The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre

The Bishop's Man, by Linden MacIntyre

I enjoyed – yes, genuinely enjoyed reading this book much, much more than I’d anticipated. I’ve always admired Linden MacIntyre as a journalist and assumed he would have an ideally balanced perspective, of both compassion and acuity, for such controversial subject matter as the sexual abuse scandals associated with the Catholic church. That admiration and confidence in the author’s vision still didn’t give me the stomach, though, for a story so closely ripped from the headlines, with the news of more allegations against another Catholic priest hitting right around the time “The Bishop’s Man” was longlisted, then shortlisted for the coveted Giller Prize. Long past the time that the book won the prize, I’ve finally read it, and am glad I did.

The voice of Father Duncan MacAskill is dry at first, blandly and reticently stating the facts of his acknowledged work within the Catholic church, among parishes in the Maritimes, as something of a fixer for the bishop. His more benign moniker is “The Bishop’s Man”, but many of his fellow priests refer to him as the “Exorcist” for his behind-the-scenes work defusing situations and relocating men of the cloth who have strayed into various forms of scandal. He questions his role and his own faith as the job entails not only covering up unsavoury situations, but also increasingly includes running interference with communities, families, the police and media.

Father MacAskill’s words and observations may be spare at first, but they are not unaffecting. As he joins a new parish close to his birthplace and slowly establishes new connections and re-establishes dormant family connections, his is not the voice of someone who doesn’t care, but that of someone who has cared much too much and is shell shocked by what he has seen and experienced. As he gets thrust more and more reluctantly into situations that test his conscience, he learns harshly that things are not what they seem, in what unfolds dramatically before him in the present, but also in pivotal chapters of his own past life.

In the end, the bishop’s man realizes with some relief and humility that he is just a man, but also beholden to neither the bishop and what the bishop represents, nor to anyone else. That realization leaves much unknown for MacAskill at the end of the book, but leaves the reader glad to have seen him along his journey.

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