18th century funerals conducted in the latest historical drama on the TV by a clergyman in a lacy surplice and green chasuble – but does it matter? Not as much as when a popular series deliberately alters the facts in order to question the confidentiality of the confessional, and to attack the Catholic opposition to abortion. Surely not?
I have been watching again on DVD the “A Touch of Frost” series with Inspector Frost played by David Jason, and made between 1992 – 2010 . A horrific murder is apparently discovered by a Catholic priest. Jack Frost visits him late evening at his church (actually the magnificent Anglican Church of St Wilfrid Harrogate). The priest (in cassock – not usual for Catholic priests in England) is praying before the Lady Altar (where all the candles are alight, including the standards from the funeral catafalque – thank you, Harry, for your last comment !!!) Frost has discovered that the murdered woman had been ‘excommunicated’ after having an abortion. The priest admits that he went to the Bishop after hearing her confession because he had no choice! Now the confidentiality of the confessional is absolute, and any priest telling anyone (bishop included) what he had heard there would himself be excommunicate. But Frost ploughs on: the woman had a condition which made it dangerous for her to conceive – the implication being that the Church’s teaching on abortion is itself wrong. What is passed over in the story-line is that the woman concerned had become pregnant after an affair with a another character, which she then broke off. Lastly, and very oddly, the ‘excommunication’ is not known by the women’s sister, with whom she presumably went regularly to Mass. So her sister never wondered why she was no longer going to communion? More likely, I think, that the author/producer/director had no real idea what excommunication means!
But three points are insinuated into the minds of the ordinary viewer. (1) that Catholic position on abortion is cruel, inflexible, and incomprehensible (2) that it is quite reasonable to resort to abortion over a ‘mistake’ for which I may disclaim all responsibility (3) that the ‘secrecy’ of the confessional has more to do with the power of priests (celibate, of course, and unable to understand ‘ordinary’ people and their lives) and does not serve ‘justice’. I.e. priests ought to be ‘forced’ to tell what they have heard when the police/parliament/courts require it! A position which the current Home Secretary comes close to endorsing from time to time.
And after all, these views are being expressed by the decent, honest, down-to-earth copper who is Inspector Jack Frost.