To read a novel like Strange Gods: A Novel About Faith, Murder, Sin and Redemption by Peter Daly and John Myslinski is to take a stroll through today’s headlines. It was published in 2016, but it eerily forecasts some of the stories we are seeing today about the Roman Catholic Church.
Nate Condon is an attorney in Manhattan. He’s something of a devout Catholic, in spite of the scandals that have engulfed the church and its clerical culture. The same can’t be said of his wife, Brigid, raised a Catholic but no longer a faithful one. She’s an attorney, too, and works for the Federal Reserve helping to ferret out money laundering and other illegal activities.
Nate is a member of the Knights of Malta, and he’s asked to serve as a pallbearer at the funeral of a former U.S. attorney general at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The funeral service is led by Cardinal John Michael Manning. During the service, Manning is shot in the forehead, dying of his wound just feet from where Nate is standing.
Manning is one of six cardinals who’ve died recently in unusual, mysterious, or violent circumstances. Nate is called by a former CIA director, also a Catholic (there’s still an old boys’ Catholic network). He’s asked to undertake an investigation for the Vatican. He accepts it, even knowing his marriage is getting rocky and his enduring faith in the Catholic Church is part of the reason.
The trail inevitably leads to the Vatican, its powerful bureaucracy, the connections to the Mafia, and the conservative-liberal politics playing for control of the church and its future.
Authors Daly and Myslinksi are both ordained Catholic priests.
Daly, after receiving a B.A. degree in religious studies from the University of Virginia and a J.D. degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., practiced law before entering the seminary. He was sent to the North American College at the Vatican and received degrees from the Gregorian University and Lateran University, both in Rome. He was ordained for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1986. He’s been a syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service and has written for both the Washington Post and the National Catholic Reporter.
Myslinski received a B.A. degree from Boston College and became a Jesuit in the New England Province. He served as federal officer with the Capitol Police before entering seminary at Mt. St. Mary’s, where he received an M.A. in divinity degree. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington, severed as the “TV priest” for the District of Columbia, a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, and a pastor at a church in Maryland. He was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 2006.
The novel was published two years before the public scandal involving Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and the letter published by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano calling for Pope Francis to resign for allegedly setting aside sanctions placed on McCarrick by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, and making him a powerful advisor to Francis. McCarrick was forced to resign his cardinal position after the scandal involving McCarrick’s sexual abuse of Catholic seminarians and underaged teens became public.
Strange Gods is suspenseful and often riveting, and occasionally given to a bit of extended sermonizing (the authors are priests, after all). It argues a more liberal position in the ongoing conflict between clerical and lay debates in the church, but it does provide a vivid picture of the powerful clerical culture that so dominates the church and its archdioceses.
Top photograph: St. Peter’s Basilica interior, Vatican City, by Ellen Auer via . Used with permission.