Table of Contents
Praise for Linden MacIntyre and THE BISHOP’S MAN
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize
Winner of the Dartmouth Book Award
Winner of the Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Choice Award
Finalist for the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award
Globe and Mail
“As a native Cape Bretoner himself, MacIntyre brings the region and its residents vividly to life.”
The Bishop’s Man
centres on a sensitive topic—the sexual abuses perpetrated by Catholic priests on the innocent children in their care… . As events veer out of control, [Father Duncan] is forced into painful self-knowledge as family, community and friendship are torn apart under the strain of suspicion, obsession and guilt.”
Scotiabank Giller Prize jury citation
“The priest as a hardworking assassin just doing his job, eliminating child abusers and perverts from the priestly ranks, is not a very likely starting point for a serious novel about a man in middle age struggling with meaning in his life… . MacIntyre makes it work in
The Bishop’s Man
National Catholic Register
The Bishop’s Man
is an extraordinary novel… . Above all, it’s a great read—a page-turner which renders existential questions about personal responsibility into fodder fit for a thriller, and which takes language and form seriously.”
“MacIntyre succeeds in demystifying the man beneath the medieval vestments, reminding us that a priest is a man first.”
“The man can write… . The bishop is one of the most chilling villains in Canadian literature… . It’s a disturbing book but a book for our times.”
“This book should be on the reading list of pastoral theology courses as much for the questions it raises as for its challenge to authenticity.”
“Linden MacIntyre expertly conveys the sickening logic of abusers and the Church’s determination to do nothing about the growing influence of that thinking… . A technically skilful and important book.”
Also by Linden MacIntyre
The Long Stretch
Who Killed Ty Conn
(with Theresa Burke)
Causeway: A Passage from Innocence
Oh ye sons of men,
how long will ye turn
my glory into shame?
he night before things started to become unstuck, I actually spent a good hour taking stock of my general situation and concluded that, all things considered, I was in pretty good shape. I was approaching the age of fifty, a psychological threshold only slightly less daunting than death, and found myself not much changed from forty or even thirty. If anything, I was healthier. The last decade of the century, and of the millennium, was shaping up to be less stressful than the eighth—which had been defined by certain events in Central America—and the ninth, burdened as it was by scandals here at home.
I was a priest in a time that is not especially convivial toward the clergy. I had, nevertheless, achieved what I believed to be a sustainable spirituality and an ability to elaborate upon it with minimal cant and hypocrisy. I had even, and this is no small achievement, come to terms with a certain sordid obscurity about my family origins in a place where people celebrate the most tedious details of their personal ancestry.
I am the son of a bastard father. My mother was a foreigner, felled long before her time by disappointment and tuberculosis.
I was, in the most literal sense, a child of war. I’ve calculated that my conception occurred just days before my father’s unit embarked from England for the hostile shores of Italy, on October 23, 1943. There is among his papers a cryptic reference to a summary trial and fine (five days’ pay) for being AWOL on the night of October 17. I was born in London, England, July 15, 1944.
Isolation? I had, though perhaps imperfectly, mastered celibacy, the institutional denial of the most human of transactions. I was and am, to a degree, excluded from my peer group, my brothers in the priesthood, for complex reasons that will soon become apparent. But at the time I thought that I’d discovered an important universal truth: that isolation, willingly embraced, becomes the gift of solitude; that discipline ennobles flesh.
In that evanescent moment of tranquility, I was feeling okay. I see it as another life, the man I was, a stranger now.
I’d spent the weekend in Cape Breton, in the parish of Port Hood, filling in for Mullins, who had gone away with his charismatics or for golf. Escape of some kind. Mullins likes to pace himself. I’d planned to extend my visit by a day, to spend that Monday reading, meditating. The village of Port Hood is a pretty place and restful. I grew up in the area, but my personal connections there were limited. I could pretend to be a stranger, a pose I find congenial.
Mullins and the good Sisters up the road had given the glebe a comfortable tidiness. Anyone could feel at home there, as in a well-maintained motel. It has a remarkable view of the gulf and a small fishing harbour, just along the coast, called Murphy’s Pond. It was a pleasant change from the incessant noise and movement at the university an hour or so away, where, normally, my job was dean of students. In truth it was, as my late father used to say in a rare ironic moment, not so much a job as a position. Others did most of the real work. I was, in fact, in a kind of pastoral limbo, recovering, ostensibly, from several years of hard, unsavoury employment.
The phone aroused me on that Monday morning in Port Hood and launched the narrative that I must now, with some reluctance, share.
“The bishop needs to see you.”
“What does he want now?” I asked.
“He didn’t say. He said to come this evening. To the palace.”
I know now that I was stalling when I drove to Little Harbour, which is another, smaller fishing port just off a secondary road on the southern edge of the parish.
The harbour seemed to be deserted. Among the vivid particulars of that October morning in 1993 I remember a blue heron, knee-deep, transfixed by something in the quiet, oil-still water. Then I heard a throbbing diesel engine and at that moment observed a tall radio antenna mounted upon what might have been a crucifix. It was moving slowly above the crest of a low ridge in the near distance. The transient cross and the gentle rumble seemed unrelated until a boat suddenly appeared around the jagged end of a breakwater. It was a fishing vessel, about forty feet long, bristling with aerials and with a broad workspace behind the cab. The name, the
might have been an omen, or maybe I just think that now, in the clarity of hindsight.
The boy standing on the bow was about eighteen years old. A rope dangled casually from a large left hand. He wore the uniform of the shore—jeans, a discoloured sweater unravelled at the elbows, knee-high rubber boots. He had a thick mop of unfashionably long hair obscuring his brow and neck. His face was tanned. He stared straight ahead but then turned and nodded, a moment of distracted curiosity as the boat slipped down the long throat of the harbour, stem turning a clean, whispering furrow.
It was about eight o’clock. The blood-red sun hovering behind me lifted a flimsy mist and held it just above the surface of the water. I felt the first stirring of a breeze. Something about the boat, perhaps its name, and the posture of that boy caused me to defer my anxieties for the moment. It was so rare to see someone that age stationary, sombre. I was more accustomed to a rowdy adolescent enthusiasm. This young man, I realized, was exceptional only because of time and place. Maybe any one of them in those circumstances would have been the same. Quiet. But he caught my attention nevertheless and linked the moment to tender places in the memory. Doomed boys and men: in retrospect they all have that stillness.
The man at the controls was probably my age, tall and heavy-set. They were, to my mind, almost reckless then, rushing through the narrow passage, past a nestling line of sister boats. But just before the wharf there was a roar of reverse acceleration and the
seemed to pivot in a tight circle then drift gently into a space between two others, bow pointing seaward. The boy stepped casually ashore with the rope. The older man was already at the stern, gathering another line into a coil, which he tossed up onto the land.