Monday, 24 May 2010

Cautionary Tales

O wicked presumption, whence camest thou, to cover the earth with thy malice and deceitfulness? There is a companion who rejoices with his friends in his joys; but in time of trouble, he will be against him.

Ecclesiasticus 37:3-4

This is a series of tales about the relationships between women and priests; ordinary women, ordinary priests.

There was the woman who spent every moment she could down at the presbytery. Each day she would work with the housekeeper. Her husband’s dinner would be left for him in the evenings. Her children hardly saw her. Her son was drifting into drug addiction, her daughter was drifting into unsuitable relationships. Words were had between loving husband and wife but nobody could convince the woman that working for the priests was NOT her primary role.


There is the priest who marvels at the efficiency of his female secretary. He can’t believe anyone could be so organised. When he moves parishes, he wants her to continue to work for him, but she can’t. When the job of being parish secretary is advertised, he is determined the job will go to a woman. “Men can’t possibly be any good at this type of thing”, he says.


There was the woman who, when the priest came to visit was so in awe of him that she wouldn’t go to the toilet during his visit. Being of a certain age, she had a weak bladder and caused herself no amount of discomfort, he was a regular visitor and liked to stay for a lengthy cup of tea.


There is the woman who is so protective of “her priest” that nobody can get near the newsletter, the various parish groups, or the priest himself without her knowing about it. People talk, you know.


When the time came for the soul to depart the body, one poor woman was at the centre of a tremendous, unseen battle for her soul. Having spent her life in admiration of priests, having served them dutifully, having spend what little she had providing them with little luxuries, she thought they might like, when, in those last days priests came to provide her with the Sacrament of the Sick, she would send them away with venom and fear in her eyes, unrepentant.


Maybe my quote from Ecclesiasticus is harsh. But the relationship between priest and female parishoner is fraught with presumptions and misconceptions. Indeed, if a woman and a priest really did get to understand each other, they probably would fall in love. And even if that love were truly chaste and noble, people would talk wouldn’t they.

As a married woman, I will not get involved with parish stuff unless my husband is involved too. I think that priests should have male secretaries. As much as I would dearly love the intellectual banter and good humour my husband enjoys when talking with priests, I retreat into the wallpaper. Priests are for the sacraments and I am united to them in love through prayer and silent sacrifice.


Autumn said...

A truly sensible post, and your caution is noteworthy, Rita. I concur.
Autumn x

ukok said...

Writing from the viewpoint of a former parish secretary, i can honestly say that i wholeheartedly agree!

3 years i did that job and it caused me incredible anxiety. Of course, the priest was married and his wife had issues with me doing my job which required my spending time with her husband.

I regret remaining in the position after the first year or so, when i became acutely aware of the tension that would be palpable in my presence.

The worst thing of all was that i believed i could be 'friends' with my boss, the priest....and he did too....but it was turned into something ugly and we were eventually pitted against each other.

I will never make that mistake again.

In fact, I have been offered various roles in one of the parishes i nw regularly attend and short of telling the parish priest that i am not interested in any of his suggestions to get me more involved in the parish. I am very aware that he is of a tactile and jovial nature and he once told me 'priests need friends too'. I do not believe i can be a friend in that way. It probably sounds awful, but i just want to go to Mass. I know that if we have talents and skills etc, that we should build up the parish with these...and yes, i am a trained catechist and catechesis was something i loved doing once...i just don;t want to (at this stage) become entwined with another parish by investing myself so completely to it.

Funnily enough, a former priest of my old parish also had a female secretary...he was a wonderful priest...but i did think it a bit strange that when he moved to another parish, his secretay went with him. It is believed she was a s much a companion to him as a part time secretary.

It's dangerous territory.

Very interesting post and observations, Rita!

mum6kids said...

Wise words.
Deb says it all too.
I've decided I am doing my bit for the parish by teaching the children their Faith and having the boys serve.
Doing more always seems to backfire. I have my own silly tale to tell on that one-but it doesn't need telling.
God bless

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Me..can't possibly comment! Not being at liberty!

Rita said...

There you go, that's five of us who have problems in this area!!!!