Surveying the contemporary religious scene in America, it is difficult not to be dismayed over the squabbles and in some case outright hostility between different segments of Christianity. The ardent revivals of Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism have brought to the surface deep-seated antagonism between revisionists and reactionaries in both the Protestant and Roman Catholic camps. Yet there are still those who hope that we can live with a singular/collective postulate of numerous positions under the same umbrella of Christianity.
This TV movie was originally broadcast on CBS in 1973. The PBS rerun now attests to the timeless value of the drama. Brian Moore's thought-provoking screenplay offers Christians an occasion to consider one of the hottest issues of the day: how people of differing religious persuasions can work out ways of living together despite dissimilar traditions and beliefs. The movie is actually a microcosm of the tensions sweeping across today's churches.
The setting is an island off the coast of Ireland in 1979. There is a group of Albanesian monks who have disobeyed an order handed down by the Pope (now called the Father General). They continue to say the Mass in Latin, adhere to a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments, hear private confessions, and perform other practices forbidden by the liberal hierarchy. To these monks, the new Mass "isn't a mystery, it's a mockery, a singsong, it's not talking to God, it's talking to your neighbor."
A young American priest (Martin Sheen), is sent to the island to persuade the Abbot (Trevor Howard) that the Abbey should desist in the old ways. For by continuing to practice the Latin Mass, the priests of Muck Abbey have cast a shadow upon the Roman Catholic Church's ecumenical effort to merge with Buddhism! Large crowds of tourists from all parts of the world and TV coverage of their services by the BBC make it imperative that the intransigent Irish Monks be brought into line before their practices are interpreted as a Catholic counter-revolution. The Abbot is the man-in-the-middle, torn between the sincere beliefs of his fellows and his feelings of obedience to the wishes of his superiors. The confrontation of Kinsella's liberal and progressively streamlined vision of the Church and the hard-line conservatism of the monks forms the central tension in "Catholics."