Several years before the pedophile priest scandal destroyed Cardinal Law’s career, Garry was friends with him. Not close pals, but better than mere acquaintances. Garry thought I would enjoy Bishop Cardinal Law’s company, so when the opportunity came up, he did a very Garry thing.

He was working weekends for several decades, so whatever stuff happened on Sunday, Garry was on it. This Sunday, the old catholic cathedral near our condo in Roxbury, was going to host Cardinal Bishop Bernard Law. It was a big deal for the neighborhood’s shrinking Catholic population.


For a Prince of the Church to say Mass anywhere  in Boston is an event, even if you aren’t Catholic. We lived one block from the lovely old cathedral. The neighborhood was buzzing.

The cathedral was a grand dame amongst local churches. You could see her former grandeur, though she was currently in desperate need of restoration and repairs to just about everything. Roxbury was almost entirely Black and the Catholic population was small. It had previously been a Jewish neighborhood, red-lined by greedy real estate brigands. We were among the first two or three middle class mixed-race couples to move back to Roxbury. We hoped we’d be the start of positive move for the neighborhood, including how it would be reported by media and perceived by Bostonians — and that turned out to be true, though it took some years for the area to finally turn around.

To be fair, we had chosen it less out of altruism and more because it was a great location — and we could afford it. Convenient to everything with lots of green space, lovely neighbors, and compared to almost any other place in Boston, more or less within our budget. “Affordable” in Boston — any neighborhood, no matter how “bad” — is really expensive. For the price of a condo in one of Boston’s most problematic areas, you could buy a big house with land out past Metrowest. In fact, that’s what we eventually did.

But I digress.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Roxbury was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know because my neighbor tried desperately to have his cars stolen, going so far as to leave the keys in the ignition for weeks. Not a chance. People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors, or felt safer.


The morning when Cardinal Law was due to visit, Garry called.

“I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law) that you used to live in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”

“Uh huh.”

“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”


“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”

BING BONG said the doorbell.

I looked at me. At least I was dressed. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime! And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing his red skull-cap and clothed in a long, black wool cloak. Impressive.

Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the smartest, sweetest, and gentlest — was our meeter greeter.

Big Guy
Big Guy

I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope St. Mary’s would get funds to repair and upgrade before it was too late.

The neighborhood. A bit of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately (rightfully and so sadly) blamed for the long-standing policy of the Church in hiding the misdeeds of child-molesting clerics, this was years before that story came to light. The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty, and a pleasure to spend time around. Which was probably why Garry was so fond of him and considered him a friend.

When it was time for the Cardinal to depart, he stood up. Big Guy left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the region’s reigning Catholic cleric. And that was when I saw the Cardinal was coated in cat hair.

Exactly what does one say in this odd circumstance?

“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure the cloak needed more oomph than a lint roller anyway. It was going to need some serious dry-cleaning.

I took the less valorous road and shut up. Wincing with foreknowledge, we parted company. As he and his retinue swept out my door, I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists, and turns. This was one.

“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.

“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement.

“Yup,” said I, equally downplaying the difficulties that would arise from the incident. I had wrangled with Big Guy’s fur. I knew how bad it would be.

Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the good Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong getting? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain, grr.

“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.

“Yes sir?”

“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”

“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”

“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.

When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.

“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”

But now … YOU know. The truth has been revealed.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

26 thoughts on “THE CARDINAL AND THE CAT”

  1. ‘I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run.” Nice of Garry 😉 It does seem that you and the Big Guy got back at him though – he had to face the Cardinal, you (and Big Guy) didn’t.


    1. It’s a little sad, too, because we liked him. He as a dupe for the Vatican and it destroyed him. But he also allowed himself to be destroyed. Everyone has a conscience and even though we liked him, we have to ask — where was his?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We’re watching “Line of Duty” which is a very gritty British drama about the Brit version of IA investigating their own. It’s harrowing. At some point, someone says “the higher you climb, the less you are a copper and the more you are a politician.” That’s probably very much true for the Church where Cardinals are the senior VPs for the Pope. But it being religion — there has got to be a conscience in there too … or certainly ought to be.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this earlier and had no time to comment. Such a shame the Vatican made the choice to cover up instead of being transparent. It goes against anything that religion should be. Makes you question whether it is true or not, if they can’t even follow their own rules of their faith.
    Great story though…I can’t believe the short notice…I would have freaked!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was lucky I was fully dressed. It was morning and it was Sunday and I might have been in night gown and bathrobe. AND the house was more or less clean. PURE luck. But Garry has this jolting failure to worry about potential side effects. And he has absolute faith in my abiliity to pull whatever it is off. A lot more faith than I have in me.

      As for the rest of it, it was tragic on SO many levels. He had to know it was wrong. This was one very bright man. He was a Jesuit and he was very well educated. He was also intelligent in a worldly way, not just as a churchman. He HAD to know it was wrong, but he had his orders.

      The question we had then and still have: at what point must you question your orders and do as your conscience commands? This is still the question, isn’t it? Not just for the church, but for politicians and police officers and the military.

      When does obedience to order have to end and obedience to right and wrong begin? It isn’t as simple an answer as it might seem on the surface. Because discipline in these organizations if very strict and if you do NOT obey, conscience or not, you can and WILL BE brought up on charges. Fired.

      In theory, conscience has to rule but in reality — there’s a LOT more to it. You don’t just disobey a command from a superior officer, whether than officer is the Pope or a Colonel or the President. Not without paying some huge price for it that might just cost you your life or at the least, everything you value.

      This is another post for another day.

      The cost of obeying your conscience is no small thing and the higher up you get in the ranks of an organization with discipline, the harder and more painful it gets. And you aren’t going to get a lot of thanks or pats on the back for your stance, either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I bet most of them are following the marching orders and you are right, most often it is their job on the line or worse. Their own well being could be at stake. Not saying it is the case here but it happens. People get threatened all the time. That or blackmail. So common.


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