Priest (1994)

I’m thinking of hosting a Recovering Catholics Movie Night. Or perhaps curating a series of them.

Agnes of God one night. Dogma another night. And Priest on another.

Predictably, church-going folks protested Priest before its release in 1994. With obvious cause, of course — the main character is Father Gregg, a gay priest who doesn’t keep his vow of celibacy.

But that’s the least of his worries.

Father Gregg must contend with the seal of the confessional when a girl tells him her father is molesting her. He wants to act, but he can’t. There’s a bit of deus ex machina in the plot that fits well with the fever pitch of the film.

On first viewing, the high drama of Priest is captivating. Jimmy McGovern’s screenplay does a great job probing and questioning the importance of ceremony over faith, of personal responsibility over social justice.

On second viewing, that same drama reveals some heavy-handed didacism and some obvious plot points. No film with a gay priest as a protagonist can go without quoting Leviticus and John.

“A man shall not lie with another man as he does with a woman.”

“He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Quite frankly, the scene in an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlett cuts down radio personality Dr. Jenna Jacobs for demonizing gay people is a far more convincing dialogue. I would think a priest would be armed with the same kind of knowledge.

It’s actually been quite a while since I saw Priest, and a third viewing got me caught up in the story again — the flaws I saw the last time didn’t bother me at all.

Linus Roache, who plays Father Gregg, is damn sexy in this role, and he and Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) really give it their all in the love scenes. The kissing in this film predates Queer as Folk by a good five years — and I’m talking about the UK series.

It’s too bad church-going protesters would make a call to arms before reaching an actual judgment about a film — Priest challenges viewers to examine the notion of faith and to personalize it. In that way, the film can serve to strengthen, not undermine, the role of faith in daily life.