Bishop's Dilemma

Chapter 1 – The Cathedral Steps

On the day her first adventure began, Catie Jo, an eleven-year-old girl, sat on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Helena listening to her friends. She was holding a soccer ball and was dressed in a blue and white uniform that matched the colors of the Montana sky above her. She couldn’t see her friends, but she imagined they were sitting on the steps with her. They were very animated today, so she couldn’t ignore them and what they had to say.

Since the age of seven, Catie Jo had often imagined these conversations with her two patron saints, Catherine of Siena and Joan of Arc. She would sense that her patron friends were talking to her and she would respond to them as if they could hear her thoughts. She had told her mother about these talks and her mother had sent her to visit their friend, Father Hugh at Carroll College. He had asked her questions and listened to her tell him what the saints were saying. For a moment he had seemed very serious, until she told him that her friends had told her that he had a strong faith for being a crabby old man.

Father Hugh chuckled and told her she was a special girl and she was lucky to have two such smart women as friends. He knew her to be an intuitive girl. He told her to check with him if these talks continued and let him know what was being discussed. She did this regularly, so her mother let her continue to visit the steps of the Cathedral and didn’t interfere in these talks between Catie Jo and her friends.

Catie Jo listened to her friends tell her what they were doing, so she knew they were very involved in what was happening in the world surrounding the Cathedral. She didn’t think it was unusual that two great saints should concern themselves with a small town in Montana and the people who lived there. She just figured that her world was important enough, so she wasn’t surprised when one day they told her that she was about to begin a new adventure that would begin right here and have a big impact on the Catholic Church. Catie Jo read the stories of the lives of her friends and she knew that events such as the ones they described could and did happen.

She was so involved in listening to all the advice that the saints had for her that she didn’t see the Bishop of Helena turn the corner and stand quietly watching her. The Bishop had often wondered what this little girl did when she sat there on the steps. On this last day of April, he was inclined to go talk to her. Later in his life, he wondered if life would have turned out differently if he had resisted that inclination. Up until that day, his life felt somewhat under his control. From the moment he said hello to this young girl on that spring day, his life seemed to be connected to her and what she did. He couldn’t disconnect himself from her, no matter how hard he tried.

“My dear, haven’t we met?” he asked.

“Of course, sir, I mean, Bishop. My mother introduced us last year when you were, you know, made a bishop.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”

Catie Jo told him her name and she told him about the two saints and how they wanted her to let the Bishop know that an important story was beginning and that he would have a big role in it.

It was at this point that the Bishop felt the composure he had tried to hold onto since he had unexpectedly been named a bishop slip away. He had only a tentative hold on it anyway because he never quite got over his surprise that he was chosen to be a bishop. He thought it had happened because of the convenient support of powerful men he had served. He was very unprepared to hear this small girl tell him that he had been named a bishop in order to help her tell the men that ran the Catholic Church that they should change their attitude toward women and the way they treated them.

The Bishop was so taken by surprise that he actually told her that he was the last bishop that would ever say anything like that, especially to the people who had named him bishop. She laughed and said that is why she had to start with him. She became very serious and told him that Catherine said the sooner he accepted what was happening, the better. She added that Catherine also felt that it probably wasn’t going to be soon enough. Joan, she added, had said it didn’t matter what he did, but Joan hoped for his sake he’d accept this call for his support rather than resist it. Joan said it was smart to be on the winning side.

The confidence and honest humility in what she told him made the Bishop very nervous. He snapped that he was on the winning side. Catie Jo shook her head and told him that to be on the winning side he had to support Vatican II. He began stammering the usual line about how Vatican II had moved the Church beyond the common ground that had made the Church strong. She didn’t seem to hear him because she was taking something out of her backpack. He was about to say more when he saw what she was taking out of the bag, an old worn copy of The Documents of Vatican II. It was the edition that everyone carried around in the 60′s. The one he associated with all of the confusion and change that he had endured for too many years.

Now, when he thought that the damage of the language those documents contained, he found himself staring into the mischievous eyes of a small girl who said that the power and wisdom of Vatican II had only just begun to be revealed. He was so shaken, he turned and ran back to the Chancery, leaving the girl watching him with a smile.

Sitting in his office, he would realize that he could have handled the whole situation better. This was how he would always feel after encountering the girl, as he would do many times after that first important day, which he remembered later had been the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena.