Apr 9 2010

The Catholic Church, Priests, Pride, and Sexual Abuse in Doubt

maureen

I’m reposting my reflections on Doubt. It came to mind because of the current Penn State situation. In Doubt there is no eyewitness, only suspicion. Powerful men at Penn State – Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier, are all told by a graduate assistant, an eyewitness, that he’d seen Sandusky naked in the showers molesting a young boy. They tell the graduate assistant they’ve taken away Sandusky’s keys and reported the incident to The Second Mile, a youth charity Sandusky founded in 1977. Apparently he was caught before in 1998 and questioned by police but the district attorney did not file charges. The frightening reality is that, like Sr. James in Doubt, there is a tendency to deflect suspicion and even ignore facts, “so you can have simplicity back.”

 

 

CONTAINS SPOILERS. Is Father Flynn a child molester? Young Sr. (Sister) James, played by Amy Adams, sees some indications that the progressive young priest may have an inappropriate relationship with one of her students, an altar boy, but is reluctant to believe it. Sr. Aloysius, an austere older nun not only believes it, she seems to want to believe it.

The Catholic Church’s most recent controversy involving alleged child molestation by priests reminded me of Doubt, the 2008 movie that starred Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Set in the Bronx in the 1964, Doubt centers around the question of Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence. It also probes into how far “the benefit of the doubt” should extend, and gets into the motives behind willingness to believe or disbelieve.

When Sr. James brings her concerns to her superior Sr. Aloysius pursues the matter. She calls Father Flynn’s former parish where the priests vouch for him, but another nun also has suspicions. We never hear definite proof of guilt but we also are presented with doubt about his innocence. Like many religious people of her generation, Sr. Aloysius sees it as her calling as to ferret out and punish wrongdoing. She is willing to be severe, to be disliked, and to confront anyone she believes is doing anything remotely “wrong.” Her judgmental attitude leaves no room in her life for compassion or doubt. She relies on certainty to justify herself. Continue reading