Catholic nun, priest recommend movies to pep up Bible study

Saturday, November 1, 2003

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Catholic bishops' movie reviews:

By Richard N. Ostling ~ The Associated Press

Priests and nuns are movie buffs, too.

Among them are England's Father Peter Malone, and Sister Rose Pacatte of the Daughters of St. Paul, who lives in Los Angeles.

They think flicks can pep up personal and group Bible study -- not biblical epics but movies with secular themes.

They've just issued the last of three co-written discussion guides titled "Lights Camera ... Faith!: A Movie Lover's Guide to Scripture" (Pauline) matching a movie with each set of Bible readings in the three-year lectionary used in many churches.

Some movies in the latest "Lights" book are predictably inspirational; for instance, three on the Vatican "best films" list: "Chariots of Fire," about an athlete who chose faith over Olympic glory; "On the Waterfront," with its noble priest; and "Schindler's List," which depicts Gentiles saving Jews from the Holocaust.

But imagine watching the book's designated movie about Christmas -- "Catch Me If You Can," about an FBI agent (Tom Hanks) chasing a teenage con artist (Leonardo DiCaprio). What?

The authors explain that the day's Gospel reading (John 1:1-18) teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God the Father, and the movie portrays DiCaprio's love for his sleazy father gradually transferred to Hanks' G-man. Hmm...

Then consider the assessment of "Catch Me" by the U.S. Catholic bishops' film office, which has long rated moral content as well as artistic merit. It laments the film's "light-hearted treatment of crime, implied sexual encounters, an abortion reference, occasional profanity and an instance of rough language."

The bishops' office rates "Catch Me" as "adults only," though the Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 (some material may be inappropriate for those under 13).

The bishops' office assigns its more cautionary "adults, with reservations" rating to several movies recommended by the priest and nun (who acknowledge these are not appropriate for all audiences). Other contrasts between "Lights" themes and official Catholic moral judgments:

"As Good As It Gets" (1997). "Lights" says the film shows that offensive people can change and be loved, conveying Jesus' "love your enemies" teaching. The bishops' office criticizes "stylized violence, sexual situations, recurring rough language," and the "thin plot."

"Bless the Child" (2000). "Lights": The Satan-worshipping child murderers remind us of Herod slaughtering Bethlehem's innocent children. Bishops: "Recurring violence with some gore, occult theme, brief drug use."

"Braveheart" (1995). "Lights": Mel Gibson's epic about Scottish warriors has visual references recalling Christ's crucifixion. Bishops: "Nasty brutality" and "gory violence" tend to overwhelm the story.

"Cool Hand Luke" (1967). "Lights": The unfairly killed prisoner reminds us of the "good thief" crucified alongside Jesus. Bishops: "A few scenes of brutality that some might consider excessive."

"Good Will Hunting" (1997). "Lights": Like Jesus spurned in Nazareth, the film's hero is another gifted young man experiencing rejection. Bishops: A "needlessly vulgarized" story with "stylized violence, an implied sexual relationship" and "rough language."

"Life as a House" (2001). "Lights": The dying man befriending an estranged son fits Jesus' parable about seeking lost sheep. Bishops: "Several distasteful episodes" including "an attempted suicide, drug use, sexual encounters, implied male prostitution."

"Philadelphia" (1993). "Lights": Jesus' healing of lepers is linked with the movie's sensitive portrayal of a gay AIDS patient. Bishops: "Sympathetic depiction of gay relationships, fleeting nudity and a few sexist and sexual slurs."

"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994). "Lights": The prison drama shows that "God's criteria for who will be saved" may differ from society's standards. Bishops: "Graphic prison violence and suicides, crude sexual innuendo, brief nudity and much rough language."

"Wall Street" (1987). "Lights": Jesus' parable of the steward recalls the movie businessman's "greed is good" speech. Bishops: A "somewhat unconvincing" tale of corruption with some sex scenes and "very rough language."

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