• Angie

Behind Sacred Walls

This memoir tells the story of a young man's decades-long struggle to remove himself from a brutally abusive relationship with his catholic priest. The priest groomed the author, Michael Roberts, starting when he was a teenager and a member of his parish. The priest forced his way into Michael's family and was seen as a mentor by his parents when really he sexually, mentally and physically abusing their son. The priest had two personas and easily convinced people that he was a kind and caring leader in his community, when in reality he was a stealing, lying, sexually promiscuous, abusive alcoholic who took advantage of people, especially young boys.


One of the ways that the priest abused and controlled Michael was by manipulating elements of the Catholic religion to his advantage. Michael grew up in a devout Catholic family who revered religious leaders and believed homosexuality was a sin. The priest took advantage of this by using his sexual desires and power differential to convince Michael to be complicit in sexual acts and then used those acts as blackmail or a threat to out him to his parents as gay. Michael tried to strike up a positive relationship with someone in his community who was well known and liked and should be a mentor and caregiver, but was taken advantage of and abused in several ways. As a result of this abusive relationship Michael was not able to have healthy romantic or platonic relationships, was raped and abused by several of the priest's friends, and struggled to financially support himself. While there are many gruesome parts to this story, arguably the worst is when Michael finally comes forward about his abuse and is completely ignored by several members of the church, including one who listened to his report and then went on to rape him. This memoir brought the deeply rooted problems and denial of the Catholic church into broad daylight.


 

Coincidentally, I also happened to read another book about the Catholic Abuse Scandal recently, posting my review to Netgalley on April 2nd. The two books have some similarities, but I prefer Robert's memoir significantly more. Here is my Netgalley review for:

The Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal Primer from the Pew-Unpacking Psychological, Sociopolitical & Cultural Factors to Foster Change



I was really looking forward to this book but I quickly realized that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’ll start with what I thought this book would be: discussion of the sexual abuse as well as how it happened, who it happened to etc. what it actually is: a very thorough examination of what elements of the Catholic Church left such a wide opening for something like this to occur and how to properly understand, come to terms with and prevent future sexual abuse in the church. This book is definitely an important work of nonfiction and an opportunity to learn from this horrendous situation and how to support victims going forward, it just wasn’t quite the book I thought it would be. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the response of the church, the circumstances that led to sexual abuse or to learn more about the methodical investigation of this problem. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book!


 

I learned significantly more about the scandal from Michael's attempt to confront the church using legal action than I did through Paresa's thorough investigation and review of the scandal. Both authors were able to identify the various reasons why abuse might take place and the problems victims face when they try to stop the abuse and when they try to come forward about what they experienced. Both books were written by people who have extensive knowledge of the Catholic religion and the books are both non-fiction and involve detailed information about all elements of catholicism. But where the two books differ was that Michael was able to demonstrate the all-encompassing impact that the abuse had on himself and on others who were also abused in a way that Paresa would never be able to do, no matter how much he investigated. Paresa worked hard to remain separate from the information he gave, he did not give readers any opportunity to truly understand the pain these abuses caused countless victims.


Despite one purpose both books shared - the desire to make clear to readers what happened and how to prevent crimes in the future, it is my opinion that Michael's story served this purpose more effectively. It was compelling, it gave victims a voice and it identified the denial and unwillingness of the church to change. Paresa's book gave me background information and provided explanations (and excuses) for the problems faced by the church and next steps for prevention and resolution (if that is even possible). This proves that you can write about the same issue, give some of the same facts and point out the need for change, but tell a very different story. Both books provide information, but Michael's story gives readers a deeper level of understanding.


As always, I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this tremendous memoir. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Catholic abuse scandal and first person accounts of abusive relationships and the impact these relationships have on the victim's life.





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