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St. Nick's Outlaws

By Jim Colombo


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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo


Chapter 18


The Catholic Church divided San Francisco into parishes that were sovereign, and


each parish had a Monsignor who had absolute authority over the other priests, the nuns,


and the laity. He was a senior priest who had moved up the ranks by demonstrating that


he was a good shepherd of his flock.  If he fervently believed in the word of God and what


he was preaching, then so should all. They were men of God appointed by the Pope to


lead the sinners to heaven. They were good motivators during the Offertory.  The


Monsignor stood humbly in front of the congregation asking for donations that were


beyond the means of most of the parishioners, while he wore silk gowns, drank from a gold


chalice that was kept in a golden tabernacle, and drove a new car each year.  


There was a pharmacist in the neighborhood who everyone respected and


frequented his store. He was an usher at church on Sundays, but on Tuesday nights he


was "Henry the bingo man." Most folks went just to hear Henry announce each call.


Henry would teasingly pronounce the letter, then the number. He was a successful


pharmacist who had a loving wife and three beautiful children. Mr. Perfect, you would


think. Well Mr. Perfect was selling a new product that would revolutionize the world:


birth control. When Henry started selling birth control pills The Monsignor gave Harry a


special lecture on his obligation as a good Catholic to discourage using the pill because it


violated God’s law.  This implies that God made a decision and told the Pope who passed


on the information to the faithful that it was sinful to use the pill. Henry had taken an oath


and was licensed by the state.  He told the Monsignor that any woman who had a


prescription from a doctor would be served.   Henry was a generous man and as the profits


increased, so did his offerings.  At first the Monsignor thought that other women, not


Catholic, were violating God’s laws and their bodies with the pill.  The Monsignor had no


difficulty accepting Henry’s increased offerings.  The nuns needed a station wagon, so the


Monsignor asked Henry for a new Ford station wagon. Henry delivered a Ford station


wagon two days later.  The Monsignor was intrigued with the ease and speed Henry


delivered the station wagon.   


Two months later the drugstore was painted inside and outside. There was fancy


new merchandise for the ladies, like the kind that was sold at stores such as City of Paris


and The White House on Union Square in the upscale part of San Francisco. Henry did


not forget the church on Sunday. His offerings had increased considerably. Occasionally


when repairs were needed for the church, auditorium or convent, Henry would help pay


part or the entire repair. The Monsignor started asking Henry for special donations, like at


tax time or when the archdioceses would have the general fund. Henry felt squeezed.


The Monsignor started giving sermons that warned of the danger of deformed children and


health problems for women who took the pill. He ended his sermon by reassuring the


ladies of St. Philip's that they had nothing to worry about. They would never violate God's


law. Henry's sales and profit decreased significantly. Henry could no longer support the


Church as generously as before. The Monsignor asked Henry if it was due to a lack of


sales of the pill? Henry did not reply, but he admitted that business was slow. It was


evident to the Monsignor that the parish ladies were using the pill against his authority. 


The Monsignor thought he had Henry in his pocket.


Mrs. Riley was too sick to go to church.  Henry asked Father Walsh if he would say


mass for Mrs. Riley at her home. Rose, her daughter, had never married, and would be


glad to cook dinner for him. Father Walsh began saying mass at Mrs. Riley's house every


Sunday at four o'clock and finished about suppertime.  Rose was in her mid-thirties. Father


Walsh was about forty. The good Father began visiting Mrs. Riley quite often, and staying


after dinner with Rose.   Rose went to visit a sick sister for a week and returned with a


prescription for an infection.  She started using Kotex pads instead of inserts. She was


nervous paying for the items. Father Walsh stopped serving mass at Mrs. Riley's house.


Rose started going to St. Paul's Catholic Church.


The Monsignor invited Henry over for a chat. He asked if it was more than a


coincidence that his sermons had reduced Henry's profits. Henry replied, “No comment.”


The Monsignor became upset and accused Henry of selling the pill to the women of the


parish. Then the Monsignor settled down and told Henry, “I could forgive you if a new


Mercury Cougar was given as a gift to the Church.”


 Henry shook his head and stared at the Monsignor. The Monsignor asked


Henry if he understood the consequences. Henry said, “Yes, I do.  All of the prescriptions


were from doctors.  I have done nothing wrong, and I’m tired of being financially squeezed


by the church.”


Henry got up and began to walk out. The Monsignor was shocked because he was


so use to dictating his will.  He raised his voice, and asked Henry, “Is it was worth losing


your soul and business?”


Henry raised his voice a bit louder and said, “I have nothing to lose, but you and


Father Walsh have a great deal to lose.”


“How so,” asked the Monsignor?


“The prescription that Rose asked to have filled was a medication that I wasn’t


familiar with.  The doctor told me that it was a new medicine used to fight depression.  I


asked what would Rose be depressed about?  He replied that Rose had had an abortion. 


He was concerned because she had deep feelings of guilt.” 


The Monsignor was startled by Henry’s knowledge.  What else did he know?


Henry continued, “Why had Father Walsh stopped saying mass at Mrs. Riley's


house?  Why was Rose attending St. Paul's Church?  Did you know that Father Walsh had


stayed late with Rose? Were you aware that Rose had had an abortion, and could not


afford to paid for one?”


“Stop!  There are lies.  All lies,” said the Monsignor shocked that Henry knew so much.


Henry continued the assault, “ And finally, why was St. Philip's revenue lower each


year for the past four years? How will you explain the special collection next month?


The Monsignor sat back, deep into the leather couch.  Each question lashed at him


had taken its tool on his psyche.  The painful look of defeat on the Monsignor's face


confirmed Henry's suspicions.   Henry stood by the doorway and gazed at an ordinary man


dressed in black who once dictated God’s will.  “I hope you do what’s right for Rose, Father


Walsh, and the Church.  Think of it as redemption.”  Henry walked out of the rectory and


felt the wind swirl around him.  


Henry had sold the pill to his CPA's wife, Nancy, who worked for the archdiocese


of San Francisco in the accounting department.  She trusted Henry's discretion, and told


him that there would be a special collection at St. Philip's in a month because the parish


revenue had missed its target the last four years. "How can that be considering the


generosity of the parish?" he asked.  She didn’t know. Henry had a good idea.


Two weeks later, Rose could no longer live with the guilt of killing her child and the


shame that the father of her unborn son was a priest. Rose lay on her bed in her favorite


pajamas, and took a bottle of sleeping pills. She left a note asking her mother for


forgiveness. Rose, with tears in her eyes, slowly waited for death to take her away.


The police questioned Father Walsh about Rose's death, and her reference to


forgiveness. He began to cry, and he admitted that he was the father.  He had paid for the


abortion. Father Walsh asked the policeman if he had any idea how guilty he felt knowing


about the abortion, and now Rose's death. He also admitted that he co-signed the revenue


reports knowing that they were not accurate. He never took any of the money, but he knew


that the Monsignor had.


Henry was angry that the Monsignor had ignored Rose.  He called the police and


told them all that he knew.  When the police arrived the Monsignor confessed to skimming


money for his dying mother.  He said he had not thought about Father Walsh and Rose,


and never thought she would take her life.  One of the policemen was Catholic and asked,


“How can a priest steal from the Church?” 


The Monsignor folded his hands as if to pray.  He stared at the floor, never looking


at the Policeman, and replied, “My mother was dying of cancer and her insurance paid


only part of her expenses. I had asked the Archdiocese if they would help, but they refused


me.  I wasn’t going to let my mother die a beggar while I had devoted my life to God and


the Church.  I believed I was owed something for thirty-one years of faithful service.”


The policemen took Father Walsh and the Monsignor’s statements, and reminded


them that they under investigation.  An auditor from the Archdiocese entered the rectory


and introduced himself as the policemen were leaving.  The auditor asked to see the


Parish financial records.  The Monsignor led the auditor to the study.  Father Walsh went


to the kitchen to get a stiff drink of courage.


  Rose was buried, and her mother moved to Oregon to live with her younger sister


who had recently become a widow. Father Walsh started drinking again and was sent to a


Catholic hospital for Priests who were alcoholics. The Monsignor was reassigned to a


remote parish in Montana as a missionary to help the local native Indians. The auditor


estimated that $22,000 had been skimmed from the revenue. The Church didn’t want any


bad publicity and adjusted the records. The special collection was canceled. Henry's drug


store prospered and he continued being Henry the bingo man on Tuesday nights.


Bob had worked for Henry after school during this period, and told Jim the story


when they spent their last summer together in Yosemite. Bob was a good student, and


Henry said he would help Bob financially if he wanted to go to college and become a


pharmacist. Henry knew many things about many people, but always maintained


discretion and ethics. He would lend money to several folks in the parish when they


were in need, and didn’t charge any interest.  Henry paid for Rose’s funeral. He would not


accept repayment from Mrs. Riley, and he would return the checks torn in half. Henry was


a true Catholic, not like the ones who dressed in robes and hid behind the Bible. 


Some of the parishioners were surprised when Monsignor De Marco replaced the


Monsignor. St Philip’s always had Irish priests and Monsignors.  Monsignor De Marco tried


to put fun and hope back into the parish. He was a good humanitarian and helped anyone.


The previous priests preached of sin, damnation, and a constant need for money.


Monsignor De Marco spoke of love for one another, helping one another, and the spiritual


community that they belonged to.  Attendance at Church increased. The folks that the


faithful saw only at Christmas and Easter services were starting to become regular


parishioners. The new folks discovered Mr. Bingo on Tuesday nights.  Sunday services


were more caring, with fellowship, not damnation and fear. The faithful were a community,


no longer an island.





More next week...


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