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Monday, August 21, 2023

The Love Affair of Archbishop Francis Xavier O'Connor And His Bride Of Christ

There was something about priests, admitted Lydia Jean, which was irresistible. Perhaps it was their closeness to God, anointed by sacrament to be in an unbroken chain to Christ himself; or to their unavailability, faithful only to the divine; but ‘the nearness of you’ applied to each and every one of them. 

She had had affairs with more than one priest, men at first attracted by her piety, innocence, and devotion and then drawn to her sensuality and sexual availability.  Father John had been a Franciscan before his entanglement with her, a boy born and bred for the priesthood, but who had listened to her confessions of sexual liaisons, and finally, when alone with her in the sacristy, confessed his desire, found it reciprocated, and joined her amidst the scent of Easter lilies and incense.

He had committed a cardinal sin. Sex for a priest was both adultery and betrayal, for the sacrament of Ordination was as much a lifelong commitment to God as marriage was for a man and a woman.  Sex with Lydia Jean was a breach of divine trust, a mortal sin of divine proportions, an unforgivable transgression of duty and a betrayal of his contract with the Lord.  There was only one step – abject confession and penance and resignation from the ministry.

Lydia Jean felt no remorse. Sin, complicity, and divine forgiveness were his responsibility.  In fact hers was the higher moral ground.  Had not Eve, the first woman, tempted Adam? And wasn’t his eagerness essentially male?  Woman would always be the temptress, man the prey.

There were more Father Johns – Fathers Aloysius, Lloyd, and William – and each of them were as willing as John; a caricature of the hesitant female.  No Means No replayed a thousand times, demurral, hesitation, advance, withdrawal, and finally and ultimately capitulation.

Men were all the same, thought Lydia Jean, and priests even more easily framed.  Love with a capital L was their profession, and to see the sexually provocative images of Christ on the Cross, it was no wonder why so many of them confused the carnal with the divine.  The mystery of mysteries, Christ as God and man, was the ultimate conundrum and appeal.  The straight priests wanted Christ’s physical allure, and the gay ones wanted him.  Lydia Jean in fact had surprised Father Pablo in the sacristy at the moment of joy with Father Adalberto.

Her tempting of the Archbishop was another matter altogether.  This was a man of rectitude, high moral principle, and dignified holiness.  It was assumed that he was beyond reproach and beyond temptation, all the more so when he delivered his sermons as he did once a month, servicing every church in his archdiocese with Pauline purpose.  Just like the Apostle, Archbishop Francis Xavier O’Connor had a calling to protect, preserve, defend, and promote the Church amidst heresy and doubt.

“I am here”, he began to the congregation of St. Maurice de Padua, “as the Apostle Paul came to the Ephesians in a mission of love, forgiveness, and inspiration; and just as his epistles contained censure and warning, I come to you in his spirit of holy reconciliation.  We are all Christ’s soldiers”, and here the Archbishop recalled Pope Urban II’s crusade to Palestine, the rule of Constantine, and the final settling of doctrinal divisions. His was an oratory attuned to desire – he knew that the parishioners seated before him wanted to be infused by the Holy Ghost, filled to overflowing with his majesty – and he was masterful. Tears, smiles, and hugs greeted him as he walked down the aisle in a magnificent recessional.

And so it was that the archdiocese, the entire Catholic laity and clergy of Connecticut, and the Cardinals of Rome were shocked at his resignation.  The cardinals convened at the Vatican to rule on the Archbishop’s request for release from Holy Orders were confused and nonplussed. Of all people, they said.  O’Connor was slated for red robes and Catholic officialdom and now dismissed in shame and censure; but the Archbishop was a man no different from Father John or Adam – a man inevitably seduced and corrupted by a woman. 

Othello was right, suggested one of the Vatican quorum convened to rule on the Archbishop’s case.  He had done Venice a favor by ridding it of yet another duplicitous, treacherous woman.  Yes, agreed another, the Old Testament is little more than a chronicle of rutting and intemperance.

The affair between the Archbishop and Lydia Jean happened as all affairs do – a chance encounter, a moment of weakness, the right woman at the right time.  She was guileless, simple, and engaging when she met him.  A call from a senior member of the diocese, a respected man himself considered for higher office, had been enough for the Archbishop to grant her an audience. 

Lydia Jean explained her visit – a particular religious sensibility that was far more than a young novitiate’s aspiration to serve Christ.  It was rooted in deep Early Christian history, the teachings of Athanasius and Augustine, and the passion of St. Sebastian.  This latter in particular had moved her.  Images of his passionate torment, wounded with arrows, eyes to God were human, divine, and male.

“Why are you here, my child?” asked the Archbishop intrigued by her knowledge, her humility, and her female graciousness.  He had never met a woman like her before, one who had so seamlessly combined all it was to be a servant of Christ and an impossibly alluring woman.

Lydia Jean explained that she had no purpose other than to share with him her feelings of spiritual intimacy and to receive his blessings.

“Let us meet again”, said the Archbishop, a surprisingly young man for his position, tapped at an early age for Church authority, and showed Lydia Jean to the door.

One might have expected a greater measure of uncertainty and pause in one so deeply embedded in Catholic orthodoxy; but the reverse was true.  His utter devotion to Christ and the Church were signs of passion – what turned out to be a quite fungible passion as he fell in desperate love with Lydia Jean.

She was delighted with the affair.   Yes, it appealed to her arrogance – Eve references were not all that ill-considered – but it also appealed to her complex sexuality.  Men in general were uninteresting; no more than grown boys; but those ordained in Christ and with all the pomp and ceremony of an archbishop were another story altogether.  Sex with them was mystical.

The affair took time to mature.  The Archbishop had wrestled with his sexual demons as Jacob had wrestled with God – it was epic in proportion – but when he finally decided to leave caution at the door of the church and take her as a bride of Christ, he was beyond redemption and hope.

For Lydia Jean, of course, there was nothing beyond the first intercourse.  It was act and epiphany all in one, unrepeatable, inimitable, and final.  Although the Archbishop begged for more, pleaded for one more chance, she demurred.  Her mission had been completed while his wandering in the desert had just begun.

The affair reverberated for years in the chambers of the Vatican, for after all His Excellency Francis Xavier O’Connor had not been an ordinary man of God but a star, a man who could have been Pope, a man of spiritual generosity, firm faith, and absolute commitment.

The gay men throughout the world Church were not surprised one bit.  Another man, let alone one of theirs, had been taken in by a woman, a vixen, a Jezebel.  His demission and disgrace served him right.

Frank O’Connor as he was later known, landed on his feet, still Catholic, bowed and repentant, but with newfound satisfaction in his secular life.  He never married, so still very much in love with Lydia Jean, but his solitary life was a deserved penance for his fall and fitting for a jilted lover.

As far as Lydia Jean was concerned, she prospered.  Except for the bitchy opprobrium of the gay priests in the Vatican, her dalliance with the Archbishop was all on him and she, canny and subtle as ever, never lost the sheen of faithful Christian woman only ruled by her God-given passions. She married well, was at home with royalty as well as Wall Street, and by all accounts led a happy, untroubled life.

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