LGBT Movies: Priest (1994) and Lilies (1996)

Promotions for Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta inspired me to revisit two films about repressed gay Catholics. Priest’s hypocritical Father Greg harms others by inaction. The brutal Bishop in Lilies destroys two lives. Both films are extremely triggering so be warned. Spoilers ahead.

Priest (1994)

A British priest (excellent Linus Roache) sees his faith tested. First by his feelings for a man (smoldering Robert Carlyle). Then by receiving confession from a sexually abused teen. His hesitation to break the seal of confession is hard for a non-believer to sympathize with. But the hard-boiled film neither forgives nor excoriates his ultimate course of action. Court laws on such cases still vary by country and region.

Scene One: Doubt
FATHER MATTHEW: Glad to have you join our church. Let me introduce you to my girlfriend.
FATHER GREG: Priests are supposed to be celibate! You’re making me question my values!
(Father Greg goes to a gay bar and hooks up with Robert Carlyle.)

Scene Two: Confession Booth (Trigger Warning)

TEEN GIRL: Bless me father. My dad’s molesting me.
FATHER GREG: Tell him to stop.
EVIL DAD: Tell Father Greg to mind his own business.
FATHER GREG: I can’t call the police without breaking the seal of confession. God, what do I do?
GIRL’s MOTHER: I caught my husband in the act. You knew and said nothing. I hope you burn.

Scene Three: Repentance
FATHER GREG: I’m questioning my values again.
(He hooks up with Robert Carlyle in his car. Gets arrested for public indecency. Attempts suicide.)
FATHER GREG: I’m leaving the church.
FATHER MATTHEW: Nonsense. Let he who is without sin, etc. Come to mass with me.
(Half the parish walks out. The Teen Girl is the only one to approach Father Greg for communion. He hugs her and breaks down in tears.)


Lilies (1996)

Linda Gabriau adapted Michel Marc Bouchard’s play about a wicked Bishop. Male prisoners perform a play for him about his past. Director John Greyson (Zero Patience, The Hanging Garden) fills the piece with erotic longing. But the meta layers and stagey acting stretch a simple story to the breaking point.

Scene One: The Present
ADULT BISHOP: I’m here to take confession.
ADULT SIMON: My confession takes the form of a play.
(The Prisoners restrain the Bishop and set up a stage.)

Scene Two: The Past
VALLIER (Dressed as a Roman Soldier): Simon, should we rehearse the school play?
TEEN SIMON (Dressed as Saint Sebastian): Let’s make out instead. (They do.)
TEEN BISHOP: Stop that! You’re sinners!
TEEN SIMON: What’s that? I couldn’t hear you over your repressed sexuality.
(T.Simon kisses T.Bishop. T.Bishop flees in tears.)

Scene Three: Doomed Love
RICH LADY: Your bisexuality turns me on. Marry me and be wealthy.
VALLIER: No! I love you Simon! Run away with me!
TEEN BISHOP: No! I love you Simon! Come to seminary school with me!
TEEN SIMON: I just don’t know what I want.
(Vallier strips naked.)
TEEN SIMON: Vallier. I want Vallier.
TEEN BISHOP: Then burn in hell!
(T.Bishop locks the boys in an attic and lights it on fire.)

Scene Four: The Present
ADULT SIMON: What happened then?
ADULT BISHOP: You both fell unconscious. I dragged you out and left Vallier to die. Then I framed you for his murder… Kill me.
ADULT SIMON: Kill yourself.
(A.Simon hands A.Bishop a knife and walks away.)


Casting Stones

What [Priest] fails to realize is that this conversation is not protected by the sacramental seal because the sinner makes it absolutely clear he is not asking forgiveness…. At this point, Father Greg should pick up the phone and call the cops.

Roger Ebert

Catholic teachings forbid all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. Those who serve the church must take a vow of chastity. Lilies portrays Catholic schools as hotbeds of repressed homo-eroticism. Priest calls out hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach. No one forced Father Greg, Father Matthew or the Bishop to take their vows. Should they remain in power after breaking them? Father Greg claims that God wants him to be a priest. He ultimately did more harm upholding the seal of confession than he did breaking his vow of chastity. Can he still call himself a “good” man?

Neither film acknowledges the ongoing abuse within the Catholic Church. You’ll need to look to films like Doubt, Calvary and Spotlight for that. What are your favorite “crisis-of-faith” films? You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.