“Haven’t been here for a while, right?”
“Well, I’m very happy that you’ve given us another chance. Giving the church another chance.
“There’s a plastic card. Right above the hand rest. On the wall. See?”
“That should help.”
“Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been state the amount of time since your last confession?”
“That’s just… How long?”
“OK. First. God loves you. He loves you more than you or I can imagine. Don’t have to tell all your sins. Don’t tell any. I don’t think God’s interested in a litany of sins. A list of sins. Maybe we can talk?
“You know, what I said just then? About state the amount of time since? I was having a little fun, Father. I remember how it goes. Course I do.”
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been three decades since my last confession. At least.”
“I killed somebody.”
“Bashed his yuppie skull in. Didn’t know what hit him. I killed two people and they’re just now making the connection. Stupid cops. Read the papers? Watch the news? The Mallet Killer? Killed me two in the last year. You don’t believe me, I guess.”
“There’s a saying: Our capacity for sin isn’t greater than God’s capacity to forgive.”
“I read about you. Tough guy priest. Gives boxing lessons to the punks.”
“I can defend myself.”
“Listen to this. Sweating a little, aren’t we? This confession shit does nothing for me. Never did.
“I need to tell you….”
“Give myself up? Yeah, well. Save it. They’ll never catch me. Why? Cause Thursday’s was my last one. I’m going to fade out.”
“I’d stand with you. Make sure you’re not mistreated. Get you help.”
“Yeah, you priests. Always willing to help. ‘Hey father. Got a quarter for an old altar boy?’ Exorcist. Remember that?”
“I can help. I am so sorry about what happened to you. I am so sorry that he hurt you.
“You feel my pain. Is that it, Padre?”
“No. No, I don’t. I can’t pretend to.”
“You need to hear the whole story.”
• . • . •
“You say, ‘he hurt you.’ He. Let me tell you. See. There’s this 15-year-old kid. Shy. Doesn’t fit in. Then this priest, an English teacher, tells this kid that he can write. Likes the kid’s poetry. Takes the kid to New York. Broadway plays. Kid’s head is swirling. Kid’s parents are OK with this. They don’t really want the kid around anyways. Besides, it’s a priest, for God’s sake. What harm? Then, one Saturday, this priest — this high school teacher — tells the kid to bring some of his writing to the rectory. Kid hops the bus. Heads cross town. They go into his study. The place is somewhat musty. The smell of drying galoshes. Priest offers the kid a bowl of soup. Kid’s always hungry in those days so he eats it.
“You don’t have to tell me any of this. In fact….”
“Shhh. Listen. Then they pull out the kid’s poems. Kid at the desk. Priest pacing, talking about the poems. Priest stops pacing. Kid notices that the priest is leaning over him, leaning into him. Kid’s heart is racing. Then it happens. These big hands take the kid’s face. This big whiskery mouth suddenly…. Priest kisses the kid. Smell of liquor. Kid’s shocked. But then, the kid kisses back. This kid whose mother never hugged him. Whose father told him that he was ugliest child he’d ever seen. This kid enjoys it. My God, I enjoyed it.”
“I am so sorry.”
“I am not done. You need to hear this. The priest sucks the kid off. No other way to say it. Right there in the rectory office, with his cleaning lady, Mrs. Hannahan, vacuuming upstairs. This becomes their thing. A regular Saturday thing. For variety, the kid jerks the priest off. Oh, he taught me well, that man.
“How long did this continue?”
“I am not done. A few months of this and the kid suffers a nervous breakdown. Of course, he doesn’t really know what it is. He just knows he bursts into tears at any time. Hands shake. Hears voices. Thinks the saints are talking to him. He talks back. No one really notices because no one ever really notices this kid. Except that priest. He notices. Asks if anything’s wrong. Gee, Father, whatever could be wrong? Want me to come to the rectory again? Kid tells the priest he needs to talk to someone. Priest sends the kid to another priest, a priest pal, in another parish. For counseling. And guess what?”
“I can’t hear this anymore.”
“Oh, you got to hear it.”
• . • . •
“This is the church you serve. This is the god you worship. The other priest does the same shit. I was a birthday gift from Father to Father.”
“It is not the church.”
“But it is.”
“It’s two sinful men. Two monsters.”
“It is the church. It is your church.”
“I beg you, sir. Don’t kill again.”
“Trying to save my soul? Too late for that, Father. Hey, I would have loved to have had a life. That was stolen long ago, wasn’t it?”
“I am so sorry.”
“You keep saying that. Think it matters? Want to know what my life’s like now? Think I have a nice wife, a couple of little rug rats at home? Think that’s where this story ends?”
“I am so sorry.”
“Listen to you. If you were really sorry, you’d leave. You’d rip off that collar, get a bank loan and open a boxing school. Dorsey’s Gym. Then maybe I’d believe you’re sorry. Then, you could help me. Then, you wouldn’t have to worry about no stupid seal of confession. Lead the cops right to me.”
“I don’t know what to say to you. I can’t … I cannot give you absolution.”
“And a lot of times, I don’t know what to say to people. An infant dies. I don’t know what to tell that family. Those young parents. That it’s God’s will? I can’t get those words out. I don’t know why these things happen. I don’t know why … I don’t know about these horrible things. I don’t know why a 10-year-old boy has to die swimming on a beautiful summer day. That was a case … from another parish. Something from my childhood. But closer to home. Why is it that a father kills his wife in front of his son and then the son, a 15-year-old, has to shot the father in self-defense? I don’t know. I can only pray. We can only pray. We’ve been put here, behind enemy lines. And we need to make our way back to safe territory, away from this fog of war. We can only believe that all of this makes sense when we get to heaven. With the saints.”
“The saints. Give me a fucking break.”
“And they are real, these holy men and women. They walk among us. In our lifetime, we’ve seen saints. You know, the philosopher G.K. Chesterton wrote that it is ‘a paradox of history that each age is converted by the saint that contradicts it the most.’ Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Who could be more unlike us? In an era enslaved to physical beauty and sexual adventure, she showed us the beauty of the soul and the adventure of charity. And do you know what she said? She once said that ‘loneliness is the leprosy of the west.’ Think about that. Are you still there? Hello? Hello?”