Chapter 11: Keys
Robert Blair Kaiser's summary of the story so far: Phoebe McNulty, one of the cardinal's nuns serving as a parish administrator in the northern part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, mounts a new kind of priestless liturgy at St. Prisilla's. The national press trumpets the story, of how a little freckled nun has solved the priest shortage and how, emulating her, liturgical communities had sprung up in priestless parish after priestless parish in villages, towns and cities around the world. Mahony ignores the Vatican order to stop these peoples' Masses because his friend, the archbishop of San Francisco, convinces him that "It won't matter what the Vatican says or doesn't say. The people will decide what they want to do, and the Vatican will let them. If I am wrong, I'll eat my hat." But Francis Oliver Grandeur, the cardinal archbishop of Philadelphia, resolves to stop Mahony's radical moves. Now here's Chapter Eleven...
Chapter 11: Keys
FRANCIS OLIVER GRANDEUR, the cardinal-archbishop of Philadelphia, knew that, left to itself, the Vatican usually dithered. Which is why, on January 23, he was boarding an Air France jet to Rome, to warn the pope and his advisers in the Roman Curia about Mahony's imminent plans to overturn the hierarchical constitution of the Church in America and "give the Church back to the people"—whatever that meant!
It wouldn't be enough to throw Roman canon law at Mahony. Better to mount a campaign against him, gang up on him. If he could just get Rome to call a synod of all the U.S. bishops—dam this river of nonsense with the entire weight of the American hierarchy. Which is what Grandeur told Cardinal Gianbattista Re, president of the Sacred Pontifical Council of Bishops when he presented himself in the Vatican on January 24. "As you know, Eminence," said Grandeur, "the American bishops held three of these regional synods in the 1800s—the First, Second, and Third Councils of Baltimore."
"And now you want a fourth?" asked Re.
Grandeur nodded. "It's the only way to stop Mahony. He's always made so much of the bishops' conference, even manipulated it to do his own bidding on more than one occasion. To turn it against him now would kill him."
"Is that what you want? To kill him?"
"Well, not kill. To save him from himself. He's gone off his head. The poor man. It's not his fault. He fell into the hands of these terrorists, these kidnappers. And he is obviously suffering from some form of the Stockholm Syndrome."
"Fallen in love with his kidnappers?" For once in his life, Cardinal Re did not have a beatific smile on his face.
"I am certain of it," said Grandeur. "A man doesn't change as Mahony has changed—almost overnight. He has moved out of his cathedral rectory and taken up residence in an AIDS hospice, where he spends two hours a day talking to some dying fags."
"We had expected him in Rome this week," said Re. "He sent word that he wouldn't be coming. In fact, he said we shouldn't expect him in Rome until—." He paused. He and his colleagues hardly used the expression. "Until the next conclave." The words almost stuck in his throat. In the Vatican, they didn't talk about the pope's passing. There, the only time the pope is sick is when he is dead. But now Re was quoting Mahony. "He said he wouldn't see us 'until the next conclave.'"
"There you go."
Re was puzzled at the expression. "Forgive me," he said. "Some of your American idioms puzzle me."
"'There you go' means just one more proof," said Grandeur, "that Roger is off—off balance."
NEXT DAY, GRANDEUR VISITED RE'S OFFICE AGAIN. Three sympathetic American cardinals with Vatican jobs were waiting for him there: Francis Stafford from Denver, and Bernard Law, living in Roman exile since his resignation in Boston, but still very much a power here, along with Cardinal William Levada, the American head of the Holy Office. Re had also summoned two American monsignors who worked in his office.
To Grandeur's surprise, none of them favored a national synod in the U.S.
"Too risky," said Law. "If word gets out we are making some changes in the American Church, we will encourage many—liberals and conservatives alike—to demand changes of their own."
"What do you mean," asked Re, "if word gets out? How can it not? Something like two hundred bishops headed for a meeting, even if it were a secret meeting? You can control the Catholic press in America. In fact, you've been doing that very well. But the New York Times, Time magazine. . . . "
"And the Boston Globe," said Law. "Don't forget those bastards."
All of them smiled, knowing that stories in the Globe had been a major factor in Law's leaving Boston. Lucky for Law he'd been able to buy a job in Rome. Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore wasn't a huge sinecure. But it allowed Law to put the best face on his ignominious departure.
Grandeur persisted. "you just have to know how to handle the Times— all the press, for that matter." He didn't have to add, "…like I do." He had shown his skill in getting—and maintaining—good press in New York and Philadelphia. "No," he said directly to Re, "the reward is worth the risk."
"Reward?" asked Re.
"All over America," said Grandeur, "the natives are restless. Not long ago, some laypeople staged a sit-in in a Polish parish I was closing. I had the cops come and take them off to jail." He turned to Law. "Your successor in Boston, the Franciscan? He let protestors occupy his churches, some of them for more than a hundred days. I wouldn't put up with any of that nonsense. We need to get tough with the laity. We need to get them back in line."
"And you think you can do that with a Fourth Council of Baltimore?" asked Levada.
Grandeur nodded. But Re seemed skeptical. "A Fourth Council of Baltimore will be like a medicine, the cure for what ails the American layman? I doubt it."
Stafford agreed with Re. He observed that the laity were not so willing any more to take their castor oil "like good little boys and girls."
Law chimed in. "We used to have a lock on the attorney general's office in Massachusetts. On the police department in Boston. Even on the FBI. All good Catholics from the BC Law School, they knew enough to look the other way when our priests got in trouble. Now they can't wait to indict."
That triggered a spate of stories. Everyone had a tale to tell, each of the Americans talking at once. Finally Re called a halt. "Cardinal Grandeur," he said. "We are simply going to let you handle this national synod idea. You don't need Rome's permission to call a national meeting."
"We don't?" asked Grandeur. "It's in canon law. Canon 443."
"I just read it again last night," said Re. "It says a nation's bishops can initiate a regional synod. Here in Rome, we can only approve your action. Or suggest you do not have a synod at all. If the American bishops decided to have a regional synod, the pope wouldn't stop them. He might even favor such a move. Prove the Church is not a Fascist monolith."
Stafford pointed out that it would take some time to put together a Fourth Council of Baltimore. "That's not going to help us deal with Mahony today."
"Seems to me," said Law, "that for now we just have to move Mahony aside."
Grandeur thought of his good friend Hawkslaw. "Put the chancellor in charge and bring Mahony in to Rome? Let him retire gracefully at Quattro Coronati?" The Basilica of the Four Crowned Saints was Mahony's titular church, one of the most tranquil churches in Rome, first built in 313, to honor four soldiers martyred under Diocletian for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan God Aesculapius.
"No," said Re. "That's premature. Mahony has an auxiliary bishop who handles the northern part of the archdiocese." He consulted his notepad, looking for the man's name. "We will tell Tomàs Dimleigh to simply close down this outlaw parish in Solvang. That should send a message."
"Duh, duh, duh Dimleigh?" Stafford said mockingly. The others rolled their eyes. "He's not too bright. But he will do as he's told."
"We'll test him," said Re. "Solvang? Danish name. Any Catholics there?"
Grandeur was miffed. He had wanted to level Mahony with an atomic bomb. And these guys wanted to use a squirt gun. He doubted their water pistol would work. And he was angry at himself, jetting all the way to Rome for nothing. Well, not for nothing. He took the time to enjoy a few days at Rome's best hostelry, the Minerva, which was owned by one of his captive American billionaires. The Minerva was the most expensive hotel in Rome. It also had the best kitchen. And the best masseurs.
BISHOP THOMAS DIMLEIGH did what he was told. As soon as he received Re's order by fax, he phoned Sister Phoebe McNulty to give her the bad news. "Sorry," he told her. "And I'll be co-co-co-coming out Monday muhmuh- morning to get your keys. About ten. And, oh yes, you'll have to find another puh-puh-place to live. In your order's re-re-retirement cuh- cuh- community, perhaps?"
Phoebe phoned Queen of Angels, talked to the administrator there, and got through immediately to Cardinal Mahony. "What do you know," she asked him, "about Bishop Dimleigh coming to St Priscilla's on Monday to shut down the parish?"
This was news to him. But, strangely enough, he was undisturbed. "It's a power play," he told her. "But I think we can block it." He arranged to meet Phoebe in Solvang the next morning at eight. "And I am going to bring my top gun."
He laughed. "No. Nick Pike. He's a lawyer."
She hummed over that. "A lawyer. There's an old Mexican curse: 'May your life be filled with lawyers.'"
Mahony frowned. His recent experience on trial told him the makers of Mexican proverbs were not dummies. "This is the kind of world we live in. We cannot live without lawyers. The best I can hope for is a no-nonsense lawyer like Nick Pike."
For a moment, Mahony regretted selling his chopper. He could have flown to Solvang in a half hour. Driving would take more than four. But he had a plan in mind, and he wanted to see it unfold. So, wearing a pair of slacks and a sport shirt, he left Queen of Angels well before dawn with Nick Pike at the wheel of his white Ford Explorer. They drove out the Ventura Freeway, sipping coffee from a thermos, mostly in silence, until they passed the turnoff to Lompoc, which prompted Mahony to ask Pike about his time served there in the federal lockup for crossing the line at Ft. Benning. Pike's prison tales lasted until they reached Solvang.
Mahony had no trouble picking out Sister Phoebe in a booth at Paula's Pancake House on Solvang's Main Street. She was what they said she was: fair and freckled with short, carrot-red hair. "This," Mahony said to her, "is Nick Pike. you may be dealing with him more than a little bit in the next few days." They took seats in the booth and ordered coffee and some of the Danish rolls the town was famous for.
She said, "There's no precedent for this, is there?"
"Disobeying, disobeying Rome?"
Mahony recoiled. Just those two words—"disobeying Rome"—went against a lifetime of training. "Well, I'm not disobeying any order given to me. In fact, the Vatican may be out of line here. It had no right to go around behind my back to give Dimleigh any direct order."
Pike said, "We just want to stop Dimleigh from executing it."
"So you are not thinking about going into schism?"
Mahony shuddered. "I could never do that, never, never, never split from Rome. But I do want to do my duty by my flock."
"So what happens when Bishop Dimleigh shows up at St. Priscilla's asking me for the keys?"
"That's why we're here this morning," said Pike. "So we can rehearse our moves."
She nodded. "I am glad you said we. I am with you on this. you know that?"
"As I am with you," said Mahony. "With you on your people's liturgy. You've cut through a lot of our palaver over the priest shortage. We've talked the issue to death. And nothing happened. you did something."
MAHONY AND PIKE sat in the front seat of Pike's white van—about a hundred feet up a palm-lined street from St. Priscilla's, hoping not to be noticed by any of the crowd gathered in front of the little California mission-style church. If this moment was going to signalize the people's Church in action, then the people—not the cardinal—had to be out front. But Mahony and Pike knew this was a historic moment—which was why Pike had tipped off the newspeople, and why the cardinal wanted to make sure he could see the event unfold for himself. Indeed, a Channel 13 news van was parked outside St. Priscilla's. But neither Pike nor Mahony had any way of knowing whether 13 would carry this newsbreak live or on the evening news. As it turned out, they carried it live—as Pike and Mahony could plainly see on the portable TV inside Pike's van.
Dimleigh arrived in a black Mercedes sedan. He had a driver, a youngish man Mahony did not recognize, who parked the car in a red, no-parking zone at the curb in front of the church. They climbed out, both of them wearing their clerical black suits and Roman collars. If they had had an inkling why the crowd—and the TV cameras—had gathered there, they would have stayed in the car and returned to Santa Barbara. But it was too late.
Phoebe met the bishop on the steps of the church wearing a white alb and a purple stole. By now, several cameramen and reporters from two local papers and the Los Angeles Times had closed in, but Bishop Dimleigh was too flustered to notice. He stuttered through a little canned speech saying he had his orders to take over the church. He concluded, "I ha-ha-have to ask you for the k-k-k-k-keys."
Phoebe stood her ground before him and while the cameras whirred and the soundmen aimed their shotgun mikes at the tableau, she said, "I can't do that."
"I have my or-or-orders," said Dimleigh. "From the Vuh, vuh, vuh, Vatican." He looked to his aide, who was in fact one of the American monsignors working in Cardinal Re's office, dispatched from Rome to help Dimleigh. But Dimleigh was beyond help at this point.
Phoebe smiled, then frowned. "The Vatican doesn't own St. Priscilla's."
"Do you want me to go g-g-g-get the shuh, shuh, sheriff?"
"You needn't go anywhere. If you want to talk to him, he's right over there."
"Wha, wha, what do you mee-mee-mean?"
"There's Sheriff Jim Henry. You want to talk to him?"
The bishop turned, glared at the cameras, whispered to his aide, then took some steps toward the sheriff.
The sheriff nodded and moved to the bishop's side. "Sheriff Henry," he said, announcing himself and offering a handshake.
Dimleigh gave the sheriff 's hand a flabby, uncertain squeeze. "I have an or-or-or-order from the Vuh, vuh, vuh, Vatican—"
The sheriff nodded. "From the pope?"
Dimleigh stuttered. "Well, nuh-nuh-nuh-not from the pope. From a Vatican dee-dee-dee-dicastery."
"A Vatican—what is it? A Vatican dicastery doesn't have any legal standing here."
Bishop Dimleigh's aide stepped up and informed the sheriff that canon law looks for legal enforcement by what it calls "the civil arm" in every nation.
"That would mean an American court," said Henry. "A half hour ago, I had a conference with our DA. He told me that, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, American courts haven't intervened in many church disputes. You've heard of the First Amendment's no-establishment clause? The sheriff has no power to act in a religious dispute."
Dimleigh said this wasn't a religious dispute. "It's about pro-pro-property."
Henry raised a manila envelope in his left hand, and said, "I have county tax records here saying that Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles corporation sole, owns this property."
Dimleigh stammered, "But Cardinal Muh, muh, Mahony works for the puh, puh, the pope."
The sheriff said, "If you think you have a case here, Bishop Dimleigh, you can file a claim in superior court."
Sister Phoebe said, "I think you ought to know, Bishop Dimleigh, that I have a notarized document from Cardinal Mahony." She waved a legal-sized envelope. "It says I am in charge here. It says the people of God in Solvang own this church, and that the cardinal and I just watch over it for them." She spoke up, so the reporters and the TV soundmen could pick up each word. "If the people don't like what we're doing for them, they can get rid of us."
Bishop Dimleigh did not speak up. His aide said, "Hey, the Church is not a democracy, you know."
Dimleigh turned and whispered to his aide, "It sure is beginning to loo, loo, look like wuh, wuh, one. Le, le, let's get the he-he-hell out of here."
Neither he nor his aide saw Mahony as they drove back up the street, because, when he saw them coming, he ducked his head. After they had passed, Mahony sat up straight and blinked three times. "I can't believe I did that," he said to Pike.
"It's okay," said Pike. "Dimleigh didn't need to know you were here."
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