Not your average priest

Rev. Duncan MacAskill is not your average Catholic priest. He works for the bishop as a sort of “exorcist” and in a sense he is chasing out demons.

The Bishop’s Man

By Linden MacIntyre

Random House of Canada

Rev. Duncan MacAskill is not your average Catholic priest. He works for the bishop as a sort of “exorcist” and in a sense he is chasing out demons.

He is the priest who visits and moves those priests who have sinned against children. If rumors concerning a priest begin to surface in a parish, then MacAskill will pay that priest a visit, deliver the airline tickets or train tickets so that the accused can take up duties somewhere else, faraway. The bishop does not believe in “victims,” and sees no reason to end a man’s career in the church. He believes problems kept quiet will usually die, and the constabulary need not be involved.

Here is the story you read about in the papers, the Mount Cashells and such. MacAskill has been a priest for 27 years. He drinks too much and his prayer life seems to be non-existent. His mind is haunted by memories of his time in Central America.

When this story opens, MacAskill is serving as a dean at the university; a nice assignment with few duties. He approves of the fact that “the people . . . send their kids here for what they expect to be a Catholic education.” This all changes when the bishop has another idea; MacAskill will take up parish duties so as to be out of sight of the lawyers. Something called “vicarious liability” is being talked about. If MacAskill relocated priests to other parts of the country, he must know why he did so, and the lawyers would like to talk to him.

A rural parish is the bishop’s idea; somewhere off the beaten track. So MacAskill travels to Creignish on Cape Breton Island.

Creignish has not had a resident priest for three years, the ‘Glebe’ is cold and unwelcoming. He was born “just down the road” and is immediately weighed down by the history he has there. His sister Effie is his only family now. His mother died when he was a boy, and his father was a drunk. The mystery of his father’s death is better not thought about. There are good people here, who have been puzzled and hurt by the church. His new flock are mostly old folks. There are no marriages to perform or babies to baptize; the young people do not attend. MacAskill asks his parishioners to forego the “Father” and call him “Duncan,” after all some of them were boyhood friends.

Time on his hands and isolation cause introspection and depression. His former duties on the orders of the bishop will not “go away.”

When tragedy strikes it seems he does not know how to be helpful. He is not an ordinary man, and not much of a priest. This is a novel, but also a serious indictment of the church.

This book won the Giller prize in 2009.

A well written book on a serious and sad subject.

Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.

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