Priests have been hitting the headlines in a big way in recent times – for their sexual perversions mainly. But after all that negative press, there are glad tidings for the men in white. The Hot Priest is here, courtesy The Young Pope and Fleabag season 2, with Jude Law and Andrew Scott giving us those slow knowing smiles.
Celibacy, voluntary suspension of sexual activity, is different from asexuality. Forbidden territory becomes temptation incarnate. Morality here is not a lack of feeling, but the sacrifice of it, the turning away from it, however hot and sweaty one wants to be with the wrong, wrong person.
The inherent hypocrisy of this situation, of this calling, of the increasing lack of divinity in the so-called sacred, is well-documented by now. Nuns in Kerala are in rebel mode, chronicling molestations and other forms of abuse – sexual and spiritual – and going on record with their stories. The Vatican too has been rapping knuckles, suspending bishops and interrogating vicars. No one’s an angel, neither men nor men of God. This realistion follows a real understanding of human nature, not the previous unquestioning acceptance of halos.
Why is the Catholic priesthood so full of deprivation and austerity? Why can’t they marry like so many priests of other denominations do? These questions are now asked more in empathy than blanket adoration. The all-too human aspect of companionship is in focus, rather than the lust factor. We all need someone to have and to hold. Loneliness is not the domain of only the laity. Just like many among us are at peace with being single, monasteries may house monks looking out into the world with envy and curiosity, yearning for that special someone.
Scott, who played Moriarty against Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the series of the same name, gave us an unforgettable rendering of that character. A nemesis, yes, but with so much more body and soul than a caricature. It is the same in Fleabag, where he dwells on the calls of the flesh rather than the other-worldly aspects of being a Father. He is the heroine’s love interest, and along with actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creates a chemistry few celluloid couples can. The dilemmas, the push and pull of priesthood, the sinning, the repentance… all realistically brought to life by A-list performers.
Jude Law’s portrayal of a pontiff in The Young Pope is another fresh look at the vocation. His petty revenges and those spiritually elevated moments, especially his open prayers by a petrol bunk, stay with viewers in their stark resemblance to reality. This we can relate to, an altar peopled by real people, people like you and me.
To presume that anyone, including ordained priests, can sustain chastity as a wonderful, magical lifelong miracle is as naïve as it’s cruel. Both are manual extremes – desire and the giving up of all worldly pleasures. It is a balancing act above all.
Love in every form permeates all of us, none escapes the hot tongs of passion or the purification process of heartbreak. Priest or not, we are made up of all our senses.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
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