Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: "Faith" by Jennifer Haigh

For the sake of this novel, we're going to believe that I don't frequently cry when reading books, okay?

I didn't expect to like Faith, and I certainly didn't expect to cry--for every character--in this book.  To be sure, the subject matter is dire.  It is set in the early 2000's in Boston and centers around a Catholic priest accused of molesting a boy.

No, it's not a fun topic.  It actually took me a few months from the time I put it on my Kindle to get around to reading it, simply because of the subject matter.  Now having read it, I can only urge others not to be scared off by the subject matter.  This book is a masterpiece.

I lived in Boston in the late 90's, right at the start of the tidal wave of sexual abuse allegation in the Catholic church.  My perspective may be skewed, but it seemed to me that Boston was at the epicenter of this storm--which may be one reason why I hesitated to read this book.

Father Art Breen has been accused of sexual molestation by the mother of a young boy he had taken under his wing.  His family is in shock and is torn on what to think.  Both her sister, Sheila, and his brother, Mike, are determined to find the truth behind the accusations, although they go about this quest in very different ways.  And their family, an almost stereotypical Irish Catholic Boston clan, is put under the microscope.

Haigh's writing is masterful and I was sucked in from the first word.  The structure she has chosen for this book, having one character tell another character's story, can be problematic, but she sails through it.

Faith highlights what I've always considered to be the second tragedy of the Catholic sex abuse scandals.  While I was baptized Episcopalian and am a Lutheran by choice, two denominations that do not have an exactly amicable history with the Catholic church, I do not hold view the Catholic church with contempt as some do.  In my eyes, it is simply another denomination of Christianity and in my Father's house there are many rooms.  

So, one thing that has troubled me about the sex abuse scandals (second to the actual sex abuse cases and I am not one to doubt them), is the repercussions for the other Catholic priests, the ones who are not guilty.  I cringe every time I hear a comment that paints all Catholic priests with the same brush.  The most common comments center around the idea that there is something about being a Catholic priest that attracts pedophiles.

This is a topic that, while not central to the story, is addressed in Faith.  And it highlights how the effects of loneliness on a person.  Even within a family there are prejudices and misconceptions, but there can also be healing.

The Breen/McGann family is one of those family of prejudices, misconceptions and secrets.  The news of the accusations against Art nearly pull the family apart.  As Sheila and Mike try to find the truth, they uncover even more disturbing secrets within their own family.  Yet, miraculously, love and family and faith prove to be the stronger bonds.

Faith is readable in style, but more than a little difficult at times in content matter.  This is not a fairy tale, there are now villains and there are no heroes.  Instead, this a story of very real people (well, characters) in a heartbreaking situation.

Affiliate link: Purchase this book at Amazon.

I purchased this book.  I was not solicited for this review and I did not receive any compensation.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. And I doubt that pedophiles are attracted to the priesthood in any greater number than they might be found elsewhere. the truth is probably, quite simply, such men give into temptation, wherever it might be found.
    We have some very strict protocol in our church to protect both the children, and also the men who serve in childrens/teens programs. We try to ensure that no questionable situations can arise. it's kind of sad that it has come to that, but also necessary I guess.

  2. I completely agree that there is anything "attractive" in the priesthood for pedophiles. In fact, I think that the hard life of priest would deter them, if anything.

    I originally wanted to put my thoughts on that in this review, but I didn't think it fit. I think part of the misconception about Catholic priests comes from 3 things:
    1 - Lay people (especially non-Catholics) are a little suspicious of anyone who chooses a life of chastity.
    2 - When the scandal started (and, well, up until it started) the Catholic church as an organization did not handle sex abuse allegations well. Because of that, I think people are more suspicious.
    3 - The numbers are misleading. While there are thousands of sex abuse cases brought against Catholic priests--and, again, I have no reason to doubt any of them--the actual number of priests accused is much smaller, as most accused priests have dozens, if not more, cases against them. When you look at the number of priests accused, it is actually a quite small percentage.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts (and thanks for giving me a chance to add them to this post, even if I didn't include them in the review! Ha ha!)