Title: Doubt | Rated: PG-13
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour
Hoffman, Amy Adams
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Always cautious of "Catholic" movie reviews, I was
surprised to learn of a movie - recently released to DVD - entitled
"Doubt" that Catholic reviewers claimed could be suitable viewing even
despite its dealing with the topic of clerical abuse. After having been
"burned" by "Catholic" movie reviews in the past, I decided to see for
myself if this movie could really be suitable for youngsters (or adults
for that matter). The following is my "amateur best" attempt to review
this movie. I hope someone may find it helpful. Please keep in mind that
I am not concerned with whether or not I "give away" too much of the
movie, but rather if the movie should be viewed at all by those who love
First of all, it should be noted that the movie is
set in 1964, shortly before the sweeping reforms of Vatican II were
unleashed on the Church.
The movie primarily revolves around the following
* A young black altar boy who expresses interest in the priesthood, who
has an abusive father
* A seemingly friendly, kind-hearted priest with a bent towards
* An older "dragon" sister who inspires fear in students (and others)
and who becomes "hell bent" on getting rid of a priest she is convinced
(based merely on her conjecture & suspicions) had an inappropriate
relationship with the altar boy
* A sweet young sister who is still "finding her way"
I will start with what I liked. I thought the
acting in this movie was very good. It was easy to be sympathetic to the
sweet younger sister and to (initially) like the friendly, compassionate
priest. At first, the "dragon" sister reminded me of the sisters of old
who kept the youngsters in line and probably saved many souls. Her
behavior later, of course, I have reservations about (see below). Also,
I liked that the priest reiterated the Church's good message about the
irreparable harm caused by gossip for which he used the famous example
of the feather pillow. I also liked the priest's comment about something
that a person didn't miss for months after Lent would probably not be a
very worthy item to give up as penance (how many of us dig into our
Easter candy just after midnight? I admit I'm guilty of this).
Secondly, I'll mention the items that I'll
"keep an open mind" about. This includes the priest jesting to young
boys that the priesthood is for boys who can't get a girl. This was
meant as a joke, so I will not make a big issue about it. However, the
"joke" still makes me uncomfortable. Next, on a purely natural level, I
thought some incidents were out of character. For example, I found it
hard to believe that the young "sweet" sister would snoop around in a
locker not belonging to her. Nevertheless, I will "keep an open mind"
about this, as it is certainly possible.
Lastly, I will get to what I didn't like.
Unfortunately there was much. For example, I didn't like:
* The offensive previews occurring before the movie (definitely not
* The scandalous behavior of the "dragon" sister - she lied about
another sister's vision problem (to "protect her" from being removed)
and also lied elsewhere, she acted hypocritically, she acted
disrespectfully to the priest and used inappropriate language (e.g. she
even called him "a cheat" at one point), she made rash judgments, she
made serious accusations to others without proof, she made threatening
statements (e.g. "I'll bring him down"), etc.
* How the priest clearly favored modernization ("the Church needs to
change", his reference to being "in the dark ages", his insulting claim
that the sister was "single-handedly holding [the school & parish]
back... from a progressive education and a welcoming Church"). He also
behaved in ways during Mass that would have been rejected by orthodox
Catholics in the 60's (e.g. not genuflecting, turning his back to the
Tabernacle, leaving the Sanctuary to shake hands with the laity)
* How the "sweet" sister publicly apologized for rebuking a misbehaving
student, as if it was wrong for her to raise her voice to the child
[especially consider this in light of what Scripture says about
discipline & child rearing - e.g. "He who spares his rod hates his son,
but he who loves him takes care to chastise him." (Prov. 13:24),
"Withhold not chastisement from a boy; if you beat him with the rod, he
will not die. Beat him with the rod, and you will save him from the
nether world." (Prov. 23:13-14), "Bend him to the yoke when he is young,
thrash his sides while he is still small, Lest he become stubborn,
disobey you, and leave you disconsolate. Discipline your son, make heavy
his yoke, lest his folly humiliate you." (Sirach 30:12-13)]
* How the priest criticized the (pre-Vatican II) Church for not being
friendly (e.g. "We should be friendlier"), as if the Church's duty was
to be friendly rather than to save souls. Was St. Paul worried about
being friendly when he told the Corinthians to "Purge the evil person
from [their] midst" (1 Cor. 5:13) or when he instructed Timothy to
"Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be
afraid" (1 Tm. 5:20)? Was St. John (the "apostle of love") worried about
friendliness when he said not to even greet heretics (see 2 Jn.
1:10-11)? Was Jesus worried about friendliness when he called persons
vipers and 'sons of the devil'? Was "friendliness" the overriding
concern when Jesus called Peter "Satan" in Mt. 16:23? If you could ask
those in heaven who were saved from a mortal sin due to another's
"toughness" would they really prefer a "friendliness" that could have
led to their perdition? The saints for thousands of years were loving,
but not always "friendly" - friendless isn't necessarily a virtue. (If
it were, how could "admonishing the sinner" be an act of mercy?)
* The overall message that discipline was bad, kindness & compassion good.
Of course kindness & compassion are often good, but sometimes apparent
kindness & compassion can actually be detrimental. They must be kept
within a certain limit - remember that God Himself has prepared a hell.
I have a problem with a movie that implies that kindness & gentleness
alone is necessary for rearing children. I personally think that many of
the problems we suffer from today can be traced to parents who were too
"kind" and "gentle" and too afraid to discipline. As. St. Paul says in
Heb. 12:8 "If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you
are not sons but bastards." In the same vein, I also did not like the
priest's subtle implication that the those in Church have forgotten the
Savior's message of love when they act "harshly". Remember that love
often hurts - look at the Crucifix! God is one - therefore Jesus is the
same God who spoke in the Old Testament which referred to "sparing not
the rod"; the same God who threw our First Parents out of Paradise for a
transgression, the same God who flooded the earth due to sin; the same
God who burned alive the entire city of Sodom for their sins. Jesus
Himself warned frequently about the possibility of going to hell and
referred more than once to the punishment of eternal fire.
* How the "dragon" sister rushed to judgement in breakneck speed, even
calling in the boy's mother and telling her that the priest had given
her son altar wine and had an inappropriate relationship with him. I
also didn't find her readiness to believe this evil had occurred
believable as it was supposed to be set in the 1960's, before the
clerical abuse scandal had unfolded.
* I found it equally offensive (and perhaps even more unbelievable) that
the boy's mother so easily wrote off the charges - she didn't express
any concern at all about possible advances on her son by a priest
("maybe he's doing some good too", "let him have" her son, "thank God"
the priest showed him kindness, etc.) She showed serious lack of
judgment about what was "good" for her son. She showed no concern that
other boys might also be harmed by the priest. She would sell her son's
innocence for a false compassion & interest in her son. Talk about giving
your child to the wolves! How many perverts would "protect" a young boy
and act "friendly" to him if they could actually obtain the parent's
consent to molest them! Purely ridiculous! Totally offensive!
* I found it upsetting how they tried to present the priest as being so
kind & compassionate throughout most of the movie, but then they
mentioned suspiciously how he had been in 3 parishes in 5 years. Are we
supposed to assume that this "problem priest" was transferred around due
to an abusive past? Is this a "subtle" dig at the Church or is it just
to create suspicion? Also, the priest seemed overly concerned about the
"dragon" sister's discussing him with someone at his last parish. He
makes reference to sins in his past and then quickly resigns his
position. It is hard to believe that he could be innocent but yet resign
so easily. I realize this was used in the movie as a tool to create
doubt, but why would anyone resign in the face of a mere accusation if
they were truly innocent? If someone - without any evidence - accused
you of a serious crime that you didn't have any involvement in would you
simply resign? That would make you look guilty. Wouldn't an innocent
person protest that he was innocent? Wouldn't he want to see his name
cleared? Or would he simply resign?
* That the movie gave the message that the Church transferred the priest
to another location with children even though there was a suspicion that
he harmed a young boy. Granted that this horrible situation has been a
reality in some recent cases, this movie is not a documentary so it was
not necessary to include it - rather, they chose to do so. It also left
me with the impression that the "dragon" sister cared only that the
priest not do this in her school. Where was the concern about the
children in the new school he was transferred to?
* I found it unsettling how the "dragon" sister was so certain of
everything until the very end, after it was too late. Then she had
"doubt". If she had "doubt" all along rather than her certainties, the
movie would not have played out as it did.
* I disagree with the movie's message that doubt can be a strong bond. I
think most people don't like being in a state of doubt and are
uncomfortable with that feeling. We prefer to progress to certainty
rather than be "bonded" with others in doubt. This is my personal
opinion only, of course.
* I did not like the fact that I felt this movie lost an opportunity to
actually benefit the Church. The movie could have pointed out how the
tough sisters of the past helped so many, sacrificed greatly, sought
holiness, engaged in much prayer, etc. rather than a cheap attempt at
making sisters look like malcontented sinners bent on serving their own
purposes. They could have vindicated the priest and shown that many
accusations of abuse have been unfounded. They could have shown the
Church's role in advancing the civil rights of black persons rather than
giving the suspicion that the priest purposely sought out the black
child to harm.
* I was especially offended by the "dragon" sister's lying to try to
trap the priest (she had also lied previously in the movie) and her
twice claiming that "in the pursuit of wrongdoing" one "steps away from
God". Of course this completely disregards the Church's fundamental
teaching that it is never licit to do evil so that good may result. The
fact that this was never corrected in the movie is special cause for
concern that some uneducated Catholics who see this film might feel that
the ends justify the means.
* I also did not like the feminist/anti-men undertones in the movie
(e.g. the comment that "men run everything", how the sisters were
portrayed as abstentious while the men laughed heartily and were
* I did not like how the sister who tried to preserve what was good was
portrayed as the "dragon" sister who was stuck in the past. Although she
was terrible in many of her actions, her attempts to preserve what was
good merit respect. In the movie, however, she was treated as though she
were simply a "fuddy duddy" out of touch, rules-oriented person - and
not as if there was any merit to her good actions (e.g. protecting a
girl's purity, preservation of good penmanship).
* How the "compassionate" priest & "sweet" sister wanted to secularize a
Christmas pageant. They tried to make the inclusion of a secular song in
the Christmas pageant seem "harmless" or "beneficial" somehow, but
really there is no point for Christmas other than Christ's birth and it
is a Catholic school. Instead, they portrayed it as somehow "wrong" (or
at least "out of touch") to reject adding a secular song to a Catholic
* I did not like the bad message in the movie that "no one" really cared
for the youngsters - not the mother, not his father, not the priest
(possibly), not the "dragon" sister, not the Church. This was a rather
sad (and unfair/untrue!) message.
Overall, I think this movie sends many bad
messages. It does not help the Church. It does not help vocations. It
does not help the cause of tradition (it portrays the old ways as "bad",
"unenlightened", not compassionate, the new ways as better & "more
compassionate"). It portrays religious of the Church as blatant,
hypocritical sinners who seem to care little for God's laws. In sum, I
would not recommend this movie for children or for anyone else. Others
may not agree with me, but I still think it is well-disguised, but
nevertheless harmful, anti-Catholic propaganda. Even if it was not
intended that way, the effect is the same. People perhaps expected it
would be so blatantly anti-Catholic that they don't see it as
anti-Catholic because it is not "blatant". But a little drop of poison
over time can also kill you.
I know my mostly negative review seems to run
counter to the popular consensus regarding this movie, but I am not
swayed by their arguments. Might someone who sees the Bells of St.
Mary's be willing to convert (or at least consider) the Catholic Church?
Who can say that about Doubt? Wouldn't it rather turn off persons or
make them more cautious? Certainly it will not draw anyone into the
Nevertheless, some don't see the movie as
anti-Catholic because it doesn't label all priests as perverts, but
rather focuses on the actions of one specific priest. But how does that
help the Church? Maybe the damage is less if they don't paint the Church
as full of perverted priests, but damage is still damage. One bad priest
is a blot on the priesthood. Transferring a questionable priest to other
parishes is another. Portraying a sister - a bride of Christ - as a rash
judgment making liar certainly does not help the Church. Have our
standards really gotten so low that we consider this movie not
anti-Catholic? Where was the holiness? The prayer? The overriding
concern for God's will? The concern for the welfare of all children?
Would your grandmother have watched this movie and honestly thought it
was good for the Church?
The movie purposely doesn't settle the question
about the priest - whether he preyed on the boy or not - but it
certainly leaves any reasonable person with a suspicion (who resigns
over nothing?). It leaves one in "doubt". No one is better off. The
Church was not well served. The movie serves to put the clerical abuse
scandals on the minds of Catholics and anti-Catholics once again. Don't
support this movie with your time or your money. Your time would be
better spent in prayer or reading the lives of saints. Your money would
be better spent helping worthy Catholic causes than fattening
Hollywood's pocketbook. Reject this movie as anti-Catholic & demand that
Hollywood return to portraying the Church in a favorable light as it did
in the past.
+ Note: The reader is reminded that
discipline of children should obviously be done within reason. One must not abuse children.
We thank "A Catholic Movie-Watcher" for this review.
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