Stigmata Movie: a mix of horror and phony theology

By Gerri Pare

New York -- A faith-challenged priest, a seductive atheist and a psychotic cardinal are the key players in Stigmata, an absurd horror film fuelled by suggestions of a Vatican conspiracy.

Fr Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is sent by Vatican Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) to Pittsburgh, where hairdresser Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) appears to have stigmata-like wounds on both wrists.

He witnesses fierce seizures, which leave her inexplicably covered with blood slashes, and watches her frantically scrawling ancient Aramaic words.

Gradually, he uncovers that she is duplicating the text of a “lost Gospel” that the Vatican wants suppressed at all costs lest its message undermine the legitimacy and the relevancy of the Church.

Meanwhile, the simmering attraction between Paige and the priest culminates in her attempted seduction, which turns into a full-scale demonic attack upon him. It seems there is no distinction made between being a stigmatic and being possessed by a devil in a movie of bogus theology and cheap thrills.

Adding to the exploitative and anti-Catholic tone of the film, the cardinal arrives on the scene, having decided that strangulation would be the most effective exorcism. However, the priest stands in his way and later acknowledges his feelings for Paige with a clearly sexual kiss.

The film’s epilogue states an ancient text, which was discovered in 1945, became known as the Gospel of St Thomas, but that the Church would not “describe” it, calling it “heresy.”

Although Stigmata can be dismissed as a failed horror movie borrowing elements from The Exorcist, it takes itself seriously, and its message would certainly leave audiences with the false impression that the Catholic Church has actively tried to prevent Christ’s words from being heard.

Riddled with religious inaccuracies-the Gospel of Thomas has been available in bookstores for years-it plays upon spiritual sentiment to service a tawdry, nonsensical conspiracy plot. Take, for example, the pathetic explanation for atheist Paige receiving the stigmata: She touched a rosary that belonged to an excommunicated Brazilian priest who had the stigmata.

The other priest, Fr Kiernan, may be a thoughtful character struggling with his faith and intent on helping the afflicted woman, but the main focus is on him as a man ultimately unable to resist the temptations of the flesh.

Although Paige experiences demonic procession, the villain is not the devil but a prince of the Church intent on silencing her with a murderous hands-on approach.

Freely, mixing horror with phony theology, Stigmata can only wound its audience by misleading them.

The US Catholic Conference classified for the movie is O -- morally offensive.

Copyright © Catholic News Network

Pare is on the staff of the US Catholic Conference Office for Film and Broadcasting.

This article appeared in the January 9 2000 issue of The Catholic News.