The scandal over sexually abusive priests that rocked the Catholic Church beginning in 2002 — and the impact of those incidents on their now-grown child victims — is really too broad for just a two-hour movie.
The Showtime original drama Our Fathers, based on a best-selling book by Newsweek reporter David France, takes a gallant stab at it. But the resulting movie is akin to an outline, hitting so many of the headline moments that the people involved — evil and noble, damaged and deluded — are little more than images.
Though allegations of child molestations surfaced throughout the country, the film focuses on the touchstone: the allegations of a group of former Massachusetts parishioners of Father John J. Geoghan. They are represented by a crass but dedicated bodily-injury attorney, Mitchell Garabedian (Ted Danson).
Foiled by a state law capping financial recovery for the victims, the attorney seizes on a plan to sue the priest’s supervisor, Cardinal Bernard Law (Christopher Plummer, given little to do but seem overwhelmed and baffled) over an organized conspiracy to protect suspected pedophile priests.
Garabedian also figures out a sneaky way to let the press in on what’s been going on, attaching previously sealed documents in evidence to his public filings. According to the movie, such “tips” aided investigative journalists from The Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the story.
The machinations of prosecution are interesting, but we don’t learn much about the people involved. There is one standout scene that demonstrates what the film could have been: One victim, Olan Horne (Chris Bauer), blusters his way into a private audience with Cardinal Law at his residence.
There, this sad and angry man, in a profane and moving scene, demonstrates what his abuse has done to his family. It cost Horne his faith and has kept his children from the blessings of the church.
There are some brief-but-colorful characterizations, too. Ellyn Burstyn is entertaining as the mother of seven abused children who provides the smoking gun for the conspiracy charges. Brian Dennehy is a priest critical of the hierarchy who’s a collateral victim, due to the skeletons in his closet.
It could have been a sterling miniseries.
Our Fathers debuts May 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.