Feature Writer: Hal
Feature Title: Blackmail – the Priest
Published: Copyright© 2015 by HAL
Story Codes: Religious, Pedo
“Father Michael?” Father Michael looked up from the paper “Why did you become a priest?”
“Oh, well, now Father Dwyer, that would be something of a story”
Really? Thought Father Dwyer, I was rather hoping you’d say something like ‘I felt a call’ or ‘I had a vocation’, because frankly my boy, you are a putz.
“I see”, he said out loud “I only ask because your sermon on transubstantiation was, well wrong, totally contrary to Catholic doctrinal teaching so it was. And so I wondered, you know, what it was that brought you to Mother Church”
Father Dwyer was a country priest of a school long gone. He did not hold with the pseudo-friendliness of parishioners (or assistant priests) calling him by his first name. He was their shepherd, there should be distance and respect. And there was. He was average height, average build, his hair (when he had it) had been brownish, even his intellect was average. What was not average, (and his parish recognised this) was his love. He loved his parish and his parishioners. He’d been a priest for 30 years and he’d had his doubts; but he came back stronger, more compassionate, for realising that all are fallible, all need support.
Father Michael, now, he was of different stock “Well, father, I suppose perhaps it will give them something to think about. And you can put them right next Sunday so you can”
Father Dwyer looked at this … this putz, no other word for it. Why was he here? Had he become a priest to be near little boys? If so he was either very clever or very stupid.
Two weeks after Father Michael arrived as newly appointed (unasked for) assistant priest, a priest who had originally been in a near-by parish had died in South America and there had been uproar at his funeral when accusations were made publically and loudly about his pedophile tendencies. People in Ireland then came forward; hurt, sad, disappointed people who had lost their faith because of this person. It seemed the church had known and packed him off somewhere far, far away to cover it up.
That Sunday Father Dwyer had preached on “Suffer little children to come unto me”.
“If anybody was to lay a finger on a child in my parish I would hospitalize them! [he held aloft a blackthorn walking stick that could probably break an arm]. And I cannot advocate violence in others but I would not be surprised if every biological father here felt the same.
I am disgusted and appalled that our church is being dragged through the gutter like this”
People moved in their seats, was he condoning a cover up?
“I condemn not the press, the media, the victims. I condemn the priests and hierarchy that have allowed this to go on. They should be ashamed. I question how any church could condone private confession as adequate to put this right. ENOUGH!” he had slammed the stick down on the lectern and everybody jumped. His sermon had made headlines, for a day or two, before ‘sleazy school head touches up pupils’ took over.
No, any pervert priest who stayed around after that was either stupid or reckoned no-one would suspect him here. Father Dwyer rather suspected that in any test Father Michael would fall into the former category.
Weeks went past and they slipped into something of a tacit arrangement. Father Michael took the early mass (no sermon needed), and usually officiated at the main morning mass while Father Dwyer did the sermon. Father Michael generally couldn’t mess up the rigorously laid down structure of the mass service. Father Dwyer got used to having him around, and it was good to cheer on Ireland demolishing England at rugby with company rather than alone.
Then the letter came
Hoping you are well and still giving your firey sermons. Hoping that Father Michael has settled in too. It is concerning Father Michael that I am writing. A vacancy has come up for Diocesan Liaison Manager, and I’d very much appreciate it if you could write a letter of recommendation concerning him. I feel it is just the kind of position to bring out the best in him.
I must get over to the parish sometime soon to meet up with my oldest friend (still alive that is – ho ho).
Now this was odd for all sorts of reasons. A hand written note from Bishop Martin, even with a misspelling. Why was he taking in an interest in Father Michael? Promotion? For this putz? Father Dwyer had picked the word up when working in New York, and liked it, feeling it gave him some transatlantic credibility. Bishop Martin (who HAD taken on the first name thing) and he had been in seminary together; the bishop was ambitious and capable, not bad things necessarily, whereas he had been interested in serving his parish rather than the hierarchy. Now his erstwhile colleague was his bishop; occasionally that erked him, but not often.
This letter, though, this letter annoyed him. He wasn’t some newly qualified priest to be bossed around like a child! He went towards the phone and then stopped, no, this had to be sorted out face to face. But if he rang to make an appointment Bishop Martin’s PA would recognize his voice and put him straight through. He waited until 6pm and then sent an email.
“Urgent matter to discuss, I will be in your office at 9am tomorrow. Look forward to seeing you then. Father Dwyer”.
He knew full well that the office closed at 5:30.
8:45 found him in the car park, waiting, at 8:50 the PA arrived and unlocked, and at 8:55 he looked up in surprise as Father Dwyer walked in. “Hello there Mr Duffy, is His Excellency in?”
“You mean Bishop Martin?” Who else do you think he wanted to shout, but kept his temper, these eejuts now they just use words without thinking “Were we, I mean are you expected?”
“Did you not get my email, I sent it yesterday”
“Oh”, Patrick Duffy opened his email and found it “Oh, I see, you sent it at 6pm”
“I did so. I thought I’d send it early to catch you” He smiled disingenuously
“Ah yes, I must have missed it. Bishop Martin should be here soon”
Father Dwyer sat and leafed through the Catholic Herald, the news seemed to be a bit old. Then he noticed the date was last year. Waiting rooms everywhere have old magazines; it’s compulsory.
Bishop Martin walked in and shouted “Morning Paddy, how’s tricks?”
“Good Morning, Your Excellency. You have a visitor”
“Eh? Oh, Why Jimmy! You must have got up early to get here by now!”
“6am, same as always, do you have a moment?”
“Of course, Patrick, umm Mr Duffy, would you hold my calls for half an hour, coffee? Tea? One of each then please Mr Duffy. Thank you”
They went in and sat down.
“I know you’ll get straight to the point, so I’ll start. I assume it’s about my letter?”
“What in Heaven’s name is going on? Father Michael is … a … a putz, he really has no more reason to be a priest than a parking attendant”
“No, hold on! That is no way to speak of a fellow priest”
“Normally I’d agree, and I’d only do it –” he stopped as the tea and coffee were brought in and left by a PA who desperately wanted to know what was going on. United at least in this, the two priests wanted to keep the matter private and said nothing until Patrick Duffy slowly exited the room.
“Could you close the door please? Thank you” The doors were thick, old and not built for eavesdropping.
“-I’d only do it in private with you. I repeat. What is going on?”
“I don’t know what you mean, I just thought this might suit him, and I know you weren’t that keen to have him around, Jimmy”
“Bishop Martin, we’ve known each other a long time. You know I’m as straight as a die. You know I won’t, can’t, write a letter of recommendation for him. And you know I don’t use words lightly, but you are not telling me the truth” Even now, red-faced, angry as he was, he could not bring himself to call his bishop a liar.
Bishop Martin suddenly looked half the size, he shrank into himself “He’s my son”
“He’s my son, I won’t go into details, but … well you know the temptations. I fell. At first I paid his mother for his upkeep, then she wanted hush money. Not a lot, just enough to be a little bit more comfortable than her job could afford. I don’t blame her”
“I should think not. You are the one at fault”
The bishop smiled and continued “One day she came to me and said ‘I want Michael to have a secure job, a priest’. I argued, I offered all sorts of alternatives, but, well you can see, he’s a lazy little gobshite, he wouldn’t work at something that needed effort
Then, a year ago she said she wanted him back near her, not out in the sticks – sorry Jimmy, but that’s how people see those sort of parishes”
“I know, not a problem, even rural people need good priests”
“True, true. Well it took me a while, but I’ve engineered this job in Galway. If he gets it he can lodge with his Mam. But he’ll need good references. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. It’s time to come clean and resign”
Father Dwyer left and drove sadly and thoughtfully home. His world turned upside down. At home he wrote the letter of recommendation. On Sunday he preached a sermon on ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ and bade people forgive each other and themselves rather than leaving it all up to God.