By John Fitzgerald
Last week, I recounted how the Poet Ryan got away with hearing confessiosn in Coolagh Church, and how his growing confidence about his ability to pull off this outlandish and unprecedented ruse led him to move his “act” to Callan.
Donning his second-hand cassock, which was a little too big for him but that couldn’t be helped; he stepped quietly into Callan parish church and had a discreet look around.
He noticed that there were three confessionals in the chapel and that some days there wouldn’t be a priest in one of them. So he slipped into an empty box, and in no time at all penitents were queuing up to confess.
He continued to hear confessions in Callan for almost three months. Then things began to go wrong. The Poet started to get careless. His runaway sucsess as a confessor went to his head and he abandoned his earlier strict adherence to clerical protocol, as he understood it, and the dictates of Canon Law that a trusted pal had passed on to him.
He began giving exorbitant penances, such as hundreds of Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Matters came to a head when he gave a Callan grocer two hundred Our Fathers and a dozen Rosaries, and the man had only sworn at a dog that had eaten a slice of ham from his shop counter. He had not blasphemed, just used the word “feck.”
When the man cursed in the confessional, saying: “Ah for Jaysus sake, Father, come on!” the Poet added twenty Rosaries and advised him to also go on a special spiritual retreat up the side of a mountain to pray for a fortnight and to survive on bread and water.
The penitent, badly shaken, left the confessional and went straight to the Parish Priest; Dr. Doyle, to complain about the severity of the penance that “Father Jim” had given him.
“Father Jim?” gasped the PP, “we don’t have a Father Jim!”
Dr. Doyle called in The Poet and severely reprimanded him for usurping the sacred, divinely ordained functions of a priest. He let him off with a caution, but warned him that should there be any repeat of “this scandal that beats every other sin out of sight”, The Poet would be publicly excommunicated from the Catholic Church and denounced from the altars of all the churches of the parish every Sunday for a full year.
The Poet gave an undertaking not to hear any further confessions in Callan parish. When the PP asked him if he could remember whose sins he had forgiven, The Poet said, “sure Father they went in one ear and out the other.”
Though Dr. Doyle never openly alluded at mass to what he told The Poet was “an unspeakable offence”, word of the bizarre pseudo-clerical situation filtered out…into the streets and the pubs and the homes of the district. Penitents wondered which of their sins had really been forgiven and which of them had merely been “written off” by The Poet.
Dr. Doyle advised locals who approached him on the matter to say double the number of prayers given to them at confession for a period of twelve months to compensate for any forgiveness shortfall occasioned by The Poet’s presence in the confessional.
“God will understand”, he assured a worried Green Street lady who queried whether this remedy would really banish the sins that The Poet had erroneously absolved.
The Poet composed a poem on the subject called “My Forgiving Days in the Callan and Coolagh Confession Boxes.”
This poem has unfortunately been lost to us, as it was never transcribed.
(Extract from my book Are We Invaded Yet?)