Tom Morton is a gay Catholic priest whose lover comes back into his life leading to a confrontation with a powerful bishop.
The story has two timelines. In the odd-numbered chapters we meet Tom, an isolated fifty-year old parish priest of St. James’ Church, a Jesuit-built church in a northern English town. Tom is an in-the-closet gay man in an increasingly intolerant Catholic Church, an organisation that defines homosexuality as inherently disordered with traditionalist elements blaming incidents of child sex abuse on an underground ‘pink mafia’. Antony, the only man Tom has ever fallen in love with, the man he abandoned thirty-years earlier, arrives in church to ask Tom to provide the Sacrament of the Sick to his dying mother.
In the second timeline, the even numbered chapters, we see Tom from childhood through to his ordination as a priest. As Tom grows into adolescence the confusion begins: he has experiences with girls, as well as burgeoning romantic and sexual feelings for his friend, Antony. After they sleep together for the first time, as the pressure to conform to a heterosexual society reaches fever-pitch, Tom abandons his lover and flees to the Church. At Ash Burrow seminary, Tom finds acceptance, a masculine culture, and other gay men like himself.
The novel has three sections. The first section describes Tom meeting Antony again after decades apart, the rekindling of their relationship, and how history repeats itself with Tom siding with the Church against his love. In the second timeline, we see Tom’s childhood, and the repercussions of the tragic car accident that kills his father and brother.
The second section describes Toms emotional collapse and the deterioration of his mental health until he reaches the point where he is actively suicidal. In contrast, we see Tom’s teenage-self approaching life with a sense of potential. The section ends with Tom coming out to his congregation and informing them that he is HIV positive and has been for twenty years.
In the third section, Tom is sacked, and St. James church is closed and put up for sale. Tom is also dealing with the scars of a violent sexual assault suffered whilst he was a seminarian at Ash Burrow – the perpetrator, Derek Worrell, is now the Bishop of Preston. In the second timeline, we see Tom’s life at the seminary, his romances, his appreciation of the structure of the Church, and the horrific incident that changes his life forever.
The story reaches its close with a group of gay Catholic priests standing with Tom against the bishop and the diocese. Antony proposes to Tom in a crowded railway station, and they prepare to begin their lives together.