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The Office of Innocence

af Thomas Keneally

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2032100,100 (3.52)4
Sydney, 1942: the year of the fall of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin and the surprise attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines. Through the eyes of a naive young priest we see into the hearts of a people who fear the end of life as they know it. Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.… (mere)

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Shortlisted for the 2003 Miles Franklin Award, and nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, An Angel in Australia is the 29th novel of the prolific Australian author Thomas (Tom) Keneally. It's a very interesting book, and one worth seeking out.

Although it's not the focus of the novel, nor is it explicit, An Angel in Australia is also a novel which acknowledges clerical sexual abuse. The focus is exposing the problem of the sanctity of the confessional, and the dilemma faced by a priest when he knows that lives are at stake, including his own.

The priest Fr. Frank Darragh who hears this abhorrent confession is young, naïve and idealistic, and all the confessions he's heard so far have been about minor sins. Unlike the more cynical of the other young priests with whom he plays tennis at White City, he does not find the banality of confession tedious. Darragh is wholly sincere, and parishioners queue on his side of the church because he is gentle with them. He is shocked to the core when another young priest confesses what he has done, and his furious response startles this perpetrator who expected mercy and thinks that trying 'to make amends' will achieve absolution for his crime. Darragh's demand that the perpetrator admit his crime to the authority of his superior comes to nothing because the young priest runs away.

It is more than merely disconcerting to read the likely consequences had he stayed and admitted his crime.
There was a silence beyond the curtain. Darragh could guess that the young brother was most fearful of being made to do that; to admit to such a crime in front of the head of his community. He had hoped that what he had done to the boy was now walled up forever in Darragh's brain, bound never to emerge. But if a condition of being absolved was that the young man tell Brother Keogh, there would be no red-velvet secrecy. He would be required to go on retreat, a time of withdrawal and reflection at a monastery. He would be sent to another school with a cloud over his name. The most senior men in the order might be warned of him, and the chief sin of his life. (p.51)
Reading this is an unambiguous reminder that this was the institutional response to clerical abuse, to move perpetrators on and to hope that it would not happen again. Keneally does not flinch from making it clear to his readers.

It is war-time, Sydney in 1942, and a missing priest is of no consequence except to Darragh, and soon, he has another crisis to deal with. There is widespread anxiety about a likely Japanese invasion, and the city is full of American soldiers flirting with the local women. One of these men, an African-American called Gervaise, also comes to confession, because he hadn't understood that the friendliness of Australians towards them did not extend to sexual relations between black men and white women. It is through Fr. Darragh's contact with this man that Fr. Darragh makes the acquaintance of a military policemen called Fratelli.

The shadow of the Depression lingers and Mrs Kate Heggarty is not averse to receiving gifts from a generous American who will enable her to get by in dignity while her husband is a German POW. But — emblematic of the power and influence of the churches at this time — she is also a Catholic, and she consults Fr. Darragh outside the confessional because she wants him to know that her reasons for dalliance have more to do with the fear of poverty than sexual attraction. This consultation at the presbytery means that Fr. Darragh is not hampered by the anonymity of the confessional, and he visits her to try to change her mind. Prompted by gossip, he also visits Mrs Flood, a lapsed Catholic in a ménage a trois with her husband and a firebrand Communist, and feels himself a failure when he has no impact on their arrangements either.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2021/01/11/an-angel-in-australia-by-tom-keneally/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jan 11, 2021 |
Like Keneally's earlier book, Schindler's List, this is another account of a heroic but flawed character (an Australian priest during WWII) who faces a series of difficult moral choices, with strong support from his faith but lack of support from the church. It reminded me strongly of Graham Greene's best novels. ( )
  mbergman | Nov 9, 2007 |
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Sydney, 1942: the year of the fall of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin and the surprise attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines. Through the eyes of a naive young priest we see into the hearts of a people who fear the end of life as they know it. Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.

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