On the Movie “Priest”

by Fr. Charles Irvin

May, 1995

How can human flesh live up to the demands of the Faith? Fr. Greg is a newly ordained priest, conservative – and gay. He is conscience stricken. Fr. Matthew is long ordained, jumps on the latest bandwagons of causes, is at war with authority, unashamedly sleeps with his housekeeper – and is unrepentant.

A little girl, in going to confession to Fr. Greg, tells him that her father is sexually using her. Her father, in “going to confession” to Fr. Greg, is totally without shame, and unrepentant.

None of the characters, including the bishop, have a warm relationship with Christ. They merely go through the motions of religious “practice”. None have any spirituality beyond that of an ersatz compassionate humanism run amok. The bishop is devoid of even that, passionless, cold and indifferent to anything human. Only the gay priest, Fr. Greg, recognizes right from wrong. And every character’s predominant feeling is that of being sorry for themselves.

The movie’s producer, Disney Enterprises (of all things), and in particular Antonia Bird it’s director, make a very deliberate statement about the Catholic Church. Intending to release this movie for its first public showing on Good Friday (quite a statement in itself!), the movie’s makers clearly indict the Church for lacking any human compassion, depicting it as favoring law over instinct and doctrine over desire, while crushing humanity in its path. The movie uses human suffering and compassion as rapiers to cut up the Catholic Church. Yes, it is the Catholic Church and its doctrine that’s in the dock in this production, not untrammelled human sexual desire. The movie’s message? Free sexual expression is normal; Catholic doctrine and morality is perverse. Catholicism is evil.

Even more insidiously, the movie’s makers indict the secrecy of the confessional, depicting it as a sanctuary for sinners and an instrument of evil, an extraordinarily perverse twisting of its purpose. It’s the first time, ever, that I’ve seen the Sacrament of Forgiveness under attack.

Ironically the movie falls into a fatal flaw. In a dramatic scene in which the older Father Matthew is preaching to his flock, he shouts: “Does God really care what men do with their (private parts)?” The horror is that the incestuous father who uses his little girl is right there in front of him in the congregation! The answer to the priest’s question is a silently screamed: “Yes”. The movie’s makers, however, are giving you the politically correct: “No”. God, they think, doesn’t care about our sexual activities.

One can only wonder at the producers’ own blindness. Were they more in possession of their wits, they would have excised that scene from their movie. But since it is there, it stands in silent rebuke, contradicting the producers’ primary cinematic statement.

I speak not here of the artistic merits of this production -whether or not its cinematic qualities are good or bad. It may, perhaps, be a fine piece of cinematic work, probing, thought-provoking, even meritorious. Those who want to promote its attack against the Church and its moral teachings will extol its artistic merits without qualification. They will use it for their arguments. We do need to recall here that it has been a long, long time since Roman Catholic priests have been presented by media moguls as role models, as heroes, or simply as normal human beings who struggle to be decent and challenge others not only to be decent but to be extraordinary. Furthermore, it could be said that we have enough of ordinary Christians. What we need are some extraordinary Christians… and priests.

Don’t look for that vision from Hollywood or the corporate board rooms of movie studios out there in Disney and La-La Land. They intend to indoctrinate you with what they prefer to define as “reality”. They have their own sermon to preach.

Quite separate and apart from them (thank God!), the Catholic Church will continue to call us to see her priests as standing “in persona Christi”, continue to call young men to live up to that ideal, and likewise call us all to sacrifice ourselves as He did, heroically, not merely for our own sakes, but for the whole world’s. In that vein we need note, too, that Jesus Christ was put to death for political, as well as theological, reasons. He refused to acknowledge this world’s “authorities”. And so He, too, was spit upon.

Oh, and for those who question whether or not I should have written this critical piece – yes, I did see the movie before I dared write here about it.


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”