Saturday, May 26, 2018

The movie "Catholics"

Edit:  re-posting this from a year ago.  Taking a break from writing at the moment.  Good, long work week, but exhausted.  Resting, swimming, drinking my low carb go-to fermented beverage of choice.   Sunday will be High Mass and lunch at Ollie's Restaurant in Berryhill near the FSSP parish.  We'll visit cemeteries Monday, then chill (in the literal sense of the word) at the must-go-to Oklahoma oasis Blue Hole Spring.  

I was chatting today in the comment section of yesterday's post with my fellow Trad Blogger Oakes Spalding about the cinematic history of Martin Sheen.  I'm musing about this as I sit here another night running the next Netflix episode of The West Wing.  Sheen is about as liberal as they come, but he has some deep Catholic roots, at least culturally, and I respect his style and gravitas on screen.  That includes an old movie from the 1970s he starred in called "Catholics," later renamed "Conflict."

s-l1000.jpg (165×240)

I agree with Oakes the end leaves something to be desired, but I think this film almost qualifies as a much-watch for trad families, or at least it deserves a spot in the dvd collection.  I picked up a few copies once at the dollar store to hand out.

For those who haven't seen this picture, it is about an Irish monastery that refuses to say the New Mass and sticks to the Latin Mass.  Sheen's character is a liberation theology, secularist Vatican priest investigating the traditionalist stance of the community.

One favorite scene from the movie shows the laity gathered on a hill while one of the priest monks offers the traditional Mass on a rock altar.   It is a stoic but heroic scene as Irish trads gather in cloudy, rainy climate typical of Ireland, solemnly observing the ancient rite.   I also liked the scene where they carry out a large, baked salmon into the refectory as the monks relish sharing a piece of newly caught fish.  The best scene to me is when the abbot, the liberal priest, and an old priest monk are talking in a stable as the old monk gently feeds a baby lamb while admonishing the young liberal Sheen about a secularized Mass facing the people in the vernacular.

Let me know what you think of it if you've seen it, or check out some clips here:


  1. Excellent choice for a review!

    The other thing is that it's set in a near future (for 1972) where they've gone a bit farther (ahem) than Vatican II. There's been a Vatican III (or perhaps it was even a Vatican IV), after which they decided to close Fatima and Lourdes (because they were too divisive and encouraging of dangerous superstitions), and explicitly redefined the Real Presence as something that Catholics were free to believe in or not. According to Wikipedia, this caused some Catholic prudes to brand the movie as heritical - "that couldn't happen!" and all that.

    Particularly humorous (in a black way) is Sheen's portrayal of the turtleneck wearing modern priest who does yoga before going to sleep.

    Also funny is the scene where a traditionalist ferry man refuses to give Sheen a lift because he doesn't believe he's a priest. "I'm a priest! I'm a priest!" Sheens's turtlenecked and blue-jeaned character screams from the shore, as the boat speeds away.

    And he's such a nice and tolerant young man (or so it seems - we later learn that he intends to close the monastery and deport its head if they don't tow the Vatican's line).

    It rings so precisely true.

    The film is based on a novel by Brian Moore, who also wrote the screenplay. I'm wondering whether the odd ending is also in the book.

    SPOILER ALERT: The ending has the traditionalist but wise and worldly head of the monastery coming to the realization that his opposition to all the modern changes is sort of a sign of his pride. But this strikes the viewer as forced or tacked on. Did Moore believe this? Does the movie want us to believe this? (It would seem so.) But this kind of goes against the overall tone of the film.

    I agree with Joseph. This somewhat obscure made-for-TV movie is perhaps the best fictional treatment of the traditionalist-modermist schism in the current Church ever made.

  2. Well said Oakes. The ending is a bit of a mystery, considering that throughout the movie the monks are portrayed as being strong and unyielding in their conviction. The theme of the movie is the old order of Catholic practice as opposed to the new age order.
    That the monks are resisting the new order of things is more about how doing so rocks the boat of change, than actual defiance of ecclesiastical authority. But it's not until the final scene that the movie underlines the issue of obedience. I have to wonder too what was the actual ending in the book. Did the TV producer change the ending to make the trad monks in in the end look weak?

  3. Martin Sheen was a big film star in the 70s (Badlands, Apocalypse Now). He played young, naive and played-upon, the everyman type. He's a product of 60s California and is friends with 60s revolutionaries.

    1. The infamous Dale Chawkins! Thanks for your comment. I think you commented on a post several months back.

      Some of the characters he plays, or played during that time at least, seem to have something in common--a quiet, pacifistic investigator. Here I'm thinking of Ghandi, Apocolypse Now, Catholics.

  4. I agree, an excellent movie for trads to see.

  5. The ending was perfect and portrayed what happened in reality during the late 60's.
    The old monastery superior had lost the faith and was willing to throw in the towel.
    Also,the ending is abrupt and doesn't say if or how many of the Monks stayed along for the Changes.Remember it ends minutes after the M.Sheen character leaves the Island.
    I like the veiled reference to the new rite of holy orders.
    "Are you one of those New Priests?
    " what do you mean?"
    "Ya know one of those New Priests,who fight in South American revolutions"
    This is one of the best Catholic films ever made, Blackrobe coming in a close 2nd!!!

  6. A somewhat minor point, but one of the worst offenses in film are those where the background music completely drowns out the dialogue. I'd need subtitles to watch this film with that racket behind it. But that's another matter.

    I have not seen it, but in this clip the superior says he doesn't know Truth, so he seems like he would give up and give in. It's the reality and our problem, if the clergy basically do not believe the faith of course they give it up when pressed. All our problems are due to that one problem. All of them. If Catholic clergy had kept the faith intact, we wouldn't be here discussing this film, nor would Ireland have just chosen apostasy.