MADIGAN PERRY’S LUCK
By Robert Parsons, Morgan Ramsay Press, $24.95
Reviewed by Terry Oberg
ROBERT Parsons’ stated aim in writing this autobiographical novel is “to tell the story, not for myself, but for the countless others who were not able to tell it themselves”.
The “it” in question concerns the abuse, physical, sexual and mental to which they were subjected.
The implication is that this ugly tale has not been aired previously. Obviously this is not so.
The tragic story of molestation by priests, brothers and nuns is only too well known universally. So it should be.
By means of graphic tell-alls purchased by TV cheque book reporters, by comprehensive court records and anonymous radio talkback offerings, the public has been told of these scandals with even more ghastly detail than this author provides and he’s certainly not short on this.
What Mr Parsons, along with almost all others who have lifted this turgid veil, seems to forget is that the Church’s way of handling its aberrant celibates was no different from the rest of society.
The police force, the judiciary, the state education authorities, the public service and university senates mishandled similar immorality in the same way.
Molesting constables, circuit judges, high school principals were just moved on much as the offending clerics were.
Perhaps more should have been expected from a body that claimed to be the extension of Christ on earth. However the worst that can be attributed to the Catholic Church was that it was not ahead of its time.
The Catholic Church has publicly acknowledged its collective and culpable sin in the manner it mismanaged this problem.
Through the Pope, cardinals and bishops it has openly and painfully said sorry. So it should. Books such as Madigan Perry’s Luck seem to ignore all this.
The Parsons narrative is told in all its shame and much of it is marked by a fine sense of detail.
The scenes portraying the disgraceful behaviour of the miscreant religious are the best examples of this.
In painting the Catholic schools he attended he uses a brush overloaded with modern psychological jargon, thus judging a time past through contemporary eyes. The result is too often inaccurate and, sometimes, unfair.
For example in describing his early primary school years he uses the fantastic image of World War POW camps.
He presents the teachers as megalomaniac, authoritarian stereotypes. Some were. However, in those days, all authority was met with the same fear, servility and private loathing.
Again one may assert that a Christian institution should have been different but, being made of fallible human beings, it was not and is not.
We do wrong to judge the 1950s and 1960s against a mindset conditioned by the 21st century.
This is not to deny the realities that are the basis of this novel. Much less can they be condoned but, if the writer’s aim is, as stated, to reveal what was before hidden, he may not have succeeded.
He is repeating the coverage we have already experienced. It is a desolate tale but one already told and acknowledged.