TV movies are often "dramatizations" of events, meaning the filmmakers have taken liberties with the truth, and nonfiction biographies are best consulted for further contemplation. A few months ago, the Hallmark Channel also aired an original biopic on Pope John Paul. Papal biographer George Weigel thought Hallmark's film was inspiring -- but it made things up. "I counted five historical errors or falsifications in the first four minutes of the film," Weigel said, adding he didn't have space in a column for "the dozens of things the filmmakers got wrong." Among other things, the filmmakers turned one of young Karol Wojytla's female friends into a love interest, and created a spiritual mentor who was shot by the Nazis, neither of which ever happened. Weigel concluded: "Wojtyla's story is dramatic enough without fictional add-ons."
All this does not mean Hollywood has gotten religion. The mocking of the Catholic church and its priests continues on primetime TV. Even between pope movies, ABC's "Boston Legal" stooped to a sleazy plotline about a priest who won't break his confessional seal against a pedophile. Follow me here. The priest's decision causes the show's heroic lawyers to confront him, and during the argument, well, a lawyer accidentally lops off three of the priest's fingers with an axe. The priest's cat runs off with one of his fingers. The lawyers learn the priest is running a sneaky side business, counterfeiting letters of papal blessing for cash. So they successfully blackmail him into breaking his priestly promise in order to get his priestly finger back. These things happen.
The cynic might argue that these films are just an insincere attempt to cash in by baiting all John Paul's admirers to the TV set during the Christmas -- can I say that? -- season, especially after the great love outpoured for the Holy Father after his death. It's an obvious example of trying to attract an audience of Catholics (and other sympathetic people). The same could have been said in 1999, when all three big networks offered films about Jesus at the same time. But let us not be cynical. The networks have offered the public something truly uplifting and for that should be commended, even if it may be another decade before they do it again.
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