I was once asked if being a sociopath made life as a vicar difficult. The answer is yes, but not as much as you might think. Certainly, it makes some situations easier.
A case in point occurred recently. I had only been in the parish of St James, Sutley a couple of months. I was just settling down for the night after an extended church council meeting when the phone rang. With a sigh, I answered it.
St James Vicarage – David Wilson speaking”.
“Hello David, it’s Abigail Horton.”
Flower arranger; modest intelligence; useful, difficult to replace. She had button-holed me as the meeting had been breaking up. In fact, she had carried on for so long that her husband Arnold - church warden; low intelligence; useless, could be replaced by anyone - had gone home ahead of her.
After apologising for the lateness of the hour, she said, “David, I want you to hear my confession.”
“You want the rite of confession?”
I should mention here that there’s a difference between the rite of confession and the confession in the Sunday service. The Sunday routine is reciting a few non-specific words for generic mistakes, but the rite means listening to someone, and taking their secrets to the grave. Generally, it’s someone having an affair, but that seemed rather unlikely for Abigail.
“I see. And presumably you need me to come over now. Does Arnold know?”
“I would think so. You see, I’ve just murdered him.”
This was far more understandable than an affair. I’d only been in the parish a couple of months, but he had been a most frustrating man.
“Very well. I’ll be over shortly.”
As I put my coat on, I reflected that life as a vicar was more interesting than I had anticipated. Despite being a sociopath, my calling to the priesthood was genuine, but I had been concerned it might be dull. However, having been called, I was determined to do the job to the best of my ability. Which, logically, meant that I should one day become Archbishop of Canterbury.
Arriving at Abigail’s bungalow, which was set back from the road and surrounded by a high privet hedge, the first thing I noticed was that the door was open, apparently forced. I considered briefly that there might be danger attached to this visit. After all, this woman had just killed her husband. However, not only am I confident in God’s purpose, I am also young and reasonably fit. I was sure that I could run faster than Abigail if the situation required. I walked into the house.
“I’m in the kitchen,” called Abigail.
I walked through the living/dining room to the kitchen, to find her with blood up to the elbows. Arnold was lying on the floor with a hole in his chest, a carving knife beside him.
She appeared quite calm, so I asked what had happened.
“I spent some time talking to you after the meeting, so he would go home ahead of me. When I got home, I called him into the kitchen and stabbed him with the knife. Then I forced the door, so the police will think it’s a burglary gone wrong.”
“Why isn’t there blood on the door?”
“Because I didn’t pull the knife out until after I’d forced the door.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“Because he was a very annoying man.”
I couldn’t fault her reasoning, but murder is wrong, and this looked premeditated to me.
“Will you absolve me of my sins?” she asked.
“No, because I don’t believe you’re sorry.”
She cocked her head on one side and thought a moment.
“Might you absolve me later?”
“Perhaps. Have you called the police yet?”
“No. I thought it might work better if you did that. Will you tell them I did it?”
“Not unless you want me to,” I said, picking up the blood-stained telephone.
The police arrived with commendable speed.
“Pity she pulled the knife out of the victim”, said one officer, “That’s any chances of fingerprints gone.”
“Yeah,” said another. “Door’s been forced. Looks like they knew what they were doing. Single blow in the right place, and these doors will pop right open.”
“Do you know why she contacted you first, sir?” one asked me.
“Even today, some people will turn to a priest first,” I replied.
I suppose I could have told them everything then, but the whole confessional thing is rather awkward. Instead, I said, “I don’t think I can help you. It was a fairly brief call, and not very coherent.”
Questions continued for longer than I appreciated, but eventually an officer asked Abigail, “Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?”
“She can stay at the Vicarage,” I said, before she could reply.
“Oh, thank you David, I don’t know what I would do without you,” she said.
I did my looking saintly routine, and the police officers nodded their approval. Vicarages are supposed to keep spare rooms for guests, and as I live by myself, it would have looked strange if I hadn’t offered. Besides, good flower arrangers are hard to come by.
As I finally went to bed that night, I found myself a little concerned that Abigail had decided to involve me in the murder of her husband. She had clearly thought it through carefully, so there must have been a reason for her to contact me. I couldn’t see it though, so I upgraded my estimate of her intelligence to “high” and went to sleep.
The next morning, such thoughts were banished by waking to the smell of frying bacon.
“Good morning, David,” she said, as I came downstairs.
“Good morning. How are you today?”
“Quite well, thank you.”
I accepted this at face value, as a cooked breakfast and removal of an inconvenient church warden can only be positive. While I finished breakfast, Abigail busied herself with housework.
I was just about to sit down and write a notice regarding Arnold’s death for parish consumption when the doorbell rang. Expecting either police or concerned parishioners – bad news travels fast – I set my face in a suitably solemn expression and opened the door to Mabel Goodall.
Late twenties, a little younger than me, a little dim, a little too evangelical -in short, pew-fodder.
“Good morning, Mabel. What can I do for you?”
“God has told me to marry you.”
Disclaimer: The views, beliefs and actions of Rev. David Wilson do not necessarily reflect those of the Church of England.