The Good Priest – By Gregory F. Farrell

It was 7 PM and old  Monsignor Fallon sat  at the big oak desk in the den of the Rectory. It had been a long day already and it was not yet over. The Rectory was silent except for the ticking of the  grandfather clock in the hall, and the purring of the scruffy orange tabby cat  who was sleeping curled up on top of the desk.

The tabby had made room for himself next to a large file folder which the Monsignor had placed in the middle of the desk and was trying not to look at. Fallon reached out and petted the cat, which responded by increasing the volume of its purrs.

The day had not been going well even before the Fallon had received  the file. It had started as usual with the Monsignor performing 8am Mass to the handful of senior citizens who had ventured out on this cold snowy February day.  After Mass, Fallon drove his battered old Toyota to St. Joseph’s hospital. The car slid so much through the snow, that he realized it was time to finally get some new tires for the old rust bucket.

Once at the hospital the Monsignor had to perform Last Rites for two separate patients. The first was for a 94 year-old woman who had finally succumbed to pneumonia. It was not really a sad occasion. She was surrounded by her large and loving family at the end, and after all, she had lived a very long life.

The second patient however, was an entirely different mater. A 17 year old girl who had been driving very carefully home from the Mall in her parent’s car  the prior afternoon was hit by a drunk driving a Chevrolet Suburban. The drunk was fine, but the girl was in a coma and not expected to survive the day. The prognosis  was so bad that the family asked the Monsignor to perform last rites. It was heartbreaking to even look down at the battered girl who was hooked up to an array of  I.V. tubes and breathing equipment.

The girl’s uncle was a police detective named Sean Ryan. He was also a member of the church and Monsignor Fallon knew him well from various church functions. They got coffee in the hospital cafeteria.

“I arrested the drunk personally,” said Ryan.

“Well, I guess that’s something,” replied the Monsignor.

“No. It’s nothing. I am tired of arresting people after something happens. What good does that do? I want to be able to prevent things from happening. Do you know this guy had six prior tickets for drunk driving? Six! It was just a matter of time before something like this happened, but the system kept letting this guy go.”

There was not really anything the Monsignor could say to help, so the men parted and Fallon continued on his rounds visiting patients in the hospital. That’s when he heard Father Manzo calling to him from down the hall.

Monsignor Fallon sighed. He hated Father Manzo. Fallon knew it was wrong to actually hate another man of the cloth, but Manzo was just an annoying little shit. He was only 28 years old, and he was the Bishop’s right hand man. It was well know that any “suggestion” or “recommendation” by Father Manzo was actually a direct order from the Bishop himself.

Manzo was Bishop Ercolino’s “No” man. The Bishop was very clever in this. A lot of Bishop’s surrounded themselves with “yes men”, but a “no man” was actually much more useful. No bad news ever came directly from Bishop Ercolino. It was Father Manzo who would tell the hospital there were no funds available for a new pediatric wing. It was Manzo who said “no” to a senior center in the parish, or a Kindergarten program at the school.

Of course Monsignor Fallon and all the other Monsignors and Priests in the diocese realized that the Bishop was playing Manzo for a fool. Bishop Ercolino had big plans for himself in the Church.  He a very clever politician, and he was well on his way to being Cardinal Ercolino someday.  To do that he wanted to be popular with the public and well like in Rome.

It was  Father Manzo who privately delivered any bad news, but it was Bishop Ercolino who very publicly delivered all good news.  When Catholic High won the State  Lacrosse championship, it was the Bishop who presented the trophy while the T.V. cameras rolled.  When the Governor decided to have a prayer breakfast, it was Bishop Ercolino who was seated right next to him at the head table, and made the front page of every paper in the State. Of course the biggest prize of all was when the Pope himself toured the State last Winter. When the Pope’s flight out was delayed due to snow, he could have stayed anywhere overnight, but he chose to stay at Bishop Ercolino’s residence to wait out the storm.

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“Monsignor!”

Fallon realized that Father Manzo had been standing next to him speaking, while Fallon had let his mind drift into thoughts about the Bishop. Fallon hoped this was just his way of avoiding Manzo rather than an early sign of senility.

“As I was saying, I have some good new for you,”  continued Manzo. “The Bishop is going to be sending a good priest to help in your parish. He can take a lot of the wight off your shoulders. For years you have been asking for help and now it has arrived! All you have to do is monitor him, write a formal report and then he is there full time to help you.”

Monsignor was immediately suspicious about getting good news from Father Manzo. Then he realized something odd about the wording Manzo had used.  “What do you mean ‘monitor’? And what kind of report?  Monsignor Fallon in the past had sometimes had priests come and help out for a while, and there was never anything said about monitoring or reports.

That’s when Manzo explained that there had been certain “allegations” made about this good priest. Mazo gave Fallon the file folder about the priest and said, “As you know Church handles these matters internally, just as it has done for thousands or years. This file is the full investigation of these allegations. It is all rumor and innuendo.  However, we do think it is best to transfer him to a new parish to stop the rumors, and protect the reputation of both the Church and this good priest. He will come to your parish and you will monitor him just to make sure there are no problems. Then write a report to me stating everything is fine and we can close this file permanently.”

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Monsignor Fallon reached across the desk and opened the file once more. He carefully re-read everything in it for the third time. These were more than mere “allegations”. The parents of three separate children had made complaints to the Church that their boys had been abused by this “good priest”. None of the parents had gone to the police, trusting that the Church would handle the matter properly.

None of these children were in the same grades and the children did not even know each other. However the stories were all remarkably similar. When the “good priest” had been asked about the allegations, he admitted being alone with each of the boys for considerable periods of time, even though there was no logical reason for him to have been. He kept repeating  that the boys must have somehow misinterpreted his completely natural concern for their development as good Christians.

The tabby cat got up walked across the desk to be petted. Monsignor realized that over the years he had come to appreciate animals more and people less.  Animals were always very direct. It was humans that lied. In reading through the file there was no doubt about who was telling the truth and who was not.

Monsignor Fallon slid open the top drawer of the desk and found his address book. After a short search he found the number he was looking for and dialed.

“Detective Ryan. This is Monsignor Fallon. Remember how this morning you were taking about how you would like to be able to prevent future crimes? Well I have a detailed file about a child molester, which the police need to see. Yes, yes I can meet you at the police station right now. I will drive over and meet you in the lobby in about 20 minutes.”

Monsignor Fallon gave the cat one last pat, and then picked up the file.

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A year and a half later Monsignor Fallon was once again sitting behind the big oak desk in the den of the rectory. It was summer and the windows were open to a warm breeze. The meadow behind the church was filling up with people setting up tales and grills for the annual church picnic.  The Monsignor was trying to finish up some work on the church finances before going out to join the picnic. The big tabby cat had already deserted him and gone outside to steal food scraps from the picnic.

A lot had happened in the last year and a half. The pedophile priest was now behind bars in isolation, scared of the day when he might be forced into the prison’s general population. It was well known what happens to child molesters in prison.

Bishop Ercolino had actually turned the scandal to his advantage. He vowed to be the one who finally “cleaned up the Catholic Church” and made sure to work vigorously with the police to help get the priest convicted.

Of course, somebody in the Church had to take the fall for the Church’s attempted cover-up. That someone was Father Manzo.  It was Manzo who had not turned over the original file to the police. It was Manzo who had tried to have the priest transferred to Monsignor Fallon’s parish. In reality, everything Manzo  had done was done at the direction of the Bishop, but there was nothing in the records that even suggested the Bishop’s involvement.

But even in the public outrage, Father Manzo never tried to implicate the Bishop. He kept his mouth shut and took the rap in a way which would have made any Mafia Don proud.  After he testified for the prosecution, the Church quietly  transferred him to a mission in central Africa working with AIDS victims.

Bishop Ercolino was more popular than ever with the public. At last they had found a man who they could trust to make some changes within the church. The Pope was so  impressed that Ercolino was promoted to be Archbishop of New York. One short step from Cardinal.

Archbishop Ercolino was angry at Monsignor Fallon, but Ercolino was too smart to waste his time trying to take revenge. He would just leave Fallon alone in his little suburban parish.

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Monsignor Fallon gave up trying to make sense of the parish financial records and turned off the computer. He got up and went outside to join his parishioners at the picnic. As he walked around the tables everyone greeted him warmly.

In the Catholic Church the title Monsignor has an odd connotation. You get no extra power or privileges with the title. When an old priest reaches a certain age and it is obvious he will rise no further in the hierarchy he is given the title Monsignor as a sort of consolation prize.

But Fallon had never cared about moving up in the church. He had gotten everything he ever wanted. He walked through the picnic and smiled at the people he cared so very deeply about. He was, after all, a very good priest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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