What is the lesson of Calvary?

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Poster for Calvary

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Poster for Calvary

Poster for Calvary

Poster for Calvary

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you intend to see Calvary — and you should — and you don’t want to know how this spiritual whodunit (or rather, who’lldoit) turns out, read no further.

Last evening I saw Calvary, John Michael McDonough’s remarkable movie about a righteous and caring Irish priest played exceptionally well by Brendan Gleeson. The movie opens with the voice of a parishioner in a confessional informing Father James that he was repeatedly raped as a child by a now deceased priest, and that as a result he will murder him in a week’s time — not because he is guilty of anything but precisely because he is a good man.

Over the week’s course, we discover a Catholic world blown apart by the abuse scandal. The parish, located in beautiful County Sligo, is a grim community of skeptics, adulterers, depressives, and drunks. This being Ireland, there’s no shortage of gallows humor, and there’s also no doubt that Father James is doing his level best to hold things together. But in the end, his church is burned down, his dog has its throat cut, and his life is, as promised, terminated.

The movie’s title makes it only too clear that this is a parable. It is the Passion of Father James — the final week of a man of God who sacrifices his life to make up for the — original? — sin of another. He throws the revolver he has brought to defend himself — his last temptation — into the sea. He is shot on a beach below the headlands that point to the name of the place outside the walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was  crucified — Golgotha, Calvary, Skull. There is, perhaps, a hint of redemption at the end.

Is there a lesson here for a church desperate to put the crisis behind it? Here’s what Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, in an enthusiastic review for the new Boston Globe journal Crux, had to say:

[I]t’s curious: Amid all the ruin, suffering and unbelief caused by the abuse scandal of the past decade, the witness of a good priest who loves his people can somehow, so often, remain intact.

Or maybe it’s not so curious. One of the truths at the heart of this film is that the sins of the past bear a bitter kind of fruit in the present, in pain, anger, and revenge. Hypocrisy never stays hidden forever. But the opposite is also true: Love also leaves its indelible mark on the world.

Is Father James’ love indelible? I’m not so sure. If I were an archbishop, I hope I’d be thinking more about what could be done to prevent the witness of good priests from being snuffed out by enraged victims of ecclesiastical abuse. As in: Maybe I should step up and demand that the Vatican punish the prelates who did all they could to cover up the abuse and avoid having the guilty priests brought to justice?

  • In fairness, we should point out that we know of only two cases – one in California and one in Maryland – where clergy abuse victims inflicted violence on two of the nation’s 6,300 publicly accused predator priests.

    David Clohessy, SNAP, 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com

  • Fran

    Fortunately, for all meek mankind on earth, the world empire of false religion, referred to as a harlot who commits fornication with the kings of the earth (she has a very close relationship with the politics of the world and does not stay separate and apart from it), and is named Babylon the Great, will soon meet her fate from the political powers of the world, her paramour (Revelation, chapters 18 and 19). This will result in God’s judgment against her, for her political and immoral actions, including bloodshed because of wars and persecution!

    Instead of representing God in a righteous and just way, she has misrepresented God and defamed his righteous qualities and standards (abuse by priests, performing same-sex marriage, getting involved in wars and politics, etc.)

    The days left when false religion exists on earth are indeed short, and soon all meek ones on earth will know the true and only God, Jehovah, his loving, compassionate and wise personality, and his wonderful purposes for mankind on earth!! (Isaiah 11:9) 😀 😀

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  • nikki

    Thanks. I will see this movie. Charles Chaput is not the kind of priest who is the hero of this movie.

  • James Hanson

    I thought it was a tremendously thoughtful and affecting film. I see it as an expression of what has actually happened to the Catholic clergy – one can no longer see a priest and immediately think, “There’s a man of God;” the first thought is inevitably about whether this is one of the monsters. The scene in which the father of the young girl accosts the priest for walking alone with his daughter was, for me, even more heartbreaking than the ending. That Father James was, in fact, a good priest – and, more importantly, a good human being – makes the story truly heart-rending. The Catholic Church is reaping what it sowed, and it helps us see that among the many victims of their callous, self-serving approach to the issue of sexual abuse are truly good priests, bless their hearts, who pay every day for the sins of their church.