Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 19 – Dignissimus for the next terna
It was 6:00 A.M. by the time père Jacques had returned to his quarters at the seminary. He began editing the videos, all of which were only a few seconds in length. Within an hour, he had the videos and photos uploaded onto the server of his ad hoc website that he had been preparing since the gossip of the arrival of Father Alexámenos began to circulate. All he had to do was upload the index page. Père Jacques wanted to become a bishop, and thought that this proffering of what he thought was a credible accusation was what was needed to put him in the running. He wasn’t very good at Church politics.
Père Jacques grinned when he thought of how he had taken advantage of père Roger, following Toma from the Nunciature as he had. On his return, he had hardly been able to run through the shantytown to his car after he had taken the pictures, shaking with fear. He had lost his way twice when making his way through the maze of shanties. He was not at home with the poor. He was not a father.
Père Jacques included captions for all of the videos and still shots, easily twisting the reality of what had happened. He began with a video of Pòl making the distinct pattern of cuts next to the eyes of Father Alexámenos. The edited video made it appear that Pòl had immediately given the machete to Father Alexámenos. The caption read, “Catholic priest becomes voodoo priest.”
The next image was of Father Alexámenos giving a blessing to Simon when Simon, naked, still needed an exorcism, was covered in mud, had only the whites of his eyes showing, and was foaming at the mouth. The caption read, “Priest commands evil spirits to enter man.”
When Father Alexámenos, wearing his cassock, had given his trousers to Simon, who was in his right mind after the exorcism, a picture was taken of the trousers around the feet of Father Alexámenos, and a video taken of him kicking them off. The caption read, “Priest strips down.”
The next video showed Father Alexámenos stripping off his cassock and shirt, and then Estè embracing Father Alexámenos with his own, blood stained shirt half falling from her. The caption read “Priest has ‘consensual’ sex with a minor.” Père Jacques laughed when he realised that he had changed the order of events, so that with these images only showing the waist upwards, it would be assumed that Father Alexámenos did not have any trousers on when he removed his cassock.
These images were followed by pictures of the boys jumping on Father Alexámenos for a few seconds after he had given the crowd a blessing. The caption read, “Priest has orgy with boys.” Père Jacques knew that the boys’ boxing trunks were grossly oversized, and the fact that the trunks of one of the boys having slipped down a bit in this mayhem was not the priest’s fault.
“Pictures are like statistics,” père Jacques whispered to himself, congratulating himself for being a sophisticated anthropologist-priest. “Without a context, only liars believe statistics, and everyone, like me, is a liar. I’m one of the few who’s honest enough to know it. It’s just like my take on the new biblical studies. My criteria to judge an event’s historicity in the bible is the anthropological lowest common denominator. Whatever happens to me is what happens in the Gospel. Seeing anything other than this is damage control for the sake of political correctness. Being politically correct by believing the worst is the way to go. There are no miracles; there is no resurrection. There are always deeper strata of lies to discover. I’m an archaeologist.” He was parroting off what he expected on the exams he gave to the seminarians for each of his courses on Scripture, his ‘Liberation Applications’.
The web-page noted Father Alexámenos’ name and flight details, the name and diocese of his bishop in Louisiana, and finally that he had come to Haïti against the protestations of himself, the Rector of the seminary. Père Jacques thought that this would make himself look like a hero.
He made some minor changes to faxes – incredibly, they still used fax machines – which he had already prepared, alerting key individuals and offices as to the address and content of the web-site, as well as the urgency of the matter on civil, criminal, ecclesial, pastoral and especially diplomatic levels. “After all,” he explained, “he is at the Nunciature.”
Mass was set to begin in the seminary chapel. “The vice-Rector will start without me,” muttered the Rector to himself. All the faxes were now ready to go. He looked at his watch again, as if that would help him calculate the time in Rome. It was now 7:00 A.M., meaning that, at this time of year, it would now be 1:00 P.M. in Rome. Everyone would still be in their offices before lunch. “Perfect timing,” père Jacques exclaimed. He pressed the enter key on the keyboard of the computer to upload the new web-page, then turned to the other side of his desk and pressed the enter key on the console of the fax machine, sending the faxes through one after the other, all the numbers having been successively programmed. That technology was long out of date, but useful for some of those with whom he was dealing. He then wrote a note to the Nuncio: “The paper written by Alexámenos holds the Church to be the Whore of Babylon, but it seems that he is that whore.” He faxed this and ran off to the chapel. He walked into the sanctuary as he threw a stole around his neck. Outside of a stole, he never wore Mass vestments, just his street clothes. The opening prayer had just begun, meaning that he had missed the silence used for calling one’s sins to mind, followed by the penitential rite. He didn’t mind.
After Mass, père Jacques immediately rang Cardinal Fidèle, from whom the rumours of the impending arrival of Father Alexámenos in Haïti had first originated. He had provided Cardinal Fidèle with a computer when he was last in Rome, and knew that the Prelate would have to be talked through on how to open up the web-site. The Cardinal acted surprised, though he was already looking at colour printouts of the website, brought to him just moments before by a breathless Monsignor Sens. Cardinal Elzevir, the Secretary of State, had sent him over. Cardinal Fidèle had also been phoned by Cardinals Froben, de Colines and Francisco. Cardinal Fidèle pretended to be turning on the computer and to be going through the motions of opening up the web-site as père Jacques explained over the phone how to do these things, much to the amusement of Monsignor Sens, who was following the whole conversation. As usual, Cardinal Fidèle left the phone in speaker mode. He was abrupt with père Jacques, considering him to be a sycophant, a kind of person he thoroughly despised. He ended the conversation quickly, not making any comment about the matter. Cardinal Fidèle wondered why he heard from père Jacques, and not père Roger, as expected. This bothered him, but he couldn’t ask about it.
Père Jacques, with his contribution finished, was quite content. He went to breakfast, and then gave his ‘Liberation Applications’ lectures for that day, taking up all four class periods. After lunch, he went to his room and checked his answering machine, fax machine and email. No response had been made, even though he saw that his website had been visited many times.
He then perused the newspaper and it occurred to him that he had made a mistake. He hadn’t prepared anything for the news media in Haïti or the United States. Father Alexámenos was a United States citizen, and Americans, père Jacques knew, were still in the midst of witch hunt where no due process was allowed. Procedural improprieties of bishops only made it worse, and three of them risked prison for their role in the reassignment of abusers. Any report stating that Americans were exporting abuse by way of its priests would intensify hysteria. It would be a patriotic duty to be heroes by coming down hard.
Père Jacques spent the afternoon writing a letter for the media which would convince the editors of the story, something which would have to include, in his own mind, information about himself. When the letter was written, highlighting the link to the web-site, père Jacques spent hours sending it electronically to all the news organizations he could find on the internet.
The media would end up, however, ignoring père Jacques, though some did send reporters into what they called the ‘no-go’ zones of Port-au-Prince in order to verify the story. They would not publish it until they could match the backgrounds of the images sent to them by père Jacques with images that they themselves would take in daylight hours. Père Jacques would check and recheck his answering machine, fax machine and email – as well as the regular post – as the hours turned into days, and then weeks. No one contacted him, either from the Holy See, from the civil authorities, or the media, not even Archbishop Pòv or Archbishop Cromeu. He did not know how very helpful he was to Cardinal Fidèle.
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Cardinal Fidèle wanted nothing more, at this stage, than that episcopal conferences would be forced by their people into giving them the real explanation for the abuse crisis, namely, that the bishops had formed an entire generation of heretics who wouldn’t do anything except act out on the lack of truth with which they had been corrupted, starting with the instigation of gender-stripping with their rejection of the Church’s teaching against contraception in Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae vitae, followed lockstep by the creation of a homosexualist movement, itself followed lockstep by cowardly homosexualist activities with young men. But everyone involved, Cardinal Fidèle knew, would want an easy solution. This involved Father Alexámenos and his trial in Rome. The young priest was to be a scapegoat, a convincing one. Although Cardinal Fidèle regretted that this was counter-productive for his perspective on one level – having people be less open to the relativity of truth – he knew that the trial would achieve far reaching and more enduring consequences. Father Alexámenos’ approach to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Petrine Authority would be thoroughly suspect, and the Cardinal’s own theology of a relative importance of Revelation would take a stronger hold in seminaries and Catholic universities around the world. “You would intervene, if you existed,” muttered Cardinal Fidèle, half cynically, half sincerely, half to himself, half, perhaps, to God.
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Father Alexámenos saw the Missionary Sisters while returning to the Nunciature, but only greeted them, wanting them to find out everything on their own. After this, the now-ex-seminarian Leo, walking the streets in the early morning, trying to take in the events of the last few days, saw Father Alexámenos and thought he was a local priest who could give him something to do while he waited to return to Colombia. Father Alexámenos listened to him and said he would not forget him, and that he should speak with the Archbishop. Depending on what the Archbishop said, Father Alexámenos might send him to the Missionary Sisters who were always in great need of as many volunteers who could show up at any given time.
As they spoke, Father Alexámenos grabbed a stick from the road and, without looking, casually drew a fish, an “ichthus” in the dust, an outline of fish, (the letters in Greek – ἰχθυς – referring to Jesus Christ, God’s Son: Savior), and Leo a circle with a cross in it, with the cross beam at the top. “Pax…” said the one; “…in aeternum,” replied the other. Father Alexámenos had expected, “…et bonum,” instead of the usual reply to “Laudetur Iesus Christus…”
Father Alexámenos walked into the door of the Nunciature at 9:30 A.M., without having been stopped or questioned by the police. He was met at the door by père Roger, who had been trying unsuccessfully to ring Mari. She had turned off the phone he had given her years before. “Where in hell have you been?” he asked Father Alexámenos sarcastically, noting his dishevelled cassock had mud all over it.
Father Alexámenos answered père Roger’s question, saying, “Good morning… friend. I’ve been on an errand of mercy. I anointed and gave Holy Communion to a woman named Mari.”
Not knowing what Father Alexámenos meant – for no one had ever anointed or given Holy Communion to her on these errands, but had rather been humiliated – he asked, “Didn’t someone drive you there?” and, knowing the answer, rephrased his question: “How is it that you didn’t return the same way?” Père Roger had also been unsuccessful in trying to ring Toma.
“The car broke down,” answered Father Alexámenos.
Since père Roger was overly concerned with the way priests dressed, he only now noticed Father Alexámenos’ face, and so asked, “ What happened to your eyes?” Père Roger knew he had seen that pattern of cuts before, but couldn’t remember where. He hadn’t remembered seeing the decades old scars with the same pattern on the face of Father Alexámenos the previous evening, and couldn’t make the connection with the prostitutes at the brothel. It was all too much.
Before Father Alexámenos could say anything, the Nuncio, walking up to them, abruptly cut off the conversation, stating, “You must be Alexámenos.”
“Yes, I’m pleased to meet…”
“Come with me,” interrupted the Nuncio, who was already quickly walking away, adding, as he shook his head with a disgust typical of the Accademia Ecclesiastica, “You’re a mess.”
Père Jacques hadn’t sent a fax to père Roger, only to the Nuncio, who was himself trying to keep père Roger out of the affair. Père Roger’s activities in the Nunciature were already a source of embarrassment, and he wanted to play his role down at any cost, though not to the point of admitting to his own ineptitude in administration. The Nuncio had been cursing himself for the last two hours. “How is it that I never saw this danger before?”
Father Alexámenos followed the Nuncio into the kitchen, where the Prelate had been eating breakfast, wondering what to do.
“Sit down,” commanded the Nuncio.
Father Alexámenos did so, and asked, “What’s your name, your Grace?” forgetting that Cardinal Fidèle had mentioned it to him over the phone.
The Nuncio just looked at him, as if such a question was insolent, since everyone should know his name. He then said with disdain, “Archbishop Cromeu.” After a moment, he added, “We have pictures of your night’s filth. Are you proud of what you’ve done?”
“Regardless of any guilt or innocence,” replied Father Alexámenos, “I’ll need to have my trousers and cassock cleaned. They are full of mud… I have no shirt.” Since it was so hot, it didn’t strike him before that he had forgotten to ask Estè for his shirt.
The Nuncio didn’t answer, intent as he was on getting a confession.
“Clothing the naked is still a corporal work of mercy, your Grace,” added Father Alexámenos.
“You say that?” asked the Nuncio, incredulously.
“I really do need a shirt. And my trousers and cassock do need to be cleaned.” Father Alexámenos, thinking that he wasn’t being understood, added, “There is an explanation.”
“Tell it to your Confessor,” exclaimed the Nuncio. But Father Alexámenos could see that, this time, his words were understood. The Archbishop added, “Very well,” and left the room only to return with the required shirt and trousers. He dumped them on the table, saying, “Give your cassock and trousers to Jidit. She’ll return soon and have them dry cleaned immediately.”
The Nuncio was having second thoughts, thinking that there might actually be an explanation. Throughout his career, he had seen almost countless cases of such accusations, some of them accompanied by pictures. Yet, the vast majority of these cases had only been proved to be false. However, he had never seen pictures like these, and their provenance had never before come from such a reputable source, though he now despised père Jacques for having gone over his head, and regretted that he himself had already marked père Jacques as being dignissimus for the next terna, from which the next bishop for Haïti would be chosen.
It only took Father Alexámenos a minute to return, cassock and trousers in hand, leaving them on the table in the kitchen. The Nuncio had already left to go to his office. Father Alexámenos went and found his way back to the sacristy, where he replaced the oil stock and purified the empty pyx. Going into the sanctuary of the chapel, he knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. “Thank you, Lord,” he said. Even though he didn’t know how the situation was going to work out, he had the overwhelming impression that Christ had the matter well in hand, not just as an intellectual assent in Faith that this had to be the case, but because he somehow felt that Christ was putting the matter right in such a way that people were to be made to throw down their stones. He already felt as grateful as the adulterous woman in the Gospel of John felt as she saw the stones fall to the ground with only a few words being spoken by Christ. But he felt this way even while they were picking up the stones. He knew that setting things right might not happen in this world, that the stones might actually be thrown at him. He knew he deserved the worst of whatever might come his way because of the corruption of Adam’s sin which he had confirmed with his own personal sins, which, he thought, were countless. One thing he had never felt guilty for was the part he played in killing prisoners as a child soldier. Though the rebels had always held his hand over the mallets they used, he remembered the victims looking at him before they died… He could see that they knew he was a victim as well. Their compassion in the most tragic of circumstances kept him sane. Only real guilt brought him repentant to Christ.
He went back into the sacristy and found a chalice, the altar bread, and some water and wine. After vesting, he immediately started to offer Mass.
After twenty minutes, the Nuncio entered the sacristy with Archbishop Pòv of Port-au-Prince.
“He’s not here either,” said Archbishop Cromeu loudly. “We’ve looked everywhere.”
“You always look in the wrong places Cromeu,” said Archbishop Pòv. “You should try to look sub specie æternitatis.” He said this gazing into the sanctuary of the chapel. Father Alexámenos was just raising the Host after the consecration. Archbishop Pòv knelt down. The Nuncio remained standing, upset with the Mass Father Alexámenos was offering. Any doubt that Father Alexámenos might be innocent, that there was some sort of strange explanation for the images, vanished from the Nuncio’s head. He busied himself trying to think of how to reprimand Father Alexámenos about the images in a way that would impress Archbishop Pòv. He thought that surely Father Alexámenos would be finished shortly with the Mass.
Father Alexámenos, however, had become ‘distracted’ as he elevated the Host. The Holy Spirit was opening up to him the length and breadth, the height and depth of the living Church throughout time as he beheld the Body of Christ. It was not a vision. Instead, it was an invitation to be more aware of reality. He was given a clearer understanding of what it means that God walked upon this earth, gave Himself up for us, died for us, united us to Himself, and rose from the dead, bringing us to life, one with Him. Father Alexámenos was completely unaware, however, of the conversation that had gone on in the sacristy, though it echoed into the chapel.
Finally, Father Alexámenos genuflected and continued. Having raised the chalice after the second consecration, the experience was repeated. Father Alexámenos silently called out, “Father, forgive them.” This had nothing to do with his own situation. Instead, he was so much acting in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ, that this request was not his own, but that of Christ Himself. This was the very cry of Christ from the Cross, “Father, forgive them.” However strong this perspective would become during the Consecration, when he spoke in the first person – “This is my Body… This is my Blood…” – his prayer outside of Mass continued in the same way, to the Father, in view of Jesus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” A short time passed before Father Alexámenos lowered the chalice and genuflected, too long for the Nuncio.
“He makes too much of the consecration,” said the Nuncio. “There’s a rite without any consecration.”
“Specious approval is not infallible,” replied Archbishop Pòv. “Nominalism is not bold progress.”
The two Archbishops went to the Nuncio’s office, convinced that Father Alexámenos was not going to run off. After Mass, Father Alexámenos returned to the kitchen. Jidit said that he would be called when he was needed, and that he would find his cassock and trousers in his room.
“Thanks for that, Jidit. That’s very kind of you. How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry. The cleaners do it for free as a service to the Nunciature.”
“Please, thank them for me,” he said.
“Well, they did say that they had to work extra hard, what with all the blood around the collar of your cassock… and all that mud. Are you O.K.?”
“You poor dear,” she said, handing him a small pastry to eat before lunch.
Up next: Chapter 20 – You can read about it in Ezekiel 3 and 34
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers