James Aaron Parmalee’s book Father, I have sinned (ISBN 978-0-557-50132-8), is set in a school in Bangkok and opens explosively with one missing teacher and a naked girl across the hallway from the teacher’s now vacant room.
The subject matter is topical and deals with pedophilia and the Catholic clergy, something that has had repercussions around the globe, and has involved innuendo as well as fact. The way the church has handled the situation is also up for debate, but there is no doubting that this has had a tremendous impact upon Mother Church.
The detail in this book makes one forget that it is purportedly a work of fiction, and many times I began to wonder if there really was a Thai Prime Minister called Pradit Saengdaet.
The plot involves an American English teacher at a Catholic school in Bangkok who stumbles across a pedophile ring, finally uncovering not just a local group of child abusers, but a world-wide network, which he exposes with the help of Interpol and other domestic agencies.
The finale is exceptionally thought provoking where author Parmelee has swipes at the Catholic Church and then extends that to Buddhism and other religions that are known for their interest in childhood education. Parmelee puts forward a very reasoned argument that one of the etiological factors in pedophilia comes from celibacy imposed upon the clergy, and then goes further to claim that there is no mandate for this in the religious texts, and quotes from the bible to shore up his argument.
In many ways this book is almost two books in one. A thriller in the accepted genre of this style of writing, plus as an extra, a short treatise on the depth and causes of pedophilia in the world, citing 8,000 pedophile priests in the US today. If he is correct, those are troublesome statistics. Unfortunately, the same argument, as logical as it sounds, does not explain the incidence of child abuse at the hands of teachers themselves, married or otherwise, or other groups of adults who are deeply involved with looking after children.
The book is distributed by Asia Books and has an RRP of 595 baht, and is a hefty read. Written in such a fashion as to be quite engrossing, though there are some ‘leaps of faith’ to be done as the plot unfolds and reasons are given (or guessed) for some of the actions in the subplots. What the book does do, however, is to show the insidious nature of the pedophile network, and how far up the social ladder it can go. That is both for this country, and other regions of the world. That many Thai children are trafficked in some way or another, is often just thought of as the situation of rich societies preying on the poor. This does not, however, exonerate or explain.
Finally, this book needed a better sub-editor, but I am sure author Parmelee will have corrected these for the second edition, such as P. 280 “celebrate” instead of “celibate”, P 131 Father Silvio instead of Fr. Bernardo plus other literals.