The recent instances of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have been thrust into the limelight in Philip Carlo’s Predators & Prayers, whether the Vatican likes it or not. Notorious at protecting their own, I can imagine a few raised eyebrows among the Catholic community if they happen to read this tale of a man whose life was blighted by abuse he suffered in a church orphanage. Although Predators & Prayers is fiction, it is very relevant to today’s real-life views regarding pedophiles within the church ranks.
Frank Coogan is a killer of priests. He meticulously plans their murders and leaves the bodies arranged in macabre positions, first in New York and then Italy. His first
few murders are described in detail within the initial pages of the book, and I felt revulsion that a man could kill
"innocent" Catholic priests in such a violent and despicable manner. This revulsion soon changed to a feeling of disbelief when it became clear that Frank had been severely sexually and physically abused by the priests charged with looking after him during his years in the orphanage.
This murderous revenge was brought on by his memories of the abuse, and also
by the fact that the church as a whole was more likely to offer sexual abuse victims vast sums of money rather than hold up their hands and admit to the problem of child abusers
within the priesthood. Frank himself is distraught about his past. Despite being a fantastically beautiful man, he has never been able to forge a carnal relationship with either sex; the years of abuse have robbed him of any sexual identity. So he sets about on a series of murders designed to bring him close to the pope, who he also intends to kill in full public view of his adoring flock
Captain Tony Flynn and District Attorney Carole Cunningham are responsible for bringing this murderer to justice,
but Frank leads them a merry dance through the U.S. and Italy, seeming to be
ever within striking distance but always that one small step ahead.
This novel amazed me. Philip Carlo is obviously extremely passionate about this subject, and
it comes through in his writing; his observations on the Catholic Church as a whole and the abuse scandals
in particular seem honest and written from the heart rather than his head. I was torn between loathing Frank Coogan purely because of the evil acts he inflicted on the priests and feeling immensely sorry for him as I pictured the small boy cowering in his room as a man of the cloth subjected him to prolonged sexual abuse. Is it possible to feel empathy for a serial killer, regardless of his motive? I believe so. Although the murderer seemed to be in full control of his mental state, it became obvious as I read further into the book that the treatment he received as a child shaped his actions as an adult.
Every person in the book contributes to the storyline, each character meticulously shaped to fit with perceptions of people both inside and outside the Catholic Church. There are no stereotypes used - Carlo isn’t stating in this book that all priests are abusers, nor is he implying that every child brought up in an orphanage during the 1960s and 1970s was abused. As an author, he
does a public service. I have long been aware of the dangers of pedophile priests, but this novel has reinforced my views, that while parts of the
Church want to stamp out this disgusting behavior, a certain section merely wants the accusations swept under the carpet.
This isn’t an easy book to read. While Carlo doesn’t describe elements of
child abuse in sordid detail, it can be difficult to concentrate on other aspects of the storyline.
Every maternal bone in my body was screaming at the implications of what had happened to the boy Frank Coogan to create such a monster. The subject matter is hard-hitting and one of the very few remaining taboos in modern society – that a religious man would even contemplate sodomizing a small boy.
This is the basic backbone of Carlo's novel. While Frank is a fictional character, much of his story really has happened to children throughout the Western world and beyond. To gloss over that fact would be doing the author a massive injustice.
The only criticism I have for Predators & Prayers is that the final ten pages or so seemed rushed and disjointed. The rest of the book runs at a fast clip with clever chapter work; the story is being told through the eyes and emotions of several different characters. But the end of the book seems like Carlo has realized he has several loose ends to tie up and his deadline is tomorrow. The last few chapters of are just a single page long. Rather than actually tying up the loose ends, it just makes the novel seem messy – I’d have much preferred the book to lose those final ten pages and leave the future of the various characters to my imagination.
All in all, though, I really enjoyed Predators & Prayers. An interesting insight into the mind of a serial killer, it opened my eyes to the despicable acts of some of the men who claim to have our children’s best interests at heart.