PRIEST


This is my review of the movie PRIEST which I had the good fortune to see in early April of 1995.

The movie deals with two Roman Catholic priests who officiate together in the same church. The older priest cohabits with their housekeeper in a romantic relationship, and the younger priest is a homosexual who has a liason with another man.

This theme of Catholic clergymen leading sexual lives seems to be the issue that had the Catholic Church clergy up in arms. Probably everyone reading this has heard that they wanted it boycotted. The one cardinal who cried the loudest had not even seen the film but made pronuncimentos based upon what others had told him about the film, and it seems to me that they did not relate the film to him with the proper emphasis.

It is already well known that when religious people take it upon themselves to boycott a film, it backfires on them. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST grossed more money than it would ordinarily have because groups of Christians gave it undue publicity by publicly protesting it. But it seems that people don't learn from history.

There are many things I can say about the film. I happen to have liked it very much. In this review, I will only deal with one aspect, the character of the young homosexual priest. My own belief is that the author of the story introduced homosexuality into the character of the priest for reasons having nothing to do with sexuality at all, but to highlight the particular character defect of this particular priest, and that the character of the priest is really more than that of a particular clergyman of a particular denomination. This priest stands for a certain religious TYPE which can be found among the leaders of ANY religion. I believe that the author used the Roman Catholic priesthood for no other reason than that the RCC is the religious institution that he is most familiar with. I believe the author is a Catholic himself.

The young priest finds himself irresistibly drawn to other men so that he simply cannot overcome whatever religious taboo there exists in Catholicism against homosexual behavior. So unable is he to fight against this urge that he even tells the older priest that when he turns to Christ for help against his sexual urges, he sees the form of a naked man which he finds desirable. All this sexuality, however IMHO, is just mechanism to set off against a matter that arises later on in the film. The matter is as follows. A young girl comes to him for confession and reveals to him that she is, and has been, the victim of on going sexual abuse, and there is no one to help her. The young priest wants to help her but he does not go to the authorities because he feels that he cannot break the Church law of the confidentiality of the confessional. Because he does nothing about it, the young girl continues to be abused.

Here is the crux. When it comes to his own bodily and emotional needs, he does not fight against the Church law against homosexuality - but when it comes to someone else, he is willing not to break the Church law.

The details of the contrast are not important. The movie, deep down, is neither about homosexuality nor child molestation. It is about the weakness of people and their rationalizations, no matter how well meaning those rationalizations may be. When it comes to the self, what is ok for the self is not ok for the OTHER. This is something that all of us have been guilty of at one time or another. It is a universal problem that the film presents to us. Of course there are other issues dealt with in the film, but this one is of the utmost importance. How do we let ourselves get away with what we won't allow when it comes to others? It is a call for forgiveness and a search deep within that leads us hopefully to repentance.

That the author used the double themes of anti-celibacy and homosexuality is a matter of current style. Both of these issues have been thrust at the public by the media over the past few years. They are ongoing problems that the Church does not deal with very well, and they have existed within the Church for many centuries. The dilemnas presented by the film transcend sexuality which is only a vehicle for the much larger issues.

We are supposed to be our brothers' keepers. That is a responsibility that involves understanding, compassion, and forgiveness far more than it involves condemnation and self-pride.

The film is well worth the seeing regardless of what your own religious stand is.

New York 4-19-95


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