Are there closet Catholics on the staff at Trinity Broadcasting Network?
I was pleasantly surprised while channel surfing late last night to find the mostly Protestant-oriented cable channel showing Going My Way starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. They’ve also recently shown The Shoes of the Fisherman with Anthony Quinn, reruns of Bishop Sheen’s old Life Is Worth Living series, and admiring documentaries about Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. These forays into Catholicism are welcome diversions from TBN’s usual parade of evangelical preachers marching back and forth across the giant stages of megachurches, badgering, lecturing, and hectoring their congregations while waving oversized Bibles at them. When I’m visiting kinfolk in Charlotte, I can watch EWTN on cable up there, but this part of South Carolina may as well be the buckle on the Bible belt. I’m glad to see that TBN at least acknowledges that Catholics are Christians. I’d love to see more Catholic-oriented programming from TBN: more Catholic movies and maybe even (gasp!) a televised Mass occasionally. Hey, it could happen!
As for the movie Going My Way itself, by today’s standards, it’s a schmaltzy piece of work (even one of the characters uses that word to describe the title song), but it is refreshing to see priests portrayed positively–nary a closet homosexual, a pedophile, an authoritarian prig, or an alcoholic in the bunch. Unlike, say, the hatchet-job Priest, in which all these loathsome stereotypes appear. Heck, in Going My Way, priests even look like fun people! Sure, Barry Fitzgerald plays a crusty old Irish padre, but even he turns out to have a heart of gold. Bing Crosby plays the young, progressive Father O’ Malley, sent in to cash-strapped St. Dominic’s parish to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald), but instructed to do it gently in order to spare the older priest’s feelings. Der Bingle organizes the local street punks into a boys’ choir that sings pop tunes as well as liturgical music. Hearing “Would You Like to Swing on A Star?” juxtaposed with “Ave Verum Corpus” is a bit jarring to say the least, but hey, this is the gospel according to Hollywood. Father Bing, aided by his boys’ choir and a former girlfriend who’s now with the Metropolitan Opera, tries unsuccessfully to peddle the song he’s written, “Going My Way” to a music publisher, in hopes that the fees and royalties will help St. Dominic’s out of its financial woes. The publishers don’t go for “Going My Way,” but they do like “Would You Like to Swing on a Star,” so Father Bing can get St. Dom’s out of the hole. Father Bing and Father Barry develop a friendship, the church burns down, and Father Bing brings Father Barry’s Mom over from Ireland, but Father Bing leaves St. Dominic’s with a song in his heart because he knows he’ll be replaced by his old high school buddy who’s also become a priest.
This movie is a muddle, but it’s a sweet, sentimental muddle, and I’ll take sweet and sentimental over cynical and mean-spirited any day.