The Bishop had a special devotion that he adopted when he was a young man in the seminary. He prayed daily to the Saints of Nicea, the saints, who had fought the battle of defending the Nicene Creed and thus ensuring that the truth of Jesus was passed on, across 1,500 years to him. He had a small collection of holy cards of these great men that he kept for many years–Basil, Hilary, Athanasius, Anthony, Gregory. . . It was a special and personal devotion that he never revealed to anyone.
When things got tough for him in the late 1960s, he had prayed for guidance from these saints, and he believed they helped strengthen his faith. He was able to hold onto the belief that the life of the Church would survive human fallibility and would make it through the tide of subjective thought and actions that followed Vatican II. He tried to master their control and conviction, but such faith didn’t come easily to him.
Through most of the 1970s he had lived a lonely life in several parishes in Ohio, often numbing through alcohol and food his weariness with the struggle to keep his faith strong. He kept quiet for most of those years, sharing his disgust with the direction the Church was taking with only a few friends. These friends, many of whom he had met as a young seminarian in Rome, had a faith he admired. They told him to be patient because behind the scenes the truth was taking hold. By the 1980s he could see they were right and he felt rejuvenated. His friends introduced him to other great men and before long the Bishop found himself in the company of like-minded clerics, who had found a patron, a Cardinal in the Curia, who became the most trusted advisor of the Pope.
The Bishop thanked his patrons because he realized that he had now become part of a movement that would restore the true faith of the Church. This movement began to have power, and gradually the Bishop found that his connection to his friend and their patron brought him from one important job to another until he was made Bishop of Helena. The day that he received word of his appointment, he offered a mass of thanksgiving to the saints of Nicea.
He came to Helena with a strong wind in his sails. His friends and other high officials came to celebrate his installation. They all shared a certain satisfaction that the new Bishop would not succumb to the stubborn will that the Diocese of Helena had developed and that had proved problematic. This was the Diocese that had bred the former Archbishop of Seattle, whose views and actions had challenged their movement of the restoration of old values. The Archbishop’s popularity with many in the American church has proved to be an embarrassment to Rome. The new Bishop would not tolerate any such ideas and would not tolerate the promotion of fad and fashionable theology. He would restore a respect for authority to a stubborn people.
He had not expected that the biggest challenge to his mission would be an 11-year old girl. It was disconcerting and it was unreasonable that he had to deal with such a person. She was worse than the nuns, who had given him trouble in parishes in the 1970s, always questioning his administrative decisions, holding meetings and forums constantly calling for openness and inclusion in the decision-making process. They had been arrogant and full of their own righteous pride that fed his ability to be just as righteous in response.
This little girl spoke without righteousness. She spoke with a simple faith that had an authority he had never experienced before. He had held off the holy hordes of arrogant nuns, but he felt helpless in the presence of this little girl. He knew he had to contain his anxiety and keep calm or he would make a mistake that would get him in trouble. That was not what his friends expected and he did not want to let them down.
On the Feast of Pentecost, he felt the power and fullness of his ordination and his authority. If he did say so himself, he spoke eloquently on the ancient tie to the authority of Peter and how that authority was present in the hierarchy of the Church. He talked of the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles blessing them with authority that could not be questioned, an authority he pointedly said was given to men. What he thought to himself was “men not women,” but as he processed from the Cathedral at the end of mass there was the girl. She was standing below the beautiful stained glass window of the Pentecost, standing in a light that reflected through the central figure of Mary in the composition. He had failed to mention Mary in his description of the authority given on Pentecost. He felt like the little girl could read his mind and knew his deepest secrets.
He was distracted by having to greet parishioners outside the Cathedral. He hoped that the girl was already gone, but if she was anything like those sisters in his past, he knew she was lurking somewhere. But the crowd dispersed and there was no sign of her. He went back to the sacristy and disrobed. He felt almost lighthearted as he walked from the Cathedral on a beautiful day in May.
As he left the Cathedral, he saw a film crew and a news truck. He had forgotten that CNN was doing a feature on beautiful buildings of the West. He went to introduce himself to them and welcome them to Helena. As he turned the corner and came to the steps of the Cathedral, Catie Jo was standing there dressed in her sports clothes holding a soccer ball.
“Bishop, Bishop,” she said with what appeared to be true concern for him. “Can’t you see that Mary is so great, it took twelve men to even get close to her. That’s a truth that my grandmother said men always have a hard time accepting.”
The Bishop forgot about the presence of the film crew and started to yell at the little girl. “Leave me alone. I don’t want to have to talk to you ever again.”
The little girl standing in front of him shook her head. “But I know you looked at that window after mass. Why is it so hard to admit that men and a woman got blessed by the Holy Spirit. It is so obvious.”
“Just who do you think you are that you can talk to me like that? Get off these steps and leave me alone. Go away and stop bothering me.”
Catie Jo started down the steps, but she turned back to make one last comment. “I met some friends of yours and they wanted me to tell you something. The Saints of Nicea are disappointed in you because you’ve chosen the wrong side.”
The Bishop chased her down the steps, waving his arms, yelling that she had to get off the steps of his Cathedral. The whole event was caught on camera by the CNN film crew and by that evening was broadcast around the world.
A woman reporter describing the event accompanied pictures of the 54-year-old cleric yelling at a cute little girl in a soccer uniform. “Bishop kicks girl soccer player off the steps of “his” Cathedral, yelling that it was “his” Church and that she had to do what he said.”