“Lost none of the old reflexes, Larry”, he quipped.
“A bit slower than I used to be, all the same, Pat!”, Father Cesik replied cheerfully.
“Like us all, I guess... Eh, sorry Larry, I'm in a bit of a rush. I've got to head down to the Diocesan Offices to meet the Bishop this morning, so I won't be there for breakfast. Gotta swot up on that letter from Ecclesia Dei as well, so that I have my facts straight...”
“Oh, ya... I'd forgotten you had the appointment to go and sort out the new marriage situation this morning”. Father Cesik's brow darkened as he continued: “Rather you than me, anyway. Glad it was you who got picked to be Pastor!... Slippery eels, those bishops, especially our local specimen. He’s relatively new, but I’ve already heard some bad stories about him. Don't let him push you around, Pat, whatever you do...”
“Come on, Father! Let's have a bit of respect for the Hierarchy...and trust! I mean, things aren't like they used to be! We're not back in the 80's and 90's now!”
“You know what they say about leopards and spots, Pat... they never change 'em!...Anyways, you better go... I'll say a prayer for you. Good luck!”
“Thanks, Larry. I'll let you know how I get on”.
Father Dillon held the chapel door open long enough for Father Cesik to pass through, then turned on his heel and practically ran down the stairs towards the kitchen, where he proceeded to prepare his absolutely necessary morning coffee.
“Double quantity required today”, he muttered to himself. “Gotta calm those nerves... Now, where did I leave that print-out...?”
He found it where he had left it the previous night – on the kitchen table. Gulping down his coffee which he held in his left hand, he scanned the document which he held in the other.
Between mouthfuls, he read aloud: “... Insofar as possible, the local Ordinary is to grant the delegation to assist at the marriage to a priest of the Diocese... Where the above is not possible, or if there are no priests in the Diocese able to receive the consent of the parties, the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society...O.K., that's the part Father Sullivan told us we have to emphasize with the bishops – 'impossibility' is a big word...different kinds of impossibility – physical, of course, but also moral...legitimate desire of the couple to be married before the priest who prepared them for the Sacrament, etc...stress the pastoral...!” He felt like he was back in Seminary, preparing for a moral theology exam, going over and over the principles required for solving tricky cases.
Shooting a glance at the clock (which read 8.45), he took one last draught of his tar-like beverage, and poured the remainder down the sink. Leaving his unwashed cup, he hastily folded the document in two, stuffed it into his cassock pocket, grabbed his keys from the hook beside the fridge, dashed out the hall door, opened his car and got in. It started first time, and he was soon on the road to the Diocesan Offices on the other side of town.
Traffic was light, so he made good time. He parked in front of the Offices and made his way towards the Reception. As he approached the door, he realized that both his stomach and his mind were racing... He had never met a bishop from outside of the Society before! How should he address him? Should he kneel and kiss his ring? Would the Bishop know why he was there, or would he have to explain?... He pushed through the door, feeling for all the world like he was entering a football field before an important college match.
“Good morning...eh... Father...?” came a female voice from the other side of the hall. Looking up, he saw that the voice belonged to a plump lady, presumably a sub-secretary, who was seated behind a long desk. The voice looked him up and down with evident disdain and suspicion. If he had never met a diocesan bishop before, this woman was clearly similarly lacking in encounters with priests in cassock!
“You are Father...?”, the voice continued.
“Dillon...Patrick Dillon”, he replied.
“I didn't know we had a Father Dillon in the Diocese. What Parish are you at?”
“Eh, Saint Anthony's... it's the Society of Saint Pius X Parish on the other side of town”.
“Oh, Society of Saint Pius X...” Father Dillon detected the disdain in the voice increasing by about 200 per cent as it uttered those five words. “Oh, yes, the Bishop's Secretary told me I was to expect one of you... to do with marriages, I think?”
“Yes, that's right. I have an appointment for Ten”.
The voice turned to her computer screen, clicked a few times, and then said: “Yes, you're down for Ten. The waiting-room is over there. The Bishop's Secretary will call you when he's ready”.
“Thank you”, replied Father Dillon, and walked across the hall to the waiting-room.
He was the only one there. He sat down on one of the comfortable looking chairs and tried to gather his thoughts. This proved impossible, so he abandoned the enterprise and randomly picked up one of the many glossy magazines which were scattered on the table in front of him. It turned out to be the Diocesan magazine – The Seed – whose front cover depicted a smiling Pope Francis, waving. The large caption read: Pope of Mercy. “Not very original”, he thought to himself. He glanced at the loudly ticking clock – he had ten minutes to go. He began to read the contents page.
Page 2: Bishop Tom discusses pastoral accompaniment in the light of Pope Francis' teaching.
Pages 3-4: Sister Nancy: The Lord looks at love, not marriage contracts.
Page 5: Father Paul Kazowicz: God – severe judge or merciful Father?
Page 6: Youth Corner: Don't worry about sin – God loves you!
He decided to peruse Father Paul Kazowicz’s article because it looked the shortest. After a few lines, he wished he hadn’t. It favoured admission to all the sacraments for all forms of couples so long as both parties really loved each other. Father Paul glibly called for an end to terms like “extra-marital” and “adulterous”, going so far as to say: “We priests should rather refuse the Eucharist to those long-faced, pharisaical Catholics who, while ticking all the boxes prescribed by the law, reduce love and marriage to a cold signature on a contract…”
Disgusted, Father Dillon was just about to scrunch the magazine and deposit it in the nearest garbage can, when he checked himself and decided instead to put it into his pocket. “I'll give it to Father Cesik to read…”, he muttered to himself.
Just then, he heard the sound of a door opening and the hum of voices coming from farther down the corridor. A few moments later, the first person came into view in the doorway of the waiting-room. Father Dillon recognised him as the Bishop from photographs in The Seed. He was wearing a brown sweater, jeans and white sneakers, with no pectoral cross.
Father Dillon gaped as, one by one, the owners of the other voices came into view. One was a Rabbi, complete with beard, ringlets and kippah. Another was some sort of Imam, and the third was a middle-aged lady with short cropped hair, sporting a rose-coloured clerical suit. Father Dillon recognized her as the local Episcopalian “bishopess” who had also figured in one of The Seed’s many photographs.
Bishop Tom embraced his departing visitors one by one. “Shalom, brother”, he said smilingly to the Rabbi. “Shalom”, returned the Jew. “Peace to you, brother”, he whispered to the Imam as they came head-to-head. The Imam replied: “Allah be with you”. “And, peace to you, sister”, concluded the Bishop, embracing the Reverend Rachel Winthorpe. “Yes, peace to you, brother Thomas”, she replied.
“All systems go for next week’s service in the Cathedral, then, friends… I know a good, quiet restaurant in town where we can eat afterwards as well. Promises to be a good occasion… if last year is anything to go by…”
“What – the service or the meal?”, joked the Reverend Rachel.
“Both, hopefully”, replied Bishop Tom, beaming from ear to ear.
“So long, friends – until Tuesday!”, said the Bishop, waving. Then, with a look of great satisfaction, he turned and retraced his steps down the corridor from whence he had come. Father Dillon heard the three guests exchanging pleasantries with the voice behind the reception desk. Then, he was left alone with the ticking clock once more.
After a few minutes, the silence was broken by the sound of an opening door, followed by footsteps in the corridor. Father Dillon braced himself. Moments later, a tall, middle-aged man in grey clerical stock appeared in the doorway.
“You must be Father Patrick Dillon?”, he asked in quite an acerbic tone of voice.
“Yes, I am”, replied Father Dillon.
“Good. I am the Bishop’s Secretary. Follow me – the Bishop is waiting to see you in his office”.
Father Dillon followed the Secretary down the corridor until they reached a door at the end. The Secretary opened it and stepped back to allow Father Dillon to enter. The latter stepped inside, Father Sullivan’s advice ringing in his ears: “Stress the pastoral!”
Bishop Tom was seated behind a desk in what was quite a modern, sparsely furnished office. He rose as Father Dillon entered, smiled briefly and extended his hand. The young priest immediately took the Bishop’s hand, genuflected on his left knee and made to kiss his ring … only to discover to his embarrassment that there was none. Blushing and confused, he rose, muttering: “Pleased to meet you, my Lord…”
“Seems like we have been doing things differently since you guys were last around…” said the Bishop, disdainfully withdrawing his hand. “Oh… and Tom’s my name, by the way. We don’t do those formalities any longer…Take a seat”, he added, pointing to an office chair across the desk from his own. “You won’t mind my Secretary, Father Brian, sitting in on our little meeting, will you? He sits in on all my meetings”.
Father Brian accordingly smiled and sat down at the back of the room, out of Father Dillon’s range of sight.
“Of…of course not”, stammered Father Dillon.
The Bishop himself sat down opposite the Society priest and began to peruse a document which had been lying on the desk in front of him.
“So… let’s get down to business, Father. You’re here about the letter from the Ecclesia Dei Commission to do with marriages of people who go to your church”.
“In a nutshell, that’s it”, replied Father Dillon, happy that the awkward formalities were over and that the substance of the matter was at last being addressed.
“Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s fairly straightforward. You inform me of the names of the couples who want to be married and the relevant dates, and I will send one of my priests down to Saint… Francis’s… is it…?
“Eh, well… Saint Anthony’s, actually…”
“Saint Anthony’s…my apologies… So, I’ll send a priest down to Saint Anthony’s… if I’m satisfied otherwise that everything is being done according to the laws of the Church, that is, of course…”
“Of course… I think that you’ll find that everything is in order…” Here, Father Dillon reached into his cassock pocket and drew out his own copy of the letter. Sensing that the ground was being taken from under his feet, he knew that he had to play the pastoral card, and quickly.
“Pardon me, My Lord…err Tom … (it stuck in his throat, but he knew that now was not the time to insist) … Don’t get me wrong – I’m very grateful for your offer, but … the Commission’s letter states here that “the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society”. Would it not be easier for all parties if you simply delegated myself… or one of my fellow Society priests… for these marriages?” He added hastily: “We would, of course, ensure that the Diocese was informed of all the details, as the letter requires…”
The Bishop stared at him, his lips curling into a smile. “Of course, it might be easier, Father, but since when can we dispense with Church law just to make our lives easier? Let’s look at what the document says: “Insofar as is possible, the local Ordinary is to grant the delegation to assist at the marriage to a priest of the Diocese... Where the above is not possible, or if there are no priests in the Diocese able to receive the consent of the parties, the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society...” Well, I can assure you, Father, that the above is possible, so I have no right to bypass the general rule… There is, you might say, no case of necessity to justify it…”
Father Dillon felt the jibe keenly and the blood rose to his head. He knew he had to keep his cool, however, so he repressed his urge to retort, and continued with the pastoral card. “Yes, but surely there are different kinds of impossibility – there is the physical impossibility of not having another Diocesan priest…”
“…or any other regular priest...” interrupted the Bishop.
“Or any other regular priest, if you will…, which I grant is not the case… However, since our couples will have been prepared by a Society priest, could the Bishop – at his discretion, of course – not decide that there was a case of moral impossibility due to the legitimate pastoral desire of the couple to have their marriage witnessed by the same priest who prepared them for the Sacrament…and, in some cases, even baptized them?”
“I suppose, he could...in theory. However, I am the Ordinary in this Diocese, and I have considered the matter, and I say that it is very possible to have a priest sent down to witness your marriages. Therefore, I am not going to interpret this letter like some Jesuitical moral Houdini...as you appear to wish me to do...”
“I thought you might like anything Jesuitical...”, blurted Father Dillon. It was out of his mouth before he realized it.
The Bishop simply stared coldly at him, knowing that he had his man on the ropes. “You will learn that obedience is not an empty word ... at least in the Regular Church... Now, I think we have covered the essentials...Unless you have any questions, of course?”
Father Dillon could only bring himself to say: “No, I think that will be all”.
“Very good. Have details of any marriages emailed to Father Brian – he will ensure that you are given his contact details. Following that, you will be informed on a case-by-case basis of the arrangements for each occasion. Naturally, we will endeavour to dove-tail with your current pastoral arrangements concerning times of ceremonies etc....insofar as this is possible... Now, if you will excuse me, I must deal with some pressing business. We have an interfaith service in the Cathedral next Tuesday, and there are a lot of things to be organized... You are, of course, welcome to come along should you wish...”
The victory was complete. Father Dillon didn't even attempt to answer the Bishop. He simply shook his hand, muttered “Goodbye and thank you” and followed the Secretary out the door, up the corridor past the Reception and out to the parking lot. As he shook hands with Father Brian, the latter handed him a business card. “All my details are there. I would appreciate if you would inform me at least two months in advance of any marriages. That is standard Diocesan practice”.
Father Dillon simply nodded, and took his leave.
He was soon back at the presbytery. He went straight to the chapel and knelt there without moving, his head buried in his hands.
A half-hour later, he suddenly felt a hand come down on his shoulder. He started and looked up. It was Father Cesik.
“How'd it go, Pat?”, he whispered.
“Disaster, Larry! Absolute disaster!... Come to the library and I'll explain”.
Father Dillon rose, genuflected and followed his confrère out of the chapel and along the landing to the library.
The two men sat down in the comfortable armchairs and Father Dillon proceeded to fill in Father Cesik on the morning's happenings. Fifteen minutes later, he was concluding...
“So, you see Larry, it's big trouble. I've been...we've been trapped! And there's no way out! The Bishop can send any priest he likes at any given time. Can you imagine the reaction of the faithful?! And, who could blame them!”
“I told you we were dealing with slippery eels, Pat!... Well, it's not of your making, if that's any consolation to you! Why don't you get in touch with Father Sullivan at District H.Q. to see what he says?”
“Good idea, Larry. I think I'll do just that”.
With that, the two priest friends parted and Father Dillon went straight to his office to contact Father Sullivan.
An hour later, Father Dillon was hanging up after his call to District H.Q. Father Sullivan had been understanding, but not really helpful. Several priests across the District were having to deal with similar situations, but that was the way it was in the real world, he said. Father Dillon was to proceed as agreed with the Bishop. The fears of the faithful were understandable, but they had to be allayed by stressing that the delegated priest was only there to witness a Sacrament which they themselves conferred, and that there was no question of any priest other than a Society priest celebrating the nuptial Mass. Any problems with a particular delegated priest could be respectfully made known to the Bishop afterwards.
The test case was not long in coming. The following Sunday, Father Dillon announced the banns for the future marriage of John Dean and Maria Worthe, who were to be prepared for marriage by Father Cesik. John was from an old-time SSPX family which had been with the Society since well before the Consecrations in 1988. Maria, on the other hand, had come to the parish three or four years previously, having become disgusted with her local parish priest in particular and the Novus Ordo in general. Because of this, she had incurred the wrath of her parents and family, who no longer spoke to her.
Immediately after Mass, Mr. and Mrs. Dean were waiting outside the sacristy to speak to Father Dillon. John's father made it perfectly clear that if a priest from the Diocese were to witness the marriage of his son, then he was not going to be present! Mrs. Dean was no less vociferous in her opposition, but stopped short of following her husband to the point of not attending. Father Dillon managed to extricate himself alive from the conversation, but he knew it was not the last he was going to hear of the matter.
As arranged, he informed Father Brian of the upcoming marriage, who replied that that the Bishop was considering the matter and would inform him of the details of the arrangements as soon as possible. Three weeks later, one week before the marriage, Father Dillon received an email from the Secretary, stating that the Bishop had delegated a priest of the Diocese for the Dean/Worthe marriage: a certain Father Paul Kazowicz, Pastor of Saint Paul's in Wakeville. Father Paul would be in contact directly in the coming days.
“A very bad situation has just got much worse”, was how Father Dillon put it to Father Cesik that evening. “Look at this article written by him in the Diocesan magazine! Absolutely disgraceful! The Bishop has sent the worst he has!”
“You can say that again, Pat! Kazowicz is notorious, and if I'm not greatly mistaken he was Maria Worthe's Parish Priest!”
Once more, Father Dillon buried his face in his hands. “What are we going to do, Larry?”
“Leave it to me. I'll speak to John and Maria. They have to know what's going on”.
Father Cesik turned out not to have been in any way mistaken. Father Paul Kazowicz had indeed been Maria's Parish Priest – the same one who had told her that she was narrow-minded for considering marriage to be a lifetime commitment. “Marriage lasts as long as love lasts – Jesus doesn't expect people to torture themselves for life”, he had told her.
Maria Worthe was inconsolable. Nothing Father Cesik said could reassure her. Mrs. Deane, on hearing the pedigree of the Diocesan witness, firmly joined ranks with her husband and refused to attend the wedding. Even some of the cousins of the Deane family who were conservative Novus Ordo Catholics, and who had never agreed with the SSPX stance, also refused to attend the wedding since one of the Diocese's most liberal priests was officiating! Several members of the congregation expressed their anger and disappointment... But, perhaps the most distraught of all was Father Patrick Dillon, who now presided over a deeply divided parish.
"No rules here – The most important thing is LOVE!"
The day of reckoning finally arrived. As far as Fathers Dillon and Cesik were concerned, it was more like the day of a funeral than a wedding. At ten minutes to ten, the sacristy doorbell rang. Father Cesik opened it to find a low-sized, scruffily-bearded individual sporting a clerical collar, a black leather jacket and jeans, standing on the doorstep.
“Hi. I'm Father Paul Kazowicz. I'm here for the Dean/Worthe wedding”.
He was ushered into the sacristy. Father Dillon steeled himself and went to greet him.
“Father Kazowicz – pleased to meet you! I'm Father Dillon, Pastor here at Saint Anthony's”.
With that, he directed the visitor to the vesting table, where there was a cassock, surplice and stole laid out.
“Oh, thanks very much...but I brought my own gear”, he replied. To the dismay of the two priests, Kazowicz proceeded to open his backpack and withdraw a large alb and giant white stole. Two minutes later, he was asking to be shown to the sanctuary.
Father Cesik led him to the communion rail, while Father Dillon remained in the kneeler, bracing himself for the ordeal. As soon as the congregation caught sight of the official witness (who had merely bowed in the direction of the tabernacle), a subdued, but distinctly audible collective groan was heard.
“You got the book, pal?”, Kazowicz almost shouted to Father Cesik. Father Dillon winced. Then, obviously addressing the congregation, he continued: “Not used to having this barrier between myself and God's People! Who's being kept away from who, I wonder?!” Silence from the congregation. Another wince from Father Dillon. “I thought this was a wedding, not a funeral – seems to me I got the wrong place!” Again, no reaction from the congregation. Finally getting the message, Kazowicz shrugged his shoulders and waited for the bride to arrive.
She arrived pretty much on time and came to join her future husband at the altar rails. It was then that the ceremony was to officially commence.
Father Cesik beckoned to Kazowicz and pointed out in the book where he was to start. But, the official witness motioned that he wasn't interested, and instead started to speak.
“Brothers and sisters”, he began. Father Dillon beckoned to Father Cesik to try to stop him, but Father Cesik could do nothing. “Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!”, continued Kazowiz. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the love of John and Maria. And that's the most important thing here – that you love each other, John and Maria. In the past, the priest would have droned on to you about the rules of marriage – one man, one woman, for life, woman be subject to your husband – all that nonsense! No, today we know that the most important thing is love. Jesus told us that God is love. Your marriage, John and Maria, is a sign to the world that love – in all the various forms which we recognize today – is possible. You have decided to express this love by a ceremony in church; others decide not to. But the most important thing is that you love one another...”
At this point, a seething Father Cesik showed his watch to Kazowicz, who took the hint, and turned his attention to the book and began the ceremony proper. But, at least half of those in attendance had already left the church in protest. The bride was in tears from beginning to end and the groom was barely able to suppress his anger. Near the altar, Father Dillon had buried his head in his hands and his fingers in his ears, mortified that such words could be uttered in his church...
“Hey, are you still asleep, Pat?!” It was the voice of Father Larry Cesik. “Wakey, wakey...it's supper-time!”
“Huh?” Father Dillon rubbed his eyes, stretched and looked around him. He was in the big comfortable armchair in the presbytery living-room. “Have I been asleep long?”
“About four hours – I didn't have the heart to wake you after you came back from that long Mass-run! You must've been exhausted!... Here, take a look at this – it's from the Mother House”.
Father Cesik handed a piece of paper to his confrère - it was a press-release concerning the SSPX's position in relation to the Ecclesia Dei Commission's letter on jurisdiction for marriages. Father Cesik pointed out the salient passage, which read: “Having consulted with the Society's major superiors, the Superior General has informed the Vatican that (despite an initial press-release to the contrary) its priests will continue to witness marriages as usual, and will not accept delegated priests from the local ordinaries, as the Ecclesia Dei Commission's letter requests. The Society will do this, relying on the extraordinary jurisdiction conferred to it by the Church in these times of ever-worsening crisis, waiting for the Light of the True Faith to return to those in the highest ranks of the Church...”
“So, we won't have to go through all that again?”
“All what again?!”
“Why...having that Diocesan heretic witness a marriage in our church again!”
“My dear Father Pat... you have been dreaming!”
“Have I?!... So, you mean I never went to see the Bishop, and all that?!”
“Not that I know of...!”
“Just as well!”, said Father Dillon, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “I could never go through all that again!... Right, Father Cesik, let us off to supper...and I order a Te Deum after Compline for the next week, at least!”