Kathleen

by

Pamela York Klainer

Katie wouldn’t talk to Loretta after the episode in Father Stephen’s office, at least not until Father Stephen told Katie he most certainly wouldn’t leave the priesthood to marry her.

Katie thought he would, which revealed her naivete about men.

Katie and Loretta were back meeting in Loretta’s office, with the low light of lamps and the quiet emptiness of a high school building after the students and faculty were gone. Coiled cigarette smoke filled the air, their shared habit more soothing now to Loretta than to Katie.

“Did he rape you, Katie? Did he force you?”

“No. No, Loretta. It wasn’t like that. I thought he loved me. He made me feel important. He said God created this attraction between men and women, so it couldn’t be wrong. He said God would love us just the same, and that vows were just about rules to keep people apart, and God’s love was stronger than that.”

Loretta didn’t like Father Stephen anyway, and now she liked him less. “I think he’s a creep.”

“He isn’t, Loretta. But he said people need him in the priesthood, and to leave just for selfish reasons would be wrong.” Katie began to weep, her shoulders shaking with sobs. “I would have left religious life for him. I really would. I thought we were going to be together, maybe have a family. I thought that’s what he wanted.”

Loretta was a fighter, and she wanted to confront Father Stephen for hurting Katie.

“You have to tell, Katie. You can’t let him get away with this. You did something wrong but so did he. And there he is on Sundays at Mass, telling people how to behave. And hearing confessions. What a fake. He’s a fake and a liar.”

Katie’s sobs subsided, and her whispered voice sounded hopeless. “I can’t. He told me not to dare tell anyone because no one will believe me. He said the Bishop is behind him. Some families of the high school girls complained to the Bishop about Stephen touching the girls in the wrong way, and the Bishop won’t hear of it. He says young ladies need to learn self control and modest behavior. The Bishop says Stephen is handsome and that it’s the work of the devil when women are attracted to him and try to draw him away from his vows.”

Loretta thought the Bishop not wanting to hear stories about priests like Father Stephen was probably true. A priest in her home parish was well known among all the girls for putting a pencil in the deep front pocket of his black trousers, and then asking one of the girls to reach in and get it. Loretta never did, but the girls who did said they could feel Father’s thing all big and hard, and sometimes he even took their wrists and jammed the hand down even farther and wouldn’t let them take it out. Loretta told her mother, whose face froze. She told Loretta never to be alone with Father James, and under no circumstances to follow the order to put her hand in his pocket. But the onus was on Loretta, and on the girls. As far as she knew Loretta’s mother never said anything to Father James, or to the Bishop, and her friends’ mothers didn’t either.

Katie folded her arms around her knees, and began to rock back and forth. “I can’t even go to confession, because it would be to Stephen or one of the other priests, and they all know him. And I can’t take communion if I’m in a state of sin. Oh God, Loretta, what am I going to do?”

Loretta honestly didn’t know. Katie was right about confession. A nun couldn’t just announce she wanted to go to a different parish, see a different priest. Maybe Katie could sign up for a retreat somewhere, and find a priest far away who didn’t know Father Stephen. But what would she do in the meantime, when the Sisters filed out of their pew all together to take Communion? No one stayed behind. To do so would be to reveal yourself publicly as having fallen into a state of mortal sin.

“Katie, will you let me talk to Father Stephen? I don’t know yet what I’ll say, but I’ll figure out something.”

Katie burst into sobs again. “No Loretta, you can’t. He doesn’t like you. He told me so. He told me he can get any one of us transferred with no questions asked, even to a convent in another state. And Mother Superior would have nothing to say about it. He could send you away. Loretta, I’d die if you weren’t here. Please don’t talk to Stephen. He’d be so angry if he knew we were talking now. I don’t know what he might do. Please Loretta. You can’t.”

Loretta bit her lip to avoid saying what she really thought, and took the sobbing Katie in her arms. “OK, I won’t. But we have to do something. Katie, would you talk to Father Leon? He’s different from the others. I know he wouldn’t yell at you, or say you’re a bad person. I think he would help you.”

Katie pulled away from Loretta and began rocking back and forth again, moaning. “Oh God, Loretta, what am I going to do? I’m so ashamed.”

Loretta made her voice firm, because she too was beginning to feel desperate. “Katie, you have to. You’re going to see Father Stephen every day in the halls, and in meetings, and he can still make you come to his office because he’s head of the department. And you have to figure out what to do about Communion, because if you don’t go everyone will wonder why.”

Katie began grasping at straws. “Maybe I can just leave, and go home, and tell my family this life isn’t for me. Maybe that’s the right thing to do. Just leave, and I won’t hurt Stephen, and he won’t be angry at you, and nobody will know anything.”

Loretta shook her head. “You can’t run away from this, Katie. You had sex with a man. And you still love him even though he’s a creep and a bastard. If you don’t want to be a nun any more okay, but you can’t just leave and think Stephen will disappear from your mind and everything will go back the way it was before.”

Katie and Loretta sat together for a long time, neither one speaking. Finally Katie said in a small voice, barely audible, that she would talk with Father Leon but on one condition: that Loretta come with her for support.

Father Leon didn’t ask why the two young Sisters wanted to see him, or why it had to be in Sister Loretta’s office, and why it had to be in the late afternoon after everyone had gone home. He didn’t ask what the meeting was about, so that he could prepare. He didn’t ask anything. The good Father Leon simply came.

In fits and starts, punctuated by sobs, Katie blurted out her story while Loretta held her hand. Father Leon’s face was both sad and worried, and perhaps a little angry. When he spoke his voice was gentle, and without judgment. But his question had urgency, and was not what either Katie or Loretta expected.

“Sister Kathleen, did Father Stephen use any protection? Did he wear a condom, to keep you from getting pregnant?”

Katie looked stunned, and her face turned beet red. “But we only did it once.”

Father Leon nodded, and thought hard about what to say next.

4 thoughts on “Kathleen

  1. Oh my, I don’t see many choices for Katie in the 1960’s. Loretta was spot on in recommending the ever steady Father Leon. I am picturing him as a bit older and full of compassion and good advice. But…his recommendations for Katie are limited in light of her situation as a nun, in a convent, who has taken a vow of celibacy.

  2. for Joyce: There weren’t many options for women at all in that era, and surely not for nuns. We’ll have to see how the story progresses.

  3. It makes me wonder how many nuns left the convent for similar situations. Did you run across any interesting recollections during your conversations with old friends?

  4. for Nedra: My dear friend who was a nun for over 60 years was a therapist, and her client roster was almost all nuns and priests. Priests tended to be there for alcohol-related issues, and nuns to deal with sexual abuse – some before entering the convent, some after. And a classmate is a Maryknoll missionary in Africa. When they had young nuns coming out to the missions, they had to train them on how to avoid being raped, often by priests. In the height of the AIDS epidemic, men assumed that young nuns coming from America would not be infected.

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