A few of you may have seen John Boyne at last year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival. He is a gentle, quietly spoken Irishman but he has written a scorching angry novel about the Church’s cover up of the ongoing child abuse by the clergy.
“Ireland is rotten. Rotten to the core. I’m sorry, but you priests destroyed it.” This accusation is spoken to Father Odran Yates whose story lies at the centre of the novel. After a terrible family tragedy, Odran’s mother sees a vision that persuades her that Odran has a God given vocation and she sends him to a seminary at the age of 17. Odran goes along with this without argument and it is this failure to question, this weakness in him that becomes the fault line that deepens through the book.
His best friend in the seminary, although it is not a close friendship, is the damaged Tom Cardle. Tom becomes one of those priests that regularly moves from parish to parish without explanation but Odran closes his eyes to the implications of this. Is Odran a true innocent or is he wilfully ignorant? John Boyne builds the story around this and the priests who must have known and are therefore guilty too.
There is a section of the book set in Rome where Odran spends time in the Vatican as a lowly assistant to the Pope. These scenes at times stretch credulity and the book loses a little of its impetus. However, I found it unputdownable – a passionate and persuasive novel about the rotten core of the Catholic Church, its abuse of power and the dangers of submission.