Forgive Me Father: <em>Priest</em> Favors Forgiveness for Larry Craig

reminds us that Larry Craig is neither the first nor last man to tie himself in insoluble contradictions.
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Would you rather be a closeted gay Republican senator from Idaho or a closeted gay Catholic priest in a poor British city?

If the question vexes you, go watch Priest, the 1994 Miramax release about Father Greg Pilkington (Linus Roache), a young clergyman faced with a near impossible reconciling.

When we first meet him, Father Greg is a pious poster-boy, the kind who doesn't mind telling people to cut out behavior he deems unseemly. "Moral guidance, that's our job," he scornfully reminds his liberal housemate, Father Matthew Thomas, played by In the Bedroom's Tom Wilkinson.

But something is amiss with the young priest. Director Antonia Bird gives us full VH1-Behind-the-Robes access and follows Father Greg to a gay bar where he successfully cruises, picking up a man named Graham (played by Robert Carlyle, aka Trainspotting's star thug Begbie).

Priest was released not long after "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" became the official Clintonian policy for U.S. military men and women. If it works for the Marines, Father Greg seems to think, by golly he'll make it work in the Church.

His demons thus revealed, his sanctimony becomes even less tolerable. How are good Catholics to accept moral guidance from this man? He covertly engages in what he himself considers a sin, and then dons his collar and ascends his pulpit.

As Idahoans weigh the future of our monogamous representative relationship with Senator Craig, we are faced with similar questions. In today's political climate, where Craig's Republican party has so tautly tethered itself to the spires of churchliness, how symbolically different is his indiscretion from that of a clergyman?

Priest reminds us that Larry Craig is neither the first nor last man to tie himself in insoluble contradictions. Writing about Craig in Slate, Christopher Hitchens quoted Laud Humphreys, the former Episcopalian priest who wrote "Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Personal Places," a dissertation on gay cruising. Among the cruisers, Humphreys found many heterosexual married men. To mitigate the shame of their sexual meanderings, many of them adopted rigidly conservative worldviews. They hid behind, as Humphrey's called it, "the breastplate of righteousness."

Both the real-life Senator Craig and the fictional Father Greg wore their breastplates well. Craig, the steadfast social conservative, votes down gay rights at every turn. The priest, confronted by Graham in line for communion, denies the Body of Christ to his own secret lover. In this high-tension moment, the priest's face locks into a bizarre mask, simultaneously dogmatic and terrified.

When a young girl confesses to Father Greg that she is the victim of incest, the priest is torn. On one hand, he needs to honor the confidentiality of the confessional. On the other, he sits idly as a child is attacked. Unable to reconcile even his own conflicts, he becomes paralyzed with indecision.

With the help of some whiskey, he confides in an older clergyman, who advises that he sort out his own life first.

"Get out now...when you still have your health...Love who you want, when you want. Get out." But the young priest holds fast to his calling: "I can't get out. God wants me to be a priest...I know it," he says.

Replace the word "priest" with "Republican" and one could imagine this same scene playing out between a young Larry Craig and a kindly older Congressman, Carl Levin, say, in an oak-paneled Senate antechamber.

But Craig never confronted his urges. Instead, he allegedly satisfied them and moved on, back to voting to make the world safe for homophobes. He joined the sad ranks of the disjointed: closeted homosexual Republicans, actively working against their own nature.

At the end of "Priest," Father Greg returns to his parish and is openly called "a joke." Others parishioners, mindful of Mathew 7:1 -- Judge not, lest you be judged yourself -- are more tolerant.

The humbled priest, seeking compassion from his flock, ultimately receives it from Lisa, the incest victim, a pariah like himself. One hopes Larry Craig finds equal solace.

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