Pamela York Klainer
Regina did come back to see Sister Loretta, but not before Mother Superior summoned Loretta to the main office for a talk. Loretta had no idea how Mother knew about Regina, but she did, almost down to the last detail.
“Sister Loretta, this is very serious for us. If the Bishop hears that Regina’s mother is even considering an abortion, I’m afraid he’ll order me to expel the child from school immediately. I understand such an exception would go through the court system, asking for a medical exemption based on the danger to Regina’s mental health. Such a public proceeding would surely reach the ears of the Bishop. I’m wondering if I should move preemptively now, and call Regina’s mother in to tell her Regina can’t come back. No matter what the family does next, the girl is really a very bad example to the others.”
Loretta treaded carefully. “But Regina is our student. She’s been with us since kindergarten. So has Dermott, for that matter. Regina’s mother is acting out of panic. I’ve only spoken to her once, but I’m sure there’s room for us to work with her more quietly to see if we can find a solution.”
Mother Superior stiffened. “Abortion is a sin, Sister Loretta. So is premarital sex. This girl is fourteen. What was she thinking? I know the family. Her parents would never countenance such loose behavior. Frankly, I’m shocked.”
Loretta felt her ire flare at Mother’s readiness to heap all the blame on Regina. She also heard in Mother’s remarks that Regina’s father seeing another woman and living away from his family was still a secret.
“Mother, I understand your questioning Regina’s judgment. But don’t we need to look at Dermott’s behavior? He’s older, and bears responsibility too.”
Mother’s eyes narrowed. “Dermott’s father heads the Bishop’s Annual Fund, you know that. This is a good Catholic family, generous to the Church and to us here at the school. The Quinn boys are well brought up. The girl must have led him on. Girls that age are so foolish.”
Loretta felt Mother edging toward a decision, which she moved quickly to forestall. “Would you please wait until I’ve talked with Regina again, and hopefully with her mother? This situation has only just come to light. Regina is very frightened. No one is asking her what she wants to do. Her mother and aunt are overwhelming her. How Regina handles this will affect the rest of her life. We need to support her in finding a way through.”
Mother’s voice turned icy. “There is only one thing for Regina to do. She’ll go away and have the baby. We can refer her to one of the homes for unwed mothers run by our Sisters. Then, if the family can’t keep the baby, it will be adopted. Regina has some serious penance to do. She has committed a grave sin, and is contemplating another. This is not a new situation, Sister Loretta, although it may be new to you. Our Sisters have many decades of caring for young women who have fallen from grace in this grievous way. A good Catholic family is, alas, no bulwark against the actions of a wilful child.”
“I’ll wait until the end of the week to call Regina’s mother and father. But I must warn you, Sister Loretta. You are not to deviate from our Church teaching when you are talking with Regina or her mother. I need to be able to tell the Bishop that we upheld the faith at every moment while dealing with this matter.”
Loretta nodded. She sat for a moment, wondering if she could risk pushing one step further. Everything told her not to. She took a deep breathe, and did anyway. “I know you will be calling Dermott and his family in as well to talk about his responsibility in getting Regina pregnant, if in fact she is. I wonder if I might sit in?”
Mother Superior stood, arms stiff and fists balled up against her desk, her cheeks a brilliant red. One short, sharp word signalled the end of the conversation.
Loretta didn’t know if that meant Mother wouldn’t be speaking with Dermott and his family, or if it meant that she, Loretta, was unwelcome in any further conversation. She suspected the former.
She stood as well, meeting Mother’s angry stare without flinching. “Thank you for the time until the end of the week. I’ll let you know what’s happening before then, once I’ve talked with Regina.”
Regina came at the end of the same day, without being summoned, after most other students had gone home. She sunk into one of Loretta’s soft, low chairs, her face the picture of misery and her voice barely a whisper.
“I am pregnant. My aunt arranged for me to have a test. She and my mother are talking about what to do now. They want me to talk to a judge and say I’m going to kill myself.”
Loretta, sitting across from Regina in another low chair, leaned forward. “Regina, has anyone asked you what you want?”
Regina shook her head. “I just wanted to be Dermott’s girl. I wasn’t thinking about having a baby. Dermott said it would be okay because I took the pill, and I thought he knew. I thought it would be all right.”
Loretta pressed forward, gently. “But you know that a girl can get pregnant if she has sex, right? Has your mother talked to you about that?”
Regina shook her head. “No. She said when I got my first period that I was a woman now, and there were things we’d talk about when I was older. I know about sex a little because the other girls talk about it, and some of them have magazines they hide in their lockers. I didn’t know it would hurt. Dermott didn’t say it would hurt. He said it would feel nice.”
“When it hurt, did you ask Dermott to stop?”
Regina was weeping softly now. “Sister, I didn’t tell him. I thought if it was supposed to feel nice and it didn’t to me that I wasn’t doing it right, and I didn’t want Dermott to know I didn’t know how to do it.”
Loretta sat back into the cushions of her chair, thinking of the weight of the Bishop’s judgment, and Mother Superior’s, coming down on this child. She considered Mother’s admonition that she uphold the teachings of the Church.
She looked at the weeping girl in front of her.
“Regina, you have a very difficult decision in front of you, and it’s made much harder by the fact that you are young and still in the care of your mother. I’m sure your father will be involved too, even though he isn’t living with you right now, and he may have feelings different from your mother and your aunt. I can help you see what your choices are, and they are limited. You can have the baby and perhaps your mother will relent and help you raise him or her. You can have the baby and enter into an adoption. Or you can try to get an abortion, but to do that you’ll have to tell a judge that you’ll kill yourself if forced to go forward with the pregnancy. Even then, a judge’s approval for the procedure isn’t a given.”
Regina’s eyes grew wide, and her body began to shake.
“I can help you decide what you want, and support you when you tell your mother and father what you want to do and ask for their help. I’ll be there with you if you want. We can meet right here in my office. Even though this is a much bigger decision than you ever thought of making right now, you have to make it, and soon. Whatever happens next has to be something you can live with. This is not the end of your life, although it may feel that way right now. We can find a way for you to go forward.”
Loretta paused, knowing what she had to say next and hesitating to say it. Then she did.
“Regina, I want to talk with Dermott. May I have your permission to do that?”