CALVARY: Going To the Cross for Childhood Sexual Abuse.
At first, I skipped the listing for this film. The actor in the promotional photo, who played a priest, looked like a military officer, and I thought it was a movie about the Civil war. But when I read that it had been filmed in Sligo, Ireland, I was in. It had good ratings and promised scenery from my favorite part of Ireland, the stomping grounds of Yeats, Ben Bulben and Innisfree and the rugged northwest coast. What could be better on a rainy Sunday?
I’m still befuddled as to how this film could be listed as a comedy. Dark humor does enhance its storyline, but the subject matter is not funny. A priest in a small village is warned in confessional that he will be killed within the week, not because of anything he’s done, but because the erstwhile killer seeks revenge for having been serially raped by another priest as a young boy, a man who is now deceased.
This is an absolutely beautiful and also devastating film. I could not move for several minutes after it ended. Other critics have written about how the movie endeavors to show both the futility of religion and the necessity of the priesthood at the same time. Yes. I think most clergypersons would get that immediately. Although the majority of the characters were either doubters or atheists, the human need for ministry and even for the professional ministry rang clear and true.
In the simple love and loyalty of the priest for all of his people, from the most heinous sinner to the most pious churchgoer, the viewer sees that there is God come to earth. When he tells another priest that he has no integrity, he adds, that is only the worst thing I could say about you. This is a man of integrity, and the title is accurate, for he is set up as a type of modern-day Jesus, going to the cross for sins he didn’t commit. I think critics, and especially theologians, are going to find flaws in this, but I want to speak to it from a more personal angle.
As someone who has lived with the knowledge of childhood sexual abuse committed by a family member, as well as a clergywoman who has listened to countless stories of childhood victimization, I am deeply aware of the toll of this transgression upon the victims. I actually understand the rage that could be so all consuming it could make an otherwise peaceful person resort to violence.
People who sexually abuse children are pretty horrendous. Most of us would agree that they are sick. This is actually a very difficult condition to treat, and these people probably ought to be pitied. But that’s difficult, because they also tend to be deceptive, manipulative, and often charming and successful. They fool people who then enable them to get away with their crimes for decades while dozens of children are added to the list of the walking wounded.
In our family’s case, the perpetrator is now in his sixties, and, as far as I know, no one but me has confronted or made accusations toward him. Since he was not yet an adult when the crimes I know about occurred, we don’t have legal recourse. All we have are suspicions and the silence of those who won’t speak up.
The world is full of so much terror and grief. I hate war but I understand how it happens. I loathe terrorism but I can see how it gets started. Gangs and drugs and even robbery all make sense at some level, although I wish they didn’t happen. But sexual abuse of children? It’s just so incomprehensible.
Viewers will walk away from this movie wondering how this protagonist could give his life for sins committed in the past, by others. What I ask now is that some of us, victims and allies, commit acts of courage to save the lives and the futures of children from sins that have yet to be committed. We all have to tell what we know, to someone safe, now. Please.