Pamela York Klainer
Father Leon asked Loretta to leave him and Sister Kathleen for a short time so that he could hear Kathleen’s confession. After, he would like the three of them to talk again.
Loretta looked at Katie, who nodded without meeting Loretta’s eyes.
Loretta left the two with the door of her office closed and went outside to sit on the steps. She couldn’t smoke in plain view of anyone who might pass by, but the unusually warm autumn offered comforting late afternoon sun. She sat in the direct rays, her eyes closed against the glare and against her own powerful emotions. The sun warmed her skin, but didn’t reach the chill she felt inside.
She was afraid, whatever happened, that Katie would decide to leave religious life. And if that happened, Loretta would feel utterly alone. First she lost Sister Joan, and now perhaps Katie. Being a nun wasn’t supposed to be about friends, especially particular friends, it was supposed to be about God. Loretta took a deep, meditative breath and tried to empty her racing mind, leaving space for God to enter. She sat that way for several minutes, allowing her mind and heart to be silent.
Finally Loretta opened her eyes, shifting slightly to avoid the sun. She simply didn’t feel God that way, in silent contemplation. She felt God in nature, like at the ocean. But now she felt God even more when she was with people. And the people she felt God with, one by one, were going away.
Loretta stifled an upwelling of tears. Katie, she thought, had a right to cry. But not her, not Loretta. Only good things had come to her in religious life. She was promoted very quickly to department chair, much faster than Katie. There were intimations of Loretta being sent full time for her doctoral degree, after only a few years of teaching. Most Sisters went part time, carrying a full load of teaching and committee responsibilities for the life of the Order. Loretta, in the eyes of the Order’s leadership, was a future star. They protected her, gave her far more latitude than some of the others. Sometimes she suspected Mother Superior knew, or suspected, that she smoked. And yet no one offered a sly or critical word.
Loretta had no sense of how long it took for Father Leon to come looking for her. Hearing him open the door at the top of the steps, Loretta stood and followed him inside.
Katie looked spent, her eyes red from weeping and her expression raw. But confession meant she was absolved of her sin with Father Stephen, and back in God’s good grace. She could receive communion with the others at Mass tomorrow, be safely anonymous in the line of Sisters approaching the altar.
Loretta had a sudden, harsh thought. Father Stephen had been saying Mass all along. Who might have absolved him? Or had he even asked?
Father Leon asked Loretta to sit down, and then spoke to both.
“Because Father Stephen used no protection, there is the possibility that Sister Kathleen might be pregnant. We have to wait several weeks to see. Sister Kathleen has asked if she must share her health situation with Mother Superior. I think not. There is nothing to share at this point. But Sister Loretta, this will be a time of great strain and worry for Sister Kathleen. I trust that you can support and comfort her in the privacy of your own conversations.”
Loretta nodded and reached over to take Katie’s hand. “But what are we going to do about Father Stephen? We can’t let him get away with this. Why should it be only Katie facing this trouble? He should be in trouble too. You have to help us, Father Leon. The Bishop will listen to you more than to us.”
Father Leon took a deep breath, and his face settled into a frown. He seemed to hesitate, as if not knowing quite what to say.
“You know that Father Stephen is a great friend of the Bishop and a rising star in the diocese. I, alas, am not.”
Loretta glared at him, her very expression demanding more.
Father Leon got up from his chair and walked to the window, looking out and away from both Sisters.
“The priesthood is a call from God, and in that domain I have the same power as any other priest, indeed the same power as the Bishop. But the priesthood is also a human institution. In that, I’m afraid, I’m very inept. I learned long ago that I have no power among men, not only with this Bishop but with his predecessor. You think the Bishop would listen to me about Father Stephen, but you’re wrong. The Bishop is much more likely to be angry at me. Nor, if I raised the issue with the Bishop and there were retaliation, could I protect either of you.”
Father Stephen, untouchable because he was a rising star; Loretta found the thought intolerable.
Father Leon’s raw honesty might have been disarming, but Loretta was simply confused. Father Leon was about her father’s age. Her father would simply never have said anything so shamefully revealing.
Katie sat slumped in her chair, lost in her own thoughts. She left the task of doing battle to Loretta, whose voice took on a sudden edge.
“Why do you stay then, if they don’t listen to you and if you can’t stand up for what’s right?”
Father Leon was still looking out the window, not meeting either of their eyes. His voice, when he spoke, stayed quiet, not rising to Loretta’s provocation.
“I have a prayer life, and in that life I think God is still calling me to be His priest. I have the power, in the name of God, to bring absolution to people who are suffering. I never wanted to be anything other than a priest. I think I do help people look for what is right, but in God’s world. I pray every day that God finds what I am able to do enough.” He added, with very human tinge of bitterness, “I know the Bishop doesn’t.”
Katie suddenly spoke, taking both Loretta and Father Leon aback with her vehemence. “Loretta, stop. Please stop. I need both of you right now. I can’t bear to hear you fighting.”
Father Leon and Loretta, unaware that they had been fighting, turned to Katie. She was trembling in her chair and looked about to dissolve into tears again.
Seemingly without speaking, they reached the same practical conclusion. The goal was to get Katie through the next several weeks, nothing more.
Father Leon came toward them both, having decided to use their familiar shared language of ritual to bring comfort. He proposed strengthening them with God’s blessing. He put a gentle hand on each of their heads and began to pray.
“In the name of the Father …”.