Sunday, May 23, 2010

Doubt, the film

I had put it off and last night finally decided to watch the film, Doubt. The story takes place in 1964 in a Catholic church in Brooklyn when the Principal of the parish school, Sister Aloysius, accuses Father Flynn of molesting the only African American gay student, Donald Miller. Sister James, Donald's 8th grade teacher gets into the fray and wavers back and forth between thinking Father Flynn is guilty and innocent.

Sister Aloysius is a tough old, crack em along side of the head, nun who runs what she thinks is her school with a velvet fist. Father Flynn posits that she doesn't like him and wants to get rid of him and ruin his reputation as a priest for reasons that aren't clear. Sister Aloysius is certain that he is molesting Donald Miller but can't prove it and there rests the nexus of the plot.

I put off watching the film even though it had been highly recommended by friends and had been nominated for scads of Oscars because I was afraid that I would experience it as tedious and dissatisfying which is exactly what my experience was.

I was an altar boy since age of 7, and was in minor seminary until age 19. I got to watch the inimate lives of priests and never once saw, or became aware of, anything improper. Looking back now on my minor seminary days, maybe there was some hanky panky going on, but if it was going on it was very discreet and the objects of the priests lust were 17,18, and 19 year old students.

At the end of the film, the certain Sister Aloysius cries out wracked with sobs to Sister James that she suffers terribly from doubts. It is a the poignant scene in the film, and it is the way the film ends. It should have been where the film began. The doubts that Sister Aloysius sobs about seem to be much more than whether Father Flynn is a pedaphile. I got the sense that like Mother Teresa she is referring to her faith, vocation, the church, the belief in God.

I would invite Sister Aloysius to the Unitarian Universalist faith but she would have to lighten up and become less judgmental.

I don't recommend this film. I think it is a trivial treatment of the problem of pedaphilia in the church, and the crisis of faith that any true believer has as they grow up in their spirituality.

I would give it a 2 or 3 on Markham's movie must see scale.


  1. Perhaps your personal experience does not always reflect reality. Make no mistake: Roman Catholic priests raped children. One of the Vatican's more execrable defenses was that the problem was homosexual in nature not pedophilia. Really! A priest, pastor, professor, engaging in sexual behavior with a student or parishioner is guilty of unprofessional conduct if nothing else no matter what age.

    Do you realize this film is an adaptation of a stage play? I don't think the film had the same impact as the play even though it was directed by the playwright. The intimacy of a one act play can't be recreated on the screen perhaps, but critics and theater-goers made the point, as you have in your post that the second act begins when the play ends and the audience walks out thinking, and one imagines, discussing Sister Aloysius' doubt.

  2. Dear Alex:

    Thanks for your comment.

    I know that sexual molestaton occured, the extent of which we may never know, but the facts are that it was a small number of clergy who engaged in these dysfunctional behaviors. The sexual molestation of pupils by public school teachers seems to be much higher as well as patients by health care professionals. Clergy are not the only professionals who commit such crimes. The crime of the church is not that its clergy engaged in sexual molestaton but that its hierarchy lied and covered it up to save their own skins.

    I am sure the stage play was much better. Often, plays don't adapt well to the screen. I think you are right that the play resonated much better with its audience than the film.

    Sister Aloysius' doubt of her faith, the church, the pope, God is far more interesting that her suspicion that Father Flynn was molesting Donald Miller which I would guess was right on the money.

    All the best,

    David Markham

    PS: I don't know if you know, but in real life I am a psychiatric social worker and have been working at it for 42 years. The most likely perpetrator of sexual abuse is a family member or a well known and close friend of the family. Priests can become such, but aren't the biggest threat or most likely suspect if parents are worried that their children are targets of sexual predators.

    What if Sister Aloysius had called Child Protective Services which in this day and age she would be obligated to do. What do you think their investigation would find?

  3. In this day and age, Sr. Aloysius is instructed by the Pope to keep child rape secret. She would disobey her church's orders to keep quiet if she called in child protective services. The playwright obviously intended there be no deduce able conclusion. The ambiguity is intentional. You seem to be too apologetic about Catholic priests pedophilia. It makes me uncomfortable. Sure, other adults are guilty of sexual attacks on children. But do we hear of Baptist clergy systematically, endemically, persistently raping children? Or rabbis? Imams? To deny or apologize for the Roman Catholic clergy by deflecting blame to others or pointing out that other professions are occasionally guilty of similar crimes is, IMO, a dishonorable step.

    It's time for Catholics to acknowledge what has been done, take steps to curb or prevent its continuance, make reparations to victims, public ally confess its wrong doing, punish those in positions of responsibility who mishandled, covered-up, hid perpetrators in the Vatican from prosecution, etc. Including the Pope. Stop apologizing for Catholic priest child rapers!
    Forgive them, but prosecute.

    If pressed, I'd say Fr. Flynn was innocent, Sr. A. represents the Church hierarchy.

  4. Dear Alex:

    I agree with you. I don't want Catholic priests to be left off the hook. I think your desired approach to dealing with the issue is right on the money.

    I find it interesting that you think Flynn is innocent. I wish we could talk about it. I would like to learn more about why you think so.

    Thank you for your great comments and ideas.

    All the best,

    David Markham