“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These words of Charles Dickens could certainly have been descriptive of the 1970’s.The nation was embroiled in a war that split families apart, the cities were exploding with racial riots and the Roman Church was struggling with social and moral issues. The parish in microcosm was involved in all of these issues and Sal believed as priests they walked a fine line. He never liked labels so there was no comfort in defining himself in a particular camp but in essence on most issues that mattered he was progressive. The danger in that is one could get caught up with serving only those of like mind. All of the people in the parish were his responsibility, not only those who saw the world as he did.
The changes in the world had mammoth effects on the laity as well as the priests. In an effort to accommodate the need for more involvement the Diocese established parish councils and a priest’s senate. The parish council was to assist the pastor in the day to day operations of the parish. At Holy Trinity despite the fact that Monsignor Murray was a congenial man who loved the people the council was a paper tiger. We had so many talented business people who would provide valuable council especially in the financial areas but Monsignor did not wish to relinquish the power of absolute financial freedom. Two of the most talented members of the council resigned after a few attempts to change the system.
On the priest side of the equation Sal was elected by his peers to the senate which was an organization that in theory was to assist the Bishop in policy and practice.
The Bishop as always was kind and considerate but without open conflict ignored the senate. Naively Sal brought to the group three outstanding Human Resource executives to assist the Diocese in structure and practice. The meetings were phenomenal, but the recommendations were totally ignored by the Bishop.
One area of the Senate that worked well was that any priest without permission could seek the counsel of any member of the structure. One evening about 8:30 Sal received a call from a priest who was one of the finest members of the club. He had been a priest for over twenty years, and was deeply loved and respected. He asked if Sal could meet him without wearing a collar at a diner on route 22.Sal agreed and because he was not on duty changed clothes and drove to the diner. It was relatively empty, and almost as soon as he sat and ordered coffee his brother priest came and poured forth his dilemma. For years he had been a compulsive gambler, and though his parents had left him and his sister a small fortune he had lost it all. In addition his bookie had no idea that he was a priest, and when he found out he was a member of the clergy allowed him one last chance to get even. This as all other bets failed, and now the bookie was being pressed by those above him to collect or get heavy
.Sal listened to him and finally asked “How much do you owe” He almost fell off the chair when he said “thirty six thousand dollars. “Regaining composure Sal assured him that as a member of the Senate and the personnel board he would not divulge his secret, but would arrange for him to get professional help. He also requested that he contact his bookie and set up a meeting to resolve the situation. Every nickel Sal had in this world came to a little over ten thousand dollars, and there was no other way of raising the money without making the priest’s reputation vulnerable.
Two days past and Sal’s priest friend gave him a number to call. He presumed it was the number of his bookie. Sal called and explained who he was but there was little response. Finally a gruff voice gave him an address in Hoboken where he was to be on the following Thursday at 11 am. Sal was told in no uncertain terms that he was to come alone, and not tell anyone about this meeting. He ignored the second part and sought the counsel of his brother an FBI agent, and a Federal prosecutor who lived in the parish. Both insisted that he not attend this meeting. Sal was conflicted, but decided that if he did not his friend might come to harm.
Sal drove to Hoboken and with great effort finally found the address; it was a decrepit old warehouse. He parked the car and walked to the front entrance. There were two huge men at the door, and they let him in and then apparently searching for a weapon performed a complete body frisk.. After this they led Sal into the open part of the warehouse where a man was sitting on a vegetable crate. He motioned for Sal to sit down on the crate next to him. In an angry voice he said “Do you have the money”? Sal hesitated and finally said “all I could raise was ten thousand dollars. There is no possibility of anything more.”He stared at Sal and with great anger in his voice said” I don’t give a s….t that a priest owes this money. I am going to take your ten grand, but if he ever gambles again in New Jersey he is a dead man.If you report this meeting to the cops you will join him.” He said those words as if he was ordering lunch. Finally after giving Sal a death stare he took the envelope from his hands, and never looked inside.He stood and with no emotion offered “Now get the hell out of here.”He did not need to tell Sal a second time. He bolted and drove back to Westbury grateful that he had survived this harrowing morning.The good part of this episode was that counseling helped, and to his knowledge the involved priest never gambled again.