May 15, 2005


Mercury News

By Charlie McCollum
Mercury News

If ``Our Fathers,'' the new TV film about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, were being shown on a major network or a prominent cable channel, it already would be a lightning rod for controversy.

But ``Fathers,'' based on Newsweek reporter David France's critically acclaimed book, is a production of Showtime, the premium cable channel that is a poor cousin to HBO despite an often-admirable slate of original films and series. As a result, it will air this weekend (8 p.m. Saturday) without the kind of advance national publicity normally lavished on a big TV film.

Too bad, because ``Fathers'' is everything most television docudramas about recent events are not: thoughtful, restrained without sacrificing emotion, and with a clear ring of truth to it. It is sensational only to the extent that the case itself rocked the very foundation of the church itself. It is inflammatory only to the degree to which Catholics were inflamed by the church hierarchy's reaction to the abuse of hundreds of children by priests they trusted.

While the abuse scandals in other U.S. dioceses are mentioned, ``Fathers'' is devoted to the scandal that rocked the diocese of Boston and its powerful archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law.

Boston was ground zero for the tragedy that enveloped the U.S. church starting in 2000. The cases of such abusive priests as John J. Geoghan, Joe Birmingham and Paul Shanley erupted there. (Although it initially took on the story with great hesitation, the Boston Globe would win a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its coverage.) It was in Boston that a group of fervent victims and passionate lawyers went toe-to-toe with the politically powerful Catholic hierarchy, forcing not only multimillion-dollar settlements but also the resignation of Law.

Posted by kshaw at May 15, 2005 07:56 AM