PART ONE: BLESS ME, FATHER
CODE OF CANNON LAW: CHAPTER 2 Can. 983 1 The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or any manner for any reason.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned,” the raspy, feminine voice whispered from behind the confessional veil.
Father Anton snapped awake as if someone had splashed cold water onto his face. He didn’t recall hearing anyone enter the confessional, but that didn’t surprise him. The pain medicine had a way of doing that to him. Besides, the old priest thought again, he had been sitting in the dark confessional for over half an hour and no one had come in to confess until now. He could have simply dozed off while saying his prayers. He hated to admit it, but he had done it before. He prayed God would forgive him.
“It’s been ten years since my last confession,” the unfamiliar voice went on.
Father Anton was alert now. What the woman had said troubled him. “Ten years, my dear child?” He repeated her words. Out of the corner of his eye, he could barely make out the faint outline of the person who whispered in his ear.
“Yes, Father. Ten years.”
“Why have you stayed away so long?” he asked, but immediately wished he hadn’t. “The important thing is that you’re here now,” he recovered quickly, not wanting to scare her off. Even a layman would realize that something significant must have compelled her to come in after all these years. “Go on,” he encouraged her.
“It’s about my husband.”
“What about him?”
The woman seemed to hesitate.
He decided to prod her hoping she would open up to him. “What is it that you want to tell me, my child?”
“I hate him, Father. I hate him with all my heart.”
Father Anton had heard a lot worse in his lifetime, but he was still concerned. “Hate is a very strong word.” He tried not to sound like he was scolding.
“I’m sorry, Father, but I can’t lie. That would be a sin. Wouldn’t it?”
The response seemed a bit flip, but the priest brushed it aside and tried to find out what was troubling the woman. “Why do you feel that way about him?” he asked.
“Because he’s no good.” The reply came back almost too quickly this time. “He uses people.”
“Everyone. Me,” she stammered.
“Did he do something to you?” he asked, expecting the worse.
“What didn’t he do to me?” The woman forced a nervous laugh, but Father Anton sensed there was nothing funny about her situation.
“He’s cheated on me. He’s lied to me. He’s forced me to do things with others.” She paused before she went on. Her voice was barely audible now.
Father Anton leaned closer so he could hear her.
“And if I didn’t do what he said, he’d beat me. Sometimes with his fists. Sometimes with his belt.”
Father Anton cringed at the woman’s account. Fearing it would only get worse, he knew he had to try to help her.
“I’m not sure I can take it any longer. I’m afraid he might really hurt me.”
Father Anton could hear the desperation in the woman’s voice. The faint odor of alcohol was on her breath. “There are people who can help you, my child,” he tried to give her some hope. “We can help you.”
“No.” I don’t think anyone can help me, Father.” The woman seemed adamant. “I feel so alone.”
“But you’re not,” the priest tried to persuade her.
“Yes. I am. I’m afraid…” The words seemed to die in the woman’s throat. She tried again.” I’m afraid I’m going to have to do this myself.”
“Do what?” he asked. Father Anton wasn’t certain what she meant by the remark. “What do you have to do?” he urged her to explain. He waited for a response, but there was none. “Don’t do something you will regret later,” he counseled her, growing more concerned with each passing second. “Ma’am. Are you still there? Ma’am?”
Father Anton wasn’t sure what was going on. Had the woman fainted? He worried. Or worse? He needed to find out. His body ached and his bones cracked as he rose to his feet. The second back surgery had not gone as well as the doctors had hoped. His mobility was less, the pain worse, and the pills didn’t help as much as they once had.
Father Anton reached for the canes that were propped up beside him, but quickly decided against them. He wasn’t an invalid yet. He could at least step out of the confessional and see if the woman was all right without using those damn things, he chided himself as he shuffled around to the penitent’s side of the confessional.
“Ma’am,” he called out one last time as he pushed the curtain aside, but surprisingly no one was there. The confessional, a steepled, wooden booth just off the main altar, was empty. Wondering where she could have gone, he looked out across the empty pews just as the heavy doors at the front of the church clanged shut. Had she left?
“Is someone there?” he called out hoping she hadn’t, but it wasn’t the woman who answered him
“It’s that front door again, Father. The wind nearly blew it off its hinges. We really need to get a new one. I don’t know how much longer we can keep fixing it.”
“We need a lot of things,” Father Anton replied.
Donald, the lay deacon the diocese had sent out to help him, reminded him of that fact nearly every day. He even kept a laundry list in the office of everything that needed to be done. A new roof. A new furnace. Organ repair. Plumbing. Painting. The old country church was beautiful, but it was crumbling before his eyes and he didn’t have the money to fix it.
“Did someone just leave?” Father Anton asked as he turned his attention back to the woman.
“Some lady,” he replied.
“Do you know who she was?”
The deacon shook his head. “Never saw her before.”
“Did she say anything?”
“Nothing, Father,” he replied simply.
While Deacon Don went about the business of preparing for the evening Mass, Father Anton pushed open the bulky door and peaked his head outside. A stiff, spring breeze greeted him and ruffled his thinning hair. No sign of the woman, he quickly concluded, but a handful of parishioners, mostly elderly couples, were slowly making their way up the sidewalk. The parking lot was relatively empty with just a smattering of cars. While he stood there watching, a few more vehicles turned into the lot just as a dark sedan pulled away and onto the county road that led to the main highway. Father Anton watched the car disappear through the still leafless trees that bordered the road. For some reason he was certain that the woman was inside.
“Bishop Welch will be visiting the parish tomorrow for Sunday Mass,” Father Anton reminded the congregation for the umpteenth time as the last refrain from the processional hymn died away in the half-empty church. He was afraid he was sounding anxious, but desperate times called for desperate actions he recalled the old saying, doubting if he would come up with anything more fitting on his own. There was no denying that St. Rose was on the brink of closing and he blamed himself for having not done enough over the years to save her. He knew he was just a simple priest who had never been any good at raising money. Without a good turnout tomorrow for the Bishop’s visit, he was afraid St. Rose’s would be no more.
He wasn’t certain if it was the Bishop’s upcoming visit or the woman from the confessional that had unhinged him this evening, but he had a hard time focusing during Mass. The sermon was especially difficult, even though he had recounted John’s gospel about the Samaritan woman at the well more times than he could remember. He caught himself rambling several times during the sermon as he scanned the congregation from the pulpit looking for the penitent. Like the woman at the well, she obviously needed help, but the priest was afraid he had done nothing for her.
He had not seen her face behind the confessional screen, but from her voice, he had a picture of the woman inside his head. Only few if any in his aging congregation came close to what it was. She sounded younger than most of his parishioners. Mature, but not old. A newcomer? The priest wondered, but he knew that was unlikely. They had been few and far between over the past few years.
He hated to admit it, but funerals had become a lot more common than baptisms lately. As he watched his congregation filed slowly out of church, it was evident that everyone in the rural Maryland parish near the Chesapeake Bay was growing old including himself; a mismatch of government retirees from nearby D.C., local businessmen, weathered watermen, and elderly farmers.
Father Anton had never been very socially adept, which was a drawback for a priest. Few people stopped him on his way to the sacristy to change. Only a handful of older women, mostly widowers, lingered and politely asked about his health. He lied and said he was doing better, hoping to put a damper on the church gossip, but he made certain that everyone had left before he struggled to get out of his vestments that were worn and frayed just like himself. Changing took a while and nearly exhausted him, but he refused to let anyone help him. Once dressed in his black suit and Roman collar, he inspected himself in front of the mirror to ensure that he looked presentable, although he doubted anyone would be around to notice. The slightly hunched figure that stared back at him was still handsome despite his years and the grey in his hair that had once been jet black.
The sun was beginning to set when stepped outside the old country church that was situated atop a small hill overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. A flock of geese flew noisily overhead shattering the stillness. With nothing scheduled for this evening in the church hall, he headed straight to the rectory next door where he lived. Not every step was a challenge, but most were even with his canes. Still, he enjoyed the walk and being outside.
After a relatively mild winter, spring was late again this year and the breeze coming off the water was chilly and damp. But there were signs of new life. Crocuses, daffodils and tulips sprouted from the once frozen ground. The grass was starting to grow and would have to be mowed soon; another expense that the church couldn’t afford just like the live-in housekeeper who had been replaced by a cleaning service that came in only on Fridays. But even with his bad back, he kept the rectory, a small, red brick dwelling, tidy and neat. He cooked for himself too, a chore he had learned from his mother at a young age and had never minded.
Father Anton planned to fix a large breakfast for the Bishop tomorrow after Mass so he didn’t feel like cooking for himself this evening. Instead, he warmed up some pasta that he had made the day before. While his meal simmered on the stove, he pulled a brand new bottle of Irish whiskey out of the cabinet. He had purchased the alcohol for the Bishop’s visit, but one shot wouldn’t hurt he assured himself. Besides, the pain pills were beginning to wear off and he knew he’d need a little something extra tonight to help him sleep.
Knowing that he couldn’t put if off any longer, he sat down at the kitchen table and opened up the report that the diocese had completed on St. Rose. Not much more than ten pages counting the cover, it had come in the mail several days ago, but he hadn’t had the nerve to read it yet. With the Bishop’s visit tomorrow, he needed to know what it said. Father Anton poured himself a shot and turned to the summary at the back:
The parish had operated in the red for the last eighteen months
Collections were down 50 percent over the past 10 years
Mass attendance had fallen 40 percent over the same period
Most parishioners were white and over age 50; few were Hispanics or Afro-American
He had been at St. Rose, his first and only parish, for over twenty years. The assignment had taken him longer than most to get. Now, he was afraid that he was going to lose it and he didn’t know what else he could do.
Father Anton reached behind him and turned off the burner on the stove. Suddenly, he didn’t have much of an appetite and dumped the pasta in the trash. Despite the relatively early hour, he decided to turn in, ignoring the semifinals of the NCAA tournament that he had followed religiously the past few weeks. He changed into a fresh pair of pajamas and climbed into bed.
He said his prayers while lying flat on his back, staring at the cracks in the ceiling as he tried to make some sense out of it all.
The sirens jolted him awake. Fire trucks. Police cars. Ambulances. Not just one, but several screaming down Highway 6 just a few miles away. Father Anton blinked the sleep from his eyes and glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. Almost midnight. He had been asleep for only a few hours.
The sounds continued at a fever pitch and finally seemed to come to rest not far away. A car accident? A fire? The priest couldn’t tell which. He just prayed it wasn’t one of his parishioners.
Wide awake now, Father Anton eased his legs off the bed as if they were cast in concrete. Using his left arm as a support, he struggled to sit up. The pain shot up his back like a fire poker. He held his breath until it subsided and then reached for his trousers on the bed post. He put them on and rose to his feet. Trembling from the discomfort, he made his way to the closet. He grabbed a sweater off a hanger and slipped it on. No need to put on his Roman collar, he decided. It was dark and besides everyone would know who he was. The southern tip of Bay County was as closely-knit a community as they come.
As he headed out of the rectory, Father Anton stooped to grab the small, black bag near the door that he kept there for tragedies such as this. Not unlike what country doctors used on house calls years ago, but stocked with a holy water vial, prayer book, rosary and holy oil, it was for saving souls, not lives. He prayed he wouldn’t have to use it tonight. Stepping outside, he headed over to his five-year old Honda Civic that was parked in the driveway. He started the engine and then switched on the defroster to clear away the coating, more mist than frost that had covered the windshield. In less than a minute, he was making his way down the deserted country road. He could see the flames in the Southern sky as soon as he reached the highway that cut through the heart of the county.
After having lived in Bay County for over twenty years, Father Anton knew the area well. Tonight, even from a distance, he judged that the fire was coming from the Blackwell’s, a once prosperous farm that sloped gently to the Bay. He was no stranger to the place, having known the occupants well, and the possibility that another tragedy had occurred there tore at his heart. But he brushed the feelings aside and tried not to get ahead of himself. He had to find out what had happened.
After a few miles, he took a hard left onto a county road that ran down to the water, but he didn’t get far. A convoy of rescue vehicles blocked the road ahead, their bright lights nearly blinding him. Father Anton squinted to see through the smoke that hung heavy in the night air just as an ambulance, its red lights flashing, its siren blaring, shot out of the darkness barreling towards him. Father Anton braked hard and swung the wheel to the right to get out of its path. He lurched to a stop in an open field.
The jolt took the breath out of him, but his emotions were even more overwhelming. He feared someone was hurt or dying. He had to help. Realizing he couldn’t go any further in his car, Father Anton turned off the car’s engine. He’d have to go on foot the rest of the way. Grabbing his cane and his bag, he struggled to get out of the car. The smoke from the fire and the fumes from the idling fire trucks nearly knocked him over.
“Father, is that you?” he heard a voice call out.
The priest turned to see a lady approaching him. He peered into the haze unable to make out who it was.
“It’s Izzie Stockton,” she called out.
Father Anton was glad to see a familiar face. He knew the Stockton’s who lived just down the road from the Blackwell’s and attended St. Rose. “Do you know what happened?” he asked her as she drew near.
The tall, middle-aged woman who wore a man’s raincoat over her pajamas appeared dazed by the question as if she didn’t know how to begin to explain. “It’s terrible,” she gasped. “Simply terrible.”
“Are people hurt?”
“The Tidd’s,” she replied.
“Who?” The name didn’t mean anything to the priest.
“They’re renters. They moved in just last fall. They just took her away in the ambulance. They think her husband is dead.”
“Oh, My God!” Father Anton gasped as he quickly made the sign of the cross. A cold chill ran down his spine. Tragedy had struck a man and his wife just hours after he had heard a disturbing confession about a domestic dispute. Was it the same woman or just a coincidence? “Do you know what happened?” he asked, frantic for answers.
“We really don’t know. Fred was getting ready for bed after the eleven o’clock news ended when he saw flames coming out of the Blackwell’s garage. He told me to call 911 and ran over to see if he could help.”
Mrs. Stockton took a deep breath and went on. “He found Elaine in the apartment over the garage that they’ve been renting from Adam. She was alive, but barely. Then, he found her husband, Scott, shot in the back of the head. It’s so sad.” She grew emotional as tears welled in her eyes. “They seemed to be such nice people.”
Father Anton felt the urge to console her, but he was afraid that would have to wait. “How about Adam? Is he all right?” he asked instead as his mind raced from one thought to another. The youngest Blackwell was like a son to him. He had helped him bury his mother a few years back.
“I think Adam’s all right,” Mrs. Stockton stammered, but she didn’t seem sure of her answer.
“You think so?”
“I really haven’t had the chance to talk to him, but I think he’s with Fred. The police wanted to talk to both of them.”
Father Anton struggled to think in the chaos that confronted him as flames shot even higher into the night’s sky. He wasn’t certain what he could do here as the army of rescue workers and police officers swarmed the road and yard ahead. Elaine had told him that the man was dead, but the woman in the ambulance was alive. There still could be time to administer the Last Rites to her.
“If you see Adam, tell him that I’ll call him later,” Father Anton told her as he turned to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do for the wife,” he called to her. He hurried back to his car as fast as he could, trying not to slip on the damp ground. If it was the woman from the confessional, he vowed not to fail her this time.
Spinning viciously, the Civic’s rear wheels sank into the soft ground as Father Anton gunned the engine. He feared he was stuck, but then miraculously the tires took hold and the car lurched forward out of the soggy field and onto the gravel road, barely missing another police cruiser that had just turned in.
Father Anton breathed a sigh of relief that he was finally on his way, but when reached the highway the fleeting ambulance was nowhere in sight. Even the sirens were a faint whisper in the distance. Knowing that he had to hurry, he sped toward Bay Town, twenty miles to the north, where the nearest hospital was located. They must have taken her there, he told himself as he jammed his foot to the floor.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” he began to pray as he willed every ounce of speed out of the well-travelled Honda. The steering wheel shook violently in his hands as he sped into town. The plastic cup holder on the dashboard rattled relentlessly. The oncoming traffic zipped past on the two-lane road, shaking the compact and nearly blinding him with their headlights. Horns blared as he dared to pass one car and then another.
Somehow, he managed to avoid an accident. He caught up to the ambulance just as it reached the outskirts of the county seat and maneuvered down the narrow brick streets toward the aging hospital that overlooked one of the many creeks that fed into the Bay. Father Anton parked out front. Ignoring the pain in his back, he hurried over to the ambulance. He prayed there was still time to bless the woman and to absolve her of her sins.
“I’m Father Anton,” he called out as the rear doors swung open and a burly, black attendant jumped down. “I’m the pastor of St. Rose. How is she?” he asked. He prayed she was still alive.
The attendant shook his head and looked away, not meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry, Father. She didn’t make it. She died on the way to the hospital,” he broke the news.
Father Anton felt the air rush out of him. He had witnessed death countless times before, but this one tore at him. Had he failed her again? He agonized. Afraid that he was too late to save her soul, he desperately began to pray over the woman’s body as the two attendants lifted the stretcher from the back of the ambulance and carried her inside the hospital. He made the sign of the cross and blessed her one last time, then stood watching as they disappeared behind a set of double doors.
He didn’t know how long he stood there, staring at the neon EMERGENCY ROOM sign as if in a daze, trying to grasp what had taken place the past few hours. Father Anton had questions, but no answers. Was the woman who died the same woman from the confessional? Had she taken matters into her own hands as she had told him she would? Had he done everything he could to prevent it from happening?
Other ambulances came and left. Patients filed in an out. Finally, he told himself that he needed to snap out of it. He couldn’t stay there all night. He decided to head home, but this time he took his time as he fell in behind the steady stream of the late night traffic heading south out of town. He called Adam on his cell phone as he drove, but no one answered. Praying he was all right, he left a voice mail asking him to call.
He swung by the Blackwell farm on the way home just to be sure, but the rescue vehicles and police cars, more than even before, blocked the entrance. The lights were on at the Stockton’s just down the road so he turned in there instead. Izzie met him at the door of the simple, brick rambler when he knocked.
“Father. How is..,” Lizzie began to ask, but the priest shook his head before she could
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “She didn’t make it. The ambulance attendants said she died in route.”
“Oh, my God! Not Elaine too,” Lizzie gasped. “How could this have happened?”
Father Anton was afraid he didn’t know himself. “How is your husband doing?” he asked.
Lizzie lowered her voice as she glanced behind her. “It was hard on him. What he saw, I mean. He just got back from talking with the police. He was with them for nearly an hour. He got all worked up. He said a reporter and cameraman from the newspaper were up there too. I finally gave him a shot of brandy and had him lie down.”
Father Anton understood all too well what Fred must be going through. He had no intention of bothering him. “How about Adam?” he asked, hoping Izzie knew what had become of his young friend.
“Fred said that the police were talking to him too, but I have no idea where he is now. It was such a circus up there with all the trucks and police cars. Then on top of it, people started stopping alongside the road to see what was going on. The bars had just closed so there were a bunch a drunks too. Fred said he just wanted to get out of there. Adam probably thought the same thing and just took off.”
“Well, if you see him tell him to call me.”
“I will, Father.”
“And see that Fred gets some rest,” Father Anton advised her as he began to draw away. “You too.”
“I will, Father,” she vowed again. “Please pray for us.”
The church and the surrounding building were all dark when he arrived back at St. Rose’s a few minutes later. Exhausted from the ordeal of the past few hours, he knew he should go to bed and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day, he reminded himself. The Bishop would be arriving in only a few hours, but instead of returning to the rectory he headed over to the church instead. He had something else he needed to do before he would be able to rest. Having forgotten to leave any lights on when he left, he fumbled in the dark for his keys to unlock the front doors and then switched on the lights over the altar.
He genuflected and knelt down. Crossing himself, he began to pray. He prayed that God would forgive the woman for her sins and for any harm that she had done. And he asked God to forgive him for not having done more to save her.
With the traditional black biretta perched atop his head and firmly grasping an ornate staff in his hand, Bishop Welch posed for pictures with the admiring parishioners at the rear of the church. Obviously in his glory at being the center of attention, the Bishop smiled broadly while Father Anton stood quietly at his side, joining in the photos only when asked. Last night’s tragedy showed in the pastor’s face and weighed heavily on his mind so he wasn’t the least bit upset that everyone ignored him. In fact, he preferred it. Having been up all night he was exhausted and sore, but pleased that his flock had turned out this morning, packing the country church for Sunday Mass as if it was Christmas. They had lined the walls of the old country church and even spilled over onto the sidewalk outside. Maybe there was hope that St. Rose’s could be saved after all. Even if the woman hadn’t been.
The more he thought about it Father Anton still wasn’t certain that the deceased was the same woman who had gone to confession the night before, but he was afraid that it was. The headline in the Annapolis Herald that he had pulled up on his cell phone while he waited for the Bishop to arrive this morning had sent a chill down his spine. To him the similarities were striking and seemed more than a mere coincidence.
Two Deaths in Bay County
Two people died during a fire at a Bay County residence early Sunday morning in what eye witnesses say appears to be a murder-suicide.
According to a Bay County spokesman, police received a call around 11:45 P.M. Saturday night of a fire in a garage apartment at the southern tip of Bay County just off of Route Six. Inside, they found a man dead from apparent gunshot wounds and a woman in critical condition from what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds. The woman later died in route to the Bay Town Hospital.
Izzie Stockton, a neighbor, called 911 after her husband, Fred, noticed flames coming out of an upstairs apartment, which is located on the Blackwell Farm in South County. He went over and discovered the bodies inside the burning unit. The blaze was extinguished by the county fire department, but the structure appears to be a total loss.
Police did not release the names of the deceased. Further details are expected to be released pending notification of the family.
Praying that God would give him the insight to understand the tragedy that had occurred, Father Anton didn’t realize that Bishop Welch was trying to get his attention. His Excellency had grown tired of the picture taking and hand shaking and needed to be rescued. Father Brian, the Bishop’s top aide, had gone with Deacon Don over to the church office to tally up the day’s collections so it was up to him to see what he wanted. The pastor hurried over when his Excellency finally caught his eye.
“Ready for breakfast,” he interrupted the gathering. “You must be starved, Your Excellency.”
Breakfast with the new Bishop was a sore point with the congregation. Both the local Knights of Columbus and the ladies auxiliary had wanted to host a big breakfast for everyone in the church hall, but Father Anton thought otherwise. Bishop Welch was picky about his food and the parish meals tended to be cold and bland. More importantly, he needed some time alone with the Bishop, which was hard to come by since Father Brian seldom left his side. He knew the conversation about the future of St. Rose would be frank and candid and he wanted to prevent the gossip from spreading throughout the parish prematurely.
After changing out of their vestments into their traditional black garb with a white Roman collar, the clerics headed over to the rectory to eat, enjoying the bright spring morning on their walk over. Father Anton had set the table in the kitchen so that they could talk while he cooked, but the Bishop was in no hurry to get down to business. While the pastor put the aging percolator that he had gotten on e-bay on the stove, the Bishop told the story about the priest who had been pulled over by the police for drunk driving. Although he didn’t admit it, Father Anton had heard the joke several times before. He had even used it once in a sermon himself, but he still managed to laugh at the punch line about Our Lord turning water into wine.
Despite his slender frame, the Bishop ate hungrily when the food was ready. He easily devoured half a dozen beer-battered pancakes, smothered in butter and maple syrup, and a couple of pork sausages that Father Anton had purchased especially for the occasion from the local Amish market in nearby Upper Marlboro. Finally, Bishop Welch pushed himself away from the table and patted his firm belly. As if on cue, Father Anton retrieved the bottle of Irish whiskey that he had opened last night and poured the Bishop a shot and one for himself. He desperately wanted to confide in someone about last night’s tragedy, but he sensed the Bishop wasn’t the one. Besides, he had other things that he needed to discuss with His Excellency.
“I guess it’s time to talk,” Bishop Welch began as he sipped at his drink. “About St. Rose,” he added after a lengthy pause.
Father Anton leaned forward, hanging on his every word. Sitting across from each other, the differences between the two men couldn’t have been more apparent. The pastor, although not overweight, was a large man with a wide, pleasant face, while the Bishop was small in stature like a banshee rooster with sharp, pointed features.
The other differences between the two were not as apparent. Bishop Welch was five years the pastor’s junior and had followed him at St. John’s Seminary just outside of Baltimore. An obvious extravert, he was a master politician having risen quickly through the ranks. He was already being talked about as being a candidate for Cardinal in the future, even though he had only been a Bishop for less than a year.
The shy Father Anton, on the other hand, had never been ambitious. He had no pretensions. All he ever wanted was his own parish and to administer to the faithful. Dealing with the diocese in Baltimore and raising money for the Church were a challenge for him. Even he had to admit that he was a dinosaur who had never quite adapted to the changing world, which is probably why he had assigned him to St. Rose in the first place. The farthest parish from the diocese in Charm City, in many ways the county church was like an outpost on the western frontier where Methodist and Baptist churches dotted the landscape.
“I assume you’ve read the report?” the Bishop asked him like a teacher checking to see if the students had done their homework.
Despite their differences in age, Father Anton always felt like a schoolboy in his presence. “Yes, of course,” he replied as if the answer was obvious, although he just finished reading it last night. He took a sip of whiskey, but quickly put it down when he noticed that his hands were shaking. He hoped the Bishop hadn’t notice.
“Then nothing that I’m going to say about the current state of St. Rose should come as a surprise to you. Should it?”
“I was hoping there was still some hope.”