The Good Priest and our sins

Submitted by Matthew on 21 May, 2014 - 12:26

Warning: plot spoiler!

We are not in Sligo although it might seem so from time to time. We are in “the world” and when “the world” is the subject we have to expect a certain lack of realism and the onset of allegory.

Who is going to kill the Roman Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) is the whodunit aspect, but the sins of “the world” and their victory are the real issue; and it fills the space between, on Sunday, a promise to kill the parish priest and, a week later, the murder itself. And what a week!

Gay people in need of redemption, bankers with consciences, deeply cynical doctors high on cocaine etc. Not surprising then that the Guardian, who gave it five stars, called it “a puckish little tease”. We must await a more serious examination of the corruption of Irish Catholicism.

This priest (Brendan Gleeson), is a good man, good not perfect. He has not abused children, he is against war, he is empathetic — all together a fine, upstanding man albeit with a bit of a drink problem. He has a daughter. He was married and became a widower before he entered the church.

This daughter suffers from depression largely because she lost her mother to cancer and her father to his faith — an angle of the plot that does not quite ring true, but confirms in our minds that he is not blemished by always having been celibate.

Just as Jesus, a syncretic mythic figure, was insulted and spat at on his road to Calvary, so this man is derided and cursed by the people he might formerly, in the heyday of the Church’s power, have frightened into repentance. Now they sneer at him. They are angry even to the extent of burning down his church (Wednesday, I think) and killing his dog (possibly Thursday). On Sunday, he is murdered by a man who, as a child, was abused by a paedophile priest.

The film is troubling. The incidents of child sexual abuse, covered up and ignored not only in Ireland but in Britain and America too, have eaten away at Catholicism’s central place in society and, the film suggests, nothing has yet replaced it. There is a gaping hole where once it reigned supreme, and so the citizens of “Sligo” have fallen into the state of hopelessness priests once threatened them with if they did not obey the holy laws. The Good Priest must suffer for the sins of the Bad Priest.

So the message is we can forget all that stuff about the corrupting nature of hierarchies, enforced celibacy, mind-numbing hypocrisy, because provided there is one good man there is hope for all us sinners.

Comrades of course will not fall for this line, but pause briefly before clearing away the ashes and then begin to erect something more worthwhile than corruptible blind faith and superstition.