A few weeks back, through no fault of my own, I found myself inside a Catholic church. (Gimme a break. It was a funeral.)
And in this church were confessionals. And the confessionals looked the same as they did back when I attended Catholic church, which was when pterodactyls flew above. They looked like duplex coffins standing on end.
So confessionals are still too cramped and the doors are too narrow to be wheelchair accessible. You’d think by now somewhere in the row of confessionals there’d be at least one double-wide with a big blue and white access symbol on the front, like when you see a line of outdoor porta-toilets.
So I guess cripples, or at least the ones who use wheelchairs, are still exempt from sin. When I was a little Catholic criplet I thought this was the coolest thing in the world. Since the church considered me incapable of sin, I didn’t have to do like all the Catholic kids who weren’t crippled and reflect on the events of the week past and make a list of every time I offended God and then report it to a priest and get stuck reciting a list of prayers on a Saturday afternoon while all the kids who weren’t Catholic were off somewhere having fun. Who wouldn’t want be exempt from that? God was so touchy and easy to offend. So I took my exemption and ran with it. It was a sweet gig. I never looked back. I never asked for a second opinion or an appeal.
But then it was all ruined. My mother had foot surgery so my sister and I stayed for a couple weeks with the Snitzers. Mary Ann Snitzer was my sister’s classmate at the crippled elementary school. The Snitzers were hard core Catholic. The Polish grandma, who spoke no English, went to mass every morning then retreated to her attic cloister where she prayed until afternoon.
Every Saturday the local priest came to hear Mary Ann’s confession. The confessional was her parent’s bedroom. And so my sister and I got dragged into confessing too. At the Snitners our exemption was null and void! Dammit!
The first week, when my turn came, I managed to confess some petty lies or impure thoughts or something that satisfied the priest enough for him to assign me penance. But the second week, when the priest sat on the bed and asked what I had to confess, I said, “Nothing.” His face turned disapproving. “You must have something to confess,” he said. But I really didn’t. How much sinning could I do attending cripple elementary school by day and boarding with the Snitzer by night? I shrugged. The Virgin Mary stared at me from a picture frame on the dresser. “Maybe you disobeyed your parents,” the priest said. So I went with that. I confessed that I disobeyed my parents, which was a lie since I hadn’t even seen my mother in two weeks. But now I had lied to a priest, which was bad on one level because that was surely a sin but it was good on another level because it gave me a sin to confess if I had to deal with this guy again next week. But if I confessed to the priest next week that I lied when I confessed last week that I sinned the previous week when I really hadn’t, how would all that play out? Would I then be a week behind in my sinning and obliged to double up to keep pace? The rules of confession were so confusing. In the future, I resolved, if I ever had to confess a sin to get a priest off my back, I would stick with impure thoughts. That was a much safer bet. That was one sin I could and would easily and frequently commit, even at cripple elementary school.
After I graduated from cripple elementary school to cripple state boarding high school/institution, the sin exemption I treasured as a child I now took as an insult. How dare the Catholic church automatically assume that just because I was crippled I was incapable of cheating and lying and coveting and bearing false witness and all that stuff. I was an adolescent raging with impure thoughts and I couldn’t wait to do my time at the cripple state boarding high school/institution and graduate into the real world for the first time so I could cheat and lie and covet and bear false witness to the best of my ability, so as to fully assert my humanity and that of other cripples.
I would never be able realize my sin potential at the cripple state boarding high school/institution. The whole point of such places was to shelter cripples away from the harsh and sinful world. Opportunities for sin did not readily present themselves. You had to create your own. And even those were lame. Once I acted upon a rebellious urge to flush a plastic cup down a toilet. And sure enough the whole bathroom flooded. They sealed off the bathroom like a crime scene. A plumber extracted a plastic cup. Who could pull such a childish stunt, our adult keepers wondered? Did they act alone or were there accomplices? An investigation was launched.
I never confessed a damn thing. Until now.