You know on “Law & Order” when the judge tells the jury to ignore the statement just made by the person testifying by saying, “Strike that from the record. Jury, please disregard his statement in your deliberations?” I always wondered how that worked exactly. The jury obviously heard the statement and as much as they try to disregard it, that statement will still be lingering in the back of their mind somewhere, influencing the outcome.
So when I heard a Religion News Service report this morning that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has pulled their positive review of “The Golden Compass” from the Catholic News Service website thanks to pressure from conservative Catholic groups who find the film anti-Catholic and anti-religious, my mind immediately went to Jack McCoy and his merry band of A.D.A.s.
You see, the “glowing” review by Harry Forbes and John Mulderig of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — which called the film “lavish, well-acted and fast-paced” and gave it an A-II rating, roughly equivalent to a PG-13 recommendation – was cited in the cover story of the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.
In its coverage of the film, based on Phillip Pullman’s book of the same name, the magazine juxtaposes the concerns of Catholic League president Bill Donahue who condemns the Humanist author as hating the Catholic Church with the USCCB review which states that, “Most moviegoers with no foreknowledge of the books or Pullman’s personal belief system will scarcely be aware of religious connotations, and can approach the movie as a pure fantasy-adventure.”
Indeed, the film has been criticized by some as being too watered down, but the books of Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy – of which “Compass” is a part – have been recommended as required reading by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, himself. Head of the Anglican Church, Williams commented in 2004 that the series should be part of religious education in the United Kingdom, stating, “Should teaching about religion include teaching about its critics? There is every reason for seeing this as a good thing. Clarifying objections is one way of clarifying what is being claimed.”
It’s unfortunate that the bishops’ conference dropped the review, giving in to political pressure and further characterizing the Catholic Church as a place where different opinions are not valued or welcomed. And the Catholic League is playing right into Pullman’s denunciation of organized religious groups, acting like the villainous, dogmatic “Magisterium” in its desire to quash the film.
But, even if conservative Catholic and Christian groups have won the small concession of the removal of the review from CNS, what did they gain in the long run? Like the judge asking the jury to disregard information in their deliberations, assuming that hundreds of thousands of Entertainment Weekly subscribers and readers would disregard what they’ve read and pay attention to a retracted CNS release seems just as implausible.