The author of The Pastor’s Inferno knows of what he writes. As a seminarian and later in his psychology practice, Joseph Langen incorporates years of personal and professional experience into his examination of Father John Spador, an abusive priest.
We first meet John Spador as he settles into an easy chair, musing about his aging body and reflecting on the duties he had completed that day, from Mass at 6 A.M. to a dinner with fellow priests. There are hints of his darker side when his thoughts are interrupted by a deputy sheriff and a social worker at his door.
What follows is Spador’s fall from grace over his recent abuse of a young parishioner. While he and the young man are spared the public humiliation of a trial, the circumstances cause Spador to lose his parish and his status, forcing him to admit his failings to his sister and her family on whom he now depends for the basic necessities of life. He must also face his accuser and the young man’s parents.
The fall from grace is an all too common story in the aftermath of the many abuse cases within the Catholic Church. The sordid headlines both fascinate and repulse us. However, once the perpetrator is convicted or perhaps given alternative punishment, the headlines go away. Langen’s story goes further. How does Spador learn to confront his demons? How does he put his life back together? How does he reconcile God’s justice with God’s love?
Spador is not necessarily a sympathetic character. He has become accustomed to the privilege that goes with his position. We have little indication that he was held in overly high regard by his parishioners. We learn that he is estranged from his brother and that his relations with his fellow priests lack any real depth, except possibly with the priest who becomes his spiritual advisor, Father Samuels.
Spador also lacks introspection, perhaps because it would force him to examine his sexuality. His counselor, Dr. Barbara Phelan, guides him through this self discovery. At times he seems to flounder in his attempts, but Phelan’s skills keep him on track. Solitary walks along the canal help Spador focus and give him a certain solace.
At the book’s conclusion, John is ready for his community service, helping ex-prisoners reintegrate into society. It is also John’s reintegration from his hellish experience to the light of a new dawn with the insight to make the best of the remaining days allotted him by God.
Beth Cahaney, Professor
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College