As I sat there listening to people confess their sins, I felt like a hypocrite. I should be sitting on the other side of the window and confessing my own sins. I’m a Catholic priest who is living a double life. I’m having an illicit relationship with Keturah, my young housekeeper.
I met her on my way to the rectory when I saw her. She was begging in the street. I was compelled to stop and talk to her. I learned that she was twenty and had been homeless in London for four years. It was a dark and rainy night when we met. Instead of giving her money, I took her to a nearby cafe and bought her a sandwich and hot chocolate.
While she ate and drank, I thought of how I could help her further. I determined that she couldn’t return to the streets. Perhaps I could take her to a homeless shelter but when I suggested that, she was against it. After much consideration, I decided that she would come back to the rectory with me. I needed a housekeeper. That option proved to be more to her liking. So, after we left the cafe, we walked to the rectory.
In retrospect, perhaps it was unwise of me to have a single, attractive young woman under my roof but my desire to help her, to save her outweighed propriety. She had her own room and I gave her money to buy whatever she needed. In return, she prepared my meals, my clothes and did the housekeeping. In the evenings, I invited her into the sitting area where I prayed and did spiritual and theological reading before I let her do whatever she wanted before she retired for the night.
She soon learned that my life as a parish priest is a very busy one. I celebrated daily Mass, heard confessions every week, gave marriage counselling, provided prenuptial counselling, gave spiritual direction, anointed and visited shut-ins and the sick in hospitals and nursing homes, taught catechism to children and adults, baptizes, witnesses marriages, performed funerals and burials and attended numerous parish and diocesan meetings. I hardly had any private time for myself. It was a joy to return to the rectory after a busy day and find a hot meal. It nice having her there too.
For years I had been living there alone with no one to talk to. I encouraged her to tell me about herself. I was curious as to how she ended up homeless. One evening after dinner, she opened up to me.
“My father died when I was three and my mother was struck down by a drunk driver one night when she was coming home. I was fifteen at the time. I paid for the funeral with the money she had in the bank. I wasn’t working so I couldn’t pay the rent when what was left of the money ran out, so I got kicked out. I had nowhere else to go so I took to the streets. No one at school knew that I was homeless. I managed to survive for four years.”
“God was watching over you,” I told her. “He kept you safe all those years.”
“My mother believed in God. She went to church every Sunday.”
“What about you? Do you believe in Him?”
She shrugged. “I guess so. I don’t know Him well, though.”
“Would you like to know Him better?”
“Well, we can know God through what He creates. We know Him best through Jesus Christ, His Son who is fully God and fully human.”
Every evening, I read the Bible to her, shared the Catechism and what my church believed. She began to attend Mass every Sunday and by the end of the year, she wanted to be baptized into the Catholic faith. I was very thrilled and truly honoured to baptize her. I gave her a rosary and a Bible. She couldn’t stop thanking me for them.
I don’t know exactly when it happened but one evening when we were in the sitting-room, I realized that I was developing feelings for her. That troubled me greatly and for weeks, I made excuses not to spend time with her. I spent my evenings in my study or in my room. I ate my meals in my study. At first, she didn’t say anything. Then, one evening, she knocked on the door of my study. Before I could say anything, she opened the door and walked right in.
I stiffened. “I didn’t give you permission to come in,” I reprimanded her.
“I came to see if you wanted a slice of cake.”
“No, thank you.”
“You haven’t touched your dinner.”
“I’ll finish it shortly. Now, Keturah, if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish writing my sermon.”
“I’ll let you get back to it, Father Carmichael, just as soon as you answer my question.”
I put my pen down. I was tense as I met her gaze. “What’s your question?”
“Why have you been avoiding me?” she asked.
“As you can see, I’m very busy.”
“You’ve never been busy in the evenings. And you always have your meals in the kitchen. Why are you having them now in here?”
“Keturah, before you came here, I always used to have my meals in here.”
“And then, you started having them with me until recently. Why? Have I said or done something to upset you?”
“You haven’t said or done anything. I just prefer to eat in here, that’s all.”
“All right.” She reached for the plate. “Your dinner is probably cold now. I’ll take it to the kitchen and heat it up.”
“No, leave it.” I spoke quietly but perhaps it was the firmness in my tone which made her do as I said and she quickly left the study, closing the door behind her. I sat there, staring at the closed door. I reached for the plate and had the dinner which was lukewarm. I didn’t have much of an appetite. When I was finished, I returned to my sermon which was almost completed.
It was after ten when I finally left the study. I took the plate to the kitchen and washed it. I turned off the lights and headed to my room. Wearily, I undressed. I was standing there in my shirt and trousers when I decided to go to the kitchen for a glass of water. I opened the door and shrank back when I saw Keturah standing there. She was wearing a nightgown. It wasn’t sheer but I knew that she wasn’t wearing much underneath it and that got my pulse racing and my body throbbing.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I can’t sleep,” she said. “Things have changed between us and I want to know why.”
She was gazing up at me with those lovely eyes, I felt my resolve weakening. “Keturah, please…”
She moved closer. “I’m not leaving until you tell me why you’re acting so differently towards me.”
I sighed. “All right. I’ve developed feelings for you. Feelings a priest shouldn’t be having.”
“I have feelings for you too. I’ve had them since that night when you stopped and talked to me and were so kind to me. I tried to hide them because I’ve been taught that a priest is a man of God. Where in the Bible does it say that a priest can’t have feelings like everyone else?”
“The church’s law of celibacy isn’t a doctrine,” I muttered tightly. “It’s a discipline. I chose to become a priest and when I did, I took the vow of celibacy.”
“Have you ever been tempted to break the vow of celibacy?”
Never. Until now. The temptation was so strong. I should have said goodnight and closed the door. I didn’t. Instead, I reached out and pulled her inside. I closed the door and turned to face her. Heart pounding heavily against my chest, I cupped her face between my hands and kissed her. Her lips felt so soft and her response to my kisses inflamed me.
As we exchanged passionate kisses, I released her face and fumbled with the buttons on my shirt. I freed myself of it. My hands cupped her face once again, moaning against her lips when I felt her hands on my bare skin. I broke off the kiss to remove the rest of my clothes. I dragged her nightgown off and picking her up, I carried her over to the bed. And there in the light of the beside lamp, we made love for the first time.
We have been lovers since. As I sat there listening to men and women confess sins such as adultery, fornication, other sexual transgressions and the use of pornography, I felt like a phony. I wanted to get out of the confessional box and have another priest take over.
I shared my concerns with Keturah and she said, “It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t come to your room, nothing would have transpired between us and you wouldn’t be beating up yourself like this. Maybe the best thing would for me to leave–“
I caught her by the shoulders. “No!” I was adamant. “Your leaving wouldn’t be the best thing for me. I love you, Keturah. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. No, the best thing is for us to get married.”
“Married?” she stared at me, stunned. “But, I thought priests couldn’t get married.”
“It’s true. A priest may not marry. There are married priests but they were married before they were ordained. You and I can get married in secret. No one will know. As far as the church is concerned, I’m still celibate.”
It took some convincing but she finally consented and we got married. When I listened to confessions, I didn’t feel the same conviction I used to before. I wasn’t committing fornication anymore. I was married. It’s true that I have broken the canon law by marrying in secret and I’m still living a double life but until I have the courage to come forward and admit that I’m secretly married, I will continue to serve as a priest.