I've read and enjoyed Monica Dux's weekend columns in The Age, so I fished out Lapsed from a street library expecting a 'chatty memoir' -- a genre I greatly enjoy. And while Lapsed did begin in this vein, cheerfully recounting Dux's star turn as Jesus in the school nativity play and regaling us with the eccentricities of her pious aunts, Lapsed soon became something much darker, at once more personal and more general, to reflect on the gifts and the damage inflicted by the institution of the Catholic Church.

Dux presents her research on the church objectively, but she also makes her material strike deeper by relating it to the effects on her own family. For example, her older brother was adopted -- the adoption arranged by a Catholic priest and a Catholic doctor, from a Catholic maternity home which produced babies for 'worthy' families by taking infants from unmarried women. Her brother has struggled with the legacy of his adoption all his life. Her younger brother is gay, and the Church's rejection of his sexuality caused horrible problems with his mother. Dux's father was not Catholic; he had his own reasons for disliking the church, which Dux doesn't find out until late in his life. Even the comic pious aunts reveal a story of damage at the hands of the church and its expectations of women. Examples pile up until Dux's loss of faith is totally predictable; yet she still considers herself a 'cultural Catholic' and admits that she misses some aspects of her upbringing.

It was extraordinary timing that I was in the middle of this book when news broke that Cardinal George Pell had died. For the next few days, the airwaves and news feeds were filled with discussions about Pell's alleged guilt and complicity in child abuse, countered with vigorous claims of his greatness and even sainthood. It seems clear that at the very least Pell was aware of the abuse perpetrated by priests under his control and failed to act to protect vulnerable children. It's hard to defend any institution that has caused such pain to so many, and Lapsed only reinforces the many flaws of the church. Despite many laughs along the way, I closed this book with a heavy heart.

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