UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Bishop’s Man

By Patricia Clarke

The Bishop’s Man
By Linden MacIntyre
(Random House Canada) $32

It’s all here in The Bishop’s Man, everything that made newspaper headlines all spring: the abuse of children by priests they trusted, the cover-ups by the higher-ups and the church’s determination to protect its reputation at any cost to its victims.

Linden MacIntyre, an investigative television journalist who was reared as a Catholic on Cape Breton where the story is set, has turned those headlines into a book that is part page-turning mystery, part meditation on personal responsibility, and — in the view of the Giller Prize jury — the best Canadian fiction of 2009.

Father Duncan MacAskill is the bishop’s man of the title, the enforcer sent by the bishop to discipline wayward priests and bury potential scandals. When inquisitive journalists get too close to the story, the bishop hides MacAskill away in a small and neglected parish on Cape Breton, coincidentally close to where he grew up and where many of his flock are extended family or old friends.

MacAskill finds himself lonely and isolated. His faith seems irrelevant to the world around him. Moreover, he is drowning in guilt. He once saw a revered senior priest, “a prince among men,” molesting a child. Later, the same man molested others. The bishop had refused to hear this story and exiled MacAskill to Honduras.

And in the Cape Breton parish, a troubled young man may have been abused by the very priest sent by MacAskill to get him out of trouble elsewhere. “We’re conditioned to do the right thing as people. But not as institutions,” another priest tells him. “There’s no morality in an institution.”

And so when MacAskill suggests concern for “the victims,” the bishop explodes. “Victims! Don’t use that word in this house. They’ll get over it. We can’t let a bunch of misfits and complainers undermine the sacraments.”

The book has annoying loose ends, secrets promised but never told and characters who appear and disappear for no apparent reason. Some readers will be confused by the unannounced time shifts.

It’s certainly the timeliest fiction of the year. I’m not sure it’s the best.

Patricia Clarke is a writer in Toronto.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image