This is a very well written book in which the author uses a fictional story to emphasise the real need for serious cultural changes, and ideally doctrinal ones, in the Catholic Church. These may or may not be genuinely in progress, but we can’t doubt that many ordinary Catholics are doing their level best to see that the good practices prevail. Other religions and institutions of many sorts have been exposed for similar evils, but the unnatural sexual denial demanded of the Catholic priests actually makes that church a particularly easy hunting ground for the paedophile, misogynist, and cruel manipulator of the weak. The churches should be the greatest bastions against evil, but they actually only shield these crimes and far too often. The secrecy of the hierarchy and lack of accountability in that church have also made it vulnerable to penetration by big crime operations, especially financial ones. The historic evils of the ‘European Churches’ are well documented and, as that history recedes into the mists of time, they can be easily forgiven. But that so many of these practices endure to this very day, can’t.
Panettiere looks beyond the sacrament, the alter rails, the impenetrable walls of the established Catholic Church. It is undeniable that the Church, worldwide, has continued to act as a law unto itself, rather than before God; and worse, as a corrupt hierarchical institution that protects its own while claiming to be protecting the trust of the congregation, It habitually glosses over problems rather than cures them. Panettiere looks at the Catholic Church in the United States, though actually the setting could be almost anywhere that the Pope has significant flocks.
We follow the story of an American priest of Italian descent who is everything a priest should be. One that despite not being truly chaste, so having to live with his own crippling ‘sins’, eventually exposes some rotten apples. Actually, it is the propaganda that any but the most unusual of individuals can be entirely inactive sexually that has got the church into such hideous problems. But enough of that, that is my bias declared, a bias that greatly oversimplifies Panettiere’s generally well-measured ‘observations’ in this story.
Names, places, characters, and details vary immensely in real life, but the fictional characters’ behaviours have all been commonplace. Paedophilia, alcoholism, aggrandisement, and financial and ‘political’ corruptions are certainly far from unique sins of the Catholic church, but they are made all the worse by the fact that the Church pretends to be sitting closer to God, high above the sins of ordinary men.
The majority of honest men, and still only men, in the high places in that church, are silenced by the control exercised on their careers, by lies and deceit, and even in the extreme through fear for their very survival. Even the worst depiction of man in this fiction, the coward at war, the priest that enjoys the ministry of prostitutes, the filth that seeks his own advancement at every opportunity, all aspects of the ghastly Dykes, is all protected by the hierarchy, which he in turn becomes a key part of. He may be an extreme, but his parallel is far from unknown in real life. This fictional deviant was only too happy to help hide the legions of paedophilic priests, so helping obscure his own sins. But that is enough for plot giveaways. For more, buy and read this really necessary, psychologically revealing, fiction.
At times some of the support characters rather melted together in my mind. Perhaps, because I was unable to sustain much continuity in my reading. I enjoyed the book immensely despite that. In truth, only half a dozen characters needed to be clearly distinguished for the book to be fully appreciated. It isn’t necessary to follow every path and absorb all the chronology to fully enjoy reading ‘These Thy Gifts’. This isn’t some corny crime write that depends on some ridiculous clue buried deep on page two hundred and thirty-two.
Sometimes good fiction can be used to explore sensitive issues in a far deeper psychological way than can cold hard reality. Voices in the real world are so often blurred and rendered weak by lies, deception, obfuscation, deception and fear of legal challenge. Fiction is free to penetrate deep into the ‘engineering’ of observed truths. Panettiere outlines this terrible modern history, quite brilliantly. He lays bare the cracks in a one thousand, if not truly two thousand, year old system of unaccountable leadership. Unaccountable to either distant God or downtrodden people, so to most men and nearly all women. Perhaps someone should write a fiction in which the Catholic Church is saved by the nun that becomes a pope. Man, as the Church, may not like that, but I’m happy to risk my soul by saying that God would be delighted.