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Authors: Jane Haddam

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BOOK: True Believers
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“Idiots,” she said, out loud. When she was in the novitiate, it would have been called “speaking without necessity during the grand silence,” and she would have had to proclaim herself for it when it became her turn to speak in Chapter of Faults. There were some things Scholastica didn't miss from the old days at all.
She looked back at St. Stephen's, said another prayer for Scott Boardman, and hurried out across the convent's front parlor toward the side door that led to the side door of the school. If she really put her mind to it, she could get the entire seating plan for the First Confession breakfast worked out and down on paper before she had to come back to the convent at six and pray the Office.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia had started his religious life in the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and now, fifty
years later, he found he was a Carmelite still. It wasn't the asceticism that convinced him that he hadn't changed, much, from the days when he had walked the grounds of the monastery at Avery Point, with its low brownstone buildings and its chapel built as a perfect replica of the one St. Teresa had had for her nuns in Avila. The Cardinal Archbishop had always been something of an ascetic, even as a child. He liked order. He like quiet, too. It had seemed to him better to have a life that was cleared of inessentials, because in such a life it would be so much harder to be confused. Maybe the problem was that, as a small child, he had been confused too often. As far as he could tell, the only thing his father had done that he was supposed to do was to marry his mother. It hadn't lasted long. His mother had been highly religious and, he thought now, highly insane. She was one of those women who went to Mass daily, and whose life at home was a vortex of competing superstitions. They had had to kiss bread before they threw it out, to offer up the most minor bruises and cuts, to bless themselves from the fonts of holy water screwed into the frames of every door in the house, even the door in the bathroom. People called his mother a good Catholic woman, but the Cardinal Archbishop had known better, even at the age of five. He had known that there was something deeply evil about her, and that this evil was dangerous not only to him, but to the very idea of the Christian Church. By the time he was fourteen, he could see how most people brought up the way he was would turn against religion. It was almost wrong not to turn against something that crushed your life the way his mother's version of religion was crushing his, hemming in every move, stifling every thought, turning his nights into restless struggles with demons who refused to name themselves. He had known, then, that his only way out was to find a Catholic boarding school to take him. He had found one in the school connected to Avery Point. It had been a perfect match. There was nothing at all insane about the Carmelites. They lived with little and asked for less. Their schedules were as streamlined as monoliths. In the chapel in the mornings, chanting the Office in the cadenced Latin that had been in use everywhere then, with the light coming in through the east-wall windows in straight undecorated slants, the world had finally straightened itself out, and made itself right, and been
clear. There were people who said of him that he had no emotions at all, and that his faith was a sham he put on to justify the power he had accrued to himself by the careful application of his ambition to the hierarchy of the Church. This was so far from true, he often found it funny. The only thing that bothered him was that so many people assumed he had no faith. Why was it that so many people were so very sure that only stupid people could believe? His faith had come in on the light from the east window in the chapel at Avery Point. That was God, pure and simple, offered up to anyone who would have Him. Maybe the truth was that he believed in God but not in the elaborate rituals of the Church, even though he went to great pains to ensure that those rituals were observed. Maybe it wasn't so odd that his mother had gone mad, when life outside a monastery was such a tangled heap of mess.
Right now, life in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was mostly a struggle with money. It was—what? four o'clock in the morning? he'd been here so long, and he still lived without watches, so he couldn't tell—and he had yet to make sense of the figures laid out in this chart. The chart had been prepared by the firm of accountants he had hired, from New York, to audit the archdiocese's books. He couldn't hire a firm in Philadelphia because it seemed as if every single male human being between the ages of thirty and fifty was somehow part of The Scandal, even if they were Jewish, or had only immigrated to America in the last five years. He tried to think of what it was that had gone on here on his predecessor's watch, but it was like thinking of his mother. As far as he could tell, the old man had simply panicked. Decisions had been made that made no sense at all—to pay hush money that hadn't hushed anyone up; to make denials to the press that could not be maintained for an entire week; to claim ignorance where no ignorance had been possible. What had begun as just another priest-molests-altar-boy five-day wonder had exploded into the nastiest priest-pedophilia scandal in the history of the Church in America—and he had been sent here to clean it up. That was why he had been made an archbishop, and why he had been made a cardinal less than a year later, and why, sometimes, there were rumors that he was destined to become a Pope. The Cardinal Archbishop wanted to be Pope the way Sylvester Stallone wanted to be a girl. The more time he spent
in the active life of the Church, the more certain he was that he wanted to end his time on earth at Avery Point, in the quiet, and the simplicity, and the lack of complication.
On the far side of the room, the door to the office opened, and Father Doheny stuck his head through, worried. He was young, but the Cardinal Archbishop was always struck by how very different he was than he himself had been at the same age. Father Doheny was the picture of the secular priest. He was destined for a parish. He exuded enthusiasm. Now he came in and shut the door behind him.
“Your Eminence, what are you doing? It's the middle of the night.”
“What are
doing? It's the middle of the night for you, too.”
“I saw your light on and got worried that you were awake. And working. You are awake and working.”
“Not quite. Most of the time I'm just sitting here staring at these papers and thinking how ironic it is.”
“How ironic what is?”
“Well,” the Cardinal Archbishop said, “everybody outside the Church, everybody in Philadelphia, even CNN, thinks that the problem of the scandal has been solved, and that I've done it. As far as I can tell, I'm being forgiven my failures of personality because I came in here and cleaned up the mess left by my predecessor. Who, I may remind you, was not himself responsible for the scandal. He wasn't archbishop here when any of the incidents actually occurred.”
“I don't think they really think you have any failures in personality,” Father Doheny said.
The Cardinal Archbishop raised his right eyebrow into a perfectly straight, lethally sharp point. During his novitiate year at the monastery, he had been required to give up that habit for six straight months because his novice master had thought that his ability to do it was his greatest vanity. His novice master had been right.
“They think,” he said carefully, “that I'm a son of a bitch.”
Father Doheny looked pained.
“Never mind,” the Cardinal Archbishop said. “They're right. The Church needs sons of bitches sometimes. Otherwise, we'd get Her into trouble, and we wouldn't be able to get Her out. That doesn't change the chief difficulty in this case, however,
which is that the public humiliation of the scandal may be over, but the repercussions have only begun to be felt. Have you looked over these numbers?”
“Once or twice, Your Eminence, yes.”
Father Doheny hesitated. “We appear to be operating in the red.”
The Cardinal Archbishop smiled. It was not, he knew, a friendly thing. “We are operating in the red. We most certainly are. To be a little more precise, we are hemorrhaging money, to the tune of twenty-five thousand dollars a week. Give or take the change. Twenty-five thousand dollars a week is one million, three hundred thousand dollars a year.”
“Are we really going to lose that much this year?”
“We lost that much last year. We're living on loans, Father, and for the life of me I don't know what we're going to do about it. If we were somebody other than who we are, we could go back into court and ask that the restitution payment schedule be reworked so that we could actually pay it. Under the circumstances—”
“We'd get killed,” Father Doheny said.
“Exactly. Which is what would happen to us if we declared bankruptcy, as well. Never mind the little problem that a court would be reluctant to grant us the relief, and with good reason not to do so. All the usual routes of financial recourse lead to the same place, and that's a resurgence of the nastiness The Scandal brought us to begin with. Which means we're just going to have to increase our revenue.”
“Maybe we could make an appeal to the people,” Father Doheny said. “Tell them the truth and ask them to help out.”
“Would you expect them to?”
Father Doheny hesitated again. “No,” he said finally.
“No,” the Cardinal Archbishop agreed. “The people feel that this is something that has been visited on them as well as on the Church as an institution, and that it's our fault as well as our responsibility. And they do have a certain amount of justice on their side. It's one thing to ask the people in the pews to dig into their pockets a little more deeply to fund a new parish school or a new mission or even a new cathedral. It's quite another to ask them to do the same thing because one archbishop didn't have sense enough to realize that a man
who has molested children in his last three parishes is going to molest new ones in his next six, or because another archbishop couldn't count and committed the Church to payments in excess of the gross income of his archdiocese. Note I said gross. If he'd only overshot the net, we might not be in so much trouble.”
“So what do we do?”
“I don't know, Father. I'm sure that if we pray on it, God will tell us in time. For the moment, however, what we have to do is nothing. No fuss. No muss. No bad press. There are other numbers besides these.” The Cardinal Archbishop waved at the computer, as if he could make the other numbers appear. “The decline in Mass attendance and parish membership that followed the worst of the scandal has been halted and reversed. We have some very successful parishes, now. St. Bonaventure. St. John the Baptist. St. Anselm, of all places, considering how closely it's connected to this mess. We have some very successful missions, too, homeless shelters, soup kitchens. If we can continue the way we've been, maybe we can make an appeal to the larger donors that sounds like something other than a con game. I wish the old Archbishop had kept his mouth shut on national television.”
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
“You ought to go off and get yourself some breakfast,” the Cardinal Archbishop said. “It's getting very close to the time for the Sisters' Mass, and you're saying it this morning if I remember rightly. There's no need to worry about me.”
“You never sleep,” Father Doheny said. “You never seem to eat, either.”
“I do as much of both as I need to.” The Cardinal Archbishop stood up. It was something he tried not to do, unless he was deliberately attempting to intimidate someone. The combination of his extreme height and his extreme thinness made him seem like a ghost of the Inquisition. “Go get some breakfast,” he said again.
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
Father Doheny turned around. The Cardinal Archbishop could almost hear the gears going around in his head. The walls were so bare here now. In the days of the old Archbishop, they had been full of framed photographs: the Archbishop with the mayor; the Archbishop with two different
presidents; the Archbishop with the Pope. This Cardinal Archbishop kept only one crucifix on one wall, and that one made of plain wood and unpainted. Even the official publicity shot of the Pope, duly signed by the Pontiff himself, or with a stamp of the Pontiff's signature, and sent out to every parish and parish school, had been banished to Sister Marie Claire's reception desk outside.
“Well,” Father Doheny said. “I'll see you later, then. At the seven o'clock.”
“At the seven o'clock,” the Cardinal Archbishop agreed.
Father Doheny went out, leaving the door open, so that the Cardinal Archbishop could hear his footsteps going down the corridor outside. If it had been another time of day, the Cardinal Archbishop would have taken pains to shut the door himself. Now he knew that no one would come in, except perhaps for Sister Marie Claire, who might, like Father Doheny, see the light on in his office and wonder.
He sat down behind his desk again and clicked the mouse a couple of times to get rid of the screen with the accountants' numbers on it. He could go over the figures as often as he wanted to, but the problem came down to simply this: right at this moment, they couldn't take a breath wrong without collapsing. And it would not be a pretty collapse. The waters were full of creatures that fed on blood, and that hunted the Church and all Her people. They preferred dead bodies to living ones. They waited just out of sight. If the archdiocese had to declare bankruptcy, or even if it only found itself unable to meet a payroll or two, it would all be over. The archdiocese would survive in name only, and maybe not even in that.
He got up again and went across the room to the filing cabinet. There was a small CD player sitting on top of it, his one personal indulgence. He opened the filing cabinet's top drawer and took out his CD of the John Eliot Gardiner production of Bach's
St. Matthew Passion
. It was the story of pain and destruction and despair, perfect for Lent, and perfect for the mood he had been in all week.
BOOK: True Believers
2.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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