Vital Signs

It’s a Wonderful Racket

Q magazine once regularly asked rock musicians the question, “How do you react when you see a nun?”  Bryan Adams replied that he had the highest respect for nuns and thus reacted accordingly.  He added that he had recently learned that nuns no longer wore their traditional habits, and that he was distressed by this change.  My reaction was to wonder where Bryan had been for 30 years and what had led him to believe that nuns still sported the old penguin suits.  Television, that’s what.

TV’s presentation of the Catholic Church, especially in commercials, remains resolutely pre-Vatican II.  Nuns wear floor-length skirts and wimples; priests wear black suits and dog collars; monks wear sackcloth and tonsures.  Churches are always neo-Gothic and feature stone altars, banks of dripping votive candles, confessionals, and Gregorian chant—the whole Council of Trent.

Television has little interest in the condition of the Church; it just likes the symbols.  This explains why its occasional sallies into Catholic debate are more risible than offensive, pace William Donohue and the Catholic League.  Nothing Sacred, the short-lived ABC drama Donohue succeeding in killing, would have been passé during Paul VI’s papacy, with its ever-so-earnest young religious determined to drag the Church (“kicking...

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