Saints or sinners?
By
Jenna Martin

10 May 2017 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2017 - 3:05 PM

The Young Pope follows Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), who becomes Pius XIII, the first American pontiff and the youngest pope in history.

A mass of contradictions - borderline medieval in his beliefs yet with a knowledge of pop culture to make a teenage girl swoon - Pius XIII is a mysterious and captivating figure. He’s also a power-hungry tyrant who makes his own rules and expects the Church - and Catholics the world over - to follow them.

Religious figures in film and TV usually fall into one of two categories: saintly or sinful. Before we judge Pius XIII, let’s see who he’s up against.

 

Fraulein Maria (The Sound of Music)

The most famous film nun of all spent less than 10 minutes in her habit, preferring instead to frolic around the Austrian countryside with a bunch of emotionally repressed, musically gifted urchins while lusting after their stuffy ship captain father, who she eventually abandons God to marry. There is also some stuff with Nazis, but who cares about Hitler when there are lonely goatherds to sing about and curtain lederhosen to make? 

Saintly or sinful? 

Saintly. Though stealing the Baroness’s (Eleanor Parker) fella ain’t exactly good Christian behaviour.

 

Sister Mary Clarence (Sister Act)

OK, so technically Sister Mary Clarence isn’t actually a nun - she’s Delores Van Cartier, a tacky Nevada lounge singer under witness protection. But what she lacked in holiness, she made up for in goodness, spunk and musical prowess, bringing St Catherine’s convent into the 20th century, and revitalising both the sisters and the local community at the same time.

Saintly or sinful? 

Saintly. She’s a sinner, sure, but in the grand scheme of things, swearing, drinking and witnessing your mob boss boyfriend shoot a guy isn’t that terrible. Put it down to an extreme case of wrong place, wrong time.

 

Geraldine Grainger (The Vicar of Dibley)

In the mid '90s, the Church of England finally allowed women to become clergy. Fresh off his success with Four Weddings and a Funeral, Richard Curtis decided this was as good a jumping off point as any for a TV show and created The Vicar of Dibley about a newly ordained Oxfordshire vicar by the name of Geraldine Grainger. Played by Dawn French, Grainger was fun, outgoing and progressive, regularly butting up against the conservative religious establishment in the town.

Saintly or sinful? 

Saintly. Geraldine Grainger was pious but not painful. She took the job and her congregation seriously, but always with a smile.

 

Reverend Lovejoy (The Simpsons)

To say Reverend Lovejoy struggles at times to feel the spirit of the Lord is an understatement. To say he’s completely disenchanted with the whole damn thing is perhaps more accurate. The minister of Springfield’s Reform Presbylutheranism church, Lovejoy has been known to encourage his dog to defecate on Ned Flanders’ lawn and regularly makes up chapters from The Bible to suit his purpose, such as the time he told Lisa Simpson that God encouraged Whacking Day, Springfield’s annual slaughter of snakes.

Saintly or sinful? 

Borderline. Lovejoy isn’t evil. Mostly he just seems a bit bored.

 

Father Michael O’Donnell (The Mindy Project)

IRL Stephen Colbert is a devout Catholic, so he was the perfect choice to play a man of God onscreen. According to Mindy Kaling, Colbert spent most of the shoot breaking character by laughing, which is understandable because his character is the world's most inappropriate, hypocritical, judgmental and utterly hilarious priest.

Saintly or sinful? 

Sinful. But in a charming, nerdy kinda way. 

 

Sister Aloysius (Doubt)

Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is all your Catholic boarding school nightmares come to life. Stern, humourless and brutal in her judgement, she’s got no time for rule breakers, BS artists or paedophile priests - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is bad is that she’s also on a massive power trip and isn’t going to let a thing like a lack of evidence about said paedophile priest get in the way of her own rise to the top.

Saintly or sinful? 

Sinful. She may be going to Hell by the end of the film - and by the way she sobs on Amy Adams’ innocent shoulder, you figure she probably knows it.

 

Sister Jude (American Horror Story: Asylum)

Whippings, flagellation and homosexual conversion therapy one day, hard drinking and shimmying up a storm to 1960s pop songs another. Sister Jude was unhinged and unpredictable AF, and it just made her all the more dangerous and compelling. Jessica Lange owned season two of American Horror Story. Hell, even her terrible Boston accent was scary.  

Saintly or sinful? 

Sinful. But it wasn’t really her fault - she had a pretty rough childhood.

 

Father Karras (The Exorcist)

The power of Christ compelled Father Karras (Jason Miller) to help save poor, innocent Regan MacNeill (Linda Blair) from the jaws of Satan, but it wasn’t enough to save him from the Devil himself. He winds up throwing himself off a balcony after ole Lucifer jumps ship from the preteen into the good reverend. Tough gig, being a priest. 

Saintly or sinful? 

Depends on how you look at it. The dude literally had the devil in him by the end, but you’ve got to figure he had little choice about that.

 

Binge the complete season of The Young Pope now at SBS On Demand. Or watch the broadcast Wednesdays at 10:25pm on SBS.

Watch the first episode right here:

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