After the bishop had a conversation with the Papal delegate to the United States, things had gotten too quiet. Before the phone call when he had to offer some explanation about the incident caught on video by CNN, the bishop had received many calls from all over the country. Some had been supportive and some had been questioning, but at least there had been calls. After the long phone conversation with the nuncio, however, phone calls from fellow bishops or other connections within the hierarchy had almost stopped. This was disturbing.
The bishop knew he had broken the “Cardinal” rule as his best friends like to call it. This rule was based on the actions of the cardinal in the Vatican, upon whom he and his friends modeled themselves. As a rule, bishops should act with an absolutism demanded by present church politics, but they should always keep a personal manner suggesting an even nature and benevolent pastoral care.
Obviously that girl had goaded him into looking like the very thing he couldn’t look like – a dictatorial and unreasonable male authority figure bent on protecting a dictatorial and male authority. Of course, that was what he should be, but it wasn’t good public relations to look like he was attempting to restore aggressively and without care an age-old male caste system that many people had believed was going to disappear.
Women especially seemed skeptical about this aged male structure even though it was obviously ordained by Christ. He saw this irony as being the bishop’s dilemma. What could a bishop do with all those women and their clearly unrealistic expectations?
As he contemplated these matters waiting to hear from the nuncio, he hid in the chancery and had very few appointments. One of the appointments he did have was with a Cathedral woman parishioner who had been his ally. Even she seemed somewhat closed-mouth in her brief meeting with him, but she had dropped off some materials she had been given that mocked the bishop and his beliefs.
Someone had written a description of the sacraments suggesting it was the “New Order of the Sacraments for the Diocese,” written by the bishop. Although the bishop knew it was meant as a mockery, he found it more obvious than potentially satirical. For instance, the “order” suggested that baptism was important because it was the first step for young men towards holy orders and that marriage was important because it eventually produced young men, who could one day aspire to holy orders.
Another satirical work was a rewriting of one of the hymns he had listed as not to be sung at any liturgy at which he presided. One of his least favorite hymns, because it hinted at the need for renewal of the old traditions, was Sing a New Church into Being. Someone had rewritten it asSing an Old Church into Being.
All of this would have bothered him more if he weren’t already so upset by the silence from the nuncio’s office in Washington, DC. When a call finally came it was worse than he had imagined. The nuncio was sending someone to “look into” the incident with the girl. He knew it was more than formality when he heard that Fr. James Ferro was being sent, a man he had known in his years working for the Council of Bishops. He hadn’t been friends with Ferro. He had always been suspicious that Ferro was too open-minded. Somehow, Fr. Ferro had become an advisor to the nuncio and was usually called in to examine the most delicate of situations.
Fr. Ferro was going to visit for a week and wanted to meet the “girl.” The bishop decided he would make sure that this visit was without incident.
In the meantime, across the street from the chancery, unknown to him, Catie Jo was mounting a new challenge to his authority. She decided she didn’t like the new rules from the bishop about altar girls.
Altar girls could no longer serve some masses, especially those at which the bishop was the celebrant. Altar girls could not take a lead role in other services and had pretty much been delegated to carrying candles at the rear of liturgical processions. Catie Jo saw this as another attempt to push women back into a place somewhere outside the inner circle of men, who alone could stand around the altar.
She got this idea, she told Fr. Hugh, from her friends, who said it was a blatant attempt to restore the “caste system.” Catie Jo said she had looked up the word “caste” and had been shocked at what it meant. Her friends had told her that there was no “caste system” in Heaven. In fact, in Heaven God in all three persons of the Trinity hardly had a thought about whether a human being was male or female. The Trinity interacted with each individual in the same loving and open way. That “open access to the Altar of God,” as St. Catherine called it, was one of the best things about Heaven, where joy and God’s loving esteem were equally available to all. Catie Jo also told Fr. Hugh that St. Joan had told her to disobey the new altar girl rules. She hoped Fr. Hugh thought that was OK.
Fr. Hugh, who was spending more time than he had ever spent in humble prayer for guidance and wisdom, found himself telling Catie Jo to go for it.
Catie Jo decided to sign up to serve the bishop’s mass, although girls had been told they weren’t allowed to do this. She also decided to sign up to be one of the servers, who served at the Offertory. At the meeting after Religious Education class when servers met and signed up for the month, she did not hesitate to put her name down on the lines that said “boys only.”
She must have had a secret ally in this crusade because no one challenged her. Since no one said a word about this fact, the bishop had no idea that she would be present when he hoped to put his best face forward with the visiting priest.
On the Sunday after Fr. Ferro’s arrival, the bishop was in a good mood. He had found the visiting priest was genuinely concerned for him and for the peace of the diocese. He went to mass with a new energy he had hadn’t felt for several weeks. Before mass the servers came into the sacristy and the bishop spoke to them as a group. He told them what an honor it was for them to meet Fr. Ferro. He told the servers to pay special attention at the Consecration when the concelebrating priests would consecrate the bread and wine, making it the Body and Blood of Christ. He told them this is what a priest could do.
He said all of this because he didn’t notice the small server in the back, who wasn’t a boy. He didn’t notice until the girl stepped forward and asked a question. “What about the Holy Spirit?” said Catie Jo. “Didn’t the Holy Spirit play a big part in the consecration?”
The bishop was shocked and started to stutter in response to this question. It was a trick question. He couldn’t deny that part of the consecration happened when the Holy Spirit came upon the gifts and made them holy. He knew this question struck at the heart of the struggle against the teachings of Vatican II. He was speechless when he found himself faced with this question by his nemesis in front of a man sent to report back to the powers of the Vatican about his competence. He turned red and began to sputter.
He was saved when Fr. Manion said it was time to go to the back of the church and process into mass. The bishop was red-faced walking with the servers and he continued to be red-faced during mass. He gave a homily that rambled on about vocations and the different vocations for men and women. He wasn’t sure if it had made any sense. He almost lost his temper when Catie Jo stood before him holding the wine during the preparation of the gifts. He found control he didn’t know he had and ignored her presence. He continued saying mass without revealing his feelings, or so he thought. His feelings were very apparent to Fr. Ferro, who had not missed any of the details of this encounter.