A Tale of the Movies
I have recently watched three movies that seem to typify the history of Catholics in America. When most Catholic immigrants arrived in the 1850's they were greeted with suspicion and hostility by nativists as graphically shown in Gangs of New York. Who can forget the spectacle of Irish gangs defending their newly built church? This siege mentality in the face of a largely protestant culture endured for much of the century which followed.
By the time we get to the 1940's something different is happening. All of a sudden Catholic priests are being portrayed very sympathetically by Hollywood. Bing Crosby's Fr. O'Malley in Going My Way and its companion movie The Bells of St. Mary's was quite a different view of Catholics. In a more dramatic vein, Angels With Dirty Faces and Boy's Town portrayed different aspects of Catholic life. All of these movies attempt to show how Catholics are not really so different from anyone else.
Then we come to The Cardinal (1963), an Otto Preminger film starring Tom Tryon in the title role. The happy go lucky Fr. O'Malley is replaced by Fr. Fermoyle, a newly minted Irish American priest on his way to becoming a cardinal. Rather than solving everything with a song, Fr. Fermoyle is presented with excruciating moral choices such as choosing between watching his sister die or killing her unborn baby. As a bishop attached to the Vatican diplomatic corps he is assigned to close the Austrian nunciature on the eve of the anchluss as well as reign in the Austrian primate who has shown far too much sympathy towards the Nazis.
The Cardinal was a far more gritty and realistic film than any of its predecessors. If you haven't seen it in a while I would recommend it. Perhaps the moral tone of the film might be attributed to the fact that the Vatican had some money invested in it and a young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger had been assigned as liaison.