Priest - Sierra Simone

Author’s Note:

I spent the majority of my life in the Catholic faith, and while I’m no longer Catholic, I still have the utmost affection and respect for the Catholic Church. While the town of Weston is real (and delightful,) St. Margaret’s and Father Bell are purely inventions of my imagination.

This novel is entirely fictional and entirely for entertainment, (and yes, it contains some of my personal views around the intersection of sex and spirituality,) but it’s not intended to offend or provoke. That being said, this novel is about a Catholic priest falling in love. There is sex, more sex, and definitely some blasphemy.

You’ve been warned.

There are many rules a priest can’t break.

A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot harm the sacred trust his parish has put in him.

Rules that seem obvious. Rules that I remember as I knot my cincture. Rules that I vow to live by as I pull on my chasuble and adjust my stole.

I’ve always been good at following rules.

Until she came.

My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. I have a bachelor’s degree in classical languages and a Master’s of Divinity. I’ve been at my parish since I was ordained three years back, and I love it here.

Several months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again.

I am a priest and this is my confession.

It’s no secret that reconciliation is the least popular sacrament. I had many theories as to why: pride, inconvenience, loss of spiritual autonomy. But my prevailing theory at the moment was this fucking booth.

I hated it from the moment I saw it, something old-fashioned and hulking from the dark days before Vatican II. Growing up, my church in Kansas City had a reconciliation room, clean and bright and tasteful, with comfortable chairs and a tall window overlooking the parish garden.

This booth was the antithesis to that room—constrained and formal, made of dark wood and unnecessarily ornate molding. I’m not a claustrophobic man, but this booth could turn me into one. I folded my hands and thanked God for the success of our latest fundraiser. Ten thousand more dollars, and we would be able to renovate St. Margaret’s of Weston, Missouri into something resembling a modern church. No more fake wood paneling in the foyer. No more red carpet—admittedly good for hiding wine stains—but terrible for the atmosphere. There would be windows and light and modernity. I’d been assigned to this parish because of its painful past…and my own. Moving past that would take more than a facelift for the building, but I wanted to show my parishioners that the church was able to change. To grow. To move into the future.

“Do I have any penance, Father?”

I had drifted. One of my flaws, I’ll admit. One I prayed daily to change (when I remembered to.)

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I said. Though I couldn’t see much through the decorative screen, I had known my penitent the moment he stepped in the booth. Rowan Murphy, middle-aged math teacher and police scanner enthusiast. He was my only reliable penitent throughout the month, and his sins ranged from envy (the principal gave the other math teacher tenure) to impure thoughts (the receptionist at the gym in Platte City.) While I knew some clergy still followed the old rules for penance, I wasn’t the “say two Hail Marys and call me in the morning” type. Rowan’s sins came from his restlessness, his stagnation, and no amount of Rosary-clutching would change anything if he didn’t address the root cause.

I know, because I’ve been there.

And aside from that, I really liked Rowan. He was funny, in a sly, unexpected way, and he was the type of guy who would invite hitchhikers to sleep on his couch and then make sure they left the next morning with a backpack full of food and a new blanket. I wanted to see him happy and settled. I wanted to see him funnel all those great things into building a more fulfilling life.

“No penance, but I do have a small assignment,” I said. “It’s to think about your life. You have strong faith but no direction. Other than the Church, what gives you passion in life? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What gives your daily activities and thoughts meaning?”

Rowan didn’t answer, but I could hear him breathing. Thinking.

Final prayers and a final blessing, and Rowan