A reader has a question for somebody knowledgable in history

A reader has a question for somebody knowledgable in history March 31, 2014

He writes:

In my high school theology classes I like to show films that portray Catholic priests in a positive light (for my Vocations class in particular). I recently showed the films “The Mission” and “Molokai: the story of Father Damien”. The students picked up the positives of being a dedicated and heroic priest, but in both of these films the Bishops/Hierarchy come across as pretty nasty overall. I’m wondering how historical these depictions are. I couldn’t find any quick reference online to answer my question, so I wanted to see if Shea World can assist. I know “The Mission” isn’t depicting a particular set of priests, but the decision to throw the indigenous peoples under the bus after converting seemed to be a joint decision of the Catholic Hierarchy and corrupt Monarchs- what exactly was the role of Catholic Hierarchy in these Jesuit missions and decisions regarding their fate? for “Molokai” Father Damien came across as saintly and real, but his religious superior and his bishop(s) were real rats as depicted. His first bishop was depicted fairly positively,but a bit of a bumbler, seemingly unaware of Father Damien’s religious superior’s evil bent. And the second bishop is depicted as a cigar smoking jerk who colludes with the religious superior to make Father Damien’s life a total hell on earth- which wasn’t always taken in stride by an increasingly frustrated and angry future Saint. Of course, I’m describing the film and perhaps not what really went down? Anybody in the Shea Zone know what really went down in both of these films, and whether the artistic liberties were taken to deliberately make the Catholic Hierarchical reps look ridiculous and even evil?

This requires more knowledge than I have. I’m always skeptical of historical films because they have to ramp up conflict to have good drama. History is seldom as neat as that. If somebody actually has some knowledge of Fr. Damien and/or the historical realities behind the Mission, please step up. It’s certainly not unusual to find that Catholics (including clerics and bishops have behaved shabbily. But I’d like to know the facts.

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