The Priestly Sins

by Andrew M. Greeley

Andrew Greeley's THE PRIESTLY SINS echoes the problems facing the
Roman Catholic Church and its members today. Although this book is
fiction, it is obvious that Greeley has taken his story from
today's headlines. The scandal that runs rampant in the Church is
told from the point of view of Father Herman Hoffman, who at the
beginning of the novel witnesses a fellow priest raping a young
boy. Greeley is discrete when he describes this scene, but gives
enough detail to allow the reader to envision what had just
transpired. The introduction is told in the form of a court
transcript; it is from this point that the novel takes off.

The reader thus gets pulled into the scandal that has rocked the
Church in recent years. Greeley uses newspaper articles to show the
progress of this particular abuse case, the victim being a boy
named Todd Sweeney, the very boy whose rape Hoffman had witnessed a
number of years ago. The newspapers describe Hoffman as a gay
priest, among other things, through interviews done with other
members of the clergy. The Church appears to be defending the
alleged abuser and ridiculing Hoffman for his outrageous
accusations, calling him a traitor. This is the first description
the reader gets of Hoffman, but it soon changes as more is

The book then details Hoffman's earliest memories of his life with
a close-knit family of "Volga Deutches," living in the midwest on a
farm that he and the rest of his family worked. It is a tale that
only Greeley can tell, with characters who will warm your heart.
THE PRIESTLY SINS details Hoffman's most important moments in his
childhood and adolescence: his family, the love of his life
Kathleen and his decision to become a priest --- all told in a
humorous tone and from Hoffman's point of view.

The reader learns that Hoffman is a very affable man of Russian
German descent, and in his recollections of his youth he emphasizes
the characteristics that belong to persons of this background, the
rigidity that marks his German side in particular. It is with some
comic relief that he describes himself, and the reader can easily
identify with this priest and will grow to like and admire him. It
is with some humor and maybe some amazement that Hoffman goes into
detail about his love for a young Irish girl, a childhood
sweetheart, whom he never has let go of and will always love in
some form in his heart. Their passionate love affair is told in
great detail, showing the young Hoffman's burning desire for
Kathleen, a love that will never die. It is obvious that although
this novel is supposed to center on the "priestly sins," it
actually is more about Hoffman, the life he led before and after he
became a priest, and how he deals with the crisis that has gripped
the Catholic Church.

While most of the book is about Hoffman's past, which in turn leads
up to his involvement in the Church sex abuse scandal, it begins
and ends with the actual trial involving Todd Sweeney, with Hoffman
as a crucial witness. Greeley admits that this book is a work of
fiction, and for obvious reasons he gave it a happy ending. But he
also admits that real life cases were not so clear-cut.

This reviewer finds it almost astonishing that this novel was even
published; Greeley must have come under some scrutiny, himself
being a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. The appeal for this
reviewer is knowing that Greeley had an inside view of the scandal,
and reading THE PRIESTLY SINS makes one wonder how much detail in
the novel is based on fact. A bonus for Greeley fans is the
inclusion of his most popular character, Father Blackie Ryan, and
it certainly has made this reviewer a fan of his famous

THE PRIESTLY SINS is an interesting read for those who are caught
up in the current Church scandal, but also a must-read for all
Greeley and Blackie Ryan fans.

Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton ( on January 19, 2011

The Priestly Sins
by Andrew M. Greeley

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • ISBN-10: 076531052X
  • ISBN-13: 9780765310521