Friday, July 29, 2016

The Priests, by James M. Miller

Staff review by Chris Saliba

James Miller's memoir The Priests is a tragic and heartbreaking personal story of sexual abuse and its devastating consequences. 

James Miller grew up in Sydney during the Seventies. It was a time of sun, surf and good friends. Academically gifted and confident, the young Miller had the world before him. In 1978, all that would change.  At the age of fifteen he was sent to Pius X secondary College. The Principal was Father Thomas Brennan.  A cold, dry and aloof man, he ran a school obsessed with following petty rules. When James Miller refused to wear a belt to school, he was brought in for a private meeting with Father Brennan. It was during this first meeting that Brennan sexually abused the young Miller. There would be two more incidents of sexual abuse before Miller gained enough courage to flatly refuse seeing the Principal on his own.

No one else would learn of the abuse, except for Brennan’s school deputy, Father Helferty. The two men would pressure Miller over many years to keep quiet about the abuse.  Miller would have liked to put things behind him, but unfortunately he found himself being continually drawn into Brennan’s orbit. He married his school sweetheart, Kate, only to find out her family was actually related to Brennan. The hated abuser would be present at family functions. Then in later years, when Brennan was being investigated, Miller would find himself approached by his former Principal and deputy, asking him to remain silent.

The Priests explains in simple, direct language how young, vulnerable boys are sexually molested by those in authority. The book does an exceptional job of taking the reader through all the tortured psychological states that the abused experiences. In some ways, Miller was fortunate in that he was a more assertive character as a young man and could fight off Brennan’s perverse advances. But on the whole he suffered inordinately. His relationships were disastrous and he lived in a constant worry about the abuse being discovered. A successful solicitor, with a great career, Miller eventually suffered a full blown mental breakdown in his fifties. He lost everything and became homeless.

This is a tragic and heart breaking story, with no happy ending. The Priests gives a deeply disturbing self-portrait from a victim, still barely coping with life almost forty years after the initial abuse took place.

The Priests, by James M. Miller. Published by Finch Publishing. ISBN:  9781925048667  RRP: $34.99

(Release date 1st August 2016)

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