“His finger is twitching, nurse! Nurse, Nurse! Where is the nurse, oh my goodness, I can’t believe this? He is back, Nurse, he is back!”
Ravinah Kasson Fonder stands up lamely and almost fell beside a gray rim-raised hospital bed. The room around her is about three hundred to four hundred square feet in size. There are over forty beds, divided by a long floral curtain with hooked pegs weaved around it.
The ward itself is an old rustic one, built by the Chinese during the head tax days; and with their skills, they had helped build many hospices and hospitals in this area. It was built from bricks, and it is strong enough to have withstood four hundred winters. It strikes a vivid contrast to those who come inside for the first time.
Outside, everything looks dull, lifeless, and gray. Inside, however, it is decorated in modern embroidery, with Persian-type furniture not only in St. Jesuit’s Hospital for the Critical Impaired, or SJHCI as the locals call it. SJHCI is the oldest hospital in Ingersoll, Ontario. It has seen better days.
They had put him at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. But it was both too far and dangerous—that is, for security reasons—that she requested the Department of Veterans (the Department) to relocate him to Ingersoll. The Department had initially refused the request, citing both the cost of treatment and the allowable portion earmarked for those who are recalled. The recalled include not only the retirees but also those who have became critically impaired in war or in an incursion. Comatose is grouped in this category.
For him, however, the problem has been where to place him; official records show that he is demised, but here he is, very much alive, although, of course, he’s in a coma.
Upon the transfer to Ingersoll, he was admitted to ward 457, commonly known as the Devil’s Handbag, because whoever gets in here is eventually taken away.
Ravinah had contemplated giving up her well-paying job as a forensics accountant at Royal Bank in order to devote all her time to caring for him.
But “It helps me to care for him.”
For the reason his boss couldn’t explain to her but which is plainly known to everyone in the Secret Intelligence Services of Canada, the government cannot give him healthcare benefits.
In her early thirties, she now looks older than her age. Since he has become comatose, she has hardly found time to go to the nearby Goodlife Fitness Gym, where she has been a member for the past seven years.
Besides, she is now with his child.
Beneath the façade of her tired look, Ravinah—five foot four, blue-eyed, and tan-skinned—is a very attractive woman. A Canadian of mixed heritage, she claimed, Ravinah said that the ancestors of her father, whom she had never seen, immigrated to Canada from Normandy in France. She never said anything more about him. As regards her mother, all she would say was that “she is the only one I know.”
At twenty-five years of age, she had come to learn that the woman she had called mom all her life was not her maternal mother. Dr. Kasson had adopted her when she was a child through an adoption agency. Both Ravinah and Dr. Kasson did not have an opportunity to know and see Ravinah’s blood parents. Attempts to find her real parents in the last four years have not yielded any successes.
She has now stopped looking. She says she has surrendered to fate, to let it take its own course.
“I have my adopted parent. That’s all right for me,” she says resignedly.
Indeed, Dr. Kasson has loved her and given her a good education. Whether she is her real mother or not does not seem to bother Ravinah anymore.
Her friends say she is not a quiet woman, but since her husband had gone into a coma, Ravinah has withdrawn, and she seems disinterested in many things happening around her.
“You’ll need to find somebody you trust to confide in. I am here whenever you need me,” Dr. Yin tells her.
“No, I am okay, Doc,” she says with a smirk on the right corner of her mouth.
“Really, really, I can have a nurse stay by the bedside for you this weekend. You can take at least one weekend off,” Dr. Yin offers while Ravinah is busily nibbling her fingernails.
“Very kind of you, Doc, but…but…I am okay.”
“Records show that you two are a married couple. You should be missing him a lot.”
“‘A lot,’ Doctor, is an understatement. Since we got married, we only lived together for seven months—seven months only, Doc.” She pauses.
Then as though she has been desperately looking for someone to talk to for a long time, she apologizes.
“You must be busy, Doc. Some patient may be in need of your presence. Otherwise—”
“No, Mrs. Fonder,” he interrupted. “We can talk. You can talk to me, if you so wish. I am listening.”
She beckoned to him, by sign, that she really wanted to release something she was holding on to. “It’s our marriage, Doc.”
“Yes, please say it.” He drew closer.
“After we got married,” she continued, “we were only together for a short while. During this time, we haven’t had enough time to ourselves. Ironically, this is the longest time I have been with him, although he is in a coma and it’s the only time, I have found to be together with him. I love him, Doc. And I have just learned that I am with his child.”
Then suddenly there was a code blue alarm, and Dr. Yin was called to attend to a patient in the adjacent ward.
“I must leave you, Mrs. Fonder. But I will send Dr. Chris to attend to your other needs—pregnancy, I mean. He’s a paediatrician. It’s standard policy here. If you’re attending to a critical patient, we provide additional care, even if you may have your own family doctor.”
As Dr. Yin started to leave to attend to a code blue announcement, Ravinah quickly stopped him, albeit briefly, and whispered, “Ravinah. Just call me Ravinah, or simply Ravi, next time, Doc.”
Of course, when a woman tells a guy to call her by her first name, it means she is interested in him. Not with her.
All she wanted at that point was someone who would listen, who would talk to her. The last ten or so minutes she had chatted with the doctor had been very precious to her. It was the first time in over ten months she had talked to someone who had truly listened.
“Bye for now. But keep praying, and take good care of yourself.” Dr. Yin wished her well.
She understood him. He meant she had to go on believing that Kirl would live. She had refused to entertain thoughts of removing him from life support. The forms were always beside her chair—the chair that had become her bed for the past eight months.
When he was briefly at Mount Sinai in Toronto, she had visited only once or twice every week. She could not be with him every day because of her job. As a forensics accountant in a large financial institution, her presence was constantly required. Sometimes she worked seven days a week.
Then she began to give excuses, and these excuses became many. Her boss had observed that she was sleeping at work most of the time, and that she had changed.
Her friends at work also observed that she had withdrawn from them and had become too emotional ever since she returned from Vienna, Austria; and she got married.
The only thing she remembered was, “We have no other option left but to let you go!”
A letter had followed in a mail, which read in part, “We have noticed that you are not as you used to be. Although you did not tell us, we have learned that your husband has been hospitalized. We think that in the present circumstance, you need some time off. We are giving you leave of absence with half pay. We pray for the quick recovery of your precious husband.”
But Ravinah had explained that her new and hospitalized husband was still in Toronto, and that she had to attend to him. The company had indicated that she should have told them earlier, and they would have accommodated her.
Then came the bad news. Further tests done on Kirl revealed that his condition was more serious than first diagnosed.
So, when her company was talking to her about her job, it did matter to her even more. She needed it to care for him. Ever since the confusion arose and Kirl’s matter took a twist in the House of Commons, and put the boss’s and the prime minister’s jobs at risk, Ravinah had understood the importance of holding on to the job she had.
But she didn’t care anymore. Yes, she did not care about so many things now. She did not care that she had not found her biological parents after four years of searching. She did not care that she lived over twenty-five years believing she had a “normal” family.
But for two things she cared.
She cared that he was in the coma.
“He is the only family I have,” she once told the head nurse when, together, they changed his position on the bed.
She cared also about the day when he first proposed to her and mentioned to her that she looked and walked “just like my ex.”
She cared, too, about her job. She would need it to continue to provide care for Kirl, especially after her request to patriate him to Ingersoll had been approved. And she cared for her job, too, for another reason: “Because the baby will need it.”
It is Sunday. She remembers this because a group of the Last Saints Church members passed by the Devil’s Handbag to offer prayers and encouragements to those who were tending to their critical patients. Every patient is critical in the Devil’s Handbag.
“Be strong in your God, Ravinah,” Jane, an elderly lady of Taiwanese descent, said.
The first time she had come to this bed, she had asked Ravinah, “Do you believe in God, sister?” Ravinah brushed the sentiments as unimportant. But in the situation she is in, any encouragement will do.
“I do,” she answered reluctantly.
“You should. Your husband will need you to be strong, and to believe for him. You know, sister, God is closest to those who are suffering. His Son, Jesus Christ, also suffered. So it is only God who can help you. Pray with me.”
They had prayed, and after that, the ladies left. They were now coming here every week. To Ravinah, it is just one other thing she had learned to tolerate, although she had been raised an atheist.
She has been thinking, these ladies mean well. I might as well be good to them. After all, they are so good to us.
She touches Kirl’s unresponsive hand as she thinks about the praying sisters.
He has lain motionless in this bed cumulatively for over eight months now. All hope had gone until this afternoon. Even the praying sisters had once advised Ravinah to simply “release him to God. He will be in good hands.”
Ravinah had replied, “No, sister. I love him. He is the only one I have.”
And she has been tempted many times to just pick up those forms there beside her and sign them. That would have been it. She has the right to keep him alive or to sanction that he be removed from the life support machine.
She cannot do so.
“I can’t. I know he’ll be okay. Besides, I want him to see our baby.” This is how she has always answered those who want to convince her to just sign the papers and let Kirl go to eternal rest.
Four weeks after the attempt on Kirl’s life, Ravinah discovered that she was two weeks pregnant. It was almost a routine checkup at her family physician when the blood test came back positive. Ultrasound had revealed that she was carrying a boy. Just to be sure—because two months before she met Kirl, she had been involved in a love affair with another man—she had a DNA test done to determine whether the child she was carrying was indeed Kirl’s, and the results confirmed that it was.
As for Kirl’s dying body, Ravinah still believed. She hoped and hoped. She would cuddle his hands and talk to him as though he could hear her. She would tell him, “When you wake up, and you will, I will take you for a manicure.” She faithfully changed his side, emptied the catheter, and gave him sponge baths.
She had taken photos and photos of him and her with her smartphone. She would position the phone and pose for pictures with him while he lay there. She would speak to the photos as though she was talking to a responsive friend. “You see, this one looks cute. You look as if you want to smile. Smile. Come on, smile at me. I miss your gentle smile. You know, that is what attracted me to you the most. You’re smart, charming, and good-looking, but it is your smile that kills me inside. I can’t wait for you to smile again,” she would soliloquize endlessly.
She had taken photos of her protruding bump too and shown them to Kirl’s unresponsive body.
“Here is your own blood. I will call him Kirl Junior,” she had promised.
[Note to layout: Retain the line space.]
She drained the water out of a large jar of a bouquet of flowers left by the praying sisters last month. She redecorated it and placed it back in its usual place, just near his head, muttering to herself, “You love roses, especially dry ones.”
“Is that a nod?” She pecks him.
This was the last conversation, as she thought of them, she was having with him before she fell into a deep sleep.
Suddenly, as Ravinah is still fast asleep, Kirl wakes up. He has been up by quarter to two in the afternoon. The ward is buzzing with visitors. He is in a corner ward, separated from the other beds by a thick curtain. Before Ravinah’s salary was slashed in half, she had kept him in a room. But it had become expensive, so she agreed to have him moved to a common ward. It is still in the Devil’s Handbag.
She is awakened by the sound of loud banging. She looks around but does not see anything. When she looks at where the bouquet is supposed to be, she does not see it. It has fallen and scattered in pieces on the floor.
She bends down to try to gather the pieces, and that’s when she sees the tip of his right finger moving, a slight movement that she thinks is simply a trick being played on her mind.
“I am not seeing this,” she mutters to herself.
She is confused, especially since she has just been awakened from sleep. The fingertip moves. And again, and again. Within a fraction of a second, she has doubted her mind and thinks her eyes are playing tricks on her.
Am I dreaming? These flowers are real. This bed is real and… She touches and feels herself. I am also real.
Then it dawns on her that it is really happening. She calls to the station nurse, but no one can hear her. It is afternoon visitation; people are talking and chatting. Any calls in this confusion, at this time, simply disappears into oblivion. She raised her voice and calls with all her might. The nurse comes, and then the doctor, and the entire ward goes abuzz.
Kirl Fonder has been recovering well. He has been moved to a paid ward, in a room and Ravinah has gone back to work. She comes to see him every evening and stays with him on the weekend. For the first three weeks, Kirl has not been talking, and he continues to feed through a tube. But last week, he began to drink soup through the mouth. His rate of recovery has surprised even Dr. Yin, who keeps telling Ravinah, “It is as if he is on a fast-track recovering streak.” And the two of them would laugh.
Then this morning, Kirl talked. Ravinah was at work, and Vivien, an administrative assistant to Dr. Yin who had grown close to Ravinah, called Ravinah, but only managed to leave a message. When Ravinah returned home in the evening, she listened to her answering machine and heard the message: “Hey, Ravinah, it’s Vivien here at SJHCI. Just to tell you that, you know, Kirl spoke for the first time. Details later.” And then she had hung up.
Ravinah was elated. She took a quick shower and spent about twelve minutes in front of her dressing mirror. She was elegant. She planned to look her best. It was not necessary now not to groom herself. She had begun going back to the gym. She is back in shape and form.
Kirl Junior is only two months old now. She has promised herself, “I will not take the baby out of the house until he’s at least three and half months old.” This was also the advice of her family physician because the baby had been born prematurely. A babysitter will be arriving soon to take care of the baby as she rushes off to see Kirl at the hospital.
She leisurely throws on a red dress and then quickly grabs her black high heels. In mid-July in Ingersoll, no one cares to check CP24 about the weather, except, of course, to see if it would rain.
Within a few minutes, she is in her greenish-red Grand Cherokee, ignition on, and off she drives to SJHCI. Within forty minutes, she has arrived. She takes a deep breath and tells herself, Be calm, Ravinah, be calm. She takes the elevator to the fourth floor; and as she checks her face in the elevator mirrors in front of her, she notices that she is crying—the tears rolling and mixing with her perfectly skin-matching makeup.
“Oh no,” she exclaims.
It is too late now. The room is across the hallway on her left; only one door now stands in between. She knocks gently and enters.
“Hi, KF!” she greets him.
“I…I escaped from hell, Ravinah,” he stammers.
“Yes, I know, darling.”
She pauses and then continues, “What you have been through is hell, but don’t worry. You’re now here with me, darling, and that’s all that matters.”
“No, I…I…” he chokes as he struggles to catch his breath. She holds his hand and says, Rest, darling. We shall talk when you’re completely okay.”
He closes his eyes reluctantly, and then he opens them again. As though he has been trying to squeeze out all the strength he possesses, he declares, “Ravinah, I may not continue to be your husband anymore!”
Vansigra, British Columbia (BC), also known as Salmon’s Paradise, is home to 250,000 inhabitants, most of whom are fishermen, and have been at the epicenter of a recent political upset. Until the last parliamentary elections in which the Liberals carried the day, Vansigra has been under the riding of the Conservatives for over 150 years, essentially since its founding by Francois Swarzeer, a British general whose army defeated the French at the Battle of the Siamese in 1863.
It was during this period of extreme conservatism, in 1920, that Coveran Stephen Fenner was born in Vansigra. Not much is known about his childhood, except that at the tender age of sixteen years, he entered into seminary, where he would graduate a Franciscan priest at the age of twenty-one in 1941.
He became the vicar of Qwasadra Parish in 1942, until he was disowned and excommunicated. The story surrounding his excommunication from the Catholic Church is unclear, and is deeply embroidered in myth and secrecy. There are many versions to the story. The most believable of these stories is a tale of an enduring romance between a priest and his most loyal secretary. It began in 1945, just at the end of the Great War.
Father Fenner had been conscripted into the war as chaplain and fought on behalf of the Allies in Normandy, France. His bravery and exploits could be seen through the medals he earned and hung precociously on the wall.
But at his return to Vansigra to continue his mission there, rumors began to swell that he had fathered an illegitimate child while he was in France. The sex of the alleged child was not known. Father Fenner initially rejected the allegations.
Things did not remain the same at Vansigra, and toward the middle of the twentieth century, Father Fenner’s message began to change. Even before the rumor of an affair with a nun in Normandy began to fester, Father Fenner had begun to show signs of radicalism in his homiletic orations, commonly known as sermons.
Just before he was suspended, a few months before his eventual excommunication in 1952, he had preached a fiery sermon titled “God and Marriage.” The date was Sunday, January 28, 1951; and on that day, in this sermon, he drew similarities between the priesthood of the Old Testament and that of modern-era Catholicism. He had preached thus:
When we contemplate celibacy in the guise of escaping some abnormalities, we are doomed to living a life of lies and malice. The human biological form demands that certain appetites be met. God, in his infinite wisdom, created man with orgies and provided a channel for fulfilling them. And that channel was marriage.
I pray to God that our leaders will one day come to reform our view of celibacy and its laws. I believe that priests should not marry so that they can devote much of their time to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. But what of those who genuinely cannot make progress in this enterprise? Can God reject them if they should come out in the open and say, “See, I love God, just like all of you. But my interest in having a wife, and possibly children, compels me to abdicate my station and marry.” Can that man be sequestered from divine emblems?
The ultimate High Priest, Aaron, had children. Can we deduce from this, in biblical parlance, that the priesthood had all the right of marriage just like all other people?
The rest of that sermon had been lost. But it was not this sermon that got him into trouble, although it contributed to it. It was the story of a child, a daughter. The rumor had become strong that Father Fenner did not only sire a child in war but was having an affair with his secretary and the little child she had was the same child he fathered with her.
After the war, Father Fenner had returned to Vansigra to a hero’s welcome. Out of fourteen hundred cavalrymen who had been conscripted into the war army from Vansigra, only thirty-seven had returned alive. Father Fenner was among them.
At a ceremony held at Vansigra City Hall on June 6, 1946, exactly two years after the Tuesday on June 6, 1944, D-Day, a throng of over a thousand citizens had gathered to merriment and music and speeches.
“Today, we gather,” began Don Teddy, the mayor of Vansigra, “to commemorate the brevity of those who, for the sake of our freedom, have shed blood and sacrificed their own lives. Those who defied the callousness of that one mad man called Adolf Hitler. And those we honor today…”
As the mayor’s speech went on, Father Fenner’s mind had raced him back into time, nine hours away to Normandy, France. He could only faintly hear the inductions of the mayor’s tribute.
He remembered the brief affair with Justie, as he preferred to call her. She was a naïve young nun fresh from the Monterey Missionary Academy in Southern France. She had an aura of sacredness, as her profession called for. But onlookers couldn’t avoid clashing and come tumbling down breathtakingly when their eyes met hers.
Hers were not just a part of a complex optical system; hers were infectious—large, greenish-blue, and terribly tempting two pieces of unique aphrodisiacs. They glittered as they lazily lured into insanity those who came within their circumference defencelessly.
Some had defined her as a queen under the guise of a habit; she embodied the opulence of haute couture, the famous of Charles Frederick Worth’s grandeurs of mid-nineteenth-century Paris!
He was not immune to her charm, either.
He had seen it coming. He was young, and so was she. She was only twenty years old. He was twenty-five. Theirs was an incremental attraction. He had held her hand, in prayer. It was comforting, he thought. He had brushed it as a sinful thought. But the entire night, he had tossed and tossed in bed.
She is so pretty. Those eyes, he had thought.
Until this one Sunday evening, he had just encouraged the troops. He was resting in bed, casually.
“Evening tea, Father?” she had offered.
“Yes, my dear.”
She had brought him tea in a silver military chalice. As he seized it from her, their hands let off. The pressure had been mounting. They both knew it, but had intentionally ignored it. This day, however, it had been too strong. No, they were unprepared for it. It then happened. All he remembered was that she was in his arms, breathing heavily.
“Uhm, Father,” she had groaned.
“Yes, yes, Justie.” He had held on.
Then he it let off.
It was finished.
They rested there in silence for a while, which felt like a very long time. Then she rose up, brushed her hair with her fingers, briskly fixed her white gown, and then left the room. They never spoke a word.
“This next person is indeed very special in that he is not just a brave soldier, but in prayers and intercessions, he had escorted the souls of the fallen into heaven,” the mayor announced.
“This next medal is for Father Coveran Fenner,” he shouted. And the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Father Fenner awoke from his brief stupor; he rubbed his eyes incessantly as though he was just waking up from a deep sleep. He stood up, stumbled a little bit, and accepted the medal to the deafening cheer of the people assembled.
From then Father Fenner became one of the most revered and respected members of Vansigra. To some people, he embodied the rhythm and soul of Vansigra. He was so important to public life in Vansigra that when in 1948 a reference case on whether to criminalize abortion in BC was brought before that province’s supreme court, the citizens of Vansigra appointed him intervenor. He had given a powerful submission, and many media outlets said it was the one that criminalized abortion in BC. Abortion had been illegal in BC since 1916.
It was this respectful image that had given Father Fenner leeway in many omissions he had made. For example, in 1949, during an Easter Sunday presentation, Father Fenner had used the F-word in his sermon, and the parishioners just laughed it over. If that had been said by someone else, all hell would have broken loose on them.
And this is the same reason why when he gave that sermon titled “God and Marriage” in 1951, no one cared to implicate or report him to the archbishop of Vancouver, the Right Reverend Dixon.
The rumor was so strong, however. The rumor was the message itself. It was the rumor that, to many analysts, had brought Father Fenner down, not the city, not the parish, and not Vancouver.
“It was the rumor that judged Father Fenner, and not Vatican,” remarked Jenifer Mackenzie, professor of Psychoanalytical Studies at the Thompson Rivers University, BC, when she was asked to comment after Father Fenner had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
The rumor just wouldn’t go away. It began on February 17, 1952 when the Vansigra Herald carried on its front page the photo of Father Fenner smooching a little child of between five and seven years. And the caption following that photo had read:
Do not think this is only a parish priest’s show of agape love to his flock of people; this is real. Rumor has it that he fathered this child. Can Vansigra’s morality hero, in fact, be its worst hypocrite?
Meanwhile, the Vansigra Herald is working on another story that seems to strongly suggest that Father Fenner had fathered another child with Sister Justitia, the parish secretary. The story indicates that that child was aborted.
To say that the rumor just couldn’t disappear will be an understatement; the rumor had grown into a large monster that would devour the life out of Vansigra and bring the heralded priest to the limelight. This time, for a very different reason altogether.
Father Fenner had shunned all requests for an interview. And this only worked to fuel the rumor further. The rumor had virtually brought life to a standstill in Vansigra. Mass had been interrupted at Qwasadra Parish.
The Vatican had gotten wind of it. It had secretly sent Father Fenner a letter to explain whether the rumors were true. He had not responded. The Right Reverend Dixon had been tasked by Vatican to water down the rumor, “and preserve the integrity of the church.”
This also has not worked. The rumor is now a beast with a bulletproof vest. It has managed to duck all the bullets shot from any trajectory.
When Father Fenner was finally suspended from priesthood on March 22, 1952, people began to wonder whether the rumor was not just a rumor after all. He was placed on an indefinite paid leave. They had finally begun to believe that Father Fenner was an imposter.
It began with the announcement that Father Fenner had invited the media to an interview. He told the KBJ News, “I want to clear the air and protect those whom I love.”
Then came the morning breaking news at KBJ News, with a headline that would keep Vansigra glued to their TV sets for an entire week. The headline read, “Disowned Priest is a Father!” In an interview that followed, inhabitants of Vansigra would respond with mixed reactions.
KBJ: Father Fenner, you called for this interview. Why?
FF: I did. I wanted to clear my conscience and live, you know, free.
KBJ: You said you’re the father to a daughter, how is that possible?
FF: Yes, I am. In 1943, I was conscripted into the Canadian Fourth Battalion as a chaplain, Combat Division. I gladly accepted the call.
KBJ: Please, go on…
FF: I was head of an old church in Gregorian Infantry Belt, which was later used as one of the training centres in the preparations for D-Day. At Gregorian, I fell in love with a young nun who, at the time, I believe, was about twenty or twenty-one years old. We quickly clicked. It was not love at the first sight, but ours was a romance developing through mutual challenges.
KBJ: What was her name—I mean, the young nun?
FF: At the time, she was only known as Sister Justitia. I called her simply Justie. We had a number of secret affairs until I came back to Vansigra in the winter of 1946.
KBJ: Father Fenner, when you say you had an affair, did that involve…intercourse?
FF: No, but yes…you know, it all just happened, but just once… [Pauses] I asked God for forgiveness, and I repented of it. But it seems the love was genuine, and we continued to write each other after I came back here.
KBJ: Why are you confessing now?
FF: I did so, on principle. I believed that God wanted us to be pure, especially us who administered the sacraments. Having an affair with a woman—least of all one who is not your wife—to me, is still sinful.
KBJ: What changed?
FF: When I came back, we continued to write one another, as I said. Then one day, she suddenly showed up. I was busy preaching, and at first, I did not recognize her. During communion, she held on to my hand gently and whispered, “My name is Justitia—Justie, from Gregorian.” And immediately, I knew it. She left me a note with an address where to find her, at a hotel.
KBJ: What did you know immediately, Father?
FF: First, it’s true the young girl that is seen with me in the papers is, yes, my daughter.
KBJ: So, is this the reason you called for this interview?
FF: You know, Joe, there are two things on my mind that I would like to resolve through this interview.
KBJ: What are those two things, Father?
Before Father Fenner could answer that question, the program was ended, with the promise that it would be aired the following week. Meanwhile, the story had generated enough interest and had reached Vatican City. Through the archbishop of Vancouver, Father Fenner had been called to the Invictus Cathedral in Vancouver and had been warned not to continue the interview on television. He was told that if he disobeyed this order, Vatican could excommunicate him from the fraternity.
“Too later, too late, Father. I can’t stop the airing of the program now. It has already been lined up for airing,” answered Joe Kemble, the KBJ program director.
Father Fenner had called, asking that the rest of the program not be aired. But he had called on the morning of the day it was to be aired.
“You must stop it, or I will be in deep trouble,” shouted Father Fenner.
“Do you know what that would do to our loyal audience—our ratings, too?” Kimble said,
“I don’t care about that,” Father Fenner interrupted.
“I meant to say that they have already been told through ads that you’re appearing,” Kimble said.
“Just cancel it, or, you know…” Father Fenner insisted.
“Okay, okay, hold on just for a little while,” offered Kimble.
“No problem,” said Father Fenner.
Joe Kimble consulted with his superiors for a good fifteen minutes, and when he came back to the phone, Father Fenner, felt as though he had been waiting forever.
“It won’t air, Father,” Kimble assured.
He was relieved and hoped that this would save his job and get him out of trouble with the Vatican.
He was wrong.
The next few weeks, the public had started to ask many questions.
“Why did they fail to air the program?”
“Did Vatican threaten him?”
“We want to know what happened.”
“What about the innocent young girl?”
Then came a shocker in the Crown Network News (CNN), and the report read, “Father Fenner: What Vatican Doesn’t Want You to Know.”
The report read in part:
Our reliable sources have disclosed that Vatican called Fenner to Rome and warned him not to tell his story. We have also earthed information that Fenner initially refused to recant his story, but through pressure and intimidation, he withdraws on the morning of the show…. Deacon George Fleming, an ardent critique of Fenner, was interviewed by our sister tabloid, Voice of Reason, and he revealed that the faithful at Qwasadra Parish had all along suspected that there was something going on between Fenner and Sister Justitia…
FF: As I said, yes, the young child is mine. Justie had no option but to come with her. We had a chat about what we should do about it. We thought of many preferences. We settled on the idea that we could keep a secret. I kept seeing her in secret, and all along, we had to be careful that no one saw us. But you know—
KBJ: You were spotted?
FF: Yes, yes, I was. The fact is my conscience troubled me. And that was just the beginning…
KBJ: What do you mean, Father—what, is there something else?
FF: Let me explain. When Justie came, we continued where we had left off.
KBJ: You mean you continued the affair?
FF: Yes, we did. And she got pregnant again (Sobs.)
KBJ: Let me make sure I am not losing you here. You are telling me—you’re telling the audience, our faithful watchers, that you fathered two children, and not one, with Sister Justitia?
FF: Yes… (Silence follows.)
KBJ: Where is the other child?
FF: (Sobs profusely.) I don’t know, Joe!
KBJ: (Hands Father Fenner a handkerchief.)
FF: Thank you. Thanks, Joe.
KBJ: I get it from your…I mean…tears, she aborted, would that be fair to say?
FF: (Still sobbing, wipes his tears.)
KBJ: Why not risk?
FF: No, Joe. I couldn’t do that. Because those are just rumors.
BKJ: So what is the truth?
FF: The truth is in what I will say next. I did sin, yes.
KBJ: But you had sinned. Adultery is just as much of a sin as murder, isn’t it?
FF: I sinned, fine. But I wouldn’t kill. (Begins to lecture.) The child is innocent. Should it die because of the sin of the father? I wouldn’t do that. Giving up a child for adoption because I believe that God has a purpose for every child who comes into this world? Yes, that I can do. You remember the reference case, Joe?
BKJ: So that is your child. (Shows Father Fenner a photo from a newspaper clipping.)
FF: Yes, she is mine, yes. But—?
BKJ: But what?
FF: I did not know she had become pregnant. I was not aware she had my child. I learned about it all when they were already here.
BKJ: Did you do a paternity test?
FF: No. I just know she’s mine.
KBJ: She could just as well be another man’s child?
FF: Justie told me…after the affair, she continued on with her life. She did not know herself that she was pregnant. She had gone to see a doctor for a common cold she was given the news that she was pregnant. Asked if she knew the father of the child, she said she knew. The only man she had ever had sex with was me. I know it’s true. She doesn’t lie.
KBJ: And the second pregnancy, that you also knew was yours?
FF: Yes. And I…
KBJ: Hmm, you wanted to say something, Father?
FF: Yes, but it may be not that important. I have prayed that God uses these daughters in a special way. I’ve handed them over to God, Joe.
KBJ: I am sure he will. (Joe resonates, but his facial gesture betrays his words.)
Many people thought Fenner was still a hero. This time, a hero against the Catholic establishment! However, there were some who thought he had brought shame to the Catholic priesthood. They demanded action from the pope. Vatican was under pressure.
On October 25, 1952, Fenner was officially excommunicated.
In the press, the Vatican released the following statement:
His Holiness understands that excommunication is a severe penalty and should only be contemplated in times of grave crimes committed against the Holy Catholic Church.
In the days following this egregious rumor, the Vatican has interviewed all interested parties, including Father Coveran Fenner himself. As a result, the investigations have led to the following findings: The Holy See has established that Father Fenner abused the trust and faith of the Church and undermined its authority by going against its orders.
It has further established that Father Fenner had engaged in an immoral conduct with a member of his parish and had, indeed, fathered a child out of wedlock.
The Church has further discovered that Father Fenner convinced the mother of this child to commit an abortion. The clinic where this took place has confirmed by way of documents, but the Church will not disclose the name of the clinic for confidentiality reasons.
Pursuant to the canon law of the Catholic Church under the precepts according to latae sententiae, sentence already passed, Father Fenner has been excommunicated from the Catholic ministry with immediate effect. He will henceforth cease from taking part in the Eucharist or other sacraments and from the exercise of any ecclesiastical office, ministry, or function.
This imposition has been inevitable under the plurality of de jure excommunication decree under the Procurement of a Completed Abortion sentence.
Father Fenner has, however, been spared the condemnation of hell.
Signed and sealed,
Fenner was denied any retirement benefits for his work as priest. He was, however, qualified for government pension, and for his service in the war. He moved from Vansigra to Victoria, BC, where in 1955, he formalized his relationship with Justitia in an official marriage. The couple continued to attend a local Protestant Church. Fenner works as a teacher at a Montessori school. He kept a very low profile.
Following the excommunication decree, Justitia, now Mrs. Fenner, had not spoken to the media. She, an introverted personality and described by the parishioners as a calm and reserved woman, preferred to keep all the happenings around her to herself.
She tried to, until recently when she had spoken up to the media following the child abuse scandals by priests. She spoke to the Victoria Sun. A crying and dejected woman, Mrs. Fenner revealed that her daughter was very precious to her. She believed God had forgiven them, and they were happy together now as a complete family.
“[CFS] now calls him Daddy,” Justitia said proudly.
(The Victoria Sun apologized to the readers that in conformity with the law, the minor’s name was consigned to initials.)
“I always felt bad when she called him Father Fenner…before the truth came out.” She wiped her tears.
Asked if the allegation by Vatican was true that she had another child with Fenner when she worked as church secretary and had aborted it, she answered, “That is not the complete truth.”
Mrs. Fenner chose her words very carefully.
“You know, the big guys needed to find something to justify an excommunication. And I think it worked,” she commented with lucid resignation.
When the controversial question was asked as to why she didn’t just abort the first child when she was a nun and this would have saved Fenner and herself from shame, she responded, “She was a cute little angel, and her face still gazes in mine even after all these years. I held her in my hands and saw the spot under her left palm, and with tears, I left her, thought of just leaving her at the doorsteps of an adoption agency. I started crying. I wouldn’t do that. And I have never forgotten about that little pretty face. She has always been in my heart…Oh, poor little soul!”
Justitia also confirmed that Fenner never told her to commit an abortion, and that she had never committed any abortion in her life.
“A very gentle man, Coveran did everything for love,” she began. “He knew they would not accept it, so he did the only thing he knew would spare his little princess: he came out to the public. Coveran is my hero!”
The newspaper story further reported that Justitia and his family were not complete yet. “I pray every day for her wherever she may be; she will always be my little angel.”
And then the reporter asked her, “Do you now feel free?”
“Free…freedom is an understatement,” she said.
“Why do you say so?” the reporter asked.
“Because when you hear people say slavery or slave, it never sinks in until you have been there. Slavery is not lack of freedom. It is a conspiracy. It is growing a garden from which you will not get nourishment. It is digging for gold while you grope in poverty and misery. It is seeing the promise right before you but being forbidden from experiencing it.” She poured out her words, as though they were water drained from a faucet, in a faint Gregorian French accent.
“So what you are basically saying is that the system is designed to enslave,” the reporter charged.
“Anyone or any system that enslaves another is a shameful loser,” she retorted.
“So…you—” The Victoria Sun reporter wanted to follow up with another question but she stopped him in the middle of the question.
“I mean, I have something else to say.”
“Say it, please,” granted the reporter.
“I am pregnant again. I am carrying Coveran’s third child.”
Late 1950s to Early 1980s
Kirl J. Fonder lived in the small village community of Coopersville in Edmonton, Alberta. An only child of the Fonders, Kirl was born on December 27, 1944, in Coopersville. His father, John, was a mechanics technician at Lavender Depot, while his mother, Julia, worked as a private secretary to the Chief of Staff in the premier’s office.
His driver’s license described Kirl as five foot nine and weighing 170 pounds. With big blue eyes, strong legs and arms, Kirl was easily attracted to girls. Initially a shy boy, Kirl started to become well-spoken in high school when he joined the debating society. Although Kirl was a handsome, good-looking, and charming guy, it was his voice that distinguished him from the rest.
Not so many people were as lucky as Kirl. Some people with big, deep voices had been employed as news presenters or public announcers. Kirl’s landed him a job with the Secret Intelligence Services of Canada (SISC). He was at first noticed during a televised debate on the effects of ash from the Alberta Oil Sands on the surrounding communities. He had represented George Harvey Collegiate Institute. He was in Grade 10.
Although his school came out second, the event had succeeded in bringing him to the attention of the SISC. Then the phone rang. It was from the premier’s office.
“Julia!” Premier Franklin Morris called.
“Yes, sir,” she answered.
“A minute…” the premier suggested.
“Of course, sir,” she responded quickly.
There was a sense of urgency in the premier’s voice. Julia was at first afraid.
What have I done, she thought.
She rushed passed the first of the double doors leading up into the premier’s office.
“Morning, Julia,” Pamela Emerson, the premier’s secretary, greeted.
“I am good. I’m good, Pam,” she answered. “I…,” she started.
“I know, please come in. Everything is fine,” Pamela assured.
“Oh, thank God, you read me.” She relaxed.
She entered the brightly lit room. This is the second time she was inside the premier’s office. The first time she came here was when her boss, Daniel Menken, the premier’s Chief of Staff, had taken her along to transcribe the premier’s instructions on the resumption of a federal educational fund that had been discontinued ten years prior.
The premier was alone in his magnificent semi oval office. It was huge, about 125 by 225 square feet. It was silhouetted on the northern right with a large conference room and with a storage room on the far south. It had five windows
. It was as outlandish as it was vain. However, its eccentric nature was the glue that held the soul of Alberta together.
“Yes, sir.” Julia motioned to Mr. Morris, who seemed to be more interested in the report he was skimming through than in Julia’s presence. Without looking at her, he simply shoved an unsealed envelope toward her.
“Here you are,” he said, smilingly, still not looking at Julia.
“Please confirm the details and let me know,” he instructed.
It was a large brown envelope. Julia was shocked when she opened it. It contained twenty-five photos of Kirl and a video of the debate Kirl had participated in as a student at GHCI.
First Name: Kirl
Middle Name: Johnson
Last name: Fonder
Address: 205 – 26th Street SE, Edmonton, Alberta T6N 1M3
Eye Color: Blue
Skin Color: White
High School: George Harvey Collegiate Institute
Grade: Tenth, going on Eleventh
Interests: George Harvey Debating Society, Red Cross, Maths Peer Ca
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