IN the summer of 2005, I reported from a Multnomah County, Ore., courtroom on the story of an unemployed mother -- impregnated by a seminary student 13 years earlier -- who was trying to get increased child support for her sickly 12-year-old son.
The boy's father, Father Arturo Uribe, took the witness stand. The priest had never seen or talked with his son. He even had trouble properly pronouncing the kid's name. Uribe confidently offered the court a simple reason as to why he couldn't pay more than $323 a month in child support.
"The only thing I own are my clothes," he told the judge.
His defense -- orchestrated by a razor-sharp attorney paid for by his religious order -- boiled down to this: I'm a Roman Catholic priest, I've taken a vow of poverty, and child-support laws can't touch me.
The boy's mother, Stephanie Collopy, couldn't afford a lawyer. She stumbled badly acting as her own attorney. It went on for three hours.
"It didn't look that great," Stephanie said afterward, wiping tears from her eyes. "It didn't sound that great ... but at least I stood up for myself."
The judge ruled in the favor of Uribe, then pastor of a large parish in Whittier. After the hearing, when the priest's attorney discovered I had been there, she ran back into the courtroom and unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to seal the case. I could see why the priest's lawyer would try to cover it up. People would be shocked at how callously the church dealt with a priest's illegitimate son who needed money for food and medicine.
My problem was that none of that surprised me anymore.
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.
My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago -- probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper.