Taking Care of Business (chapter 36)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

The first Monday of every month, the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia appeared on a program broadcast on an AM radio station. During the two-hour show the cardinal chatted amiably with a host who acted like a journalist but who was, in fact, a popular former local television reporter employed by a public relations firm. The low-key program focused on spiritual matters, with an occasional diversion from callers asking for their holy leader’s prayers for the Philadelphia Eagles football team.

The Friday before each Monday broadcast, the archdiocese put out a press release inviting the public to tune into the program. Every month it issued the exact same news release, changing only the date. This notice also was posted on the doors and bulletin boards of the region’s many Catholic churches as well as on the archdiocese’s web site so that parishioners would be reminded of the opportunity to spend two hours with their local spiritual leader.

This month’s release, though, for the first time that anyone could recall, included an additional sentence that was underlined for emphasis: “During the program, Cardinal Brannigan will offer a brief commentary on a civic matter of great importance to the Church.”

This, too, was unusual. The cardinal was widely regarded as the second-most influential person in the region, after only Philadelphia’s mayor – and in light of the area’s enormous Catholic population, many felt he was even more influential than the mayor – and it was a distinction that cardinals past and present did not take lightly or abuse. Unlike Philadelphia’s black Protestant clergy, which acted like an arm of the Democratic party, complete with opportunities to gain official endorsements in exchange for contributions and jobs, Philadelphia’s Catholic church rarely became involved in local politics, distancing itself from such mundane matters in favor of operating on a more spiritual plane. Because the President had recently nominated to the Supreme Court a federal judge who in the past had affirmed women’s right to an abortion, those who bothered to read the notice about the cardinal’s next radio broadcast assumed that he would ask the members of his flock to write to their U.S. senators and urge them to reject the President’s nominee.

The cardinal began his program with a ten-minute talk about a reinterpretation of the biblical story about the loaves and the fishes. He then spent fifteen minutes taking calls from listeners. The calls were serious and respectful, the cardinal’s responses sober and thoughtful.

After one call, the cardinal announced that “I would like to take a few minutes this evening to address a matter that has gained a great deal of public attention in recent weeks.

“As you have no doubt observed, our region is currently immersed in the spectacle of an individual of exceedingly low character spreading scurrilous information about prominent members of our community for his own personal benefit. While this individual is to be condemned both for the life he has led and the manner in which he is now conducting himself, we would be naïve to ignore the information presented to us. In most of these situations, all we can do is sit back and observe how society treats some of the people involved who have been leading less-than-exemplary lives.

“There is one situation, though, in which good people of conscience like you and I are in a position to do more than sit back and let events take their natural course.

“As many of you undoubtedly know, one of the men who reportedly has been involved in this immoral behavior is a prominent elected official. I find his actions to be the ultimate betrayal of the public trust. Our elected leaders have a moral obligation to rise above such behavior and above such temptation. While we may disagree with them on some of the issues of the day, there can be no disagreement with the assertion that these men and women must be role models for our community. That this man is Catholic, and from what I am told a regular participant in Mass, makes his transgressions all the more serious. The church simply cannot abide by his behavior.

“This man is now running for re-election to public office. It is inconceivable to me that we can even consider returning such an individual to a position of public trust when he has so flagrantly betrayed that trust. I do not know this man and I do not know his opponents or even if he has any opponents in this election. Regardless of these considerations, I urge all of the members of my flock to send a message to all public officeholders by denying him your vote. If he has opponents, vote for one of his opponents; if he has none, cast no ballot. This matter is of the utmost importance to the church, and I encourage you to consider my words carefully.”

A few miles from the studio from which the cardinal spoke, Mayor James Norbert turned off his radio and looked across his desk, where Jon Ravelsky sat looking at him. Ravelsky had called late in the afternoon to tell Norbert that he had heard, through his usual unnamed but unimpeachable sources – in this case, an employee of the same public relations firm that supplied the moderator for the cardinal’s program – that Brannigan was going to address the turmoil surrounding the prostitution scandal.

Ravelsky’s source, though, had not even hinted at the attack on Michael Ianucci, and Ravelsky had not imagined such an attack himself – not from a cardinal with no history of political activity in a diocese with no history of political involvement by its leaders.

“I’m astonished,” Ravelsky declared. “I never would have conceived of such a thing.”

“That makes two of us,” Norbert replied. “I’m not sure what’s endangered more by what we just heard: Michael’s chances of getting re-elected or my chances of getting our state aid fully restored. My budget is in deep, deep trouble.”

“As is Michael,” Ravelsky said.

(more next Sunday)



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