Lord, have mercy

Published February 1, 2010

Painful, painful to read this book. Pain for the victims of sexual abuse, pain for the abusers, pain for the church, and pain for Nova Scotian Duncan MacAskill, the “bishop’s man” commissioned to facilitate the discreet transfer of offending priests. Called by them “the Exorcist,” or “the Purificator,” MacAskill is a character for whom it is easy to feel empathy. In an astonishing synchronicity, the book was nominated for the Giller Prize, which it later received, a month before the former Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography.

[pullquote]The rationale for the Roman Catholic policy of “discretion” was based on the need to avoid scandal, on the grounds that scandal weakens the bond between the institution and its members; and if the church goes down, we all go down with it. This perspective began in the Dark Ages, but it was an indefensible rationale then as now, if it sacrifices the individual to the institution. MacAskill’s bishop is committed to it. Now, of course, all the churches have protocols based on the understanding that only a church transparent in its actions can retain respect.

This book should be on the reading list of pastoral theology courses as much for the questions it raises as for its challenge to authenticity. In the meantime, we might all do some lectio divina on the text about the little ones and the millstone (Matthew 18:6). Lord, have mercy.

Donald Grayson is a retired priest from the diocese of New Westminster.


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