Our Fathers

Our Fathers
The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in the Age of Scandal
by David France
Broadway Books, $26.95, 637 pp.

Vows of Silence
The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II
by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner
Free Press, $26, 368 pp.

Reading Our Fathers, a sprawling narrative history of the sexual-abuse crisis by David France, is like watching a bad movie all over again. You know how this is one is going to end. Looking back over forty years, Our Fathers attempts to touch on every aspect of the scandal, from its roots in Vatican policy to the mind-numbing revelations of 2002. (That year alone accounts for nearly half the book.) At six hundred pages, it is an exhaustive and exhausting work—one that should have been at least two hundred pages shorter.

France, a former Newsweek reporter, juggles dozens of story lines, cutting quickly from scene to scene to achieve cinematic momentum. In one chapter alone, he jumps from Jim Falls, a sexual-abuse victim from Los Angeles; to Mitchell Garabedian, one of the lawyers for victims in Boston; to Patrick McSorley and Anthony Muzzi, two of the late John Geoghan’s victims; to Thomas Plankensteiner, an Austrian theologian and member of the activist group We Are Church; to Emilio Allue, one of Cardinal Bernard Law’s auxiliary bishops; to Alfredo Ormando, a sexual-abuse victim who burned himself alive in St. Peter’s Square; and then finally to Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, two prominent gay-rights advocates who were silenced by the Vatican. It is hard not to admire France’s reportorial skills, but this approach often leaves the reader a bit dazed, trying to weave...

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About the Author

Maurice Timothy Reidy is a former associate editor of Commonweal.