So I was at a conference of some kind, vaguely religious or journalistic: people sat at long benches along refectory tables, and we were discussing the Bishop of Southwark when a slim, dark-haired woman, a friend of mine though unidentifiable in the dream, said "Andrew, I have a much better story".
She was, she said, a woman priest herself, and the members of her order used to go away for retreats from time to time. At one of these, one morning, one of the women came down in an apparently distressed stated: lumpy around the face as if she had been crying. So she was asked what was the matter. Nothing, nothing, she said, and went back up to her room. My friend followed, with others, and listened at the door. Sure enough, there came a cry of pain and then more sobbing. So she shoved open the door and they all pushed into the room: all of the furniture had been roughly shoved together – "it looked like a hurricane had gone through IKEA", she said – and in the middle of the room was a disordered bed with the woman who had been crying lying on it, stark naked, and with bruises all the way from her upper thigh to her lower back. To one side, also stark naked, except for a gold pectoral cross, was a bishop leading the retreat, who had been spanking her.
The woman on the bed was in tears but not ashamed. "We were just exploring the spirituality of pain" she said, and at this everyone filed out again. But they never trusted the bishop again.
Yes but who was it? I asked when I heard the story. The dark-haired woman hugged me close, so no one else could hear, and told me. I didn’t catch the name but it was nice being hugged. "You know I love you", I said in response to the secret, though I felt as I said it that this was only making things worse.
Then I crossed the room and started to tell the story myself at another group of benches. Behind me, the women priests were standing and putting on their robes, preparing to leave.