Disclaimer: I rarely do this, but it was important for me to clarify that this is a story about a person who abuses his authority and position. It is not, in any way, an attack or criticism of priests or anyone who enters the religious life. The character, and the situation portrayed, is entirely fictional.
There was nothing Father Matthews loved better than a Saturday afternoon of listening to the sins of his parishioners. Although he managed to maintain the veneer of the wise counselor and the fount of forgiveness that his role as a priest dictated, he secretly feasted on the failings of others.
Oh, most times the so-called sins were so mundane that he had trouble paying attention and pretending to care about someone’s “bad thoughts” a steadily used euphemism for sexual longing, or their displays of remorse over anger, inattention, or jealousy. It was just all so petty and normal and, well, human. However, every now and then someone came in with a sin that was really delicious, something he could truly feed upon.
Ah, there was that sweet, young woman, Sarah, who struggled so with the guilt she felt over her affection for a married man, another member of the parish. James Wilson was a family man, a good husband, a steady church goer, and as it turned out, a lying cheat. She had berated herself mercilessly throughout her confession. Father Matthews had comforted her, reassured her that such feelings were normal, even if somewhat inappropriate, especially in one so young. She was beginning to experience all the range of emotions that came with womanhood. She eagerly embraced the rather severe penance of saying ten Our Fathers every time she found herself fantasizing about the man, a punishment that Father Matthews guessed would that almost certainly keep her illicit lover on the front burner of her mind. She cried in gratitude at the priest’s firm but understanding nature.
After that, it was nothing to seek out these two faithful congregants separately and ask each of them to serve on the Parish Council that met every Thursday evening. Their weekly contact with each other brought her back to Father Matthews within the month, broken and sobbing over the consummation of their affair. Father Matthews listened gleefully as Sarah told him of the affair in rather graphic and sordid detail, adding to his enjoyment and perhaps helping her to feel she had more thoroughly cleansed her soul.
Sarah was battered by her guilt, her sense of failure, and her conflicting desire to continue the illicit affair. The good Father did his duty and listened patiently to her torment distracted only by the passing thought that maybe someday she might consider seducing a priest, before he granted her forgiveness and gave her a penance of saying one Hail Mary for every day that the illicit relationship continued, dedicated to the wife of the man with whom she was having the affair. Even closed off inside the confessional, he could hear her sobbing in the pew outside as she knelt and prayed for guidance.
Guidance came quickly apparently as Sarah sought him out on an afternoon one week later during a time when he spent an hour strolling the parish grounds trying to look prayerful. She approached him with a sense of purpose and asked if they could speak.
“Father Matthews, I ended my relationship, um, the relationship we spoke of in confession.”
“I’m glad, Sarah,” he said trying to mask his disappointment. “I’m sure that you will find relief in turning from that which was giving you so much pain.”
“I hope so, Father, but I also have a favor to ask,” she said as she pulled a small bundle of notes from her purse, tied together with yellow yarn. “These are notes that were given to me by James, and I find that I can’t bear to have them around and yet haven’t been able to just throw them in the trash. Would you please take them from me and dispose of them however you see fit? It would be such a relief to have them out of my hands. Even since I broke it off, I find myself going back to them and it’s just…just too painful to even look at them.”
He felt a rush of desire as she offered him the package. Oh, what a delicious night of reading those naughty notes would give him–the entire history of their sinful romance all told (he hoped) in the most graphic and vulnerable detail. It took all of his will to not to snatch the notes away from her. Instead though, he put on his most solemn demeanor, one to be used by the bearer of bad news.
“Sarah, the road to redemption is a hard one. It certainly would be easy for me to relieve you of your notes and to toss them in the fire tonight, but I think you are forgetting the depth of the sins you have committed, against God and against this man’s wife.”
Her lip began to quiver as she withdrew the letters and stared at him, in fearful anticipation. “But, Father…”
“Have you not considered that your final confession should really be to James’s wife? Isn’t she the one whose forgiveness you should seek, now that I have given you God’s forgiveness? Isn’t she the person with whom you should share these letters? Doesn’t she deserve to know the truth?”
She was crying freely now, her head downcast. “I-I’d be ruined. James would be…their marriage. I would destroy them both.”
“Sarah,” he said, the gentleness returning to his demeanor, “on the contrary. You’d be giving them a chance to redeem their marriage. Do you think she would really want to spend the rest of her life living a lie with this man? And you’d be giving James a final gift, the chance to seek the forgiveness that you have already received.”
He could see her struggling with her desire to protect herself, her lover, her reputation, the illusion that she could walk away from her sin, but his words wormed their way into her soul, and she collapsed against him sobbing.
He held her closely feeling her pert breasts pushing up against his chest until she had cried away her indecision and stepped back to face him once again. She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and tried to compose herself.
“Y-You are right. You warned me that redemption is hard. I know that what you are telling me is the right thing to do. I-I just hope I have the courage to face her. I fear I may be too weak. I’ve already fallen once.”
He summoned his look of kind forgiveness and held his hand against her cheek. “Sarah, my child, you are a righteous woman. You broke with God this one time, and now you have a chance to mend every part of this one sin. This final step will be the one that sets you free.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and reached out and took his hands in hers. “Thank you, Father. Your words have been a constant source of wisdom and guidance for me.” She looked up at him with her beautiful and guileless dark eyes. “You’ve given me the strength to do the right thing.”
“My child,” he said as he reached out and touched her cheek, “your goodness was always going to guide you down the right path. I’m just a simple helper. Go with God, now.”
As she strode slowly, heavily away from him, he admired her firm, rounded behind. Of course, she was carrying a burden now, the one he had given her. He considered that she would soon wreak havoc on the lives of two more of his flock, two more poor souls who might seek out his comfort. It really had been quite the trifecta for him. He decided to celebrate with one more circuit of the church grounds before heading back to the rectory.
As he passed by the church, he admired the new stained-glass windows glinting in the sun, reflecting the warm and forgiving light of the Lord.