Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beyond the shadow of "Doubt"...

Sliding in under the wire of 2008, “Doubt,” a film based on John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize – winning play, offered holiday film goers a dramatic option for the days after the Christmas feast. Not exactly a yuletide joy or escapist adventure, “Doubt” provides a close encounter with the harsh reality of clerical sexual abuse. I went to see the film with several of my sisters. These occasional group-viewings help me to process what I’ve taken in. (I remember my Novice Director making an exception to the traditional boundaries of enclosure and taking us to see “The Passion of the Christ.” No one should see that film alone.)

“Doubt” is a powerful film. Though I cannot share too many details, as many of you have yet to see it, the title is the essence of the story. The depiction of Catholic life the Bronx in early 1960’s is remarkable. The Sisters of Charity are depicted as women of faith who fully accept the responsibility to teach as their ministry. The contrast between the life in the convent and in the rectory speaks volumes. In an age where "Father" always had the last word, the Superior, played perfectly by Meryl Streep, dares to take on the silence that might harbor evil. The women religious in this film do everything within their power to protect their charges. The parish priest, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a volcano waiting to erupt in the face of Sister Benedict’s accusations. Sister has no proof, only the strength of her conviction that something is wrong. The verbal battle that ensues takes its toll on both parties in different ways.

Clearly, “Doubt” is not a vocation ad for the priesthood. Nor is it meant to be. Shanley has endeavored to speak aloud a truth that was too long concealed. His story points to a systemic problem that the Church is still struggling to correct. For anyone who has been the victim of abuse by those representing Church, this film may resurrect private pain, but bring the relief that comes when light is shed in darkness. For those priests who have been falsely accused of sexual abuse, “Doubt” will confirm the subjectivity and destructive effects of an accusation. For those Catholics wounded by the sickness within our Church, the telling of this fictional story may bring healing.

In our post-crisis Church, we must each take responsibility for being the Church. We must support the efforts of the local Church to seek out and sustain vocations that are grounded in grace and wholeness. We must pray for those who have failed GOD’s children and see to it that future generations are safe in our schools and parishes. The power of “Doubt” is its willingness to go where we would rather not. But, for the American Church, especially, the truth will set us free.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki