When I first picked up Faith by Jennifer Haigh, I almost immediately put it down. I was afraid it was going to further magnify the bull’s eye on the back on the Catholic church, which is already too easy a target for many. Yes, Haigh’s book is framed by the possibility of a priest molesting a young boy, but it’s much more than that. It is, indeed, about faith in its many manifestations: belief, conviction, trust, reliance and loyalty.
Old school Catholics, priests, families and perceptions are all deftly portrayed by Haigh as she tells the story of Father Art Breen, a quiet, unassuming parish priest whose primary vice is that he smokes like a steam engine. Father Art’s story is told through his sister’s eyes. Sheila begins with her step-brother’s progression through school, details his seminary years, his parish assignments and how he came to be accused of molesting a second-grader. Sheila also shares details about her family background: her mother who is a staunch Catholic unable to find fault with her church; her younger brother, Mike, who immediately believes Art is guilty; and her own conflicted thoughts as she discovers she is unsure who and what to believe.
The setting is Boston in the spring of 2002, just as the news of numerous molestation cases begin to emerge. The reader is asked to consider Art’s innocence or guilt just as his family struggles with this question. It seems so unlikely, and that is exactly what makes the possibility real.