When Pope St. John XXIII was asked how many people work in the Vatican, he famously responded, “About half.” In his recap of episode three, Ken mentioned that the investigation of the Capuchin seminary spurred by a vendetta between Monsignor Roman and Father Fromenger struck him as potentially unbelievable. The most unbelievable aspect is the speed at which it progresses. While the Vatican probably would look into any complaint brought forward on both sides, the speed at which it would would be reminiscent of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings.
The fourth episode of season one of The Churchmen has a few other similar inaccuracies in its depiction of the Catholic faith. Most of those relate to the use of Catholic terminology. My first thought after this episode was that I wish I spoke French. After a misuse of the word “beatification” in the previous episode and this episode containing a scene which confuses “Eucharist” with “consecration,” I am wondering whether the very small theological slips are a writing problem or a translation problem in the subtitles.
A Christmas gathering at which “Silent Night” is sung makes me think it is a writing problem. While the lyrics of “Silent Night” which The Churchmen provides via subtitles are substantially different than the English ones (as well as the original German lyrics), those lyrics are an accurate translation of how the French version of the famous carol goes:
Douce nuit, sainte nuit!
Dans les cieux! L’astre luit.
Le mystère annoncé s’accomplit
Cet enfant sur la paille endormi,
C’est l’amour infini!
C’est l’amour infini!
The last two lines translate: “this is infinite love,” which is what appeared on the show. Running the rest through Google translate, the result mostly matches the lyrics which the show provided.
The confusion between “Eucharist” and “consecration” comes right before that Christmas gathering. The five seminarians are spending Christmas with Father Galzun, a depressed alcoholic priest who has decided his parish hates him, and as revenge he won’t celebrate Christmas Mass. (The show seems to be unaware the fact that if a priest actually did that, as soon as his local bishop heard, the repercussion would be swift and severe.) As a result, the optimistic Yann insists that the people should have some celebration for Christmas, and he says that as seminarians they can do everything (readings, hymns, and prayers) except the Eucharist. Actually, the seminarians can distribute the Eucharist to the congregation from whatever previously consecrated hosts are in the tabernacle; since they are not priests, they cannot consecrate more hosts into the body of Christ. It did not seem to me the show knew the difference.
Despite subtle inaccuracies like that, I still think The Churchmen remains well above average both as a drama and in its depiction of Catholicism. All the seminarians are believable characters, and I appreciate the way each episode focuses on different ones. The different interpretations that characters bring to their shared Catholic faith is believable, and it is remarkable that despite those differences, the show remains villain-less. Cardinal Roman is the closest any character comes to being a villain, but he is barely in this episode, and even so there are subtle hints that he may be reconsidering his vendetta with Fr. Fromenger.
The conflict between Roman and Fromenger is developed through the perpetually anxious Father Bosco, who lies to Fromenger that he needs to spend time with his family as a pretense for going to Rome and begging Monsignor Gandz not to remove Fromenger. The results of the investigation from the past two episodes are less damning then one might expect; the worst thing is that the accounting is sloppy. However, a new twist reveals that Fromenger has been fixing his accounts with the help of a loan shark, so there will be more money for maintaining the seminary.
Between Fromenger’s fraud; Bosco’s lies, manipulation, recurring contempt, and self-induced anxiety; and Fr. Galzun’s appalling shirking of his duties; this episode shows us three priests with significant moral failings, some of which could potentially be grounds for laicization. It seems that each of the seminarians will also be tested in ways that question whether they should continue in the seminary or not.
Yann remains a perpetual optimist. He is tested more in this episode than he has been, but an admission from a village woman that everyone needs priests gives him renewed energy. In my review of episode 2, I said Raph and Claire might have an affair. While Raph is haunted by dreams of committing adultery, nothing comes of it, except an email at the episode’s end from Raph to Claire saying he is going to remain faithful to the path he chose. In light of the recent scandals which have plagued the Church, Emmanuel’s revelation from episode 3 is perhaps dealt with naively, but the show indicates that he has repented. It will be interesting to see if anything else comes from that.
The most interesting and regrettably most shallowly handled conflict is the one that plagues Guillaume. However, since Guillaume’s decision happens within the last ten minutes of the episode, I suppose it is likely that the consequences will be handled in future episodes. His teenage sister Odile decides to commit a gravely sinful act, and after some weak protestations from Guillaume, he decides to help her, even as he is overwhelmed by guilt. Whether his actions are an affirmation of his sister’s decision, or simply being present to protect her is something that could have been explored more, and this is another conflict I am curious to see how the show handles.