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David France investigated what has become known as the pedophile
priest crisis in the American Catholic Church while working for Newsweek magazine. In the book which resulted from
his efforts, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in
an Age of Scandal, France paints an exhaustive picture of the clandestine, even
cabalistic shadow world of the Vatican hierarchy, drawing upon innumerable, irrefutable
sources to reveal a decades-long-suppressed, nation-wide epidemic of the
sexual molestation of young boys by chaste priests. Showtimes film
adaptation draws upon the storys painful details somewhat more selectively, creating
inadvertently the impression that this is a local problem in Boston, attributable
primarily to a single individual, Bernard Cardinal Law.
In the film adaptation, Christopher Plummers Cardinal Law is at once arrogant and contrite--arrogant in his power at the apex of modern-day Boston society, contrite as a humble servant of Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority. When confronted by one of the abuse victims for an explanation of how he, Law, could have let the abuse happen for so many years, Law replies, I never understood it. As the victim provides an avalanche of personal details, demonstrating how wide and deep the cover-up had been, Law again replies, Do not turn away from Christ. He didnt fail you. I failed you.
Dispatched to Rome by the pope, Law offers to resign and thereby deflect opprobrium away from Mother church and on to himself. John Paul II tells Bernard that the Church takes no heed of bumbling public opinion. The Boston scandal is dismissed by the Vatican as a homosexual problem, exacerbated by the liberal media in America. After Law was finally driven to resign and withdraw from the Archdiocese of Boston in disgrace in late 2002, he was handily kicked upstairs to the Vatican, as archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica, a ceremonial but highly visible post. Laws prominent visibility during the installation of the current Pope Benedict XVI served to rub salt into still gaping wounds.
Counterpoint to Law and a host of priestly bad guys, Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian (played cocky smartly by Ted Danson) assumes the role of knight in shining armor. Garabedian represented many of the adult abuse survivors who were willing to step forward publicly, overcoming both deep personal shame as victim-survivors and societal homophobic backlash which castigated them as somehow deserving of what was done to them. They suffered, too, the self-righteous outrage of defenders of the Church for daring to impugn the Church with their filthy lies.
Even the Boston-wide scandal is collapsed in the screenplay into the signature example of lifelong abuser Father John Geoghan (Steven Shaw) and one of his victims, a fictional composite, Angelo DeFranco (Daniel Baldwin), who dared to fight back. The Vaticans homophobia is underscored with the side story of Father Dominic Spagnolia (Brian Dennehy), a vociferously outspoken critic of the Churchs arrogance. The Church did not quietly shuffle Spagnolia out of sight or hearing range, but treated him as a heretic, i.e. a dangerous enemy.
Our Father is timely, well-acted, riveting drama. Fortunately, the documentation exists independent of the screenplay, in David Frances well-crafted writing. It should be noted that the 1994 Canadian production The Boys of St. Vincent told the story of pedophile sex abuse among Catholic clergy in North America a decade ago, well before the more recent avalanche of accusations, cover-ups, exposure and litigation. Perhaps, with another scandal and another telling of the story, things will change. But then again, as long as the Vatican can blame American homosexuals and their allies in the liberal American media, maybe not.
- Les Wright