Classic Literary Fiction Mystery crime fiction Religious Fiction Catholic Sex Abuse Story

The Penitent

By Vincent L. Scarsella
Oct 7, 2019 · 5,397 words · 20 minutes

Cover

Story art by Donna Lester.  

From the author: A Catholic priest hears the confession of a penitent that awakens an old demon lurking in his soul.


The Penitent        

           

            Father Nick Caputo, Assistant Pastor of St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in south Buffalo, frowned as the light went on over the penitent’s window on the left side of the confessional.  He checked his watch, noting that it was 3:56, then slid back the door of the screened window. 

            But for a time, the penitent did not speak.

            “Your confession?”  the priest finally asked.  When the penitent still said nothing, Father Caputo said, “Hello?” and then leaned forward to get a better look at whomever had entered the confessional.  The priest decided that the shadow on the kneeler staring at the floor was a young man.  

            After clearing his throat, the penitent finally mumbled, “Bless me father for I have sinned.  It has been a month...” 

            “Dispense with that,” snapped the priest.  “It’s late.  Your sins.”

            But again, the penitent fell silent.

            “Please my son,” urged Father Caputo. “Your sins.”

            After a sigh, the penitent stated, “I... I molested a child, a boy.”

            “What?” asked the priest. “What was that?”

            “I molested a boy,” the penitent repeated, this time with more certainty.

            “How old, the boy?”

            “Thirteen.”

            “And for how long did you...?

            “Two months.”

            “Are you still…?”

            “No, it ended, I ended it,” the penitent claimed. “This week.”

            “What acts did you commit … with the boy?”

            “You need to know that?”

            “Yes,” the priest said. “The sacrament demands it.”

            The penitent fell silent again, his breathing deep, steady. “Oral,” he finally said. “Oral sex.  But I told you, it’s finished.”

            “Tell me about the boy,” Father Caputo said.

            “Tell you what?”

            “What drew you to him?”

            “What drew me?”

            “Yes, what about him caused you to ... well, select him?”

            The penitent considered the question for a time, then said, “He’s shy, the boy.  He lives with his mother.  His father…left them.  He is thin.  Blonde-haired.  Girlish.”

            “How old are you?” Father Caputo asked.

            “Twenty-nine.”

            “Where did these acts take place?”

            “Mostly, my car,” the penitent said after a long sigh. “On Saturdays, a cabin in the country.  A hunting cabin.  My father built it, years ago.  He’s…he’s dead now.  My father.”

            “Did he molest you?” the priest asked.

            “Who?”

            “Your father.”

            “No. Never.”

            “Did anyone?”

            “Did anyone what?”

            “Molest you?” 

            After another pause, the penitent said, “Yes.”  Then after a sigh, he added, “A priest.  Many years ago.”

            “Oh,” Father Caputo said, waited a moment, then asked, “Have you done this before?  With other boys?” 

            “No,” the penitent said, “but…but I have had these urges…ever since, what happened with the priest.”

            “Are you a member of this parish?”  Father Caputo asked.

            “No.”

            Father Caputo rubbed his chin, thinking what to do, how to proceed. “My son, I see you are troubled,” he finally said.  “Come up to my office.  We can discuss this, in private.  Face to face.  I’m afraid, the confessional…”

            “No,” the penitent said flatly.  “I don’t want to discuss it.  I came for absolution. Forgiveness.”  

            “But you can’t deal with these urges alone,” the priest said.  “The temptation, the demon within you, driving you to do these things, is strong.  You need help.  Professional help.  Therapy.”

            “Therapy?”

            “Yes,” Father Caputo said.  “There is treatment for what you did. Medical treatment.” 

            “How do you know this?” the penitent asked.

            “The Church…well, we have experience with it.”

            “Oh, yes,” the penitent said and seemed to consider this for a time.

            “So you will obtain it…treatment?”  Father Caputo asked.

            “I…I suppose.”                                                          

            “You must.”

            “Yes,” the penitent said at last. “I... I will.”

            A silence fell between them.  Then, Father Caputo said, “You vow to amend your ways, never commit this sin again.  From this day forward?”

            “Yes, Father,” the penitent said in a steadfast tone.  “I promise.” 

            “And to do that, you will seek help, professional help,” the priest went on.  “You understand this?”

            “Yes, Father.”

            Father Caputo leaned forward and again peered through the confessional window.  The penitent was a shadow, staring down at the floor.  After a time, the priest asked, “Do you have any other sins to confess, my son?”

            “No, Father.” 

            “And you are truly sorry for your sins?”

            “Yes, Father.  I am truly sorry.”

            Father Caputo’s mind was racing.  Suddenly, he reached a decision.   

            “Very well,” he told the penitent, “I will grant you absolution.”  After another short time considering the matter, he added, “But for your penance, you are to seek help.  Undergo therapy.  You can admit this sin to a doctor, a psychiatrist.  They are bound by the same secrecy I am in the confessional.  What this means, they can’t report you, can’t testify against you.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes, Father.”

            “And you agree to this penance?”

            “Yes, Father. I do.”

            After another moment of reflection, Father Caputo said, “Very well.  Your Act of Contrition.”

            As the penitent began the prayer, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest my sins, because of Your just punishments…,” Father Caputo stated the absolution, “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins…

II 

            Father Caputo remained in the confessional for a time after the penitent left with troubled thoughts about the final confession of the day.  Finally, at almost four thirty, he pushed open the thick door of the priest’s compartment and walked out into the side aisle.  After taking a few steps toward the altar, he saw someone kneeling at the end of the front pew.  After a moment, he realized that it was the St. Theresa’s head pastor, Father Michael Shea. 

            Father Caputo stopped and watched Father Shea for a time.  His head was bowed and he appeared deep in prayer, or asleep.  The old priest’s white-hair was disheveled and he looked half-drunk. In his late seventies, Father Shea was a lank and pale old man, debilitated by various ailments, including heart and liver disease worsened by a lifetime of drinking and smoking. 

            Finally, Caputo walked forward and stood next to the front pew.  After a moment, he said, “Hello, Father Shea. What brings you here?  To the church?”

            Father Shea turned, looked up at Caputo with a scowl and said, “To pray, Caputo.  In my church.  Is that alright with you?”

            “Yes, of course, Father.”

            Father Shea turned and nodded back to the confessional.  “How were confessions this afternoon?” he asked. “Same small sins of old ladies and children?”

            “Yes, Father,” Father Caputo said, then sighed. “Except for one.  I wonder if I was right to grant him absolution.” 

            “What was the sin?”

            Father Caputo looked about the church, to ensure they were alone.  Then, he looked down at Father Shea and whispered, “Molestation.”

            “What kind of molestation?” 

            Father Caputo shrugged and answered, “He confessed to molesting a boy.”

            Father Shea thought a moment, then nodded and asked, “You granted absolution?”

            “Yes, Father.”

            “Then what is the problem?”

            “I’m unsure of the penitent’s sincerity,” Father Caputo said. “If he really had purpose of amendment as the sacrament requires.”

            “You advised him to seek counseling?” Father Shea asked. “Professional help.” 

            “Yes, of course,” Father Caputo said.  “That was part of his penance.”

            “Then there is nothing else you could have done,” Father Shea said. “If the Penitent was insincere, he committed a fraud before the Lord.  He will suffer doubly, for his sin and for his lie in seeking God’s forgiveness.”

            “But if he does it again?”

            Father Shea abruptly stood and took a small, silver flask from somewhere inside his cassock.  He unscrewed the lid, took a sip.  As he began to edge out of the pew towards Father Caputo, he said, “If he does it again, then he will have sinned again.  Absolution does not prevent sin.  It only forgives it.  There will always be more sin.”  He laughed as he continued exiting the pew and added, “Keeps us in business.” 

            When he reached the far end, where Father Caputo was standing, Caputo said, “Thank you, Father.  Your counsel is most appreciated.”

            Father Shea gave Caputo a curious look, frowned, then walked past him and began to hobble toward the foyer at the right side of the altar.  He was returning to his tiny cottage just beyond the rear parking lot of the church.  Father Caputo occupied a small room down the same hallway out of the church. 

            “Father Shea,” Caputo suddenly called out as the old priest limped away.  “Can we talk a minute? Father Shea!”

            The old priest stopped and turned to Father Caputo with a frown. “Talk?  What about?”

            “Your dislike of me.”

            “My dislike?” 

            “Yes,” Caputo said.  “You seem, well, put off by me.”

            Father Shea cocked his head and said, “Well, I am put off by you, Caputo.  If it was up to me, you wouldn’t be here.  In my parish.”  In the next moment, Father Shea turned and resumed walking up the aisle toward the altar.  At some point along the way, he took another sip from his silver flask.

            Caputo hesitated a moment before hurrying to catch up with the old priest.

            “Father, please wait,” Caputo said.  “I would like a word.”

            Father Shea stopped and slowly turned to Caputo.

            “If you are concerned about… my problem,” Caputo said. “There is no need.” 

            “Oh, there isn’t,” the old priest said.

            “I’ve received treatment,” Caputo said.  

            “Ah, yes, treatment,” Shea said. “So there’s a cure for molesting altar boys?  As if it was a common cold?”

            “No, it’s not that simple, Father,” Caputo said. “My problem will always be with me.  I know that.  It’s as if a demon has taken up residence in my soul.” Nodding to the silver flask in Father Shea’s hand, he added, “Like the temptation of drink for an alcoholic.”  Caputo swallowed and momentarily looked down, then up again.  “But the demon can be resisted, held in check,” he continued.  “That’s what I learned in treatment. How to avoid and resist the demon’s temptation.” 

            “The demon, treatment,” Father Shea snapped, as if spitting out the words.  “And what of the boy you molested?  What of his treatment?” 

            “They agreed with it…his family…”

            Father Shea waved his hand in disgust and said, “They agreed with it only to take the Church’s money.”

            With a grimace, his head shaking, the old priest turned and started walking away.

            “Father Shea, please,” Caputo called after him. “Father Shea!  We should talk about this if I am to remain here.”

            The old priest suddenly stopped and swung around. “You remain here only because the Bishop requires it,” he said, glaring at Caputo.  Then the old priest stepped within a foot of Caputo and said, “You want to talk?”  He reached into his cassock and took out a small, snub-nosed revolver.  “Let’s talk.”  He clutched the gun and said, “You so much as pat the head of one of a parishioners’ son, you’ll have to answer to this.”  He thrust the revolved forward, pointing it at Caputo. “You hear me, Caputo?  That’s the only treatment you’ll get from me.”

            “Father Shea, dear Lord,” Caputo said, his gaze fixed upon the pistol.  

            The old priest snorted and put the pistol back into his cassock.  He scowled at Father Caputo briefly, then turned and walked away.

III 

            “Bless me father for I have sinned...”

            After a moment, Caputo said, “You?” 

            “Yes, me.”

            Father Caputo swallowed.  He leaned forward and peered through the confessional screen.  It was him, the child-molesting penitent from two Saturdays before.

            “Did you…?”

            “Do it again?  No, Father.  I kept away from the boy.” 

            “Then what?  It’s been…”

            “Two weeks.”

            “What then?” Caputo asked.  “Why have you come back?  What have you to confess?”

            “I … I jerk off to it, Father,” the Penitent said.  “Everyday.  Twice a day sometimes.  It’s all I think about.”

            “Your penance - you got help?  You’re seeing someone, a doctor?”

            “Yes.  I’m seeing someone,” the Penitent said.  “A lady shrink.”  He sighed and added, “But it’s even a sin to think about it, right?

            “What?  Yes,” Caputo said.  “As the Lord preached, a sin of the mind is as grave as a sin of the flesh.”

            “He expects too much of us,” the Penitent said. 

            “Perhaps.” Caputo leaned forward and looked into the penitent’s chamber. “But you have not seen the boy.”

            “No,” the Penitent said.  “But he calls me.  Misses me, he says. What we did.  Misses it. Begs me to meet him.  I almost agreed.”

            “But you didn’t.”

            “No.”  The Penitent sighed. “He is a tempter that boy.  A real tempter.  A demon.”

            “No, it’s you,” Father Caputo said.  “The demon is within you, not him. You must stop talking to him. Change your phone number.  Tell your doctor.”

            “I…know,” the Penitent said.  “And that’s why I’m here.  To confess my bad thoughts.  And to vow to avoid them in the future.”

            “Very well.  But you must continue seeking help.”

            “Yes, Father.”

            “That remains your penance,” Caputo said.  “Continue seeing the doctor.  For your urges, your bad thoughts. And stay away from the boy.”

            “Yes, Father.” 

            “Very well.  Say the prayer.  Your Act of Contrition.”

IV

            The next penitent did not enter the confessional for almost half an hour, near the end of the sacrament that Saturday afternoon. 

            “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” 

            “Father Shea?”

            “I have come for the sacrament,” the old priest said.  “To ask the Lord’s forgiveness.”     

            “But, Father, I – I am not worthy …”

            “Caputo, don’t make this any harder than it already is,” Father Shea snapped. “I spoke with the Bishop yesterday.  He summoned me.  It seems your sponsor …”

            “Father Raymond?”

            “Yes, him,” Shea said.  “He reported me, my treatment of you.”

            “Father, I had no idea.  I didn’t ask Father Raymond to…”

            “It doesn’t matter,” Shea went on.  “It’s done.  And you know, he was right to report me.  I have treated you badly, without pity.  It’s because I’m old, sick.  I drink too much.  And as the Bishop reminded me, I am duty bound to support the Church in its effort to rehabilitate brethren like you who have gone astray.”

            “Father, please, I …”

            “No, listen,” Shea said.  “The Bishop reminded me of the Lord’s compassion for sinners.  And of my vow.  To forgive, show mercy.” The old priest sighed. “And so he suggested that I make confession.  Confess my intolerance, my lack of empathy.”

            “Father, I am overwhelmed,” Caputo said.  “As I said, I am not worthy …”

            “Please, Caputo.  Let’s get on with it.  I have confessed.  Now, the absolution.”

            “Of course, but Father …”

            “What is it Caputo?”

            “The penitent returned this afternoon.  The one I told you about…”

            “The molester?” Shea asked.

            “Yes.”

            “Is he still doing it?” Shea asked, then sighed.  “Even if he is, there is nothing you can do.  The seal of confession is inviolable.  It cannot be broken.”

            “Yes, of course,” Caputo said.  “I know that.  And no, thank the Lord, he’s not.  But, he is having trouble controlling his … urges.  He…he masturbates.”

            “He’s getting counseling?” Shea asked.  “For his…urges?”

            “He says so.  A psychiatrist.”

            “And you granted absolution…for his bad thoughts?”

            “Yes,” Caputo said.  “He seemed sorry for them and sincere in his effort to avoid such sin in the future.”

            “Well, again,” Shea said, “I see nothing wrong in granting absolution. If he seemed sincere.”

            Yes, he did.”

            “Well, hopefully, he will not return to you,” Shea said. “But, as I told you, there will always be sin.”  After another long sigh, the old priest said, “And now for my absolution.”

            “Yes, of course, Father.”

            “I was wondering, Caputo,” Shea said, “if you would humor an old man, and give it in Latin.  I so miss the sound of it in Latin.”

            “Yes, of course, Father.   As you wish.  You may start the contrition.”

            Father Shea then began the Act of Contrition, while Father Caputo crossed himself three times as he gave his absolution, in the old and long forgotten language of the Church.

            “Deus meus, ex toto corde poenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor, quia peccando, non solum poenas a Te iuste statutas promeritus sum...”

            “Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam æternam. Amen. Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum …

            And they continued to whisper over each other’s voices the ritual prayers of contrition and absolution until, according to ancient Catholic law, Father Shea’s soul was cleansed.

V

            Late in the afternoon on the following Saturday, the Penitent entered the confessional.  After Father Caputo opened the screen, he said. “Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It is a week since my last confession, and these are my sins.”

            “You again!”

            “Yes, Father.  Me.”

            “And?  The boy?”

            After a sigh, the Penitent said, “Yes, Father.  I’m afraid so.  I could not resist the temptation.  The demon within me.”

            “When?”

            “Just this morning, at the cabin,” the Penitent admitted. 

            “And you expect absolution?  I cannot …”

            “The boy, he is so beautiful, Father,” the Penitent said.  “You should see him.  His soft blonde hair. His blue eyes. His lithe delicious body. His desirous mouth.” The Penitent let out a breath.  “Does this description thrill you, Father?”

            “What?”

            I would think it would have that effect,” the Penitent said.  “The details.  You want to know the details.  Of the sin.”  He laughed.  “Do you jerk off to them?  The thought of it?”

            “How dare you…?”

            “It’s you, isn’t it?” the Penitent asked.  “Father Peter Caputo from Saint Thomas Aquinas, in Newkirk.”

            “Who are you?” whispered the priest.

            “You don’t remember me? You were an associate pastor there.  Fifteen years ago.”

            “Who are you?”

            “I was an altar boy,” the Penitent said.  “Now do you remember?”

            “Dear Lord,” Father Caputo mumbled to himself.

            “Was I your first?”

            “Dear, dear Lord.”  Father Caputo swallowed and thought for a time.  “Why have you come here?  That was a long time ago.  I have changed.”

            “Have you?”

            “Yes.  Just as you can change.”

            “Change?  I owe it to you what I have become.” The Penitent leaned forward, placed his face sideways against the screen, peering at the priest. “Is that how you became infected by the demon, Father?  Were you molested as a child, too?”

            “There’s help for it,” Father Caputo said.  “Help.  I have found that.”

            “Help?  I am beyond help.” The Penitent leaned away from the confessional screen and moaned to himself. “The boy … he is such a tempter.  Was I…was I a tempter.”

            “There is help for it.  You must listen to me.  Before it’s too late.”

            “It’s already too late.”

            “No, you’re wrong,” Father Caputo said.  “You must listen to me.”

            “Goodbye, Father.”

            With that, the Penitent stood up from the kneeler and stalked out of the penitent’s compartment.  He was walking along the side aisle toward the front of the church by the time Father Caputo had exited the priest’s compartment.  Trotting after him, he called out, “Wait!”

            The Penitent looked over his shoulder just as Father Caputo caught up to him in the front vestibule of the church. 

            “Please, hear me out,” Father Caputo pleaded.

            They were within a couple feet of each other and Father Caputo saw that the young man’s eyes were troubled.  He also recognized the teenage boy in him whom he had molested so many years ago.

            “To receive the forgiveness of the Lord,” Father Caputo whispered, “all you must do is ask.  He will grant you the favor if you truly seek it.  He will cure you of this sin.”

            After a moment, the Penitent smiled and turned slightly to his right.  Then, in the next moment, he launched his right squarely across Father Caputo’s jaw.  The priest lurched backwards and a second blow grazed his forehead.  Within moments, he was on his rump on the marble floor of the old church looking up at the Penitent.

            “Fuck you, Father,” The Penitent said glaring down at Caputo.  “Fuck you and your whole fucking Church.”

            The Penitent turned and a moment later, was gone. 

VI

            Half an hour later, Father Caputo sat up on the narrow bed in his room when someone knocked at his door.  The parish housekeeper had helped him clean and dress the scrapes and bruises on his chin and side of his face.  She had also given him aspirin for the swelling and pain.

            “C’min,” Caputo called.

            The door opened and in stepped Father Shea.  He regarded Caputo a moment and nodded.

            “He hit you a good one,” the old priest remarked.

            “Yes,” Caputo said.  “Well-deserved, I think, on my end.  He was a boy from my first parish assignment.  Fifteen years ago.  The first time I...”

            Silence hung between them for a time.

            “Are you alright?”

            “Yes, fine,” Caputo said, looking up. “Do you think his confession was a lie?  There was no boy.”

            “I don’t know,” Shea said. “Either way, there’s nothing you can do about it.  The seal.”

            Father Caputo thought for a time, then as if an idea struck him, looked up and said, “But what if, if it is true, and he is molesting that boy; and, I catch him in the act?”

            “Not sure I follow you,” Shea said.

            “What if I follow him out to the cabin,” Caputo said.  “Where he claims to take the boy, on Saturdays.”

            “I still don’t understand.”

            “I can follow them down there,” Caputo went on.  “Next Saturday.  And if he doesn’t show up, I suppose it was a lie, his confession about molesting the boy.  Made to get back at me.  But if he comes out there with the boy, I’ll know it’s true.  Then, I burst into the cabin.”  Caputo dug in his pocket and fished out his cell phone.  “Use this, the video recorder. Tape him. Catch him in the act.”

            Father Shea shrugged then walked over and sat at an armless chair at a small desk, took out the silver flask and took a sip.  Looking over at Caputo, he said, “You report him.  Go to the police with it.  With the video.”   

            “Yes.”

            Shea thought about the plan a while longer, then nodded and said, “I don’t think that would violate the seal. The information is outside the confines of the sacrament.”

            “I’m willing to take the chance,” Caputo said. 

            “Your past will come out,” Shea warned him.

            “My penance.”

            “Perhaps,” Shea said. After a time, he looked up.  “Next Saturday you do this?”

            “Yes.”

            “Alright,” Father Shea said. “I will take confessions.”  He sighed. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.”

            “Mostly children and old ladies,” Caputo said and smiled.

            Shea smiled as well.  He lifted the silver flask to his mouth and took another sip.  Then, he looked over at Caputo, held out the flask and said, “Here, take a sip.”

VII

            “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last confession.  These are my sins.”

            “Caputo?”

            “Yes, Father.”

            “What are you doing here?  How’d it go?  The cabin. Did you go out there?”

            “Yes, I went out there,” Caputo said dryly.  “I’ve come to confess, Father.”

            “Confess.  Confess what?”

            “What I did down there,” Caputo said.

            “I’m listening, Caputo.”

            “Yes, I went,” Caputo began.  “Followed them there.  In the middle of nowhere.  He had the boy with him.  Took him inside.  I almost lost my nerve.  Finally, I went up onto the porch, crept to the door.  He’d left it open. It’s so deserted out there, I suppose he never suspected.  I went in, saw them. On the bunk in the main room.  Laying naked together. In each other’s arms. I took out my phone, started taping it.  The Penitent got up, lunged at me, screamed. But that was all, he didn’t attack me like before. Just put on his clothes.  Ran out of there.  Drove off.”

            “So, it was true,” Shea said. He took the silver flask from inside his cassock and took a sip.  “He was molesting the boy.  And what you did, worked.  Saved the boy.” But Caputo didn’t answer.  “Caputo?”

            “I couldn’t stop myself, Father.”

            “Stop yourself?” Shea asked.  “What do you mean, Caputo?”

            “The boy, after the Penitent left, he smiled up at me,” Caputo said. “Waved me over to him on the bunk.”

            “Don’t tell me you...,” Shea said as he put the flask back into his cassock.  

            “I couldn’t help it,” Caputo said.  “The demon grabbed hold of me.”

            “You raped him?” Shea said.  He plucked the snub-nosed revolver from inside his cassock, looked at it.  His hand was shaking.

            In the darkness of the penitent’s chamber, Caputo leaned forward and wept. “It was the demon,” he sobbed.  “May God have mercy on my soul.”

            “You’ve come for absolution?” Shea asked.  He held the pistol low, in his lap.

            “I couldn’t help myself, Father.  I am sorry.  Truly sorry for having offended the Lord.”

            Shea tensed, then leaned forward and peered into the penitent’s chamber.  After a moment, he brought the pistol up and pointed it at Caputo’s bent frame.

            “You are a blight on the Church,” Shea said, seething as he watched Caputo weeping in the shadows through the screen.

            “I seek God’s pity and forgiveness,” Caputo sobbed.

            Shea’s fingers on the pistol trigger tensed, an instant away from pulling it. His face was distorted by the stress of desiring to kill the man and commit the ultimate sin of murder.  And then, Father Shea felt an awful tug in the center of his chest.  He gasped and the pistol fell from his cramped hand with a dull clang to the floor.  In the next moment, he tried standing, clutching at his chest.  He rose briefly, stumbled sideways against the wall separating the compartments with a thud, then lurched forward against the door and crumpled to the floor. 

            “Father Shea?”

            There was no answer. 

            “Father Shea?  ….  Father Shea?”

            Father Caputo exited the penitent’s compartment and opened the door of the priest’s side.  Seeing Father Shea’s limp body, he knelt before him.  As he did so, he saw the pistol on the floor and frowned.  He lifted Father Shea’s arm and felt for a pulse.  There was none.

            “No,” Caputo said.  “No.”

            Sobbing, he made the sign of the cross above Father Shea’s lifeless body and, in a shaky voice, gave last rites to the old priest.

            “And thus do I commend thee into the arms of our Lord of Earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, preserver of all mercy and reality, and the Father Creator. We give          him glory as we give you into his arms in everlasting peace, to be prepared to return into the denser reality of God the Father, Creator of All. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

            After the prayer, he sobbed for a time in the cramped confessional.  Finally, he looked down at the pistol, then suddenly picked it up.  He examined it, rolling it over several times in his hand.  Finally, he lifted it and put the barrel flush against his right temple.  His hand shook for a time as he held it there.

            “No!” he called out as he lowered the pistol and let it fall from his hand to the floor. 

VIII

            “Bless me Father for I have sinned.”

            “You! How dare you come here,” Caputo said.

            “How dare I?”  The Penitent laughed.

            “What do you want?”

            “How was the boy?” The Penitent asked. “After I left; and, since.”

            “Please leave here.”

            “You know, after I ran off that day,” the Penitent said, “I went straight home fully expecting the police would come.  But they didn’t.  Then, I knew.”

            “I said leave here.”

            “And now, this Church is yours,” the Penitent went on. “With the old priest dead.  You’ve done well for yourself.”

            “No, I confessed everything,” Father Caputo said.  “To the Bishop himself.  He…absolved me.”

            The Penitent laughed and said, “So you confessed. To the Bishop.  And he absolved you.  Only to avoid another scandal.”

            “No.  My confession was sincere.  I have vowed to amend my ways. And so, I was forgiven.”

            “Just like that.  How convenient.  How clever.”

            “And what of you?” Caputo asked.  “Has there been another boy?”  The Penitent did not answer.  “I told you – the demon is strong.”

            “You turned me into this,” the Penitent said.  “You put the demon in me.”

            “You can change,” Father Caputo said.  “I told you.  Therapy.  You didn’t answer me.  Has there been another?”

            “Yes, there has been another.”

            “And you are sorry for this sin?”

            “Yes,” the Penitent hissed.

            “You will end it with this one, this new boy?”

            “Yes, Father.  Yes.”

            “And you will continue to seek help?  Therapy?”

            The Penitent remained silent for a time.

            “Will you?”

            “Yes.  I will.”  The Penitent let out a sigh.  “I will.”

            “Very well.  Your Act of Contrition.”

            “What?”

            “If you are sincere in your desire to reform,” Father Caputo said, “to amend your ways.  To overcome the demon, I am prepared to absolve you in the name of the Lord, as He has absolved me.”

            The Penitent bowed his head and drew in a breath. 

            After a time, Father Caputo said, “My son.  You are sorry for your sins? You seek the Lord’s forgiveness?  You seek God’s absolution?”

            After some time, the Penitent nodded, then said, “My God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”

            “Very good,” Father Caputo said and smiled.  “Now for your absolution - God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

            “Amen.”        

The END

If you enjoyed this story, check out the other nine stories in my collection of crime stories, "Unusual Suspects," published by Digital Fiction and available in print and digital formats via Amazon at:  

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07BQTVFMQ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i10

 

 

 

 

 

This story originally appeared in Unusual Suspects.


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Vincent L. Scarsella

Vince Scarsella writes compelling speculative and crime fiction, and some non-fiction as well.