Nothing Sacred Controversy
Catholic Drama on TV:
Let's Give It a Chance

by Greg Friedman, O.F.M.

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 Church.

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 details—how 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, settings—honing 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 outright—and especially when one has not seen the program—instead look for ways to dialogue, affirm what's good, applaud efforts that take a positive risk, as well as question distortions in a constructive way.

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.


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