“Sexiest Priest Alive,” by Sarah Tascone

Mar 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

When filming the final scene of The Bells of St. Mary’s in 1946, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Berman conspired on a prank. As a taciturn Father O’Malley sends a tearful Sister Benedict off to recover from her illness, he unexpectedly grabs her in a tongue-locking, passionate kiss. The crew busted up laughing.

Sixty-four years and one Pedophile Scandal later, priestly lust is no longer funny. Worse, it’s no longer taboo—just creepy. So movie priests are taking their vows of chastity more seriously than ever, and looking like priests in real life and not the ones in Madonna’s fantasies.

So grab your DVD player’s remote, point the arrow to Scene Selection, and skip the past 10 years. These are the priests to get reacquainted with:

For GenXers , it begins and ends with Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) of The Exorcist (1973), who was in our consciousness throughout our childhood whether we sneaked in to see the movie or not.

“Who’s that priest there?” Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants to know, “he’s, uh, black hair, very intense looking?”

He’s the broodingest of all brooding-exboxer-turned-psychiatrists; a smoking, drinking cynic who trades casual bon mots with Satan, wearing a wry smile. The only thing that surprises him about a little girl the color of Crest toothpaste, spewing puke and obscenities, is that it he hasn’t seen it sooner.

But he still cares. You can see it in the close-up of his pensive face as he delivers Mass, saying cool mysterious stuff like, ‘delirious sanctum verbatim’, and ‘dubious scrotum proscenium’, as he studies something deep inside himself.

Father Barrie, On the Waterfront (1954). Karl Malden plays the most kick-ass priest in American cinematic history. Not a pretty face, he makes up for it with street-smart bravado.

“Gimme a beer,” he barks to the bartender, after he slugs Brando across the barroom for telling him to “go to hell”.

Using the church basement for cover, he organizes the “D&D” longshoremen to take back their union from mob control, knowing Capo Johnny Friendly will do him in, “turned-around-collar-or-no-turned-around-collar.”

Abbe Colmville, Quills (2000) I didn’t see this movie, but I saw the video jacket, which has an angelic-looking Joaquin Phoenix with a white shirt open to the waist, and an expression of angst and lots of pancake to make him look like an 18th century French pretty-boy. People who did see it told me he has erotic fantasies about the saucy maid (Kate Winslet), which he doesn’t act on even when he holds her naked body in his arms with no one looking. Okay, so she was dead, but whatever. All that and a scarred lip: throw in the Wock.

Padre Mendoza, No actor runs the gamut of ugly (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to gorgeous (The Mission, 1986) like Robert DeNiro. Granted, your 15th, 16th – century Jesuit missionary priests have advantages over modern Cinepriests in contemporary settings:

1) Wild hair and beards, long flowing robes, being blown and rained on in the 2) savage wilderness among 3) half-naked indigenous people, fueling mutual temptation. Mendoza goes native with the South American Indians and fights to protect them from the Spanish army that wants to destroy them.

Father Alek, To Kill a Priest, (1989) Christopher Lambert in his one good movie. Like Jesuits in South America, priests in 1980s Soviet-controlled Poland have the advantage of time and place. The Catholic Church had become a radical underground organization; crucifixes were spray-painted on brick walls.

Handsome and idealistic, Alek is suggested by the bishop to “go to Nicaragua if you want to be a guerrilla priest” so he goes rogue. Of course he has his Mary Magdalene moment, falling on a fallen woman when a bomb hits their hiding place. Their eyes lock, but he is holds back.

Father Logan, I Confess, (1953) No man, gay or straight, with a face like Montgomery Clift’s would ever become priest in real life. Sure, there was a cute one giving my grandma’s funeral mass, but even he didn’t look this good: chiseled features, ice blue eyes, dark sculpted eyebrows. Closeted altar boys, Catholic schoolgirls, and probably some nuns and priests swooned in their seats—Hitchcock had some twisted sense of humor. Although not considered one of Hitchcock’s better movies, Clift’s image in this film has endured as the icon of the unattainable priest.

Mel Gibson may be our last hope—our only hope—for making priests into sex symbols again. After turning the death of poor Jesus into a bloody S&M porn fest, he might be the one to resurrect this buried subgenre. And apparently he hasn’t heard about the Pedophile Scandal anyway.


Sarah Tascone is a freelance journalist, writer and poet from Cleveland who now lives near DC. She is 42 years old and actually made more money from writing while in college at Kent State University than she has in her entire adult life. But she loves it, anyway.

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