Pulitzer Prize winning writer Michael D'Antonio deserves another one. Another Pulitzer prize, that is, for his new book, "Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime and the Era of Catholic Scandal." This work is a 343 page offering that with a flick of a switch floods light onto the dark side of the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.
As D'Antonio reveals, the 2,000-year-old church, with its culture of secrecy and unlimited resources, covered-up thousands of cases of clergy abuse for over three decades. Bishops and cardinals used their influence at the highest levels of society around the world to suppress criminal investigations and deny victims both compensation and access to the truth.
The full story of the scandal is told for the first time as D'Antonio follows three major figures in the movement for victims' rights - a lawyer named Jeffrey Anderson, a victim named Barbara Blaine, and a whistleblower priest named Rev. Thomas Doyle who sacrifices his career to the cause of children who had been raped and molested by ordained men.
In D'Antonio's telling, Anderson and Doyle emerge as complex men who fought their own demons, including alcoholism and self doubt, to prevail in a thirty year fight. Blaine is transformed from a loyal Catholic social service worker into a fierce international advocate. Near the end of the tale she leads a group of victims from around the world to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to file lodge formal charges of crimes against humanity in a case that names the worldwide church, the pope, and Vatican officials as defendants.
Among church officials few seem capable of grasping the trauma experienced by people who were sexually abused as children. As one bishop tells Anderson, in a deposition, "little boys heal." Then he goes on to discuss his worry and concern for the fate of the priest who will be publicly charged with sexual assault on a child.
Disturbing as some of the details may be, Mortal Sins is not an overly troubling book to read. Though non-fiction, it reads with the drama of a novel, or perhaps a detective story, and much of the tale is inspirational and surprising. Of particular note are the off-hours antics of some lawyers, including a gator-shooting Cajun who sued the Diocese of Lafayette, and the guerilla activities of victims/activists who won' rest until their cause is known to the world.
Ultimately, as Mortal Sins reveals, a worldwide human rights movement developed as victims came forward in dozens of countries. In America alone, roughly 500 priests have been imprisoned and more than $2 billion has been paid to settle lawsuits. And yet the revelations keep coming in the United States, Ireland, Latin America and beyond. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI recently resigned - becoming the first pope to step down in more than five centuries - his papacy became yet another victim in this scandal-without-end. Implicated in many cover-ups and unable to stop the revelations or reform the church, Benedict's "fatigue" was, no doubt, the product of these failures.
If you think you know the story of the sexual abuse scandal and the crisis it has created in the worldwide Catholic Church you probably do not. If you read this book, it will become clear to you in all is astonishing, tragic, and ultimately inspiring complexity. It's hard to imagine a more compelling read than this tale of a patriarchal monarchy at war with the truth.