“Master Frank, it is time to go eat with the Priest.”
Frank lifted his head off the table and scowled at me. However, he knew his duty and pulled himself together. He ordered a cup of espresso and dispatched it quickly. Then we went back to our car.
“Jack, what the hell does this Priest do?”
“He is a Jesuit priest and works in the Corps of Gendarmerie. That is like the U.S. Government's FBI and CIA all rolled into one. Over the last sixty years there have been numerous rumors of the Vatican being involved in espionage.”
Frank sat with his head back in the seat and asked me if any of it had been substantiated. I told him no. Just the odd news article in second rate papers or TV shows.
“Well, let’s see what this damn priest has to say” and with that he closed his eyes.
After another six and a half minutes we pulled up to the desolate convent. Frank told me to find the Priest and bring him to the car. “That will give me a chance to get my eyes open.”
Open they were when the Priest jumped in the back seat and sat next to Frank. Monsignor Angelo Pietro was dressed in a black suit which made him look like a businessman except for the traditional tonsure collar.
Frank made an effort to sit up and greeted the Monsignor, “Good to see you, Padre. So are there any restaurants worth going to in this town?”
“Nothing that would ever make it in the Roma market, but I know of one that takes a little pride in their menu. I’ll text it to your robot friend and he can tell the car.”
About ten second later I got the info and ordered our car to go there. It was about four miles away on the outskirts of town.
“Monsignor, do you have any idea what got into your nuns?”
“Well, thankfully, they are not my nuns. I have taken vows of poverty and that includes claiming any ownership of my fellow Catholics. But this is something I have never seen before. Here and there we get a nun or priest who leaves the church. I have seen a couple of cases where a nun and priest have fallen in love and left together. It is very rare.”
“I understand the rarity. What did the ladies tell you?”
“That is the funny thing, Mr. Huntington, they really gave me no good reasons. They were very emotional about their new lack of faith, but they could not give me concrete example of what set them off.”
“No scandal? No pressure from above or internal split among the sisters?” Frank bluntly asked.
The Monsignor took a big breath and shook his head, “Nothing. All the emails and written correspondence hint at no division or issues. Have you interviewed them yet?”
“Yes, I saw them after talking to you.”
“What did you find out?”
“Well, like you, I heard no stories about how their faith started to wane. It all seemed to come on suddenly.”
“That is what I have gathered. I have heard of rare cases where something in food or bread has caused mass hallucinations or delusions. I have sent off samples of all the foods I found to Rome for analysis, but I have never heard of any food contaminants that could cause people to become atheists.”
“Well, I often thought Jack Daniels helped me become a reformed Christian” Frank said with a chuckle. The Monsignor let a small laugh escape, but then looked directly at Frank and asked him, “What are you going to write about this, Mr. Huntington?”
“I’m not sure. It all sounds nuts. It would be an easy story if they had a reason. One always wonders if sex had anything to do with it, but most of those women are old enough to be my great grandmother. I don’t sense any type of scandal.”
“Neither do I.”
“I take it you have talked to them, Monsignor?”
“Yes, I have talked to most of the women. At first they were more than open with me. By the time I came to investigate they had already settled down. The Bible burning and the smashing of religious artifacts was already done. Some of them seemed almost embarrassed by what they had done to the convent. They did not regret it, but they realized that it really did not do them any good.”
“Do you think they soon go their own way?”
“No, I think they feel a need to stick together. It would be more comfortable for the church if they just went back to their hometowns and disappeared. However, I think they feel they need to stay as a group – like an atheist convent. They seem emotionally very frail.”
“You are right about that. With the old Mother Superior taking her life they probably all need a shrink.”
“The Mother Superior killed herself! Oh, Sweet Jesus, have mercy on her soul.”
I thought the Monsignor looked a little shaken. Frank ignored his discomfort and asked a rather pointed question.
“Why did the church forcibly kick them out of the convent?”
“We had no choice. They were preaching to the locals that the church was a sham and the locals were angered at their attacks on their faith. Catholicism is very strong in small towns in Spain. They felt betrayed by these women who had been the town’s moral compass for centuries. If we had not evicted them the locals would have taken things into their own hands.”
“Sounds ugly. Are you going to restock the nunnery?”
“You make it sounds like we are running a poultry yard instead of a convent, Mr. Huntington.”
“Sorry, sometimes I don’t know how to phrase these things with tact, but are more nuns coming?”
“Not right away. A lot of restoration work needs to be done and I think a cooling off period is necessary.”
“What are you going to write about this, Mr. Huntington?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. Not that it is your business. I haven’t found an angle for this story that would make it realistic. Right now it is one of those stories where the reader would scratch his head and think the nuns all went off the deep end.”
“Thank you for your honesty. I just wanted to be sure you would not sensationalize it.”
“I work for the Wall Street Journal, not the National Enquirer. What the National Enquirer does after they see my article is anybody’s guess. They will probably blame aliens. ”
“I know I can’t ask you to not write about this. I have no right. Just remember that not everything the church does is out of self interest or for securing more donations. Most in the clergy wish to help our fellow humans find a way to be the best they can be. I am not sure these ladies know what is best for them or for humanity. They seem lost. They don’t believe in God, but they don’t believe in themselves either. I feel sorry for them.
“Is the church going to try and help them?”
“If it were up to me they would get help, but from what I gather my superiors will do is rather reactionary. That is off the record, by the way.”
“Sir,” I interjected,” here is the restaurant.”
“Good, I’m starved. After you Monsignor.”
Frank and Monsignor ordered their meals and a bottle of good local wine. Frank brought the conversation back to the topic at hand after the first sip of wine.
“How long have you been working for the church, Monsignor?”
“Sixteen years. Four in Roma.”
“From what my Jaic tells me you work for a pretty elite unit in the Vatican.”
“You know fifty years ago no one knew who worked for the Gendarmerie.”
“Well, that is probably a good thing. With all the technology being used against the common man it is nice to know that the common man has access to some of the same tools. The Internet is the only thing saving the common man from a world-wide dystopia.”
“You make it sound like your one of those conspiratorists who think even their toilet is listening to them.”
“The only thing that listens to me are my two Jacks – that thing over there and a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels.”
“Is it your atheism that drives you to the bottle?”
“I think it is my disgust with the species I happen to be part of. In my business I see so much self inflicted crap. Religious wars, superstition, greed, hate, suffering; and most of it is avoidable with just a little intelligence.”
“That is why we need the mercy of God.”
“Hey, if I fell for that I would just tell God to clean up his own mess. We are in His image, which I must say shows a lack of imagination on his part. What keeps you in the Church?”
“Maybe I am just blessed with a simpler mind. I can’t see how you can ignore a prime mover. The Universe still needs to make sense to me.”
“I have to admit that belief in an all powerful God is just as irrational as believing in String Theory or a lot of that Quantum mumbo jumbo, but those damn scientists keep finding ways to test their crazy theories eventually. Whereas the Bible is so full of stupid stuff it is barely readable to anyone with half a brain. I would think all the cherry picking that Christians do would drive even you to drink.”
“The Bible, like life, is confusing. God did not think to hand us a complete Bible. He revealed himself over many centuries and He continues to do so. And His instruments that He used to write down His Word were often not scholars but flawed ordinary men of humble beginnings. I like that fact that the Bible is imperfect. It is its strength, you know.”
“That is self evident by the way you can pretty much find your own opinions if you look hard enough.”
“Think of it like your country's Constitution. It continues to evolve and change with the times. Humankind is slowly growing up and the Bible stays relevant because of its imperfections and complexity. God can only reveal His Truth when humankind is ready to understand.”
“You are a clever Jesuit. I can see why you work for the Pope. What you are saying is that Christians can interpret the Bible any fucking way they want to.”
“No, Mr. Atheist. I am saying that as we grow up we will understand what is really God’s Word and intentions for us.”
Frank took his wine glass and empty it down fast and said, “I can’t argue with a moving goal post.”
“You can’t argue with the living Word.”
“So how does the ‘living word’ explain your wayward nuns?”
“As I said earlier, these nuns are a puzzle. They are adamant in their atheism but they know so little about atheism. They can put forward none of the cliché arguments your people make.”
“I sensed the same when I interviewed Miss Lopez. I have not talked to any of the others. I would have loved to talk to their Mother Superior, but that is now impossible.”
“You would have heard the same from her as you did from the sister. It is like they woke up with a disease. Religious amnesia, I guess you could call it.”
“Catchy – religious amnesia. Sorry, I didn’t mean to pun.”
“One expects that by a man who uses words for a living. How long have you been an ink stained wretch?”
“I’ve lost count, but it has made my life interesting. I have been able to go all over the world, much like you. Do you ever get tired of slinking around for the Papacy?”
“No. I don’t call it ‘slinking’, but I do love my work. I am almost tempted to say it is an addiction and worth several hundred ‘Hail Marys’ a week. It may sound old fashioned but I feel I am fighting the devil. A good fight makes one feel alive.”
“Have you ever fought someone whose ideas you were tempted by?”
“No. It would take someone with a richness of ideas to tempt me. Worldly wealth is no temptation to me.”
“No, Mr. Huntington. I am one of those who is not fixated or perhaps the word is ‘cursed’ with the need for hedonism. I am not stricken with what seems to be one of your needs.”
“Am I that transparent? No, don’t answer. I guess that was a rhetorical question.”
The food came and the two gentlemen enjoyed their meal and conversation. I guess I would describe the rest of the conversation as ‘light fencing’ with neither side revealing anything new as far as the nuns were concerned.
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