Warning: There may be spoilers. If you haven't seen John Patrick Shanley's film but intend to, no question this will ruin it.
You probably know that it is about the Catholic Church cover up of clergy who molested and raped children. This is not something reserved for this faith, by the way, covering the tracks of those who are supposed to be protecting, yet who are endangering our children. Cover-ups in schools, governments, work-places, and houses of worship. . . happen.
They shouldn't, but they do, sometimes because of denial
it's not so bad what he did, or,Sometimes, maybe usually, a cover-up is about not wanting to make an institution liable for hiring a certain someone. Schools especially are liable for child endangerment, for hiring criminals. They do background checks and have insurance policies to protect against this sort of thing, due to exposure of the problem. Awareness of childhood sexual abuse is higher, thanks, in part, to films like Doubt.
just a minute. . .he couldn't have done that
As I learned in an excellent workshop about reintegrating the offender into the community,
Where there are children, there are people who will abuse them, who want to use them sexually in one way or another.Lovely thought.
The one way or another refers to either contact or non-contact crimes. When we think predators, we think about those who coerce children to participate in sexual acts. But far more common are those who make their money as non-contact offenders. I think of a beautiful girl or was it that good-looking boy, I treated many years ago, who vacillated between religion and a desire to make money. A man offered to make the child a film star. I lost the patient, who disappeared from treatment unfortunately, and never followed up about that career.
Non-contact offenders, those who photograph and film children, and those who expose themselves to little girls out walking their dogs, people who stalk, and many who plan contact crimes, are sometimes reaping the benefits of a trillion dollar industry. There's a good deal of money to be made swapping pictures, films, and names on the internet.
Contact offenders seduce children or coerce or force children to perform sexual acts. These are the people at the pool, at camp, in the rectory.
One in ten children who spend a fair amount of time on the internet will be contacted by one one type of offender or another, another lovely thought.
Rehabilitation is certainly possible for sexual predators, or so we learn from the experts. The pie chart (sorry, you'll have to trust my reference) tells us that 27% of all sex offenders keep it in the family. They also have the lowest recidivism rates following restorative justice, meaning legally enforced accountability and treatment. Thus they are reintegrated into the family after a nice, long separation, lots of time in therapy.
I won't quote you every statistic, but 15 years post-arrest, according to a Canadian study--they're way ahead of us in the USA on this one--only
13% of incest perpetrators were caught doing it againA person has to stay rational about this, not leap to the thinking that what this actually means is that sixteen of every one hundred offenders of girls who are not in the family really do recidivate. If you think this way then your mind might wander to the possibility that it might be your daughter who is likely to be irresistible.
16% of extrafamilial offenders of girls recidivated,
35% of extrafamilial offenders of boys,
and 24% of rapists of adults.
That's where all that doubt about rehabilitation comes in. But lets not get so negative. Our parish priest, the fellow in trouble in the film, is likely to get better with therapy, and we can see why. Bare with me.
Let's review the film. (I could talk about Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, you know, it was so good, that treatment of drugs. But I'll save that for the SecondRoad. My post is called, of course, Harry Potter and Drugs).
But more to the point, there are many poignant, wonderful scenes in Doubt and the costumes (hey, not all of us went to Catholic school) and direction of the film, for those of us who love sensory, not sexual visuals, captivate. And there's Meryl, who never, ever fails, our greatest living actress. And Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn, in a poignant portrayal of a bad guy, brilliant.
We're swallowed up with emotion for supporting cast, too, especially Amy Adams as the idealistic young nun. We all know people like this, the ones with stars in their eyes, so naive, so positive, just like children before they learn that there is no tooth fairy; they grab me every time. I want us to be friends.
Viola Davis is especially complicated as Mrs. Miller, the protective mother of the vulnerable little boy, who is gay, of course, and is coerced into sexual acts with Father Flynn, who sees himself as mentoring the poor child into the world of male love. Mrs. Miller tells Meryl, Sister Aloysius, that the boy's father beats him, and all she wants is for her son to graduate, for this is a good school. The young man's future will be bright. The principal should leave this alone.
Among the more memorable scenes, the first sermon. Flynn asks his flock (marvelously lower to middle class, a People's flock), in his Sunday morning sermon, with a delivery that real clergy people could work at emulating, meaning it is short and sweet and has a parable,
What do you do when you're not sure?He is speaking of a crisis of faith, something that happens when our world is shattered, when we wonder,
Who is running this place?I hear this quite often in therapy. Being affiliated, often labeled as a person of faith, people feel comfortable talking with me about their anger, their doubts about their religion.
It's not unusual to hear a patient say, "I'm so angry at Him. (Never Her, for some reason.) How could He let ____ happen?" Fill in the blank. Heart attack, cancer, job loss, job stress, earthquake, death, treachery, imprisonment. Rather than my usual pregnant pause, I'll talk about being angry with someone you don't believe exists, what that means. This is about doubt, and doubt is painful, wondering if what you do is a sham, a big joke, a waste of time, this is painful. As if not following the rules, not being observant, is so not a waste of time.
Flynn goes on to tell his flock that when we have a secret, something we cannot share with others, our loneliness feels unbearable, excruciating, as opposed to when a community suffers a catastrophe, when multitudes experience a crisis of faith together. He points to the assassination of the first Catholic US President, John F. Kennedy.
Doubting as a community tests the community, but it is a test that is shared, an open (outed) existential crisis. Doubting alone (closeted) is torturous.
Why would anyone doubt alone if it is so torturous? Shame, of course. And doubt, fear of reprisals. If you're Freudian you can see how regressive this makes people feel.* But in his defense, how do you tell people who depend upon you for spiritual guidance that you think they are all misguided, and that you, too, might be misguided, but you have chosen to pursue what you pursue anyway.
Doubt is the theme of the film, and for Father Flynn, a man who has seduced a young boy, a boy who is marginalized from his class for various reasons, including race and sexual orientation, vulnerable-- as the perpetrator, the pastor rationalizes. Just as the boy's mother rationalizes.
He tells himself that he can love this boy in the way that he loves this boy because children need love. Where else will this particular child find so much love, so much positive communication (sure, it's my language, but were we to ask certain perpetrators, they might agree, sex is communication).
And this, you should know, this rationalization is nothing new. If you have done any reading about gays and lesbians, gay men in particular, then you know that there is history, there is cultural validation of this way of thinking, that older men feel they are mentoring younger men, and younger men are on board with it. Safe men, loving boys. The boys are gay, the men are gay, and the boys know nothing of the ways of men. Not yet.
(You could start your education if you're in unfamiliar territory, with Gay New York, Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey, a tome.)
Doubt, Father Flynn tells us, can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. We are lost. But we are not alone. Sounds good to the congregation, most of whom have no idea what he's talking about.
We, the ones who understand the reality of a sexual predator, don't buy it. We think,
Sure, most of us are lost; we know we're all lost to a degree, but we put our faith in some things, certain people especially. We suspend our doubt to feel good about life, to feel better, to have hope.We don't expect our leaders to fail us, unable to hold fast to their own teachings.
*According to Freud, toilet training is the age of shame and doubt.