This post originally ran 6 October 2012.
PLAYERS: Father Quinn, in uniform. A Bartender, Murphy, in uniform. A reporter, Bradford, looking hip. Other patrons may be added as set dressing, but who are not necessary.
SCENE: A bar in midtown Gotham. A bartender hovers while a priest sits sipping the water of life. A reporter from the newspaper of eminence walks in. The reporter recognizes the priest.
Bartender Murphy Runnin’ low there, Father? Let’s top ‘er off.
Father Quinn I think, no, Mr Murphy, sir, no. I’ve overstayed my welcome I believe.
Quinn Perhaps just a small one. Evening mass is still many minutes distant.
Murphy On the house.
Quinn God bless you. I—
Bradford (sidling up; talking over Quinn) It’s Father Quinn, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. Jim Bradford. Reporter from the paper? We met when I covered that, uh, unfortunate…business.
Quinn (shaking hands) Ah, Mr Bradform, yes. Of course I remember.
Bradford I thought I’d recognized you. And it’s Bradford, sir.
Quinn So you recognized me. My mother always did say I had the face of angel. Bradford, did you say? Yes, I remember you well. What was that you wrote? “This scandal surely spells the doom of the Catholic church”?
Bradford Well, uh, yes. Something like that.
Quinn In a hurry, are you? Sit down, Mr Bradford. Have a stool.
Bradford (sitting, glancing at his watch) I was to meet someone here for an interview. But he didn’t show.
Quinn Mr Murphy, sir. Three swallows for the gentleman.
Bradford And what brings you here, Father?
Quinn I was commiserating with a brother brother, in a manner of speaking. The minister of St. Mundus’s Episcopal church, may she rest is pieces.
Bradford St. Mundus? Over on 44th? Didn’t I read that they’d turned it into a suite of apartments?
Quinn And so they will. With no possibility of a reprieve. No. This was their last week. After this, they are no more.
Bradford Well—no surprise. No, uh, disrespect, father. You know what I mean.
Quinn As to the fact of the matter, Mr Bradford, I do not know what you mean.
Bradford Hadn’t they lost all their parishioners? It’s not exactly a rare complaint these days, is it? Not cheap to keep a building like that going when no one’s putting envelopes in the Sunday baskets.
Quinn Ah, but it’s why the seats go empty. They needn’t have done.
Bradford Well, Father, no disrespect. But it’s happening all over. I mean, this is just one more example of many. If this trend continues every church will be turned into a boutique or apartment. I’ll tell you, though: I agree that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Quinn Is that so? And what suggestions have you for us?
Bradford It’s not my place, really.
Quinn Your shyness does not become you, sir. Come, we are all men here—are we not Mr Murphy?
Murphy I wouldn’t know, Father. My wife doesn’t let me talk about those things in public.
Bradford If you wouldn’t be so resistant to change. Take women priests.
Quinn Don’t tempt me with obvious retorts, sir. They aren’t becoming in a man of the cloth.
Bradford And it isn’t just your stance toward choice, which I grant you is a difficult position to overcome. But you don’t have to change it, you see. It’s more a matter of understanding that your own members don’t—and won’t; that’s the key—share the views of hierarchy. You can’t turn back the clock by holding onto the past. Not only choice, but even something as basic as contraception. Everybody uses it, yet you try to ban it.
Quinn Now we are getting somewhere. Let’s don’t stop here; let’s have it all.
Bradford No disrespect, of course.
Quinn Heaven forfend!
Bradford Well, I don’t think you see the contradiction in your stance toward marriage rights. You can’t be for social justice and against equality. People have the right to marry whomever they wish. It’s the same thing with openly gay and lesbian priests. If only you’d—
Quinn —And isn’t that how we first met?
Bradford What’s that?
Quinn Never you mind. Mr Murphy!
Bradford Sexuality in general is problematic. We have learned so much these last fifty years. We can’t go back to the way it was. I mean we, the public. But not the Church. They speak of sexual matters like ill-informed school boys. That’s what comes of a celibate priesthood! Um…no disrespect intended.
Quinn Of course not.
Bradford And this is all on top of your official stance towards science. Anti-science. It just isn’t on, you see. Science already answers the big questions. Dogmatism is of no use in explaining the big band. Big bag, I mean. Bang! Evolution describes the human condition. People won’t tolerate talk of miracles in the Twenty-First Century. Loaves and fishing, indeed.
Quinn The count is up to twenty-one, is it?
Bradford What’s that?
Quinn Skip it. Time for a recapitulation. You think that if the Church were to ordain women priests, allow male priests to marry, embrace homosexuality and bless anybody who wants to marry, that we’d be more attractive?
Bradford Well, yes.
Quinn That if we’d loosen up and cease lecturing people about sleeping with whomever they would, give the nod to contraception since we can’t stop them anyway, and admit that abortion is sometimes superior to the burden of having a child, then people would look upon us with a kinder eye?
Bradford Something like that, yes.
Quinn And if we’d concentrate on social justice—see to it that everybody had a free cellphone and the like—instead of harping on miracles, sin, and eternity, that we might even see a glowing article on How The Church Has Grown appear in your paper?
Bradford Father, this is it. You would appeal to a much broader audience, one who would find your message acceptable.
Quinn Then what would be left of the Church? Except for the candles, how could anybody tell us apart from, to pick an example, your favorite political party?
Bradford Well, some people still find ritual—
Quinn —But we don’t have to guess, do we? No, sir. For all these changes you advocate, and more; all have been tried, each has been embraced, and warmly. The experiment has already been run.
Bradford And where’s that, Father?
Quinn Why, at St. Mundus’s, of course.
Bradford (rising) I need to find the men’s room.
Murphy (stepping over, invoking the cliché of polishing a glass) Who is that guy, Father?
Quinn I fear, Mr Murphy, that he is our future. If we aren’t careful.