“W ell done, Congressman. Helluva job.”
“Unbelievable, Congressman. Truly a blessing.”
Congressman Bart Stupak continued to work his way from the dais to the exit through the small ballroom at the New York Hilton. The Mid-Atlantic chapter of the NRLC had just honored him with their man-of-the-year award, and now he was trying to gladhand as few of the believers as possible to make it to another appointment, just a few blocks away at the Archbishop’s residence.
Bob Sanderson, the chapter chair, waited by the exit and took as they exited into the hallway. “Bart, great job. The Archbishop’s going to give you a warm welcome. And he’s a bourbon and scotch man, so you might want to think about how you want to wet your whistle on the way over there. Give him my regards.”
The Congressman crossed the lobby and stepped out into the raw November night. The Empire State Building burned bright blue and white in tribute to the Yankee’s recent victory. From the ballfield to the boardroom to the halls of Congress, Michigan had taken it on the chin this past year. The Tigers awful collapse, Obama’s imperious task force and that martinet Waxman displacing Dingell – the tide was running out fast on his state. His district didn’t bear the brunt of the slaughter. His upstate consitutents never had it good anyway, at least not in the sense of the Grosse Pointe and Blomfield Hills types, so they had less to lose. But even the average Joe could sense that the state’s sense of purpose, its place in this great nation, was ebbing fast.
He headed east on 52nd Street towards the Cardinal’s residence on Madison. He caught the spire of St. Patrick’s and it cheered him, as it always did. It spoke to him in a personal way, saying “Look around you, amid all this, and be a beacon, be the best, shine so that others might believe.”
God, I made some believers out of me recently. The sweet, sweet victory of putting that helmet-haired Pelosi in her place, an old styled Michigan payback to those Californians for what they did to John. She thought the votes would just line up and march right behind her on health care. Health care, his domain, where he’d brought Big Pharma and others to heel during the past two years of his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee. Nancy had counted on rounding up Democrats. What she hadn’t counted on was rounding up people of faith.
The Archbishop had summoned him upon learning of the award he was to receive. The Congressman was not interested in receiving a job-well-done handshake. He was here to press his case – to seek the Ambassadorship to the Holy See.
The thought of his presenting his credentials to Benedict at the Castel Gandalfo made him weak at his knees, a schoolboy at his prom. But effecting this was not trivial. Ambassador Diaz and been confirmed by the Senate just three months prior. Diaz seemed like a good man, but he was a theologian, and the Vatican needed another theologian milling around like a hole in the head. Stupak knew he could be re-elected, and then 6 month’s later be installed as the Ambassador. Diaz, an educator at heart, could be kicked aside to head up some Catholic university, maybe one of the minor ones in upstate New York.
He turned right on Madison and saw the illuminated entrance at 452 Madison. A police car was parked out front. Twenty-five years ago it could have been him in that car, protecting His Eminence. One year as a beat cop and eleven years as a state trooper, and here he was twenty-five years later about to ask the most powerful Catholic in the country for an ambassadorship to the Vatican. It was his to ask. He made the Catholic Bishops relevant again in the public arena, no small feat given the two decade rise of Protestant fundamentalism in Washington.
A door opened as he approached, and a Monsignor waved him in. “Welcome, Congressman. I’d like to add my personal note of thanks for your eponymous amendment. A great victory for you, and even more so for the lives of the most innocent. The Archbishop is in the conference room, second door on your left.”
The Residence was more men’s club than rectory. Wood paneling rather than blandly painted plaster, wooden backed chairs with velvet cushions rather than the stiff chairs that looked like they failed tryouts for electric chairs – the Archbishop had it pretty good. He knocked twice sharply on the door before letting himself in. At the near end of the tennis court-sized oaken table sat the Archbishop and Monsignor Hebda, about to be installed as Bishop of his native Gaylord diocese.
The Archbishop’s greeting didn’t disappoint. “Bart, Bart”, he bellowed, “Come in, sit down, what are you drinking? You know Bernie.”
Hebda, ursine in his own right, rose to greet the Congressman. “We’ve exchanged congratulatory voicemails and e-mails, but this is our first face-to-face. Glad to meet you, Bart.”
“Honor is mine, Monsignor. I look forward to your ordination in a few weeks. Your Eminence, Dewar’s is fine by me.”
“Dewars? My shelf is a little more top than that, if you’d like. K Street should have coddled your palate by now.”
“Simple tastes. Dewar’s, if you have it.”
“I do. And it will be yours.” The Archbishop poured and the three men took their seats at the table.
“Bart”, the Archbishop began, “you’ve done a great service to your country, to your Church and to all mankind who believe in the fundamental sanctity of human life. We cannot thank you enough.”
“It’s not easy to be a man of conscience in the Beltway, but one strives.”
“This was more than just striving. It was standing up to your own party, in the face of one of their signature issues, and drawing the line and saying this will not pass until a far greater injustice is also addressed. If martyrs could be sainted because of the verbal pelting they received, than I would stand for your canonization tomorrow.”
“Your work demands recognition by the Church, and insofar as it’s possible, by our government. We have some ideas of how we can help each other next.” The Archbishop tossed an inclusive glance to the Monsignor. “Have you given it any thought?”
My God, thought the Congressman, this is it! Can the stars have possibly aligned so well?
“In fact I have, Your Eminence. I am first and foremost a servant, of Nation, God and conscience. I think I’ve demonstrated that I am both a man of faith and a man of action, and can meld the two with the results rarely seen. I also feel that our country has been – not putting too fine a face on it – marginalized by Rome over the past quarter century. I think I can remedy that, with the same resolve and faith that brought about my amendment.”
The Archbishop sat back in his chair stiffly, then softened and stared at his glass as he swirled his Booker’s. “The Vatican? No, the ambassadorship to the Holy See is window dressing. Why do you think we packed off that ineffectual scholar to that post. And that was a fight. Obama was in deep to the Kennedys, as you can well imagine, and they floated the idea of sending off that wastrel Patrick. Sending off that Kennedy in the middle of a “he said, he said” with one of our bishops was more than the Bishops Council could stand, so we negotiated Dr. Diaz.”
“You don’t want Rome. I was there for nearly seven years, and didn’t learn much much except how to play politics and how to live well. You already know how to play politics, and you seem disinclined to live well. No, we have something else in mind.”
The Congressman maintained his erect posture, but his very self slumped. His dream dashed, dismissively. But he was a servant, and he well knew that one closed door opened many others. “Yes, your Eminence?”
The Archbishop rose from his chair and peered at a row of books, canon law, that was at eye level in a bookshelf behind him. “California v Cabazon, Congressman. Are you familiar with it?”
The Congressman shook his head in the negative. He was having trouble focusing, but he was listening closely enough to know this was unfamiliar.
“A decision in 1987 that effectively opened the door to the rise of the Indian casinos. That’s what we need, Bart. A Catholic California v Cabazon. The sex accusations have emptied our once unassailable coffers. And we lost our tithe long ago. But Catholics, God bless them, still have two tithes they honor – betting and drinking. There’s nothing we can do about drinking, no way to capture that revenue stream. But gambling, yes. If we can enter the online gambling business - football only - we can prey on Catholic guilt to make sure that if they use a betting service they use one that will at least produce revenue for the Church. Perhaps even paying a premium along the way. Obviates the need for confession, or feeling guilty for never going to confession.”
“We’re talking professional and college only”, the Monsignor added. “Including the Canadian and European leagues. We would never touch high school. Leave that to the hoodlums.”
The Archbishop resumed his seat at the table and leaned in closely to the Congressman. “We think you can do it, Bart. We know you can do it. That’s why we need you in Washington, doing God’s work. We can’t rely on wealthy Catholic wackos like Monaghan forever, who pursue their vanity projects thumbing their nose at the Church. We need to get back into the pocketbook of the average churchgoer, the one whose faith is bedrock, but one who succumbs to temptation too easily. These are our people, these are your people and these are the people that will set the church on not only sound but preeminent footing again.”
The Congressman stared straight into the Archbishop’s eyes. WTF, he thought. WTF.
The Archbishop and Monsignor rose and glanced to the door. “Think about it, Bart. Think deeply about it. This is a different call to action from your last. Before you were steadfast. Now we need you to be a leader. It is your calling.”
The Congressman rose and shook both men’s hands firmly, thanking them for the honor of being called to so high a mission. The Archbishop clapped him on the shoulder as he headed out into the hallway. The Congressman passed down the hall, ignoring a friendly wave from a side office, through the front door and out into the New York night. It stank on the street, a smell he didn’t notice on the way in. He coughed violently twice, in pre-retch mode, gathered himself, and hailed a passing cab.
“Where to, your Honor?”, the cabbie asked.
The Congressman appraised the man coldly in the mirror. “Just drive. Anywhere. Around the park. Just drive.”