Viewing the Vatican Through Fiction

FE_DA_130313WhiteSmoke425x283Two days ago a new Bishop of Rome was announced at the culmination of a papal conclave. On that day the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio delivered a mass in the Sistine Chapel and was formally recognized as Pope Francis. In the days leading up to the scrutiny (casting of ballots), post-scrutiny (ballot counting), acceptance, and proclamation, all eyes were cast on the Vatican.  After the proclamation, the global community received Pope Francis with overwhelming joy and some criticism. Whether or not one agrees with the Catholic Church, for the past week it has captured the attention of the world.


In fiction literature and media the Catholic Church is often the center of attention, but much of the time, for far more ominous reasons. Fiction literature often depicts the Church as a secretive society filled with the power hungry, nefarious minded, and at times evil priests and parishioners. The Catholic Church is not perfect, but is it as sinister as The Monk, The Italian, and The Da Vinci Code portray it to be?  Which brings us to todays question, is fiction and media waging a war against the Catholic Church? Do you know of any fiction or media works that show the positive elements of the Church? What are your thoughts on the presentation of the Catholic Church in fiction and media?  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts (in a mature and civil debate of ideas of course)! article-2276884-17841A9A000005DC-22_634x815-482x620

Posted on March 15, 2013, in Books, Current Events, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m not Catholic, but I do see the negative portrayal. Of course, any large organization is subject to that kind of negative portrayal – it makes for good fiction (government, military, CIA, large religious organizations, large corporations like oil companies and the tobacco industry, etc). For non-Catholics, or non-believers in general, it can seem like a huge and secret or nefarious organization because we’re not a part of it and so we may not understand it. Add in the real negatives that have been in the news over the past several years, or the real negatives from more distant history, and it’s an organization ripe for the creative mind of the fiction writer. Then, when one such piece is commercially successful, that will spawn a slew of others.

    It’s not just the Catholic Church, but sometimes Christians in general, or conservative/evangelical Christians who come in for often negative portrayals. Again, sometimes it can be richly deserved, sometimes it’s from those who don’t understand so it seems strange or evil, and there are nutty fringe groups out there who claim the mantle of Christian to spread hate or evil (Westboro Baptist Church or the Fundamentalist Mormon group with polygamy and marriage to underage girls, for examples).

    And yes, I do know of a book that portrayed both the positive and negative individuals within a Christian community (although not Catholic).

  2. Two books come to mind… both of which portray the Catholic Church as a strong and forgiving place. They are “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell, (who also wrote “Doc,” “Dreamers of the Day” and “Children of God”) and “Dark Debts” by Karen Hall, (a former writer for M*A*S*H and Hill Street Blues). The heroes of both books are Jesuit priests. Both are deeply committed to their faith and both face a crisis of that faith which shakes them to their bones. Yet both, in the end, find a rebirth of faith and a kind of forgiveness. I’ve had the good fortune to meet both authors and talk with them at length about their work, and they are amazing women. FYI – “The Sparrow” has just been opted to a major motion picture studio. I can’t wait to see it! (Warning: you will cry!!)

    Personally, I love novels which deal with faith in an open, honest and realistic way. I can relate to characters struggling with their faith and questioning… maybe mostly the questioning, because I have certainly questioned at times. I also love that sense of conviction and redemption I share with a character when they discover or rediscover their connection to God. (A series which does his well is The Dresden Files. It’s not Catholic, and it’s not obvious, but it’s part of Harry Dresden’s growth.)

    And even though she doesn’t call it the Catholic Church, the church in the Kathryn Kurtz’s Deryni novels is pretty obviously based on the Catholic Church. In those, I love her portrayal of mysticism and the power of ritual.

    So those are my thoughts. Look forward to reading others’!

  3. Spike Cordiner

    I agree with Robb. Yes, there are a lot of negative portrayals of the catholic church in fiction. The same goes for other large organisations like governments, banks and (close to my own heart) science and research groups. But it’s not really suprising. To outsiders they all look like arcane, impenetrable organisations full of weird rules that are impossible to understand if you aren’t brought up with them. That’s a perpetual gold mine for stories! Big faceless group with unknowable plans and only a small band of outsiders to stop them? Great!

    This also makes things nice and simple for the media: tell people the same story over and over again because that’s what they expect to hear: Climate change is conspiracy of scientists, catholics are fervently anti-gay, governments are spying on you all the time and so on.

    However, when a story is concerned with individuals from these groups it’s very different. That’s when the characters become more favourable. The catholic priests are the heroes in The Exocist, for example. The same goes for a large number of vampire movies, and a lot of horror in general. I suppose it’s easier for a reader/viewer to put themselves in the position of the lone hero than as a member of a bigger collective.

  1. Pingback: The Pope, The Vatican and Today’s Fiction | JBodnarDrowley

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