Courtesy of Frank Zapatka, here is a commentary on Ralph McInerny’s The Prudence of the Flesh.
The Prudence of the Flesh (2006), the 25th of Ralph McInerny’s 26 “Father Dowling Myster[ies]” is another of several of his mysteries in which the life issues are involved. In this one, the relevant passages are paraphrased and quoted in the following paragraphs.
Gregory Barrett, a laicized Catholic priest, has a successful literary program called End Notes on a “tax-funded liberal network,” i.e. National Public Radio (1). Among the authors he discussed on his program were Chesterton, Philip Roth and Paul Claudel.
Madelaine Murphy, one of his many listeners, however, had “recently been led to remember” that he had “abused her years ago, before” he was laicized (90). In fact, he had not abused her at all; rather, he had counseled her to give birth to the child she had become pregnant with. The identity of the child’s father, she was uncertain of. We’re told that “In some momentary haze of warmth and pain” at a sorority party when she was in college, “she had given herself to someone” (74). Nevertheless, in the novel’s present time she tells others that Barrett is the father of her child Marvin, now a grown man.
The narrator also tells us that “The advice she was given at Student Health was lofty and moralizing. She could not responsibly bear the child. Nor need she. Relief was just an operation away. Whence came her resistance to this compelling counsel? Her whole being,” the narrator tells us further, “revolted at the idea. Mingled with her shame,” he continues “was the wonder that within her a new life was forming” (75).
It is at this point that she seeks the advice of a priest and receives it from “a young assistant, Father Gregory Barrett” at “a church several blocks away,” who shows her “compassion in her time of need…balm to her soul.” Subsequently, “he… arranged for her to have her baby”(95). “No good deed goes unpunished [?]” Eventually, however, Madelaine’s accusations are found to be baseless.