Chapter Twenty-Nine

Ribose Reflects on Deception
Though it is not the job of Father Ribose to evaluate and review the historic accounts of the Archdiocese, he finds the stories discovered by “Al” extremely revealing. In amidst the records are notes and private papers archived and then digitized by workers in various offices of Cook County. Family histories, once recorded on microfilm from letters, ledger sheets and donated diaries, have miraculously been preserved and catalogued, revealing intimate details of parishioners’ lives and deaths.

The records often read like “soap operas” with children born to wives by their fathers, husbands’ brothers, neighbors and traveling companions. Women’s diaries are most revealing, as well as business ledgers containing expenditures to parallel households

Though gay relationships are rarely mentioned, even in innuendo, the awareness of same-sex couplings are found throughout letters, especially among women, who found ways of maintaining a home, conceiving children and raising their families while married to men not particularly attracted to the female gender.

Father Ribose’s brief conversation with “Al the Avatar” about old books, the Bible and the understanding of humans remains in his thought bubble as he cross-references birth and baptismal records with genealogical data.

“We haven’t changed much in 200 years,” thinks Ribose. “In fact, as far as I can understand, we haven’t progressed much since the beginning of recorded time, certainly not since the Odyssey, the Bible nor Gatsby.”

Though Ribose no longer maintains much contact with young people, he is a thoughtful listener amongst his fellow priests who have no idea of his past. Since there was no proof of any wrongdoing, and he voluntarily left his position at St. Peter and Paul’s, he is viewed amongst all he meets as a respected member of the clergy, and an honest and decent man. He still enjoys sports and coaches a basketball team populated by priests, takes part in staging church and community events, and prays with great regularity for his own soul, and priests who he knows have a much darker history than he.

After reviewing more of the records, Joe’s eyes turn to the red box in the lower corner of his screen. He clicks it, and the screen fills with the image of Al, in the same spot as before, appearing to be reading at his desk.

After a few seconds, Al stops reading and looks up to the camera. “Hello, again, Joe! You’re back sooner than I expected.”

Joe Ribose doesn’t know exactly what to say, since he’s not at all sure why he initiated the visit. “Hello, Al......I’ve been reviewing some early records of  people from the greater Chicago area....and I thought of our discussion while working.

Al closes his book and folds his hands together in front of him at his desk. Joe continues to wonder why he needs to speak with this “pretend” man, and remains silent.

“Yes? says Al.

Awkwardly Joe begins to speak, “ said that you ‘knew about my past’ when we spoke the last time, and I wanted to know how much you knew since...if you know about Nemo, many others may....and.... I like it here and I don’t want to lose my position.

“I see,” says Al. “So this is more of a fact finding mission?”

“Yes....and no....” responds Joe, though he doesn’t really know and is mostly responding to the bearing of this man who doesn’t exist and is not human.

Al takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes before speaking, “Why not start with the ‘Yes’ answer, Joe.”

“Okay....first of you know anything about.....Nemo....what’s become of him?”

“As a matter of fact we much would you like to know?

“Mostly, just that he’s okay. He’d be in his thirties now, and I still care very much for him.”

“He is fine, Joe. Yes, we know that he’s ‘happily’ married, has a good job, and has two sons and a daughter. Would you like to know any more?”

“No. I am happy to know that, even if you aren’t telling me the truth.”

“Joe!” snaps back Al. “We ALWAYS tell the truth when asked a question. As long as the question has an answer. Some questions have no real answer.”

Joe thinks about Al’s response and is quiet again for a short time before responding.

“Perhaps it is my own deceit that causes me to doubt your honesty, Al. You see, I have not been as truthful as I should be, and it bothers me greatly.”

“So you are in a need of a ‘confession.’ Joe? I am not the priest; you are,” answers Al.

“I do go to confession,” responds Joe. “But I never divulge my past and rarely, if ever, speak of my true desires.”

“So, what you need right now is to confess... to anything that seens human...or godly, even if that person isn’t real.”

“Correct, Al.”

“Okay, then go ahead and let it out,” says Al as he leans back in his chair.

“Though I never believed that I damaged Nemo in any way, I was deceitful about my feelings for the boy...which were so great that they still affect me. A have never spoken to anyone Chicago....about him. And though I am conscious of relationships I could have chosen to refrain from any close contact with anyone....”

“Sounds like you are a rarity in the Church these days,” answers Al.

“Perhaps,” says Ribose. “But though the Church may be out of step with the times, I feel that I am mostly out of step with myself.”

“Are you looking for an answer to that statement, Joe?”

“I don’t know,” says Joe, who already feels better having confessed his feelings.

“Let me make this easy for you, Joe. Right or wrong, good or bad, we have no real opinion on how you acted, or how you act today. We selected you for contact, in that you, to us, seemed ‘honest’ in a world of humans who by their very natures are dishonest.

“So it is of no surprise to me that you think of yourself as practicing deceit. Humans judging humans is human. It’s part of what we know of your species. It’s part of why humans need to believe in a God, and why you make up stories to cover up lies, and why you even believe the lies you make up.”

There is a long moment of silence in which neither party speaks. Joe breaks the silence. “Thank you for listening....”

Al responds with a quite human chuckle, and shakes his head. “This isn’t ALL about you, is it...really?”

“No,” but it is about the Church, and the hypocrisies that have always been there and still are.”

“Those we know about,” responds Al. “The same hypocrisies that have existed from the first church formed, and the first society created. There’s nothing new in that, Joe. We are afraid that deceit, hypocrisy and treachery define humanity as much as thoughts of peace and love. Maybe more. We just can’t tell yet.”

“You may be right, Al...and that’s a sad statement about mankind.”

“Maybe,” says Al. “But maybe not. Humanity does seem like a grand experiment, one which still may be in its infancy. There are many innovations in the way that could change the course for humans, if they choose to change.”

“It seems to me that that our religions have failed us,” says Joe.

Al pulls himself closer to his monitor, purses his lips and nods his head slowly up and down. “As the 14th Dalai Lama said before his passing, ‘it is not religion that fails man, it is mankind who fails the religions it’s created

“Amen to that,” says Ribose.