A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this.
That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’
‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’
So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness.
‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’
So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you gut the pillow with a knife?’ he says.
‘And what were the results?’
‘Feathers,’ she said.
‘Feathers?’ he repeated.
‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’
‘ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’
‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’
I thought of this speech from the play Doubt after reading the Ottawa Citizen investigation into well known Ottawa priest, Father Joe LeClair, who was yesterday and today villified by the newspaper concerning a significant gambling problem. The story alleges that Father Joe stole from the church to pay off a nearly half million dollar gambling debt.
The paper was acting on a tip, and reporters actually stalked the priest, waiting behind bushes on Christmas Eve until the priest emerged from his house, caught a cab and went to the Lac Leamy casino.
They had copies of his Visa slips, which I am sure breaks the privacy laws in this country.
The priest has not been charged and yet the Citizen is treating him as a criminal rather than a person with a mental illness.
As a result of the investigation, the Archdiocese has announced an immediate audit of church funds. I suppose the Citizen reporters must feel very proud of themselves. They may have caught a thief.
But what if what Father Joe says is the truth? What if he indeed repaid the money owed with his winnings and other income?
It won’t matter at that point. The priest has been weighed and found guilty by the media court.
Either way, it’s a sad ending to an illustrious career.
Those who know Father Joe, know he has feet of clay. But he is a kind and wonderful soul.
No question: he is a man of God.
It’s money, it’s not a child’s innocence.
He has already sought help for his admitted gambling problem.
He needs forgiveness and understanding not public humilation.
Unfortunately, the feathers have already flown.