“Father Ted” laughed at Catholic Ireland, but only an audience steeped in faith would appreciate it

“Ass! Fuck! Girls! Drink!”

Those four words, one of them a quintessentially Irish curse (and much sweeter than it sounds to Americans) make up almost the entire dialogue of Father Jack Hackett, a grumpy alcoholic priest who fills the trio at necklace from the classic sitcom “Father Ted.” “

Aired for three seasons, from 1995 to 1998 on the British channel Channel 4, “Father Ted” stars three frankly very bad priests, exiled for various misdeeds by their bishop in the miserable (fictitious) Craggy Island. Gently mocking the church at a time when cracks were starting to appear in Catholic Ireland, “Father Ted” can be seen as both a relic of an Irish moment and a humorous, yet serious, argument against it. ‘Confessional state.

“Father Ted” can be seen as both a relic of an Irish moment and a humorous, yet serious, argument against the denominational state.

Fathers Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan), Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) and Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) argue, embarrass and engage in various secular and occasionally religious drifts throughout the series. Dougal confuses “Daddy does not preach” for an Our Father line and enthusiastically asks Ted, following a wave of marital gossip about a parishioner, when the man’s next confession will take place. The trio compete with a side team of terrible priests on the (also fictitious) Rugged Island, where Ted and his longtime partner Father Dick Byrne turn Lent into a ‘give up competition’.

Ted, meanwhile, is the only one who seems to like being a priest: “That’s what’s good about Catholicism,” he says in one episode. “It’s very vague and no one knows what it really is.”

And, in perhaps the show’s culmination of surreal comedy, Ted loses a bet with Dick, forcing him to kick his fearsome Bishop from the back. A visit is organized for this precise purpose, under the guise of showing the bishop an apparition of himself which would have appeared in the plinths of the parish house of Craggy Island.

Absurdity, not mockery

Much of the comedy in “Father Ted” does not come from the mockery of the church, but rather from the absurdity of the priests in their office clothes indulging in all kinds of exaggerated and pedestrian activities that have little to do with it. to do with Catholicism or priestly duties. The humor directed at the church might have been a bit sharp in mid-90s Ireland, but it reads playful today.

There is no reference to abortion, for example, despite the fact that series co-creator Graham Linehan has advocated for looser abortion restrictions in Ireland. The closest show to poking fun at actual Catholic belief is a few jokes poking fun at his stance against birth control, which in the ’90s was pretty standard fare. (In one episode, Ted confronts Craggy Island’s new womanizer milkman – who told you it was a moron comedy – who upsets Ted by asking, “You wouldn’t advise the use of artificial contraception now, isn’t it, father? ”)

The show’s treatment of bishops is perhaps where it comes closest to religious criticism of some substance.

There is only one exchange on the show regarding homosexuality, in which Ted, fearing to offend a gay television producer, stammers awkward praise for “the brutal and tumbling set of homosexual activity. And proceeds nervously to equate the church’s position on the matter with the old belief that the earth was flat. There’s also a tame episode about feminism and sexism, and a (ingenious and hilarious) skewer of racism and perceived Irish parochialism.

The show’s treatment of bishops is perhaps where it comes closest to religious criticism of some substance. His portrayal of Bishop Len Brennan, who sent the trio to Craggy Island, is relentless. He shares a luxurious bath with a young woman while berating Ted on the phone (about the latest incident of naked sleepwalking father Jack). Dougal discovers a personal VHS video of Brennan at the beach with her son and his mistress, dressed in a full bishop outfit. Quoted in an assessment of “Father Ted” in The Irish Catholic newspaper, one Father Paddy Byrne observes: “Pope Francis would have a lot to say to Len Brennan if he brought him to the Vatican.

Safe fun?

My mom always said she hoped God had a sense of humor. She wasn’t the only one. As Julia Rampen wrote of “Father Ted” in the New Statesman, “my education among laughing Catholics has always made me suspect those who think religion is a serious matter.”

Catholic views on “Father Ted” are mixed, but largely positive. Some see it as a minor but active role in diminishing the relevance of the church, while others see it as harmless pleasure. Even many priests enjoy the spectacle. They are, after all, people, with failures and weaknesses. And by his madness and his satire, “Father Ted” humanizes the priesthood in a certain way, as observed by Ardal O’Hanlon, who calls himself “an agnostic Catholic”. Despite the lack of real pathos, there is a certain gravity, even sadness, to the premise of the series.

The world of an endless pipeline of young seminarians is over in Ireland as it is in the United States.

It is quite poignant to think of priests who almost automatically entered their vocation unprepared, perhaps even unbelieving. (The show hints at it, in an exchange where Dougal laments, “I wish I wasn’t a priest.” How, exactly, he do ending up with his necklace is never explained.) Yet it is a mixture: this same Irish Catholic article suggests a consequence of the sharp decline in seminarians: “none of today’s seminarians will have simply drifted into the priesthood.

In any case, the world of an endless pipeline of young seminarians is over in Ireland and the United States, as is the world in which the almost affectionate satire of “Father Ted” was possible. Specifically, it was produced less than a decade before the massive sex abuse scandal erupted in the United States. One episode makes a feminist rock star from the parish house say: “I hope this is not some kind of refuge for pedophile priests; all that disgusted me. Unfortunately, everything she was referring to was just a tiny tip of the iceberg. Linehan himself said that after all we have learned about sexual abuse in the church, “I could never write [Father] Ted now because I would be so angry that my fingers would run across the keyboard.

A good-natured warning

Does a sitcom with only the closest connection to actual Catholicism mean anything to us today? Perhaps this demonstrates that it is possible to poke fun at what some see as the authoritarian aspect of religion, without being mean or sacrilegious. “Father Ted” is a pretty good-natured satire of Catholic Ireland. This brings up a more important point.

“Father Ted”, in some ways, is a warning against the “fundamentalist” state, against the suffocating and politicized pervasiveness of a religion that must ultimately rest on individual faith. The show’s cast of mad priests – the dancing priest, the priest who smashes things, the priest DJ playing, the priest who thinks he’s a monkey, the priest who leads a traveling youth group / dance troupe , the Nazi priest – are supposed to be wacky. But they also suggest that when everyone is Catholic, it’s hard to tell who and what. really is. With superficial universality comes hypocrisy and performative assent. And with that comes disillusionment. And satire.

A faithful Catholic, rather than a jaded old man like Linehan, would probably never have produced “Father Ted”. But only a public imbued with Catholicism, faithful or not, could fully benefit from it. Gone are the days when Ireland was one of the world’s closest politicians to a denominational state. The United States has never been like Ireland in this regard, and never will, no matter what some experts say. But the American public can still laugh at “Father Ted” and learn from it.

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