The Priest. By Thomas M. Disch. Knopf . 303 pages. $24.95.
One night recently I finished the so-called "Gothic romance" The Priest. The next morning I awoke from a dream wondering whether I'd been bitten by a rabid skunk. Curious how the unconscious finds metaphors for unpleasant experiences, for this pitiful novel is indeed, for anyone who holds the priesthood in any esteem, a miserable experience. And that is undoubtedly what Disch, another of the contemporary pipsqueak Sadean epigones, intended. The Priest is not to be confused with the recent little English film entitled Priest. That was a gentle fetid breeze compared to this hurricane of sin, psychosis, and sleaze, which even The New York Times reviewer cautioned us was written by someone with an axe to grind against Catholicism. Disch would probably prefer a halberd. He could carry it through his nipple rings.
For if what he, in passing from graphic tattooing session to multiple personality sex murder delusion to sadistic torture (at the hands of the Church's corrupt inquisitors, of course), adverts is correct, at least 40 to 50 percent of Catholic priests in this country are predatory homosexuals (and probably practicing their predilections on altar boys), the Church's sexual morality is a vicious terrorism, making hypocrites or thugs of all who profess it, and the only good priest is a dead or defrocked priest -- for if dead, he is incapable of perniciousness, or, if defrocked, he can be sexually predatory without the ineffective restraint imposed by the Roman collar. Such is the bracing frisson ushered in by this author's courageous revelation of "the truth."
I'm sure that in his more self-righteous moments Disch intends his work charitably -- a paean to hidden truths that need to be revealed. That there are pedophile priests is, lamentably, a fact. That there are numerous homosexuals in the priesthood who succumb to their self-destructive desires is also a fact. That these activities have a destructive effect on the faithful and the clergy alike is also a fact. But some authors and publishers feel that all that needs to be served up for the salacious delectation of Catholic-bashers. The Church, like all human institutions, has hurt people, and they want to hurt back. But that some do so in a manner that excites lust, dementia, bigotry, and sadistic sexual fantasy in the name of relieving us of the burden of such sordid experiences is worse than the hypocrisy they profess to be combating. Such is the liberating function of art in what's left of the minds of some of its lesser practitioners. In any case, forewarned is forearmed: Bring your vomit bag.
- Francis X. McCarthy