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,
just a minute. . .he couldn't have done that
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.

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 again
16% of extrafamilial offenders of girls recidivated,
35% of extrafamilial offenders of boys,
and 24% of rapists of adults.
A 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.

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.

Positively rich.

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.


Retriever said…
Great post. I really want to see this film. I worked with abused kids (mostly mother's boyfriends, stepfathers, and a few uncles, fathers and grandfathers were the perps, almost never strangers)in youth. Have you read "Papal Sins
: Structures of Deceit" by Garry Will (includes some good observations on the church coverups).

A couple of posts on this:
Interesting post - I liked the movie, too - but you are confusing the issue and possibly your readers with your focus on homosexuality. Pedophile rationalizations of "love" or sexual "education" certainly exist, but they are hardly unique to male-on-male child molesters. Men (or for that matter women) who molest little girls also use these rationalizations.

I don't think you meant it this way, but I fear your post may accidentally promote the insidious and despicable accusation made by homophobic and religious groups that the homosexual community somehow endorses child molestation (e.g. Pope Benedict's response to the Catholic Church abuse scandal). This feeds into the kind of backwards thinking that wrongly and unjustly criminalized homosexuality for so many years in this country and continues to wrongly and unjustly stigmatize and discriminate against loving homosexual relationships.

Until we can get past our historical-societal fascination with (and repulsion by) gay sex, we will continue to overlook the more "boring" issues of child and domestic abuse occurring right beneath our noses.
therapydoc said…
I agree, no question. There is absolutely no significant association between homosexuality and pedophilia, and I should have made that clear, am making it clear right now, thanks for calling me on it Samurai.

That said, I can't get past the idea that Father Flynn, in this case, has this in mind, rationalizes "mentoring" the boy into his world. He's a pedophile, alright, and the church protected him.

So I'm saying the film itself, not me, necessarily, brings this once sociologically accepted (no longer) disgusting to us, more to light. But maybe I missed the point or am reading too much into it.


Pedophilia, according to the DSM:

A. Over a period of at least 6-months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 or younger).

B. The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies caused marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.

C. The person is at least age 16-years and at least 5-years older than the child or children

Hebophilia (Females)

Ephebophilia (Males)

Having an interest in, or arousal to, teenage/post-pubescent chldren

Approximately Age Range 14-16
Wait. What? said…
I watched that movie and saw myself as the niave nun - not wanting to believe it could be true.

Great post.

Now I am heading to the second road to read that one!
CiCi said…
Whew heavy stuff here, for some people not just movie stuff. I don't know if I could watch this movie. I was in Catholic school till 11th grade. By the time I started first grade I had already learned not to trust people in authority. My uncle was definitely a pedophile. The clergy reinforced what I had been shown and taught. This is still a great post even if it is difficult for me personally.
Syd said…
I haven't seen the movie but it's on my list of one's to watch. I find pedophilia and the exploitation of children to be especially difficult for me to think about. There is a whole underworld of sickness out there that I've not been around and frankly don't care to.
cordeliadarwin said…
Thank you for this post. It is as if you have been dwelling of late in my brain -- or more essential places.

I am struggling with these very challenges -- being angry at something I do not think I believe in, though did many years ago, when it failed me.

I will revisit this post. And maybe write some about it on my own weblog.

I am not certain I am up to seeing the film, though.

Thanks again.
Mark said…
I have not seen this movie yet, however it is on my list. You do a great job in speaking about doubt. It is so interesting that although most religions are based on faith that the key to keeping the flocks in the seat is in fact doubt. If we did not have doubt I would imagine that the churches, synagogues and other places of organized worship would be attended even less or that it would be an entirely different experience to attend. Thanks for writing this piece, it has invoked thought rather than doubt.
Glimmer said…
I understood exactly what you were trying to say, Doc. I did not get the other inference suggested, at all.

And it is interesting about secrets kept many years later by people who were victims as children. But who still feel they somehow were to blame and can't speak.
porcini66 said…
Great post. Great film. And as for the connection between faith/community and believing the unbelievable? I think that most folks just would prefer not to think of the abuses that occur.

It's ugly, it's "not in MY family", it's disgusting, it's wrong, it's shameful, it's YOUR FAULT. Even when we tell no one, we hear those words. We know. We just KNOW that if we ever DID tell, we would be..ugly, disgusting, wrong, shameful, at fault.

It takes a long time to even acknowledge that it happened, then come to terms with the reality, then accept that it ISN"T our fault and that we AREN"T bad. Some give up before ever learning that. Some never realize that it is possible to grow beyond what happened as children.
porcini66 said…

It is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today.
Source: Forward, 1993.

Approximately 31% of women in prison state that they had been abused as children.
Source: United States Department of Justice, 1991.

Approximately 95% of teenage prostitutes have been sexually abused.
Source: CCPCA, 1992.

It is estimated that children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.
Source: National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, 1992.

Long term effects of child abuse include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships.
Source: Browne & Finkelhor, 1986.

Clinical findings of adult victims of sexual abuse include problems in interpersonal relationships associated with an underlying mistrust. Generally, adult victims of incest have a severely strained relationship with their parents that is marked by feelings of mistrust, fear, ambivalence, hatred, and betrayal. These feelings may extend to all family members.
Source: Tsai and Wagner, 1978.

Guilt is universally experienced by almost all victims. Courtois and Watts described the "sexual guilt" as "guilt derived from sexual pleasure"
Source: Tsai and Wagner, l978.

Sexual victimization may profoundly interfere with and alter the development of attitudes toward self, sexuality, and trusting relationships during the critical early years of development.
Source: Tsai & Wagner, 1984.

If the child victim does not resolve the trauma, sexuality may become an area of adult conflict.
Source: Courtois & Watts, 1982; Tsai & Wagner, 1984.

There is the clinical assumption that children who feel compelled to keep sexual abuse a secret suffer greater psychic distress than victims who disclose the secret and receive assistance and support.
Source: Finkelhor & Browne, 1986.

Early identification of sexual abuse victims appears to be crucial to the reduction of suffering of abused youth and to the establishment of support systems for assistance in pursuing appropriate psychological development and healthier adult functioning . As long as disclosure continues to be a problem for young victims, then fear, suffering, and psychological distress will, like the secret, remain with the victim.
Sources: Bagley, 1992; Bagley, 1991; Finkelhor et al. 1990; Whitlock & Gillman, 1989.

Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection, according to Dr. Larry K. Brown and associates, from Rhode Island Hospital, in Providence.
See Medscape

Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood, than girls who are not sexually abused. Sexual abuse was also more strongly linked with substance abuse than with psychiatric disorders. It was also suggested that sexual abuse may lead some girls to become sexually active at an earlier age and seek out older boyfriends who might, in turn, introduce them to drugs. Psychiatric disorders were from 2.6 to 3.3 times more common among women whose CSA included intercourse, and the risk of substance abuse was increased more than fourfold, according to the results. Family factors -- parental education, parenting behavior, family financial status, church attendance -- had little impact on the prevalence of psychiatric or substance abuse disorders among these women, the investigators observe. Similarly, parental psychopathology did not predict the association between CSA and later psychopathology.
Source: Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., et al, Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, Archives of General Psychiatry 2000;57:953-959.
Also see review at Medscape
FamDoc said…
The statistics you (and Porcini) cite regarding the prevalence of pedophilic behavior seems to me an indication that there is a high degree of tolerance, if not outright acceptance of this as The Norm within certain families and communal organizations. The movie went to great lengths to contrast the Men's Club (loose, happy, "gay")/Women's Club (devoted, austere) aspect of the Catholic clergy (which I suppose is somewhat of an exaggeration), suggesting to me that none of the senior male authorities in the Church would have considered Father Flynn's actions wrong.
Given the well-documented psychological devastion that child sexual abuse wreaks, efforts to re-educate large segments of our society about pedophilia may be the only way to turn this problem around. For certain groups, that would probably entail some re-alignment of cultural norms , no easy task.
what is more scary to us is where we came from a small private sydicate was running with a group of paedafiles that always stayed under the radar because of a secrecy/religious clause, so doubt is way too close for us to see, even though meryl streep rocks we are still not ready to rock our world to go to places we arent yet ready to visit.
Hopefully our new therapist will helkp us heal those terrible wounds
Anonymous said…
Good post - and great blog by the way.

One thing though. Predator. I just dislike the term. Like monster. It seems to be way too easy to use ... and I feel like it doesn't help anyone.
These are human beings we are dealing with. Real nice guys often. Calling them names just make it easier for them and the people around them to dismiss the idea that they can be just that: "people who sexually abuse children". And in turn, it makes it more difficult for a victim to come forward. I feel.

Please don't take it badly --- just something I hear so often, it always makes me want to jump.

Thanks for sharing!
There is absolutely no significant association between homosexuality and pedophilia, and I should have made that clear, am making it clear right now, thanks for calling me on it Samurai.

Thank you for making it clear and for the great statistics and definitions you cite in your blog (porcini's were also great). As a layperson I really don't know enough hard numbers or precise clinical definitions on this topic.

I think what you were getting at in your post is not the gay community but rather the NAMBLA types (and obviously the whole altar boy/priest relationship). Maybe you could explore such organizations in a later post.
YZF said…
Ignoring the clinical side of this blog, I just wanna point out that the movie gives plenty of reason to think that the priest is innocent.

Remember, there's another kid in the movie, William London (the blond kid). Father Flynn gives him a strange, pointed lecture during gym class, pointing out that even though he (Father Flynn) keeps his nails long, he nonetheless keeps them clean. Later on, Any Adams' character mentions how she saw something transpire between William London and Donald Miller (the black kid), until Father Flynn intervened.

And something is going on, but Father Flynn won't say what.

If you put all this together, a different story emerges: William London was abusing Donald Miller, and Father Flynn found out. His lecture about the nails was a metaphor for "keeping clean" -- i.e. even though someone may be different (in this case, gay), he can still control his impulses. Just as Father Flynn does, being a priest.

(The film also implies that Father Flynn is gay, since he didn't want any information to get out about his previous job.)

From this point of view, the movie is no longer about Father Flynn being protected, it's about him protecting William London from getting kicked out and becoming a hooligan (as he's depicted at the beginning of the movie). His goal is to show the kid that he can still stay in the church even if he's different... presumably, by joining the clergy.

Anyway, just a thought.
porcini66 said…
Hey YZF - I thought the same thing! And, as a matter of fact, that is one of the reasons this film is so COOL! There is all KIND of doubt raised - who's the perp, who's the victim, who's at fault, who's keeping secrets from whom and why? I just wanted to chime in so you didn't think you were alone in that take. It is absolutely a possibility. Sorry TD, to be jumping in all over your thread. I just love this movie and the comments are great! :)
Glimmer said…
YZF, I kept feeling he was innocent too. Think about the Streep character's comments at the end. That just sealed it for me.
Lou said…
I want to see this movie, and I had heard that we are kept in "doubt" about the Priests actions. Letting the viewer decide (although I don't really like a movie to end that way!)

That said, it will be hard to watch. I was nauseaus when I watched
"the Woodsman" and "Deliver Us From Evil."
therapydoc said…
Yeah, but if he was innocent, why was he moving around so much, so many schools?
Margo said…
I got something totally different out of the whole weird long fingernails thing. I thought it represented Father Flynn's own peculiar way of "feeling" clean, his little visual reference of his own self-worth.

The message I got from the movie was, in short, that things aren't always clear cut enough to know 100% that you're making the right call, but in life you've gotta make the judgment call nevertheless, go with your gut and all that. Take a risk, sometimes, to stand up for something big.
Margo said…
Also, for those who haven't seen it and are sort of queasy on this subject, I'm in your boat and generally have a hard time stomaching films about it (especially as a mother). But Doubt is actually not hard to watch. They do a nice job of, I thought, not upsetting you too much, and keeping the plot provocative on a more intellectual level rather than resorting to explicity.
therapydoc said…
They really do. Thanks Margo.
Glimmer said…
The moving around could have resulted from the paranoia of the times and his past experiences having nothing to do with children. We don't know what he did in the past, that aspect was left quite muddy, especially when we found out what actually transpired re the Streep character's "calls" to previous parishes. If he was terrified of having anything shady associated with his name, he might just flee rather than stay and fight it out considering the likely results. Pardon my oblique commentary, I am trying to not divulge all to those who have not seen the movie. And about that shirt in locker issue, I read that the play did not have this scene, that this seeming smoking gun was a movie plot device. Which made me, again, "doubt" when it came to the original intent of the author as to guilt or innocence.

I am not wedded to my defense of the priest character. These were just my feelings and thought patterns during the movie. And then they seemed to be validated by Streep's reaction at the end. Obviously the movie was very successful in reaping such dramatically different responses.
Anonymous said…
This is a really great post. Thank you for sharing.

- Butterfly
Jack Steiner said…
I enjoyed the movie, but found it a bit slow at points.
Anonymous said…

I enjoyed the movie - - I loved the end when Streep's character was racked with. . .doubt. It is an issue any person of faith deals with as struggle to trust in something bigger than ourselves.

However, on the issue of the priet's guilt. . . it was never proven in the movie. My understanding is that when it was a play, the director would only tell Priest whether or not he was guilty or not guilty of the charges. No one else would know and that is what I liked about the movie - - you had no idea whether the Priest was guilty. Could it be argued that he was guilty, absolutely. Proven in a court of law - - no. Please, if I missed something, let me know.

The poor mothers response - - awful. For an issue that seems straight forward, I was able to see why some people choose to look the other way.

I liked the movie because it ended with uncertainty and modeled the catching title. . Doubt
Anonymous said…
I'm very much tempted to see this now. Your description stirs up echoes of The Crucible but perhaps that's just me.

Don't you just adore Philip Seymour Hoffman? He makes treachery and heartbreak seem so very easy to fall into. That rather seems to be the point. One doesn't simply fall prey to the vulnerabilities of the soul.
Anonymous said…
Hi, Therapydoc -

Thank you, again, for the "shout out" in your last post. I've had a good number of new visitors because of your link.

If you remember, I had a post related to your "Doubt" post scheduled for publication on my blog . . .

Well, it has been published and is creating a strong discussion. I wanted to invite your readers to visit . . .

- Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
Glimmer said…
I had a shock of recognition when Mad Men's Don Draper visited Peggy in the hospital and said: "This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened." There's one problem with this, however. Even when you are not conscious of the mechanisms that guide your life, they can only get you so far. They start leaking out out in ways you never expected. And then, the landslide.

Still, an excellent coping device. For a while.
This comment has been removed by the author.
therapydoc said…
RCSD, thanks, the comment's not too long at all, not for my peops.

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