I sat in the confessional closet and listened to a man tell me that he had killed a woman. My heart stopped.
“Who was she?”
“I don’t know. A woman I saw on the street.”
“I was compelled. It was the way she looked and walked. It was an affront.”
“You know what I mean. Some women dress in a certain way. Some behave as if they want to lead a man astray. They provoke.”
He had leaned back, so nothing of his face showed through the grill. Provoke. It was too easy to imagine, a young woman in a short skirt, high heels, a plunging neckline and cheap jewellery. Some men would believe that she was fair game for abuse. But this man had come to me; there must be guilt. Silently, I called on God to help me lead him to the right path.
“Where did you kill her?”
“In an alley, behind a row of shops.”
“I hit her. I beat her head against a wall.”
I felt cold. I could hear remorse in his voice but knew that it wasn’t enough.
“When did this happen?”
“Nobody else knows?”
“Would I tell anyone?”
“You’ve told me.”
“You’re a priest, a man of God.”
“And you want to come to God.”
He didn’t reply. I listened to his breathing. There was only one thing I could advise, but it would be the end of whatever life he currently lived.
“You feel guilt?”
“I come for absolution. I can’t continue as I feel now.”
“Your soul is wounded.”
“I feel pain.”
“Then you must confess, not just to me, not just to God. You should go to the police.”
“I have a family, a wife and two children. It would destroy them. I can wreck my own life, but I can’t wreck theirs.”
I could hear the fear in his voice, felt my stomach tighten and struggled to find new words.
“I know it’s a terrible prospect, that it will cause them suffering, but otherwise the guilt will poison your life and infect those around you.”
I didn’t know if I spoke the truth, only that there was a thin logic that might convince a fragile soul.
The man was silent except for a few tense breaths. I pressed a little harder.
“You must go to the police and tell them what you did. I know it’s a frightening prospect, but if you don’t do it the consequences will be worse.”
“Beyond this life?”
“If you go to God with a sin, something this extreme, that you have not absolved by your actions, then .......” I couldn’t finish. I don’t talk of hellfire or exile from God, and I don’t like to make direct threats to anyone in search of salvation. “God will know that you refused to submit to him in life.” I let the words hang in the air, hoping the implication would be enough. It was seconds before he spoke again.
“Will you grant me absolution?”
“Will you go the police?”
“I told you, I can’t.”
“I can go with you. It would be the first step to redemption.”
I hoped the man was absorbing the meaning of the word, ready to surrender. I heard his breathing, then a rustle of the curtain and shoe steps on the stone floor. He had come to me anonymously and I had no right to follow. I sat in the dark, sickened that I was now colluding in what he had done. .............................
(The full story appears in Perversities of Faith)