Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Catholic Clergy and Pop Culture

Sometimes you watch TV shows, or movies and you see priests, bishops, monks, or nuns and often the portrayals of these people aren’t very favorable. Sometimes they are portrayed as downright evil.

Pictured Above: Pure evil!

Pictured Above: Pure evil!

There was the Cardinal in Sin City that ate people and helped another character kidnap and eat people! There was the corrupt Cardinal in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Though many people may not realize it, Frollo, who nearly destroyed all of Paris in from Hunchback of Notre Dame, was a Bishop in the original, though the Disney movie obviously changed that. There is the hierarchy in the anime Maoyu, which takes the look and tone of a corrupt medieval Church.

The His Dark Materials series features an evil church called the Magisterium (which is a sincity03name for the teaching authority in the Catholic Church) as well as a corrupt Pope—though he is named for John Calvin, which shows that His Dark Materials is critiquing both Catholic and Protestant Christianity. The movie Dogma also features a corrupt Cardinal who only cares about “filling pews” and making the Catholic Church look good. Even the musical RENT briefly features a Catholic priest who only stays long enough to “show” how he doesn’t care about poor people by demanding money for Angel’s funeral, even though he knows his friends have no money, and then insults everyone by calling them all “queers.”

Occasionally, such as in cases of Maoyu, Robin Hood, and Hunchback the narrative features Catholic clergy members that are not corrupt or evil to juxtapose with the evil ones and show that the entire Church or faith is not evil. Though I appreciate the message, they still follow a similar trope where characters are all lower members in the Church. Nuns, friars, deacons, etc. can be shown to be good, but never a bishop, cardinal, or pope. This sends the message that the hierarchy of the Church is evil, greedy, and only cares about power, caring very little about following the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

I personally feel that nuns should always be BAMF!

I personally feel that nuns should always be BAMF!

Now I am the first to admit that the Catholic Church has problems. I have often criticized the hierarchy of my Church, and I have seen firsthand the effects that a bad clergy member can have on someone’s faith. I further know my Church’s history, and I know that there has been (and still is) corruption within the Church. But the message these portrayals of Catholic clergy members sends is that there is something inherently wrong or evil about the Catholic Church, which is just insulting to Catholics who faithfully follow Christ through their faith.

Why does this happen? Why does there seem to more negative portrayals of Catholicism than any other portrayal of Christianity? Well maybe it’s partly the often bloody history of Catholicism over years, but almost every other religion has an equally bloody history. Granted the Catholic Church, with all its power, has a particularly problematic history. But to ignore any progress the Church has made over the last few centuries seems particularly ignorant.

I think, perhaps, that one of the main reason the Catholic clergy, and thus the Catholic Church, is portrayed as the bad guy is simply because they are well-known and immediately recognizable with the robes and vestments. I think many times writers want to make a statement about the problems that religion has in general and choose the Catholic Church to represent those problems because they are immediately recognizable.

I think another issue, however, is that many if not most of these stories, movies, TV shows, Dogma-George-Carlin1come out of countries that have been historically dominated by Protestant Christianity. Despite many of the strides in recent years, tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism still exist, and especially in heavily Protestant countries, like America or England, there is still a tendency to view Catholicism as a completely corrupt entity.

I have no problem with people criticizing or pointing out the flaws in my Church or the hierarchy of people who run my Church. That is something I do often and I would be a hypocrite for condemning anyone who did the same, but often times these portrayals are extreme or utterly inaccurate. If you are going to criticize someone’s faith, I would say you should at least have the decency to do it properly.

Catholicism is just like any other religion filled with good people and bad people, whether they are a member of the clergy or not. It is not the source or example of all that is wrong in religion. Criticize what is wrong, but please, be mindful of how you do it.

3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Catholic Clergy and Pop Culture

  1. Pingback: Something More: Kenshin’s Journey Toward Mercy, Bad Catholics in Maoyu, and Dreams of a Christian Japan |

  2. When it comes to portraying the Catholic clergy as bad guys, I think that it comes down to two reasons besides the often flawed history of the Catholic Church and the general distrust–especially from Protestants and Secularists–of the higher echelons of the Catholic clergy: 1) if you want to make a really despicable character, the easiest way to do this is by making a villain of someone who everyone expects to be angelic; and 2) the spirit of the world is naturally opposed to the Catholic Church, hence takes any opportunity to demean it.

    Yet, I will say that anime has several places where Catholic clergy are shown in a good light. Most obviously in Trinity Blood, Fr. John in Ghost Hunt, Nicolas D. Wolfwood was a very sympathetic character, and Joseph’s mentor in Blassreiter was a most exemplary priest. But, Trinity Blood is really the only one showing clergy in the upper echelons as being good guys. Sometimes I wonder whether anime seems to have a more positive view on the Catholic Church than Hollywood! But, that’s what makes anime interesting.

  3. “I think another issue, however, is that many if not most of these stories, movies, TV shows, come out of countries that have been historically dominated by Protestant Christianity.”

    Took the words out of my mouth; while obviously many Protestants (especially of younger generations) aren’t this way, the cultural trend has practically become part of the subconscious.

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