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"You're not going to wear that Roman collar much longer, Herman."
I looked around for the origin of the nasal whine. Then I looked down and saw the ferret face of Josh Reynolds, almost a foot below me. I was worn-out from my time on the witness stand and still on edge. So I said something that I perhaps shouldn't have said.
"When this is over, Josh, you'll trade your three-piece black suit for prison orange."
Then I saw Todd Sweeney, a tall, lank young man with a haggard face, blank eyes, and long, unkempt hair. He was only twenty-three or twenty-four years old, but looked forty years older, like a man who had spent his life in prison or maybe even a concentration camp. Ten years ago he had been the brightest kid in the class and a charming little guy with a great jump shot. Now he was a thief, a drug addict, a homeless derelict.
Another one of Lucifer Lenny's accomplishments. He always destroyed the best. There were at least twenty other charges against the Archdiocese. It would be surprising if there were not many more.
"Hi, Toddy," I said to him, extending my hand.
"Hi, Father Hoffman," he said, accepting my hand with a wan smile.
"You goddamn lying bastard!" Dr. Sweeney, a bald little man with a crimson face and tiny eyes, rushed up to me. "Get away from my son! Haven't you done enough harm to him already!"
"Don't pay any attention to him, Father," Toddy said with a weary shrug of his thin shoulders. "He's always been an asshole…thanks for trying to help."
Dr. Sweeney pounded on my chest with his tiny fists.
"Leave him alone! I'll see you in jail before this business is finished! You're a fucking faggot!"
The media vultures gathered around.
I should have walked away. Instead, I lost it again, and said something I should not have said.
"More likely I'll see you in court for a slander suit!"
I was sorry at once. A priest should not make threats like that. Then I turned and walked away, much too late.
Outside the courtroom a woman reporter from the local news pushed a microphone at me.
"Why are you choosing to attack your own Archdiocese, Father Hoffman?
"I was subpoenaed to testify at this hearing because I was an eyewitness to the crime. Under oath I have no choice but to tell the truth."
"Don't you think this is an attempt to make money by attacking the Church?"
"Whatever the motives, the issue is whether Todd Sweeney was raped by a priest who had often been reassigned by the Archdiocese."
I walked away from her.
A male reporter from a national medium cornered me next.
"How many abusing priests are there in the Archdiocese, Father Hoffman?"
"Only a very few. Ten, fifteen at the outside. Out of four hundred and fifty. Most priests are not abusers. It doesn't take very many to give the rest of us a bad name, especially when the Chancery routinely reassigns them so they can do it again."
"Why aren't other priests speaking out like you are?"
"They have not been subpoenaed."
"Do you think they are silent out of loyalty to the Church and to the priesthood?"
"I don't know."
I did, of course. The silence of my fellow priests was as irresponsible as the Downtown's policy of reassigning men like Lenny.
Then a young woman with horn-rimmed glasses and a large notebook cornered me.
"I'm from The Drover," she informed me--a far-right-wing Catholic paper. "Don't you think, Father Hoffman, that it is time for healing in this crisis?"
"I certainly do. Healing, however, can only occur in the wake of truth."
"Wouldn't it be better for the Church to admit it made a mistake in ordaining all those homosexuals in recent years?"
"Many of the men charged were ordained long before the Church began to ordain more admitted gays. Most gay men, most gay priests are not abusers. I don't think that charge helps the cause of healing."
I almost said, "and new bishops," but that would have been a terrible mistake.
The religion writer from the Plainsman and Gazette shouted after me, "Are you worried about cross examination Monday, Herman?"
"Not in the least. I will simply tell the truth."
There were two more reporters in the gauntlet I had to run. The first was a nun (or a former nun, I have a hard time telling the difference) who worked for the National Catholic Inquirer.
"Don't you think, Herman, that you're really defending a fraternity that is collapsing from the inside?"
"The all-male celibate priesthood?"
"I wouldn't know. I have not been a part of that fraternity for a long time."
Finally, Timothy Hawkins of the Prairie Reader, the weekly paper that had first hunted down the story of Lenny Lyon and from which the TV stations picked up the story, asked, "Off the record, Hugh?"
"What was Lucifer really like?"
"He was a very gifted man, God be good to him, brilliant, charming, hardworking. He knew the name of every kid in the school and of the parents of each one of them. He taught every day in the school, talked to them in the schoolyard, and told them wonderful stories. He was a model of what a parish priest should be. I think he became a priest so he could work with kids."
"So he could rape them?"
"No, I don't think that was his original intention. Unfortunately, in their presence he became sexually aroused. He resisted it as best he could, then the attraction was too much, and he went wild."
"You visited him before he died?"
"Was he penitent?"
"I can't judge that. He continued to deny that any of the charges against him were true."
"Was he lying?"
"I don't know."
"He was gay, of course?"
"Surely not in the ordinary meaning of that word. Even in the seminary he seemed to enjoy tormenting people. Later it would appear that the gender of the person tormented didn't matter."
Kathleen and Liam Shannon collected me at the door of the court-house. As usual my throat tightened with affection and desire at the sight of my former lover. She was wearing a short-sleeve, blue pastel dress with a vee neck and a white belt. It left little doubt about the shape of her body or the elegance of her breasts.
I sighed mentally.
"We'll take you to supper, Father Hugh," Liam ordered. "Wouldn't you be needing a good thick steak and a small sip of the creature?"
The tightness went away. Mostly. As it does. Usually.
The thunderstorm in Kathleen's green eyes and the frown on her forehead told me that she was in one of her angry moods, much rarer now than they used to be when we were kids.
"Your wife needs a sip or two also. Isn't she in one of her thunderstorm moods?"
"And haven't I noticed it too?"
The thunderstorm abated, and Kathleen laughed. The storm could come back later as a tornado.
"You were wonderful, Huey!" she said, squeezing my arm lightly.
We walked out of the decaying redbrick Greek Temple that was the ancient county courthouse into a perfect spring day on the prairies, clear blue sky, gentle sun, budding trees and flowers promising that winter was finally over, often on the prairies a false promise.
"As an expert on body language," Liam Shannon observed, "I'd suggest you tied them all into knots today, not that it was difficult."
I was led across Rutherford B. Hayes Park to the new Prairie County Bank skyscraper, at the top of which was the city's most exclusive eating club. I began to whistle "It Might As Well Be Spring." Kathleen joined me in her pretty soprano tones. Singing again like we had at my house out in the Russian German prairies when we were both just friends, untouched yet by the demands of puberty. Liam hummed along with the tune. For a moment I thought we'd break into dance. However, if any one of the media vultures saw us…
The Plainsmen Club was complete with an idealized painting of Wild Bill Hickok in its lobby. The frontier days were more than a hundred years ago, yet this moderately sophisticated city still treasured the myths and the legends of its past. As well it might. The meatpacking yards, the grain elevators, the railroad yards across the river and the interstate beyond were proof, if any were needed, that the city still lived off the plains. The heavy maroon drapes were open in the club. In the distance the winter wheatfields glowed in the setting sun. Beneath us the Prairie Square stood immobile, unshaken by the conflicts of the day--the Mormon Temple, the courthouse, the Masonic building, the Cathedral, River Bank (once called Volga Bank), which was far too thrifty to build a skyscraper, the decrepit two-story redbrick offices of the Plainsman and Gazette.
On the two, sometimes three, days a week Liam saw patients in his office lower in the building, he ate lunch in the club because it was "quiet and there's always a bottle of single malt Bushmills for me to drink a tiny sip to steady me nerves. Being a psychiatrist is no easy task at all, at all."
For Liam, unlike most Irish, including in the past his luscious red-haired wife, a tiny sip was no more than a tiny sip.
"I hate Judge Sturm." The tornado now lurked in Kathleen's eyes, ready to sweep across the dining room and destroy its complacent peace. "He is a mean, nasty, corrupt old…"
"German!" I finished her sentence.
She broke up in laughter.
Her husband rolled his eyes in approval.
"Fair play to you, Huey!"
"I mean the Archdiocese couldn't ask for a better judge. He's on the board of the two hospitals, Bellarmine High School, Clementine College, St. Edward's asylum…"
"Mental Health Center," I corrected her.
"Regardless." She waved me away impatiently. "Catholic Social Services, the Pastoral Council, Mercy Hospital, whatever. They must have really tilted the playing field to get him."
"I'm sure they did," I said calmly. "They made a big mistake, though they're too dumb to know it yet."
"Huh?" She sipped a bit from her tiny sip.
"What Huey means," Liam explained, "is that if one watched the reactions of media people today, they were on his side all along, as the judge wanted them to be. You noticed how he called him 'Father' at the end? The press did."
"Oh." She sighed and began to carve the small fillet with which she had been served. The staff of the Plainsmen Club understood that Ms. Shannon ate a small steak and her big Irish husband the largest in the house.
"The Chancery people," I said, "typically have forgotten what's at issue now. All they want at this hearing is to destroy me. I don't think they will. Joe Kennedy is not a very good lawyer; otherwise, he wouldn't be working for the Church. However, they should forget about me and settle the Sweeney suit tomorrow. This isn't a trial, just a hearing on a motion. My testimony is supposed to support Vandenhuvel's motion to open the Archdiocesan file. Their real worry should be that Arthur Sturm will order them to turn over all their records of past abuse cases. Then they'll leak the worst to the media, and there'll be a lot more suits. Sturm might be angry enough to turn the records over to the media."
"You think he might do that?" Liam asked.
"He's the only judge in town who has the prestige to take that risk."
Kathleen was silent for a moment, digesting this idea as well as her steak.
"What will happen then?"
"They'll appeal on the grounds of separation of church and state, and their appeal will be slapped down. They're finished, poor men," I said. "The Archbishop will never become a Cardinal. Bishop Meaghan will never become Archbishop here. Father Reynolds will never make monsignor. The Vatican might make them all resign, though I don't think so. Best of all, the whole culture of denial, stonewalling, and cover-up will collapse."
"And you'll be vindicated!"
"Whistle-blowers are never vindicated, Mavoureen." Liam took her hand. "For those who know Hugh, he doesn't need any vindication. The rest will say that, well, maybe he was right, but he went about it the wrong way. Since he's a historian as well as a priest, he knows that history will say that he was a hero. I don't even think that's important."
What's important, I thought, is winning.
Kathleen's gorgeous shoulders sagged.
"You're both right. You always outnumber me. Anyway, Hugh, you just have to win!"
"He will, Mavoureen," her husband assured her, and extended an arm around her shoulder.
They would make love tonight, I thought, in part because they both loved me more than I deserved.
Well, he never had her when she was a sex-crazy teenager.
Then I mentally apologized to God for such a terrible thought. I imagined that God told me he didn't believe my apology.
"Why haven't they destroyed their records?" Liam asked. "They could have before the suit was filed."
"Because they're dumb, Liam. They never thought a judge in Prairie County would even consider a motion to disclose them. When Art Sturm took plaintiff's motion under consideration, they just about died. My sources tell me that there's a big debate over there about what to do. Meaghan and Reynolds want to destroy them. Straus and Kennedy are afraid to do that--contempt of court, you know. The Arch dithers, as he usually does. Truth to tell, they probably would have a hard time finding the records."
"I don't like that lawyer either," Kathleen persisted.
"No that Vandenwhatever."
"He's a typical tort lawyer, Kath," Liam pointed out. "Smart, effective, more greedy than some of them."
"He pays the witnesses and the traveling tent show of victims that mill around outside of the court looking for someone to comment to."
"Did he try to pay you?"
"He spoke to me about reimbursing expenses. I told them that I didn't have any. He may be on the sleazy side, but it takes someone like that to blast the Downtown crowd out of their dreamworld."
"What ever has happened to our Church, Hugh?"
"Jesus shouldn't have turned it over to humans."
They drove me home to Prairie View and my parish of St. Cunegunda.
I shook hands with Liam and brushed my lips against Kathleen's. There were no particular memories. Well, maybe a few. "Do me a favor, Liam?"
"Sure, aren't you talking like one of us now?"
"I learned that in Chicago…Do you think you can get Todd Sweeney into your program?"
"Hadn't I already thought of that? It won't be easy, but we'll do it. It will be a tough case. Maybe we can make life a little easier for him."
Joachim Binder was on the phone as soon as I entered the darkened rectory.
"Well, you really shit in your pants today, Hermie. Did you see the six o'clock news?"
"Boy, they really nailed you. Josh Reynolds was so happy he almost had an erection. They'll wipe you out on Monday morning."
"The guys are all saying that you're dumb even for a Russian German. Why did you go after poor Lucifer Len now that he's dead?"
"Dead of AIDS," I muttered.
"What does that matter? He was a priest, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he was…Look, Jock, as I told you before, I didn't volunteer. Dr. Sweeney knew I was an eyewitness. They subpoenaed me. I had to tell the truth."
This was an argument, I had learned, that did not satisfy my fellow priests--or anyone else. Perjury had apparently disappeared from the list of sins.
"About another priest? You gotta be kidding."
"I don't hold with the morality," I said pompously, "that if you lie to protect a priest, it's no sin."
I hung up before I lost my temper completely.
And I had made fun of the thunderclouds in Kathleen's eyes.
I noticed a note from Megan, the porter person, on my desk.
"Father Hugh, the Manzio called. You should call back no matter how late."
Manzio? What was a manzio?
I looked at the area code--202?
What was that? New York was 212. Chicago 312.
I opened the phone book. 202 was Washington, D.C.
So it might sound to a sixteen-year-old at the edge of the prairies.
I dialed the number.
"Nunciature," a sleepy voice informed me.
"Father Hoffman from Prairie View."
"Ah, yes, Father Hopman!"
So, a German secretary at the Nunciature. I was tempted to go into German. He might laugh at our dialect.
"The Nuncio is very interested in the trial out there. He will send a certain major prelate to observe discreetly. He will arrive late Sunday. We trust you will receive the prelate and provide housing for him."
"There's plenty of room for him here in the rectory."
"Yes, yes. All will be good."
"Ja, ja, alles gut."
He laughed, a papal diplomat actually laughed.
He did not tell me who the major prelate was or why he would stay with me. Perhaps the Archbishop had complained. The man would probably try to tell me what to say. No way.
I spent a restless night, haunted by Todd Sweeney's tortured face. Later, dreams about Kathleen arrived. They were quiet and peaceful, then so was I.
Copyright © 2004 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.