ABC is debuting its new hour-long drama, Nothing Sacred,
which tells the story of an inner-city Catholic parish, focusing
on the life and ministry of Father Ray, the pastor, portrayed
by actor Kevin Anderson. The program has already attracted attention
from Catholics concerned that the program is an attack on the
As a priest and writer, my criteria for judging media usually
have to do with the values embodied in the production, and the
attitude the producers, writers and actors bring to the subject,
as well as the quality of the writing and acting. I've watched
the pilot of Nothing Sacred. My judgment is that its creators
show a real love for their subject. They've captured sincerely
the search for God. God is in between the lines of the script,
and Catholics who know the humanness of the Church, its priests
and people, won't be offended. I wasn't, either as a priest of
over 20 years or as a writer and producer of religious video.
Now I can quibble, as a Church professional, with the detailshow
sacraments are portrayed, technical points about the seal of confession,
nuances in presenting Church teachings, and so forth. I bet a
doctor would have similar comments about E.R. But I must
applaud the producers and network for taking the risk to offer
a program about Catholicism in a realistic, dramatically powerful
way. It deserves a chance.
If Nothing Sacred gets that chance, the creative people
involved will do what so often happens in a T.V. series: They
will fine-tune the characters, stories, settingshoning more
realistic portrayals and better stories. I suspect some of the
"easy" almost cliched-topics of the pilot (celibacy, for example)
will take a back seat to other situations and issues we find in
Catholic life today.
A Hollywood producer recently told a gathering of Catholic T.V.
and radio producers that the worst approach religious people can
take to Hollywood was one based on fear and intimidation. Hollywood
thrives on fear, he said. Rather than condemn a program outrightand
especially when one has not seen the programinstead look
for ways to dialogue, affirm what's good, applaud efforts that
take a positive risk, as well as question distortions in a constructive
Despite its dramatic and technical flaws, Nothing Sacred
is the first honest and dramatically pleasing portrayal of real
Catholic life to appear on network TV. Father Dowling and the
flying nun aren't my idea of authentic portrayals of what I do
in my ministry. But I want to hear more from and about Father
Ray. Let's give him and his TV parish a chance at redemption.
Franciscan Father Greg Friedman, O.F.M., is director of video
projects for St. Anthony Messenger Press and president of the
Association of Catholic Radio and Television Syndicators. He is
a member of the American Catholic Online development team.