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Book Review: Gone to Hell: True Crimes of America’s Clergy by Randall Radic

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Gone to Hell: True Crimes of America's Clergy by Randall Radic is exactly what the title sounds like. Those who are entrusted with the spiritual needs of their congregations are not always the most reliable of persons. Granted, nobody's perfect. However, what these men did goes far beyond a simple indiscretion.

Radic focuses on the Catholic faith and uses his own experience as a starting point. From I can tell, the criminal conviction Radic was guilty of has to do with theft. He was the priest in charge of his flock and fleeced them all. Here's a small hint — a mortage was part of Radic's scheme. This puts him in a unique position to interview those who witnessed some serious scandals as well as those who chose to perform them in the first place.

Perhaps the most well known story is Father Gerald Robinson. This alleged lawbreaker was accused of killing a nun. While she was the age one might reasonably die of a heart attack or health issues, the blood pouring out of her body suggested otherwise. A close read, however, suggests a few problems with the case. Technicians processing the scene should have known better to contaminate evidence, for example. At the trial, the case rested largely on what is known as circumstantial evidence: in other words, a few puzzle pieces which were hopefully enough to let a jury fill in the pieces. Even Dr. Henry Lee, one of the top forensic experts, could not show the defendant as a killer with absolute certainty. The chances of someone else doing the deed sounds unlikely, but, still, you'll have to judge for yourself.

Robinson is an extreme case of what Radic talks about in his book. For the most part, the rest can be covered in one word. Theft. The circumstances are different according to who and how, but the wrongdoer is not solely responsible for his actions. Why? Too much trust is given. Little oversight give even the person who would never dream of acting in a dishonest manner some pause.

Monsignor John Skeehan is one such person. Father Frances Benedict Guinan, his replacement, is another. After the new guy takes over, there tends to be an automatic audit. This makes perfect sense: after all, it's easier to handle things when knowing exactly what you're dealing with. Guinan, though, reacted much differently. He practically threw the accountant out on his ear. This lead to Bishop Barbarito stepping in to attempt to defuse the situation. The final count? Over eight million stolen! Guinan (and others) believed their role as spiritual leader gives them sole authority about how funds are spent. Since not everybody disagrees, slipping bills here and there is incredibly easy.

Of course, acknowledging a problem is a good part of handing things. When Father Michael Fay, known by parishoners as Father Jude, used his love of the good life as an excuse to embezzle money, higher ups were notified of a potential powder keg. They figured a bookeeper was just careless. Bad move: the scandal was made public, and theft became the least of the church's issues. Angry congregants did not like the idea of a coverup, not in the least.

Radic has only six stories in this collection, but each one is fascinating. For a first time author, this is not a bad effort. I have to think enough people will be interested in this topic that he will soon have to write about a new group of wrongdoers.

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