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Masks and Shadows

Tue 2 Aug 2005 In: Books View at NDHA

MASKS AND SHADOWS by Mike Riddell (Flamingo: Auckland, 2000) When a fundamentalist minister sexually abuses a six-year old girl, his crime is discovered and he is sent to prison. Graham Capill? No. Mike Riddell wrote his chilling Masks and Shadows five years ago, long before we knew the truth about Graham Capill, and sets the events in the United Kingdom. Moreover, his paedophile minister, Alex Hanson, is a fundamentalist Anglican, who compounds his evil through strangling Theresa, the little girl, once he has raped her. Riddell used to be an evangelical Christian, but lately seems to have become a liberal Catholic, and has also written a play on James K. Baxter, another unorthodox theological and literary figure within New Zealand society. To his credit, he doesn't resort to "cheap grace" within this work of fiction. Hanson is imprisoned, and the other inmates discover his crime, with predictable and graphic results. Sadly, however, Theresa's murder drives her grieving parents apart. No-one gets an easy reprieve in this novel, let alone the wretched Alex Hanson. It's instructive to contrast Hanson's punishment with current events, namely the indequate response that Capill's downfall and conviction met with, inside New Zealand's fundamentalist community, apart from the Locke Foundation alone. Pretending he never existed is insufficient. As I've said before, their organisations need to demonstrate that they have adequate policies, protocols and procedures in place to protect children. Capill wasn't the first of his kind. Sadly, he may not be the last, especially if nothing is done. Of course, Catholicism has its own severe difficulties with clergy paedophilia, although Riddell is a strong critic of the current pontiff, Benedict XVI. He doesn't flinch from depicting the devastating consequences of Theresa's rape and murder on the lives of her parents and others who knew her, and Alex Hanson isn't depicted sympathetically at all. In fact, he is condemned for using his high profile clerical status to deflect scrutiny and conceal his crime before he slips up on a crucial detail, and is apprehended, convicted and imprisoned. Riddell's masterpiece raises some intriguing questions. Is evangelical Christianity morally adequate for the task of protracted ethical reflection about the lives of Alex Hanson, or Graham Capill? Few evangelicals appear to have reead Riddell's book, or reflected on what it might mean for their community. Regardless of one's moral or ethical framework, Riddell clearly demonstrates the role of institutional complicity in the creation of Alex Hanson's predatory paraphilia, which makes clear that he cannot be seen as a mere depraved individual. Hanson discovers an evangelical associate's interests in child sexual abuse, which encourages his own participation in Asian child sex tourism. Clearly, he wouldn't have escaped detention if it hadn't been for the absence of robust policies, protocols and procedures directed against paedophilia. After the disclosure of Hanson's abuse, his evangelical colleagues abandon him to his fate- but have they actually learnt anything? Hanson cannot seem to find his god in the darkness of his own making, and we get no insight into the reactions of his former colleagues. Are they going to learn from this, or have they merely written Hanson off as a depraved individual? One is left with the troubling conclusion that yes, it could happen again. Masks and Shadows is a troubling book, but it is also a mature ethical reflection on the gravity and consequences of child sexual abuse. Read this book, primarily for its brilliant insights into what enabled the real-life rise and fall of Graham Capill. Further Reading: Deborah Coddington: New Zealand Paedophile and Sexual Offenders Register: Wellington: Alister Taylor: 2003. David Frame: Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal: New York: Broadway Books: 2004. Muriel Porter: Sex, Power and the Clergy: South Yarra: Hardie Grant: 2001. Craig Young (politics columnist) - 2nd August 2005    

Credit: Craig Young (politics columnist)

First published: Tuesday, 2nd August 2005 - 12:00pm

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