Bernard’s mood lightened suddenly and he began shushing Pauline, before lowering his voice and leaning his head over the table. “What you heard is true,” he told her with a mock-serious tone of voice. Then he confided that there really was a secret cabal of gay priests. The more she laughed, the more he furrowed his eyebrows and the deeper his mock-serious voice became. Pauline loved his melodrama. He described how they met under darkness in an ancient catacomb underneath the ruins of an old church. “We do not hold orgies,” he chided. “We sip tea, compare recipes, and rate the best and worst dressed at our services.”
Pauline started rolling. She made a scene, very much like in days of old when the two would amuse themselves in total oblivion to whatever else went on around them.
Then he went on to describe how slowly, one by one, each member of the cabal had left the catacomb, never to return. He compared it to Haydn’s ‘Farewell Symphony,’ where each of the musicians blew out their candles and left the stage, until only two remained.
“I’m one of the two,” he said. And then he added, “In a way, I sorted of aided my own extinction.”
In summers while in theology school, Bernard frequently traveled to Africa. On one trip, the family he stayed with introduced him to their local priest. He had seen the priest conduct service, but was unable to talk to him afterwards apart from a quick exchange of pleasantries. He recalled his host family’s anxiousness about the meeting, and how they went out of their way to say how much of a man of God their priest was and what a father figure he was for the community, and all that. Finally, they arrived at a house, which was not the church rectory.
“That’s when I learned that their local priest was married and had three children, two sons and a daughter.”
His friends had allowed him entry into the sanctum of a very different catacomb, he explained. “They took me in their confidence,” he said, “because I did not preach to them. I listened. I built up their trust.” But in contrast, he could not open up about his own catacomb. Bernard felt the usual unspoken prohibitions against the subject so he maintained his usual silence. “I was to be their mouthpiece, to help move the Church in the direction of allowing priests to marry, by saying how normal it all seemed.”
Pauline nodded. “Your ‘Cultures of the Church’ article series,” she said.
“Yes,” Bernard said. “Except, of course, I could not talk about my own culture.”
Bernard became wistful again, his pupils lingering to the left, gazing out the window and into the street. A man in tight jeans went by and he sighed. A time existed when he did go to the clubs, dressed as raunchy as possible so that no one could discern his true identity. Not wearing the collar didn’t seem good enough. He had to look like he had never set foot in a church ever. He realized it was a guilt thing, but it was also part of his scene. He usually sought a Daddy to whip him into shape. If Daddy dressed as a priest, who would then beat a confession out of him, all the better. Good times, he thought.
“The stories I could tell,” he said aloud.
Pauline could finish his thoughts for him. He smiled.
“But seriously,” Pauline said, “what are you going to do now? If you don’t get married, they’ll think you’re one of the creeps molesting the boys, is that it?”
“Yep. Maybe I could just tell my stories, fuck it. Write about Catholicism and gay leather culture. Deal with it!”
“Or! Or! I have another plan. I could start a mail-order bride service for gay priests! You know, like when we tried to help people escape sexual oppression by marrying them to help them get US citizenship? It would be just like that!”
“How many lesbians do you think you’d be able to find willing to marry a priest?”
“Will you marry me?”
“Sorry, Sport, I’m married. Legally.”
“Damn! Well, yeah. You never know. I might find some somewhere. It could happen.”
His eyes wondered again. A man in leather walked by. Bernard turned his head and allowed his gaze to linger until the man turned the corner.
“You know something,” Bernard said. “This is what I’ve been thinking about. I was OK with the celibacy thing when the playing field was level. Now it’s not level. Get married, or get persecuted, that’s what I get. It sucks, Pauline, f-ing sucks. I don’t like this unequal shit. And of course this ain’t gonna address the whole pedophile scandal. The subtly of consensual adults having sex versus an adult abusing a minor somehow escapes the Vatican. So now the pedophiles will just get married and carry on as before. A lot of sick fucks are married, you know. That doesn’t mean shit. The more I think about it, the more pissed I get.
“Maybe I was the guy ranting in the Vatican. Maybe that was me in the ratty clothes screaming like the lunatic I’ve become, because I can’t do what I love and what I’ve spent my life training for anymore because some people think I’m icky. Maybe I just got sick of the whole damn thing and decided to call it out for what it is: bullshit.”
“Strong words from a priest,” Pauline said.
“They’re about to get a whole lot stronger. I think I’ll go to Rome.”
“What? And do what?”
“Find out who he was. Support him. Defend him. Learn from him. I can’t live my life a lie in the name of something I’m not sure about anymore, Pauline. I can’t do it.”
“Wow, Sport. Will you really ditch the collar?”
“I might. I’ll just drop it off at St. Peter’s. Or better still, maybe I’ll give it to the man who was ranting. He deserves it more than I do. He’s not living a lie. He’s preaching the truth.”
She gave him a hug and a kiss.
When walking out of the café, he looked up and down the street, wondering where the guy with the tight leather pants disappeared. Pauline told him that the Eagle recently reopened. He wondered if his ratty clothes would still fit him.
“If not,” Pauline said, “go to ‘Out of the Closet’ and get some more.”
“Let’s do it,” Bernard said.
He felt the need for another confessional at the end of his Daddy’s whip.
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.