Pamela York Klainer
Unlike Father Stephen, who played The Young Prince in all aspects of his priestly calling, Father Leon had range. Father Leon was gentle and compassionate at the bedside of a dying child. He was surprisingly strict with his catechism class of unruly small boys. Without using jargon like “transference” he guided recent widows and divorcees to understand that he was not a suitable substitute for their lost life partners, no matter how emotionally attached to him they felt. He had a dry and witty sense of humor, which he let out most freely when passing leisure hours with his spinster sister playing Scrabble.
With Sister Kathleen, bolstered as always by her friend Sister Loretta, Father Leon was calm and businesslike.
“First we need to find out for sure if you are pregnant. If you’ve missed two cycles I assume the answer is yes, but we need to know. There is an outpatient clinic in the city where a pregnancy test can be done quickly and discreetly. I may even be able to take you there on Sunday afternoon, when the clinic is not open to the public. The medical director is a former student of mine.”
“If the answer is yes, you have a very difficult decision to make. If you would like to continue the pregnancy and become a mother, your life as a Sister is over, effective immediately. If you do not want to continue the pregnancy, there is a gynecological surgeon at our hospital who will perform a D&C for young women who have heavy bleeding and excessive cramping. He will not ask if you’ve had a pregnancy test, and you will not offer the information. Getting you precisely to him, rather than any other doctor in the practice, will take some finesse with Mother Superior, but you will leave that to me. And if you take this path, the operation will be a D&C, nothing more, or the doctor could lose his job and face serious consequences with his medical license. You will never be able to call Father Stephen to account for his role in the pregnancy, because there will have been no pregnancy. The surgical record will show a medical condition that needs to be treated with a common procedure.”
Seeing that Katie looked shell shocked, and that she was gripping Loretta’s hand tightly enough to cause both of their fingers to turn white, Father Leon paused.
“I’m sorry to be so blunt. But time is of the essence. After two months the window for a discreet D&C is closing, should that be your choice.”
“Sister, have you spoken to your mother or anyone in your family? You may need their support in making this decision, and after.”
Katie’s face went from ashen to beet red. “No. I can’t tell my mother. I can’t. She would be so ashamed of me. And she’d tell my father, and he would be so angry and say I let him down.”
Katie continued, her words tumbling out in an agitated rush. “If I’m pregnant I don’t want to be. I don’t want this thing inside me. I don’t care what I have to do. I want someone to get it out. I know that right now.”
Loretta, who hadn’t spoken, looked troubled and confused. “But Father Leon, if Katie goes to the surgeon that will get rid of the baby. It is a baby, right, even if it’s little?”
Father Leon took a deep, audible breath and sighed. “If we could only invite God to sit with us here, and tell us what His will is for Sister Kathleen, it would be easier. But we have to be the voice of God for each other. I would say that if Sister Kathleen decides to have the procedure, she also has to find in the depths of her heart that God wants her to continue to serve him as a Sister, rather than becoming a mother. If that’s so, then this sad choice is the only way to honor that call to remain in religiously vowed life.”
Katie began to weep softly. “But if I do a terrible thing will God want me any more?”
Father Leon closed his eyes and began to rock slightly back and forth. “Sister Kathleen, I don’t make you a nun, nor does the Bishop, nor does Mother Superior or the Order. God calls a young woman to be a nun. God called you to be a nun. You are a nun. Did you think, when you had sex with Father Stephen, that God was calling you in a different direction?”
Katie wept harder. “Stephen said so. But I wasn’t thinking about God that day. I was only thinking about Stephen.”
Father Leon stifled the surge of anger toward his fellow priest. If Father Stephen were here, Father Leon’s words to him would have been very different from the message being given to Katie. The words, given Father Stephen’s clear pattern of behavior, would have been harsh. But Father Leon wasn’t facing a couple seeking his counsel, only a young woman who, whatever she did going forward, would face the brunt of her actions alone.
Loretta’s racing mind suddenly went in a direction she hardly expected. Still holding Katie’s hand, she gave Father Leon a piercing look. “This has happened before, hasn’t it? Because you know exactly what to do, and you already know people who are willing to help Katie.”
Father Leon moved his head from side to side, suddenly aware that he was tensing his neck and shoulders and that the muscles were cramping and sending pain signals to his brain. His voice, when he answered Loretta, was calmer than he felt.
“Yes. It has happened before.”
“With a nun? Has it happened with someone like Katie?”
Father Leon paused, not sure how far he wanted to go down this path. But he felt the sheer force of Loretta’s insistence.
“Not with a nun. But with a priest, yes. And I can’t say who. I’m sorry. I can’t say if it was Father Stephen.”
Loretta frowned. “And if you got caught doing this you’d be in trouble too, not just the surgeon?”
The question hung heavy in the air, and Father Leon answered it without the words being spoken.
“I do it because I can’t change the Father Stephens of the world, and I can’t change how our Church sees the lives of women. I believe God calls me to be with suffering people at the most difficult points in their lives, and to help them discern God’s path. I will never place dogma over human conscience.”
Father Leon paused, and when he resumed speaking his voice was unexpectedly tart. “And I think we all need to be more humble about assuming we know the mind of God.”
He turned to Katie. “Today is Thursday. I will make the appointment for Sunday afternoon, and I will tell Mother I’ve asked you and Sister Loretta to come with me on a pastoral call. We should have the results very soon, and we can decide from there. In the meantime, I suggest we ask God in all humility to show us the right path.”
Loretta wished Katie hadn’t called the baby “it”.
Katie wished she could go back in time.
Father Leon wished the Bishop would stop covering for men like Father Stephen.
Father Stephen, the Young Prince of Rome, continued to shine.