At the police station, the lieutenant observes his squad of ragtag policemen with distaste. A stern man, he metes out punishment to a group of prisoners who have been jailed for minor offenses and waits for the jefe, or chief, to arrive. The jefe informs the lieutenant that he has spoken with the governor, who believes that there are still priests at large in the state. The lieutenant is skeptical, but the jefe produces a photograph of a plump priest cavorting with women at a first communion party. Upon seeing the photograph, the lieutenant feels anger welling up inside of him. He is outraged at the way the priests behave, or at least at the way they used to behave before Catholicism was outlawed, believing that they lead lives of indulgence and wealth while the people who they supposedly served remained in poverty and misery.
He pins the photograph to the wall next to a photograph of James Calver (who is referred to simply as the gringo throughout the novel). The gringo may be a bank robber and a murderer, the lieutenant argues, but he actually inflicts less harm on society than a priest does. The lieutenant feels that to apprehend and execute a priest is a virtuous deed because it helps to heal the entire state. Talking himself into an angry, determined state of mind, the lieutenant vows that he can catch this priest within a month. He concocts a plan to take one hostage from every town, and kill him if no one in the town comes forward to report the priest's whereabouts. After all, it would certainly be worth a few dead peasants to be able to apprehend the last priest in the state—or so the lieutenant argues. The lieutenant returns to his small, spare room, and thinks with bitterness about the beliefs that religion propagates. He thinks that there is no merciful God, that the universe is cold and dying, and that existence is purposeless.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, a woman reads to her family the story of Juan, a young boy who was murdered because he believed in God and in the Church. A boy listens to the woman (his mother) read and soon we learn that this is the boy who called at Mr. Tench's house for help for his dying mother. His mother is not dying at all, it turns out, and she and her husband have a conversation about the whiskey priest, the stranger from chapter one, who has taken his leave of them. They also discuss Padre Jose, a priest who, at the state's insistence, agreed to get married and abandon the priesthood.
In yet another part of town, Padre Jose sits on his patio watching the stars and thinking despairingly about his own life. Too afraid to face execution, he opted to give in to the states' demands and leave the Church forever. Now, he thinks, he must live out the rest of his life as a symbol of cowardice and poor faith. Some children mock him as his wife calls him to bed.
Chapter Two introduces us to three key figures: the lieutenant, the young boy, and Padre Jose.
The lieutenant is a ruthless and perhaps even hypocritical figure. He despises priests for exploiting the people, yet he lets this feeling so overwhelm him that he declares himself prepared to execute those very people in order to rid the state of priests for good. The lieutenant, however, is far from being a simple character, and it would be a mistake to view him purely in negative terms. While he avows his opposition to the priest and to the priesthood, Greene's description of him often emphasizes the subtle similarities that exist between the lieutenant and his prey. He lives an austere, almost monastic life in his bare room, and he pursues his mission with a single-minded zeal based on principles and a concern for the poor. That his zeal often leads him to commit horrific acts is undeniable but, then again, many people in the novel would argue that the problem with the clergy is that, somewhere along the line, they too lost sight of their ideals.
The lieutenant's ideals concerning order and law can be seen even in his dress. While the lieutenant professes his belief that the universe is fundamentally chaotic, his lifestyle and his meticulous concern for his appearance indicate a desire for order and structure. Greene describes the lieutenant's dress as "dapper", while the other policemen are disheveled. Indeed, he is set apart from his surroundings as well: buildings are dilapidated, the landscape is marshy, overgrown and humid.
Perhaps, then, the figure who is meant to serve as a contrast to the lieutenant is not the priest, but the hapless, incompetent and numb Mr. Tench. Unlike Mr. Tench, the lieutenant has passion and motivation. For Greene, the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. Both love and hate signify emotional investment, a connection to and a concern about the world, even if hate is an ultimately negative concern. Apathy indicates a lack of commitment and an unconcern for life itself. Connections between the priest and the lieutenant will become clearer as the book progresses, but even in these early chapters Greene is preparing us to question the stereotypical contrasts we may be tempted to draw.
The boy and his family, whose house the priest visited after leaving Tench, serve throughout the novel as a way for Greene to explore the effects of the state's religious intolerance on a pious family. Left with only bad examples of priests for her children, the mother struggles to impart her faith to her offspring. Already it is evident that she can no longer hold her son's attention, as he expresses a lack of interest in the story of the martyred boy, Juan. Children are extremely important in this novel, and one reason is that the future of faith in the state and the response to this wave of religious persecution is uncertain.
Padre Jose represents a foil for the protagonist, the nameless priest. While both begin the novel full of shame about themselves, Padre Jose's choice to live an easeful, sedentary life contrasts sharply with the arduous, wandering life chosen by the priest.