those who have crossed boundaries with their young parishioners. His job? Send the priest away and quiet any parish rumblings. Cover things up.
I’ve often tried to remember how it started, how I became his..what? What am I? I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Let me put it this way: for other priests, I’m not a welcome presence on the doorstep.
The first summons by the bishop had seemed innocuous enough. The particulars are almost lost now, obscured by far more troubling memories, but I remember what her said: “I’ve asked you to come here because you have a good head on your shoulders.” From page 9.
When the bishop hears of an impending media scandal he ships Duncan off to his a parish on Cape Breton Island, to get him out of harms way. This church is very close to where Duncan grew up. Memories, family and local connections prove too much, causing Duncan to revisit his past. Eventually he turns to alcohol and, in the end, realizes he must make a choice.
MacIntyre approaches this difficult topic by giving the reader a compelling narrator and a fast-paced story, almost a mystery. Cape Breton Island, and the sea that surrounds it, offer a refuge from disturbing events and support for a man facing his past. This is a courageous book, gentle and clearly written, surprisingly deep. It allows us to consider Father Duncan’s dilemma with compassion and without judgement.