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Letter from Rome

The current state of the priesthood and episcopacy seems to be in shambles

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Letter from Rome

A file image of a bodyguard standing near priests and bishops during a canonization mass led by Pope Francis on Oct. 16, 2016 at St. Peter's square in Vatican. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)

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"If you want to be priest, lie!"

That was supposed to be a punch line in "Mass Appeal," a comedy-drama written by American Catholic playwright Bill C. Davis.

First staged in 1980, it was made into a film four years later.

In the screen version Jack Lemmon stars as Father Tim Farley, a popular pastor of an affluent parish in Connecticut. He's a friendly, feel-good type of priest whose homilies are carefully designed to avoid challenging or upsetting his generous parishioners.

Father Farley drives a late-model Mercedes-Benz, loves his wine and Scotch, and spends his day-off at the racetrack. He is "considered to be one of the best priests" in the diocese.

One day he's asked to mentor Mark Dolson (Željko Ivanek), a highly idealistic young deacon who risks being blocked from priestly ordination because he hasn't toed the line in the seminary.

Mark's main offence is that he strongly defended two seminarians that were expelled for a suspected homosexual relationship.

The seminary rector (Charles Durning) thus suspects Mark is also gay. So Father Farley, who tells little white lies all the time for "the good of his parish," counsels Mark to avoid telling the truth about his sexuality so he can become a priest, something the young man desires with all his being.

"If you can afford not to be a priest" — Father Farley warns him — "tell the truth. But if you want to be a priest, lie!"


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