Bernard kept a cutout newspaper article folded and stuffed in his wallet. The article’s story went like this:
A middle-aged man with mottled skin and ratty clothes pushed his way through the throngs entering and exiting St. Peter’s Square until he stood in a fairly obscure spot between a street vendor and traffic sign just inside the entrance to the hallowed plaza. He then raised his arm, pointed at St. Peter’s and began yelling at the top of his lungs, “What does this have to do with Jesus?” over and over again. At first passers-by tried ignoring the man by conspicuously diverting their glances elsewhere, though eventually a crowd formed around him. Some began shouting at him. “How dare you!” “Bigot!” “Stop it!” “You’re ruining my holy visit!” cried one distraught woman, who had travelled, the report said, all the way from Duluth in hopes of receiving blessings from the pope. No one approached him at first, but then a few young fellows out to prove their mettle tried to lower the man’s arm and calm him down. They failed. He spun on his heels and his arm popped back into position, just like Dr. Strangelove’s, and his rant continued unabated and unchanged: “What does this have to do with Jesus?”
The Vatican Corps eventually rushed over and stopped the man, just after he finished his 58th repetition (someone had counted, the report said). Onlookers cheered as they threw his decrepit ass into the paddy wagon. The article quoted some people saying that he began muttering the Our Father once apprehended. And it said others claimed that he continued his rant unrepentantly, only in softer tones. Who he was and he reasons for shouting blasphemy at the heart of the Church remained untold.
Bernard thought it safer saving the story as a newspaper cutout stuffed in his wallet rather than as a PDF on his computer or smartphone, something more easily discoverable. But he absolutely wanted to save it. He had spent his whole life on the secret fringes of the Church, an outsider who nonetheless held the title of priest. Thus, even before his own difficulties with the Church began in earnest, he felt a kinship with the unknown ranter. He assumed the guy to be a member of the flock, and not Joe Random Outsider, as some in the press tried to portray him. Bernard knew better. Only a member who felt that his love of the Church had been betrayed would carry on in such a manner.
Pope Benedict’s resignation trigged the crisis for Bernard. He never dealt well with change, so once the tweet came out, his anxieties kicked in. Change required reconnoitering to maintain balance and stability. It meant having to learn a new crop of tricks and poses to please potential new masters. Such things became tiring after a while, though Bernard knew he had no choice.
As had happened when Pope John Paul II died, talk soon circulated that the new pope may come from outside of Europe, from South America or Africa. An African pope gained currency in Bernard’s circle. Many of them saw it as the perfect response to America’s first African American president, whom they loathed as anti-Catholic. That Bernard voted for the “anti-Catholic” never once crossed their minds, thanks to his tricks and poses. His vote never bothered him seriously, because he knew it stood in line with the majority of Catholic voters. But his colleagues wish for an African pope gave Bernard pause, and he found himself at odds with those feelings. Did not Desmond Tutu, someone he venerated, once call for an African pope? He knew how important it would be symbolically, but he saw dangers for himself and his position if such a thing ever came to pass. He prayed fervently to move passed those feelings and to accept the course of events as they came.
Then the events came. The new pope was not only African, but Kenyan as well, and Bernard echoed the words of many who declared that the Lord does indeed work in strange and mysterious ways.
He smiled as parishioners and colleagues alike cried genuine tears of glee upon the announcement soon after the white smoke appeared. And he shared in those emotions. But then, in the privacy of his rectory, he cried about the fate of his own future mixed with a fear of what others might see in his heart if they knew of his foreboding.
“I’m not a bigot!” he declared as he sobbed uncontrollably.
Six months after the new pope took office, the man did his rant at St. Peter’s. Bernard had the article with him when he visited his friend Pauline in San Francisco. Going to San Francisco, his birth home, never bothered him in the past. Now it scared the shit out of him. But Pauline was the only person in the universe who would understand, even if she could not help him in the way he needed, and he really, really needed to see her.
She invited him to stay in her home, but he demurred. She understood.
“Cathy understands, doesn’t she?” he said to her nervously when they went out for coffee.
“Of course she does,” Pauline said.
“I don’t want her to think that I’m disrespecting you two. I’m looking forward to dinner. It’s just that the way things are right now. . .”
“Don’t sweat it,” she said. “I put her in the picture and she gets it. She’s an honorary now, so she knows the ins and outs. I think she even learned how to cross herself properly.”
Bernard giggled. The highlight for him when he officiated at the wake for Pauline’s mother was seeing Cathy crossing herself backwards with her left hand. He knew she didn’t know any better and it made him want to giggle.
“Well I’m glad to hear that!” he said.
Then he took out his wallet and unfolded the clipping to give to Pauline. She took it and read it quietly for a moment, before folding it and giving it back to him.
“Yeah, I heard about this,” she said. “Did they ever find out who it was?”
“I was too scared to google it on the church computer. I was hoping you had a laptop I could borrow. I want to learn his story.”
“Do you think he’s a member of the club?” she asked.
“Not sure. Don’t know.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Pauline said.
Bernard only nodded. She took his hand across the table.
To be continued. . .
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.