13 April, 2013

Book Review: Holy Hell

Holy Hell - Patricia Feenan
From Goodreads: When Senior NSW Police Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox told the ABC's Lateline programme on November 8, 2012, that the Catholic Church had covered up crimes by paedophile priests, silenced investigations and destroyed crucial evidence to avoid prosecution, the public outrage across Australia that ensued triggered a Royal Commission into institutional child abuse. A case of Church interference Fox outlined was that of Patricia Feenan's son, Daniel who was a fourteen-year-old altar boy when he was first raped by a priest in the Newcastle-Maitland diocese. One of the many shocking aspects of the case was how the priest, a close family friend, set about secretly grooming his altar boy victim. The priest was later found guilty of nine charges of sexual abuse of a minor in a public criminal trial in 2004.  Patricia writes with raw honesty about her son's terrible ordeal, and it's effects on her family. She bravely reveals the scars that linger from the callous and often cruel ostracism they endured, as well as the denial they encountered from the Catholic community for seeking to bring a paedophile priest to justice. Detective Chief Inspector Fox describes Patricia Feenan as "an extraordinary woman who never gave up the struggle to rescue her family from the terrible abyss of despair created by a paedophile priest."

What I Thought: Christine Feenan had to face one of the worse nightmares any parent would have to face - the abuse of her son by a man she trusted and respected.
Christine Feenan is an extraordinary woman. She stood by her eldest son Daniel for many years, not knowing where his self destructive behaviour came from, but drawing on her faith and church to believe he would come good eventually. And the Daniel dropped a bomb shell - he'd been sexually abused by a priest from their church. A man who Christine had worked with on several parish councils, a man they had invited into their home and a man whose counsel they had sought when concerned about Daniel's behaviour.
For me, apart from the obvious, the worse part of this story is the way the Catholic church abandoned the Feenan family. This is a family who were heavily involved in their church, lived their faith and believed those leading the church did too. They were not part time players. From the time Daniel accused Father John Fletcher until the day he was convicted, the church all but washed their hands of the Feenan's. Little to no help was offered, no prayers were said, no support was given. On the other hand,  Fr Fletcher had funds raised for his defense, prayer circles were held for him and the support of his fellow clergy was freely given. And while I assume there are exceptions to this closing of the ranks, I fear they were few and far between.
Christine Feenan tells this story from the heart. It's gut wrenching, but it is not sensationalised. She leads the reader through events carefully, showing them how her family was betrayed by the one person they thought they could have full faith in. She is not searching for sympathy, she is standing up to say this was wrong, Daniel, like so many other's was the victim and the church needs to take responsibility for the actions of their priests - both those who perpetrated abuse and those who covered it up or pretended it wasn't happening.
The release of this book is timely, with an inquiry having just been launched in Australia to investigate the response (or lack thereof) of institutions into reports of child sex abuse. We can only hope those institutions, religious and otherwise, learn from previous mistakes and work to support those who were the victims of abuse while in their care.
You can listen to an interview with Patricia Feenan here. It's not an easy listen, but it gives you true insight into the strength of this amazing woman.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge