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Honoring the Survivors, a guest post by author Brendan Kiely (#SVYALit Project)


Brendan Kiely is the debut author of the recently released book The Gospel of Winter, a story that takes place right as the revelations began coming to light of the widespread abuse of young men by Catholic priests. He is also a participant in the upcoming #SVYALit Google Hangout on Air, which will take place on Wednesday, March 26th at Noon Eastern. Today he is sharing his thoughts about his debut novel.
The heart of The Gospel of Winter is a boy’s struggle with whether or not to tell the world he has been abused by his priest.  It’s a story of betrayal: Aidan has been betrayed by the one person he has come to rely on the most as his family crumbles around him.  Father Greg promised love and compassion.  The Catholic Church promised love and compassion.  But instead of delivering what they promised, they wielded those concepts and words like weapons and harmed the very people they claimed to want to protect.  In The Gospel of Winter I wanted to write a novel that moved beyond the news stories and honored the young people who had to experience those broken promises firsthand. 
The Gospel of Winter is not a memoir, but when the Boston Globe broke the story of the vast scandal of cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, many people close to me felt betrayed—and I felt betrayed, too.  As I continued to follow the story in the news, I felt it was important to add another voice—to write a novel that highlighted the struggle of the kids who were brave enough to speak up and tell friends and family that they had been abused by priests. I admired the strength of those young people and I wanted to write a novel that honored them and those still searching for the strength to find their own voice—they are all survivors.

As a high school teacher, I work with young people every day, and I know that they watch us adults closely.  They look up to us, and they also know when we aren’t being honest with them.  They’re smart, observant listeners and they take note when we adults contort uncomfortable truths or bury them beneath the weight of life’s more immediate expectations.  They ask complex and important questions, and they notice when we adults ignore the questions we don’t have answers to. 
Silence isn’t an answer.  Neglect isn’t an answer.  They are part of the problem.  How are young people to deal with a problem none of the adults in their world will acknowledge exists?  What are they to do?
See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil—young people had to break that powerful silence, and those who had to bear that awful responsibility I find heroic.  They are the kids I wanted to write about.  I thought about how difficult it must have been to muster that courage and the novel evolved around that internal conflict for Aidan: should I say anything at all?
It is inspiring working with young people—every day I am in a building filled with so much hope—but as I wrote my book, I kept thinking back to my own childhood.  All those Roman collars.  What about the kids who’d been victimized, who’d been robbed of their hope?  These children’s narratives were nearly invisible in the news, so I wanted my novel to provide a voice for the person too frequently left out of these stories—the kid who finds himself in this situation.  Why does he find himself there, and how does he cope with the aftermath?
Understanding how to better love each other is important to me.  It’s fundamental to how my parents raised me and it lies at the heart of the Catholic education I received as a child.  I wanted to write The Gospel of Winter because despite my outrage at the institution of the Church, what mattered to me—and what continues to matter to me—was to tell a story that still prized the fundamental principles I had learned from my culturally Catholic upbringing: love and compassion. This is why I made the friendships between Aidan and his peers central to the book, because the heart of friendship is that very love and compassion I had grown up thinking were paramount.  Meaningful friendship is an act of extending ourselves beyond our own experiences and saying to another person, “I am here for you; I am here with you; I want to know what is true for you.”
As an educator, I want to empower young people to use their voices, to speak up and speak truth to power.  As I see it, however, this doesn’t have to be one individual, one David, always facing the Goliath.  This is why the friendships in the book are so important to me.  I want to inspire young people to be better friends to each other and for each other, so that when they need to muster the strength to do the right thing, they have the support they need to do it.
By writing a novel about a boy’s attempt to reconstruct his definition of love after he has been abused by an adult, I hope to create a safe space in which young people and adults can discuss these difficult questions.  And isn’t this why we turn to fiction?  It allows us to look beyond ourselves, to engage in meaningful conversations about the questions that are the hardest to discuss but also the most important. 
The Gospel of Winter has received multiple starred reviews and I highly recommend it. It is one of the few – and possibly only – book about this particular event in history. It is also a powerful look at the concepts of grooming, the age of consent, and the betrayal of trust that leaves victims shattered and confused in its wake.  

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