The Catholic Church and the papacy have fascinated me since my Catholic upbringing as a child. When I was in the 6th grade my teacher, Sister Esther, who was in charge of the altar boys for Saint Anthony's School, joined us in an organization called Altar Knights. Each boy had to choose a member of the clergy to be his sponsor. Most of the boys chose a priest in the diocese, or perhaps even the bishop. But my choice was the pope. I was fascinated by the extremely theatrical, and lofty papal office, and thought that because I had already decided at an early age to become an actor when I grew up, that the pope would be an appropriate sponsor for me. We heard back from the Vatican that Pope Paul VI was more than delighted to be my sponsor. Reflecting back on this brings to mind the innocence of the sixties and seventies. Since that time I have, of course, become aware, as the rest of the world has, of the controversy that seems to continuously swirl around the church. Fortunately, I can categorically say that I didn’t have any bad experiences with either the nuns or priests who were my teachers. For me, it was like living The Sound of Music through my adolescence. I know that many people weren't as fortunate as I was, and have had very traumatic experiences with certain members of the Catholic clergy. I truly believe these cases are the exception, not the rule. I also realize that this does not lessen the severity of these circumstances in the least.
I believe the same sort of parallels can be drawn in A Counterfeit Priest, as there are exceptional and exemplary people in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well as those who aren't, and appear for whatever reason, to get all the attention. Since my days spent in Catholic schools in my youth, I have come to see the church in a different light, and I'm completely aware of its disdainful manner in which it has chosen to turn a blind eye to the allegations and confessions of the ordained pedophiles, that have infested the stability of the church.
Conversely, the Catholic Church, and its many good deeds that help mankind throughout the world, sometimes seem to go unnoticed, or are grossly under appreciated. But nonetheless, the good works continue. Bad seems to trump good in the news media, so I sincerely hope that Pope Francis will be able to turn this dilemma around in a positive and constructive way, as there is so much good that the Catholic Church achieves.
When I lived in Rome a number of years ago, I knew because of my interest in the Vatican, that I wanted to write something about it. I didn't know it at the time, but that something would later become A Counterfeit Priest. My apartment wasn't far from the Vatican, and I took the subway to the last stop, and would hang out for hours at this incredible Mecca of the Roman Catholic Church. I would watch the comings and goings at the main gates, and wanted desperately to get behind the walls of this impregnable fortress where there seemed to be another world behind these well guarded portals. Most of the people traffic at these entrances were male clerics, all with proper ID, but it gave me an idea. I bought a cassock and white collar, and tried to pull off the same scheme that my main character, Henry Hawkins, would later on attempt in the book and screenplay. I wanted to be able to walk around the inside of the Vatican to get the feel of what it would be like to be part of this powerful institution's everyday existence. With sweaty palms, and a great deal of trepidation, I managed to slip past the guards without having to show ID. I walked around for several hours taking pictures with my camera while soaking up the atmosphere until the color of my socks, which were white, and a cassock that was too short, I assumed then, and still do, gave me away to a guard, as priests do not wear white socks with a black cassock. This was the equivalent, I later realized, to wearing white socks with a black suit on Wall Street. I was taken by a Vatican gendarme to a room and questioned, and after confiscating my camera, I was politely escorted out the gate. Fortunately, Henry in the novel and screenplay has much better luck than I did.
With the writing of A Counterfeit Priest, I truly believe that I have approached the church with honesty, and dignity in my novel and screenplay, without losing sight of the fact that the men who run the church, and its many priests and cardinals, as well as the pope himself, are first human beings, and second, members of the clergy who have human foibles as well as the rest of us. But it's how they choose to handle the humanistic side of their ordained and restricted existence, that makes good literature, and compelling cinematic drama. I hope you will agree.