From Issue 3.1 - September/October 1996
Anatole France has said that all confessors, from Augustine on down, have always remained a little bit in love with their sins. That, unfortunately, doesn't quite speak to my condition. And yet, I cannot believe that the Lord condemns me.
I become intoxicated with the smell of incense and candles, the touch of the robes upon my body, the stiffness of the Roman collar against my throat. My desire visits me when the sound of the organ rises to heaven, and Sunday morning burns through the stained glass like acetylene. It comes with the taste of the holy communion upon my tongue, the sensuous feel of Christ's blood seeping down my throat.
But most of all, my need rises in the darkness of the confessional, when I hear the evil which flows through the hearts of my parishioners, when they confess to me every manner of impure thought and deed, when the Lord gives his gift of forgiveness and absolution -- which, happily, I bestow upon others. That power, and that compassion, excites me. I hear the sins of men and women; I feel their anguish in the sympathetic sensations of my body; I taste their despair through the thin silken screen; I share their terror at their delicate transgressions.
To feel all of this, and then to whisper prayers and prescribe decades
of the rosary like so many spiritual antibiotics, wielding sensuous
power over my flock -- that is my delight. That is my need. My
dream. My nightmare. That is my ecstasy.
The woman kneels on the other side of the screen. I recognize her voice immediately. She has confessed to me many times. She is in her early twenties, a new bride very much in love with her husband. Her name is Catherine.
Catherine confesses, weeping, her myriad indiscretions after her husband has gone to sleep, after they have made love. There is always some discomfort during the act. But her body remains on fire long after he has ceased to touch her, and she is unable to stop her hands from wandering. It excites her to be beside her husband while she does it, though his snoring disturbs her. She is sick for being excited thus, she tells me. The pleasure is increased by her knowledge of her sin.
Catherine breaks into choking sobs. She is convinced that she has sinned horribly.
I shake my head, saddened at the girl's suffering. In soft tones I tell her that the Lord is lenient on those who are truly in need. If the fire has taken her over perhaps the Lord wishes her to learn something from the experience. And lubricant, water-based, will resolve the discomfort and perhaps allow her to reach completion during the marital act. I tell her that if this is not the case she should do what she must, fully aware of her husband's nonparticipation, and return to me for further confession and absolution.
"As well," I tell her, "you should always be aware of the source of your forgiveness. You say you are aroused by the knowledge of your sin. Perhaps you should recite a decade of the rosary while performing the act in question..."
Catherine nods, accepts my absolution as I offer it: freely, without condition. "You should not despair. God knows we are physical creatures, and imperfect..."
Catherine thanks me. Gracefully, she leaves the confessional.
She appears to be my last confessor for the day. My need has become excruciating through the long, hot afternoon. I lift my robe.
The zipper of my pants seems deafening in the tiny space. Biting my finger, hard, to stop from crying out, I circle myself with my hand and go to work fervently.
I have not quite reached the crest as I hear the footsteps coming up the hallway. I must call a halt to the ritual before it is completed -- no matter. Duties must come first. I let my organ slip away. Neatly, I remove a frankincense-scented handkerchief from my breast pocket, and wrap it tightly around myself before refastening my pants.
Breathing slowly, I turn to the screen as the door opens and the shadow of a human face falls across it. The door to the confessional closes.
"Forgive me father, for I have sinned..." it is a familiar voice.
"Yes, my son?"
"Father, I listen to the sins of the world. I hear the errors that God's children make. And it sets me on fire."
I speak very carefully. I can finally place the voice. It disturbs me somewhat to be talking thus to the monsignor. My voice betrays nothing.
"Sets you on fire, my son. With rage?"
"No, father, with lust. I am a priest. When I hear the confessions, the impurities and carnal desires of human nature, the transgressions of women and men, my body is overwhelmed with desire. I have spent my many years celibate, never knowing the embrace of another -- but I do know my own embrace..."
The monsignor began to weep.
"God forgives those who truly are in need," I say.
"Does He, father? Does He really?"
I have to think about that one for a moment.
"I'm not sure," I say. "Let's find out."
Slowly, I lift my robe and unzip my pants. The sound of the zipper is quite audible in the tiny space. The monsignor hesitates, aware of what I am doing, unsure if a great defilement or a holy ritual is being enacted. My cock is tender from its recent flogging, but has remained rock-hard. I wrap the frankincense-scented handkerchief more tightly around the head.
"The Lord offers us pleasures of the body as a temptation," I say, my sentence seasoned with tiny grunts, my face up against the screen as I get to work. The monsignor's face is mere inches from the screen. "But there is a greater sin than self-indulgence -- that of self-martyrdom. I truly believe that the Lord wishes us to forego sexuality only if and when we have full knowledge and thus full consent...and that to deny that knowledge is a deep sin."
"Father," comes the monsignor's breathy voice. "What you say is blasphemy." I can tell what he is doing from the rocking motions of his shadow, from the faint sound of rhythmic slapping through the wall. I can tell from the squeaking of his chair. I know that he is very close.
"Blasphemy, perhaps, only to the dogmatic, to the philistines -- perhaps, my son?"
"Perhaps," he grunts. The monsignor stands, and the shadow across the screen shows his parts in perfect working order, pistoning violently. "But the Lord did slay Onan, did he not?"
"Not for spilling his seed -- for failing to sire his brother's children. This is not in the job description for you, is it?"
The monsignor offers a rueful laugh, a faint moan, a short gasp.
He speaks with some difficulty. "But does God approve of such carnal knowledge -- even solitary knowledge -- on spiritual grounds?"
"The Fool shall not enter into heaven, be him ever so holy," I intone, leaning hard against the wall so that my shadow falls in conjunction with the monsignor's. I wrap my stiffened handkerchief around my organ and bring myself mercilessly toward completion.
"William Blake," groans the monsignor. "He was a fucking protestant, and a lousy one!"
"Damn," I mutter. Caught in the act.
With a sudden whimper, the monsignor convulses. I hear the faint sound of fluid striking the screen in drops not unlike a half-second's worth of gentle summer rain.
Stars flare in the edges of my vision. I release my own seed into the scented cloth, whispering the first part of the Ave Maria.
I sink into the leather chair. I can tell that the monsignor, too, has taken his seat.
"You must not despair," I tell him. "The Lord knows well that we are physical creatures, and imperfect..."
The monsignor is silent for some time. His breathing is labored. Soon, he shakes his head and begins to weep. Perhaps I am indulging myself, but it seems to me that these are tears of joy.
The monsignor grows silent for several minutes. I remain still, listening. Finally, he speaks.
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned..."
This story first appeared in Paramour magazine, and will appear in Thomas Roche's forthcoming collection, Dark Fibre, to be published by Masquerade Books in February 1997.