Book review: Resisting the Power of Mea Culpa: A Story of Twentieth-Century Ireland
by Gerard Rodgers
Published by Peter Lang Ltd. 2019 I
Reviewed by Ursula Somerville
In my view this is a quite profound book encapsulating the story of a young boy who is thrust into a world as part of a family who endured trauma, tragedy, (ab)use, the love of a mother who was heartbroken and overwhelmed and looked to her faith for support only to experience total let down when, among other things, she learnt that her son was abused by a Catholic priest. The young boy, looking for a safety net to prevent further violence affecting him, gravitated towards a religious vocation only to be violated in a most profound way.
The book is divided into two parts and the first part is entitled, The context of early childhood and the second part entitled, Enlightening our potential: Looking back to move forward. In part one, we learn it is set through a time of the Catholic church’s doctrine of separating babies from mothers and sending them to far-off lands. It covers the disempowerment of women who had no voice in their own lives. A time also when the political leaders and law makers were swearing allegiance to the church before they swore allegiance to the people they served and who voted them into office. “...Taoiseach John A. Costello informed the House: ‘I, as a Catholic, obey my Catholic authorities…’. A Labour Party leader of the era, Brendan Corish, similarly declared: ‘I am an Irishman second, I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the church to which I belong’ ” (Rodgers, 2019: 33). Never mind that not all of the people of Ireland, who they were governing for, were of that faith.
The author seamlessly documents the effect of living in an alcoholic family. For those of us who have lived in an alcoholic family and those of us who work with clients who have lived in this life, Rodgers documents the excruciating trauma when an event happens in his family but with unspeakable consequences. While I read this, I was fully aware of how close my own family came to this same outcome but somehow managed to escape it! Rodgers then further describes the far-reaching effects of grooming and sexual abuse, which was his story, and the onward damage caused by this life. His family home was described in a headline in the local paper as “The House of Fear”. Any one of these events is enough to have to manage and our clients can present with each of these in isolation. What I found from reading this book is the clear way in which the author contextualises the history of what made Ireland what it was then – the book gives us a wider view of the complexities deep in the psyche of the country.
The book covers the societal, political and personal history of a time in Ireland. It is uniquely written in an academic style and is full of facts of life at that time. But, more for me, it is a book written dispassionately to inform its reader about how decisions were made under undue influence of Catholic teachings and the impact this had on his family.
This is a very accessible book which must be read by all peoples, most particularly by counsellors and psychotherapists, psychiatrists and all those who work in the mental wellbeing area with humans who have suffered.
The energy I was left having read this book was one of great hope that a child of Ireland of that time could withstand the trials of life and still progress to offer us this classic book. I never thought I would ever say that an academic book was ‘unputdownable’ but that is how I felt reading it.