I recently received a notification from the Chancery of the Archdiocese, and the very same notification from the Passionist Provincial Office, warning of a scam that is targeting parishes and religious houses, whereby a person, or persons unknown, spin a very plausible story to try and elicit substantial sums of money under false pretences. It would seem that many places in England had been duped by this and now the scam has moved north. Of course, scams of all kinds are commonplace now, and there will be very few of us who have not been the victims of, at least, an attempted scam. Perhaps I am naïve, but it seems to me that scams are much more sinister and malicious than they were in the past, targeting the vulnerable as much as anyone else. Over the years, as a priest, I have listened to some extraordinary stories from people who came to the door of the monastery looking for money. Most of them were scams, but they often had a kind of entertainment value, and a kind of innocence, whereby I thought even the person spinning the story didn’t expect me to believe it. Sometimes I would give the person something for sheer creativity, and I often thought it would be good to have a kind of Booker prize, or a Bafta award, for the best story or performance.
Shortly after I was ordained, I was in my room in St. Mungo’s, when the community vicar (assistant superior) came to my door and asked if I could spare an hour or two. He had been in the parlour listening to a good yarn being spun by a gentleman who simply had to get to London that night. In the unlikely scenario of the story being true the vicar discreetly decided that, instead of giving him money, he would take him to the bus station and buy him a ticket. As the vicar didn’t drive, he asked if I would act as chauffeur. I drove them to Buchanan Street bus station and waited while the ticket was purchased. The vicar waited until our friend got on the bus and the bus pulled out of the station. When he got back into the car, he asked me if I fancied a run to Hamilton, which was the first stop on the way to London. I agreed and off we went. We got there before the bus and waited. When the bus pulled in to the bus station our friend made to get off, but when he saw the vicar standing there, he sheepishly got back on the bus again. So, at the very least, he would have to go as far as Carlisle, which was the next stop. We never saw him again.
Another colleague at the time in St. Mungo’s, gave a man a few pounds after listening to a long story, but then followed him down the High Street and watched him turn into the Old College Bar. As the man ordered his pint and whisky chaser, my colleague stepped in beside him and said to the barman, “make mine a double”. Our friend’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. At the end of a very long day’s duty, I remember the doorbell ringing late at night. I brought the visitor into the parlour and, about 10 minutes into his story, which was obviously a contender for Jackanory, I stopped him and told him I was just too tired, and asked how much he was looking for. He said “£10”. I said, “I’ll give you £5”. He said, “Brilliant!” About 5 minutes after I bade him farewell the doorbell rang again. I could have wept, but when I opened the door, there was my friend again. He handed me a single Lemsip and said, “Father, why don’t you take this and go to bed, it might do you good”. I could only laugh.
I remember we had a head teacher at secondary school who would hover around, waiting to catch anybody who was arriving late. I was frequently late as I had to rely on 2 buses from Drumchapel to the City Centre, and then from the City Centre out to the school. However, he would wait until he had gathered a few latecomers; he would then invite us to come up with a story as to why we were late. It didn’t need to be true, it just needed to be as entertaining as possible. The person with the best story would avoid punishment; the rest paid the price.
Back at the ranch, Fr. Gareth has been home in Wales and returns tonight; Fr. Antony is painting the fence and is as brown as a berry; Fr. Justinian is enjoying lockdown easing.
So, as ever, protect yourselves, others and loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.