Re-read Project. Read originally in Portuguese in the 80s in my Eça de Queiroz phase.
“Her old religious devotion was reborn, full of sentimental fervour; she felt an almost physical love for the Church; she would have liked to embrace and to plant lingering kisses on the altar, the organ, the missal, the saints, on heaven itself, because she made no real distinction between them and Amaro; they seemed to her mere appendages of his being.”
In “The Crime of Father Amaro” by Eça de Queiroz, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
I remember my feelings when I first read it. My take now is quite different.
For starters, let me just state that I was raised a catholic and I'm still a practicing one.
Since the 80s I learnt a few more things along the way, namely that the first pope (Peter) was married and so were many subsequent ones. In the Greek Church, parish priests are required to marry, primarily to head off problems like the ones depicted in this classic of Portuguese literature. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire and risk "fornication". This biblical injunction was one reason the protestants dropped the requirement like a stone. The original reason for priestly celibacy is that priests were handing down their offices to sons, taking them out of church hands. Concubinage was winked at partially because any children would be illegitimate and thus could not inherit. The pope who declared celibacy the rule was warned about the problems it would generate, which we see to this day. I no longer believe "The Crime of Father Amaro" was an attack on Catholicism, neither to Catholics in general, but as an attack on corrupt people and corrupt institutions. The priests are human beings; therefore, some are better persons than others. But the truth is that most priests have to live in a world of hypocrisy and power. And as everybody knows: "Power corrupts". I am not saying that the whole of the Catholic-Hierarchy is full of hypocrite people, but that several of them succumbs when faced to the power and wealth. What I am saying is nothing new or a revelation by any means, it happens since ancient times, not only among Catholics or Christians in general but among ANY members of ANY institution where power and ambition are present. That means: Everywhere... from politicians to priests thru entrepreneurs and military. Corruption is everywhere as the opposite: well-intended people.
I've known despicable people who are Catholics, Protestants, Jews or Buddhists or atheists and good people from any religion (or without religion) as well.
The usual take on this movie is "corrupt (catholic) church exploiting its followers, in a world where God is absent". This makes sense if you are an atheist or agnostic, but not otherwise. If God is ever-present in our daily lives, he must be given a role in this book. The Bible has many stories where the Lord uses temptation to judge and strengthen the character of his servants. Mortals use their free will when faced with temptation. Those who fall are sinners and God will punish them, but also forgive those who repent.
How does this fit with the story of "The Crime of Father Amaro"? Father Amaro is a young promising servant of God, however he is also weak: he is lustful, and his rapid career has made him inclined to pride/vanity. The Lord chooses to try the character of his servant, by tempting his lust with (the also lustful servant) Amelia. Amaro falls, partially because of his weak commitment to abstinence ("I was forced to"). Amelia herself falls, but also commits the sin of trying to seduce Amaro away from his vocation. Amaro resist this, thus proving worthy of God's trust. Amaro is a sinner, but he doesn't repent. Thus God tries him (and Amelia) a second time, this time on the 5th Commandment. Although Padre Amaro is the instigator and accomplice, he tells Amelia in front of the church altar, that she must use her free will. She does and violates the 5th commandment. For this God punishes her with death. Amelia's death is also the instrument God uses to punish Padre Amaro, who finally admits his sin and repents. The Lord tempted, punished and forgave Padre Amaro.
In the end, from a spiritual perspective the book is a strictly moral story about the faith in God. Amaro keeps his and proves worthy and Natário loses his and are condemned to eternal damnation. From this point of view, only an atheist could see this film as an attack on the Holy Roman Church. Father Natário is truer to his faith than either Brito or Amaro. Father Natário can turn away from the Church without turning away from God. Not once does he imply that it is God who wants him to leave his people, that it is God forcing him to make a choice between reassignment and excommunication. He knows full well he is up against the Bishop, not God. He chooses his honest mission rather than give in to the Bishop.
The Catholic Church is hardly "God's sole appointed representation on earth" ... even in a small country village where someone like Dionisia can raise a crowd to attack the "heretic," there are still many who can see the small-mindedness of that "one true religion" idea. Certainly someone as intelligent as Father Natário would fall into that group. If anyone deserves to go to hell, it’s probably Padre Amaro. Amelia's sin was one of desperation, while Amaro's is one of selfishness. Who is the one who commits the bigger sin, the desperate mother who kills her child, or the person who urges her to do so? We all have moments of desperation. Thankfully, most of them do not lead to the death of another person, but Amaro was hardhearted in his treatment of Amelia and his child. His punishment is that he has to live with the blood of Amelia and their child on his hands.
Of course, the politically correct response to my comment is "well, if Amelia had access to legal abortion, she would not be dead". Yes, and if all cliffs and bridges had protective railings, then any desperate mothers who wanted to push their children off them would not be at risk at falling off themselves. The clue is not to facilitate abortion, but to counsel those desperate enough to consider it.
On a side note. I'm so sick of people that would love to tell a a writer how to make his/her books. SO WHAT if they don't tell all the sides of a story? Would the Wizard of Oz be a better book if we spent book time exploring all the positive contributions flying monkeys or munchkins make to society? No! SO WHAT if it blasts something about your particular group? People of all religious groups do and say horrible things. There should be more movies that dare to say and do the things that people do in real life. Priests rape, deacons kill abortionist, abortionist kills fetuses, Jews kill Arabs, Arabs kill Jews, Americans kill anything they can get away with, particularly each other, and kid-show hosts have child porn. Life just sucks sometimes so would you mind:
1) SITTING DOWN
2) SHUTTING UP
and let the rest of us enjoy learning something.
Even if I hated this book (which I didn’t; on the contrary), I’d have to stand up for it because if I didn't, then we’d have lost a little more freedom and even that is waning by the day.