|Father Frank Docherty had been educated by the Christian Brothers in their seminary in Sydney, taking an external degree with the University of New England. He had then been ordained into the Order of the Divine Charity, and sent to teach in the Order's school in Calcutta, Bengal, where he was tempted to make use of a prostitute but turned away from her when he realised that she was only 12. He "always believed afterwards that Hindu transcendental meditation had rescued him and allowed him to become something like a mature priest." After three years, it was decided to bring him home to Australia and into full-time university studies.
He had come close to breaking his vows when he had fallen in love with a married woman, Maureen Breslin. But it was because of his outspoken views on the Vietnam war in 1972 that he was expelled from the Archdiocese of Sydney. He then spent seven years in Ontario, Canada as a monk and psychologist after earning his doctorate there.
By the time he returned to Sydney, he no longer had the simple faith that he had enjoyed as the seminarian, but (like the author) was asking himself, "Was the Virgin Mary a virgin? Was Christ God or a prophet of God? And the great circus of the canonisation of saints - what was to be made of that?" He had come to realise that "all these were at best kindly myths, hinting at transcendence. It was the transcendence he still felt at the rim of the Ultimate, which in his case meant sitting in an empty church in the Divine Presence, waiting, as he saw it, for it to come out and meet him."
He is described as having a pleasant face although "a little gaunt and he was more than six feet tall." The author explains that his character was inspired by that of a friend.
Thomas Keneally (1935 - ) was born in Sydney, Australia, and entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly, to train as a Catholic priest but left just before his ordination. He explains that he has kept "a belief in the authenticity of Catholic spirituality, even if I am no archbishop's model Catholic."
He worked as a teacher and university lecturer before finding success as an award-winning novelist. He has published some 30 novels of which the best-known is Schindler's Ark, which won the Booker prize in 1982 and was subsequently made into the film Schindler's List. He has also written several works of non-fiction, and has acted in a few films. He is married with two daughters and lives in Sydney. His previous clerical detective novel, The Office of Innocence, is reviewed here.
Crimes of the Father (2016)
Crimes of the Father is the story of abuse in the Catholic Church and one man's determination to hunt down the perpetrator. After seven years spent in Canada, the monk and psychologist, Father Frank Docherty returns home to Australia to speak at a conference about paedophilia within the Catholic Church. However, his taxi driver turns out to be a former nun, furious at being abused by a priest in her childhood. Then he comes across another case involving a man that Docherty last saw when he was a small boy. The eminent cleric accused in both cases is the brother of the woman that Docherty had once fallen for and who remains a dear friend, but Docherty knows where his duty lies, and, with his lawyer brother's help, is determined to search for the evidence he needs.
Docherty no longer has the simple faith that he had enjoyed as a seminarian and is asking himself, "Was the Virgin Mary a virgin? Was Christ God or a prophet of God? And the great circus of the canonisation of saints - what was to be made of that?" He had come to realise that "all these were at best kindly myths, hinting at transcendence. It was the transcendence he still felt at the rim of the Ultimate, which in his case meant sitting in an empty church in the Divine Presence, waiting, as he saw it, it did come out and meet him."
This is a long novel, and it seems like it. It jumps around so much between past and present that at times it becomes quite confusing. The descriptions of the abusive priest and his victims carry conviction, but it is all very slow-moving and some episodes do not seem really necessary. There's a lack of excitement as when what might have been the climax, when the abusing priest is finally arrested, is not described at all! It's main strength is its description of Docherty himself who remains a truly interesting character.
There is a Wikipedia article about the author, and an interview with him about his later books on the January magazine site. For more detailed information, download the (free) pdf file Thomas Keneally: a Celebration by Peter Pierce.
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