Linden Macintyre Bishop's Man

ISBN 13: 9780099546337

Bishop's Man

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9780099546337: Bishop's Man

Father Duncan MacAskill has spent most of his priesthood as the 'Exorcist' - an enforcer employed by his bishop to discipline wayward clergy and suppress potential scandal. Hidden in a small rural parish to avoid an impending public controversy, Duncan must now confront the consequences of his past. Pushed to the breaking point by loneliness, tragedy and sudden self-knowledge, Duncan discovers how hidden obsessions and guilty secrets either find their way to the light of understanding, or poison any chance we have for love and spiritual peace. Winner of the 2009 Giller Prize, Canada's Premier Literary Prize.

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About the Author:

Linden MacIntyre is the co-host of the fifth estate and the winner of nine Gemini awards for broadcast journalism. He is the author of the bestselling novel, The Long Stretch, nominated for a Libris Award and the Books in Canada first novel award. His most recent book is a boyhood memoir, Causeway: A Passage from Innocence won both the Edna Staebler Award for Non-fiction and the Evelyn Richardson Prize for Non-fiction.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

{ 1 }

The night before things started to become unstuck, I actually spent a good hour taking stock of my general situation and concluded that, all things considered, I was in pretty good shape. I was approaching the age of fifty, a psychological threshold only slightly less daunting than death, and found myself not much changed from forty or even thirty. If anything, I was healthier. The last decade of the century, and of the millennium, was shaping up to be less stressful than the eighth — which had been defined by certain events in Central America — and the ninth, burdened as it was by scandals here at home.

I was a priest in a time that is not especially convivial toward the clergy. I had, nevertheless, achieved what I believed to be a sustainable spirituality and an ability to elaborate upon it with minimal cant and hypocrisy. I had even, and this is no small achievement, come to terms with a certain sordid obscurity about my family origins in a place where people celebrate the most tedious details of their personal ancestry.

I am the son of a bastard father. My mother was a foreigner, felled long before her time by disappointment and tuberculosis.

I was, in the most literal sense, a child of war. I’ve calculated that my conception occurred just days before my father’s unit embarked from England for the hostile shores of Italy, on October 23, 1943. There is among his papers a cryptic reference to a summary trial and fine (five days’ pay) for being AWOL on the night of October 17. I was born in London, England, July 15, 1944.

Isolation? I had, though perhaps imperfectly, mastered celibacy, the institutional denial of the most human of transactions. I was and am, to a degree, excluded from my peer group, my brothers in the priesthood, for complex reasons that will soon become apparent. But at the time I thought that I’d discovered an important universal truth: that isolation, willingly embraced, becomes the gift of solitude; that discipline ennobles flesh.

In that evanescent moment of tranquility, I was feeling okay. I see it as another life, the man I was, a stranger now.


I’d spent the weekend in Cape Breton, in the parish of Port Hood, filling in for Mullins, who had gone away with his charismatics or for golf. Escape of some kind. Mullins likes to pace himself. I’d planned to extend my visit by a day, to spend that Monday reading, meditating. The village of Port Hood is a pretty place and restful. I grew up in the area, but my personal connections there were limited. I could pretend to be a stranger, a pose I find congenial.

Mullins and the good Sisters up the road had given the glebe a comfortable tidiness. Anyone could feel at home there, as in a well-maintained motel. It has a remarkable view of the gulf and a small fishing harbour, just along the coast, called Murphy’s Pond. It was a pleasant change from the incessant noise and movement at the university an hour or so away, where, normally, my job was dean of students. In truth it was, as my late father used to say in a rare ironic moment, not so much a job as a position. Others did most of the real work. I was, in fact, in a kind of pastoral limbo, recovering, ostensibly, from several years of hard, unsavoury employment.

The phone aroused me on that Monday morning in Port Hood and launched the narrative that I must now, with some reluctance, share.

“The bishop needs to see you.”

“What does he want now?” I asked.

“He didn’t say. He said to come this evening. To the palace.”

I know now that I was stalling when I drove to Little Harbour, which is another, smaller fishing port just off a secondary road on the southern edge of the parish.


The harbour seemed to be deserted. Among the vivid particulars of that October morning in 1993 I remember a blue heron, knee-deep, transfixed by something in the quiet, oil-still water. Then I heard a throbbing diesel engine and at that moment observed a tall radio antenna mounted upon what might have been a crucifix. It was moving slowly above the crest of a low ridge in the near distance. The transient cross and the gentle rumble seemed unrelated until a boat suddenly appeared around the jagged end of a breakwater. It was a fishing vessel, about forty feet long, bristling with aerials and with a broad workspace behind the cab. The name, the Lady Hawthorne, might have been an omen, or maybe I just think that now, in the clarity of hindsight.

The boy standing on the bow was about eighteen years old. A rope dangled casually from a large left hand. He wore the uniform of the shore — jeans, a discoloured sweater unravelled at the elbows, knee-high rubber boots. He had a thick mop of unfashionably long hair obscuring his brow and neck. His face was tanned. He stared straight ahead but then turned and nodded, a moment of distracted curiosity as the boat slipped down the long throat of the harbour, stem turning a clean, whispering furrow.

It was about eight o’clock. The blood-red sun hovering behind me lifted a flimsy mist and held it just above the surface of the water. I felt the first stirring of a breeze. Something about the boat, perhaps its name, and the posture of that boy caused me to defer my anxieties for the moment. It was so rare to see someone that age stationary, sombre. I was more accustomed to a rowdy adolescent enthusiasm. This young man, I realized, was exceptional only because of time and place. Maybe any one of them in those circumstances would have been the same. Quiet. But he caught my attention nevertheless and linked the moment to tender places in the memory. Doomed boys and men: in retrospect they all have that stillness.

The man at the controls was probably my age, tall and heavy-set. They were, to my mind, almost reckless then, rushing through the narrow passage, past a nestling line of sister boats. But just before the wharf there was a roar of reverse acceleration and the Lady Hawthorne seemed to pivot in a tight circle then drift gently into a space between two others, bow pointing seaward. The boy stepped casually ashore with the rope. The older man was already at the stern, gathering another line into a coil, which he tossed up onto the land.

The two fishermen were winching some large plastic boxes onto the dock as I was walking back to my car. Father and son, I assumed. They didn’t seem to notice me.

I was almost at the car when the older man spoke. “Wicked morning, eh, Father.”

I turned.

“I never forget a face,” he said. “Father MacAskill, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said.

He walked toward me then, holding out a large hand. He seemed a bit unsteady. The boy was back on board the boat and out of sight.

“Dan MacKay,” he said. “I think I heard you’re from up around the strait.”

“Yes. And you?”

“I’m a shore road MacKay.”

His hair, the colour of sand, was streaked with wisps of grey. A name stirred in the memory.

“Danny Ban,” I said. “They used to call you Danny Ban, I think.”

He blushed. “Years ago. I’d hate to think of what you heard. Danny Bad was more like it, probably.”

I laughed.

“But I don’t live here now. I’m up in Hawthorne. Been there for years. Built my own place after the young fella came along.”

“Hawthorne,” I said. “I noticed . . . the name on your boat.”

“You know the place?”

“I’ve heard of it. But I’ve never been there.”

“You should drop in sometime. Visit the house.”

“Maybe I will.”

The boy was walking toward their truck, ignoring us.

“The name is on the mailbox at the lane,” his father said. “MacKay. We’re the only ones up there.”

“Thanks.”

He turned then and walked toward the truck, where the boy was already waiting at the wheel. The engine roared impatiently to life. I wondered again about the unsteadiness in his pace. From being on the boat, I thought. Sea legs.

He’d hardly closed the truck door when they were off, rear wheels spinning in the gravel. The truck stopped briefly where the wharf road meets the pavement. You could tell by the angled heads that they were talking. Using their secret language, the dialect of intimacy. Single words and obscure phrases conveying volumes.

“I’m a shore road MacKay,” he’d said. A brief biography and, for those who know the place, a genealogy, all you need to know summed up in a single phrase. Once, I might have felt a little envious. But somewhere along the way identity has ceased to matter, where I’m from, inconsequential. I have become the cloth. That’s enough for anyone to know.

“Come by any time,” he’d said. “For a visit.”

And that’s how things begin. Needs dressed up as hospitality.


There was a rusty freighter in the canal that technically sustains our status as an island. The swing bridge at the end of the milelong causeway was open, the road lined with cars and trucks impatient for their mainland destinations. I welcomed the delay. The bishop always has a reason when he calls; he always has a “special” job.

I’ve often tried to remember how it started, how I became his . . . what? What am I? I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. I’ll put it this way: for other priests, I’m not a welcome presence on the doorstep.

The first summons by the bishop had seemed innocuous enough. The particulars are almost lost now, obscured by far more troubling memories, but I remember what he said: “I’ve asked you to come here because you have a good head on your shoulders.”

He wanted me to han...

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Linden Macintyre
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Linden Macintyre
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