There’s no way to approach yet another story of sexual abuse by Catholic priests without a weary sense of revulsion. I lived in Boston during the most shocking revelations about the archdiocese, and though I wouldn’t take a word — or an award — away from the Boston Globe’s coverage, the ever-rising tally of robed predators became morally exhausting. But don’t let that worn-out disgust turn you away from Jennifer Haigh’s smart fourth novel, “Faith.” Haigh brings a refreshing degree of humanity to a story you think you know well, and in chapters both riveting and profound, she catches the avalanche of guilt this tragedy unleashes in one devout family.
“Most of you have heard, by now, what happened to my brother,” the narrator begins, placing this fictional case in the context of those accusations during 2002 when grim photos of collared monsters flashed up on the nightly news. Two years have passed since that horrible spring, and now Sheila McGann is breaking a promise of silence she made to her older half brother, Father Art. A lonely, middle-aged woman long estranged from her family and her church, Sheila carefully pieces together “a kind of fifth gospel” to describe the events that ruined his life. “My penance is to tell this ragged truth as completely as I know it,” she says, “fully aware that it is much too little, much too late.”