Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘The Cardinals’ offers history’s perspetive on Church life; ‘The Guard’ a fish-out-of-water thriller

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the October 20, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

At times some may get discouraged on what is happening in the Church today no matter what their particular point of view is. Having just finished Michael Walsh’s new book The Cardinals, published by Eerdmans of Grand Rapids for a list price $23, I come away thinking we are living in pretty good times. With this book, which is the story of 60-plus cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church and the times in which they lived, you realize that many of the times before were really tough.

It took me a longer time than normal to read this book because although the pieces on each cardinal are three or four pages, Walsh has arranged them as types of cardinals. For example there are the scholars, the saints, the pastors, the men of war, the politicos, plus many more. When reading them you don’t follow in chronological order, so under the saints you may read of a cardinal, say, in the 1450s, and then much late you may read of cardinal listed under men of war in the same period. You keep shifting back and forth in a chronological time line. I found that difficult in reading the whole book. The advantage on the other side is if you are reading just two or three of the cardinal stories you get a complete history of the cardinals you are interested in and their time period.

Among interesting realities in the book is the report that according to provisions of 1436, in terms of life style, those already cardinals were limited to 60 servants and 40 teams of horses. They were not to hunt and there was no mention of the need for sacred orders. New cardinals were limited to 40 servants and only four teams of horses. I was surprised by the fact that in the 1840s or so in Spain there were between 1,500-2,000 young men who would enter the seminary each year in the province of Burgos alone.

One of the men of war cardinals, Impolite d’Este, at the age of three was endowed with his first abbacy; at six he received the tonsure and his second abbey; and at seven become the archbishop-in waiting of a rich and important Hungarian diocese. This was all after his birth in March of 1479. At 14 he was made a cardinal.

For my mind, the section on Cardinal Ercole Consalvi is the most interesting. This the period of Napoleon and the demand that the pope crown Napoleon in Paris. Actually, Napoleon took the crown out of Pius VII’s hands and crowned himself. Walsh reports that Consalvi, someone has said, was the best pope the church never had – except he never became a priest.

Cardinal Merry del Val at the time of Pius X’s reign at the beginning of the 20th century was a real power person, whether he was secretary of state or not. Pietro Gasparri, who was secretary of state for two popes after del Val, sought to repair relations between the Vatican and France after World War I. He was aided in this effort by the canonization of Joan of Arc in 1920.

Walsh used 80 secondary sources for this book.

Movie Reviews

Director John Madden has remade an Israeli film into an espionage film that raises strong ethical questions. The film is The Debt and it demands that you see it from the very beginning, as within the first five minutes events happen that are key to the entire story.

The Debt is the story of three Mossad operatives who seek to capture a notorious Nazi concentration camp killer Dieter Vogel (Jasper Christensen) who was a Mengele-type doctor. The film goes back and forth between the events in Berlin in 1967 and the events in Israel in 1997. So we have the three main characters played by six actors across the years. The three young spies are Rachel (Jessica Chastain, known from The Tree of Life and The Help); David (Sam Worthington); and Stephan (Marton Csokas). Their mission is to capture Vogel and get him out of East Berlin and alive to Israel for trial.

The mission involves Rachel going as a patient to Dr. Vogel , who is a gynecologist, which heightens the fear issues from the beginning of the story. After the agents capture Vogel, things go awry at an East German train station. So the dangerous doctor becomes housed in the group’s apartment as the three await instructions how to get the prisoner to Israel.

The acting of the principals during this sequence of the film is intense. The result as presented is that Vogel escapes and Rachel, even though severely wounded, is finally able to shoot him at the bottom of the stairs.

Thirty years later we have Rachel, now played by the great Helen Mirren, accepting honor and praise as her daughter’s biography of past events is published in Israel. Now we meet Stephan, the former husband of Rachel, played by Tom Wilkinson, and David, now played by Ciaran Hinds. But serious ethical issues now arise and in a sense a whole new thriller takes place involving the three principals and what happened back in Berlin many years before.

The acting in the film is top-notch, although Sam Worthington seems flat to me. Maybe he is supposed to be subdued, in contrast to the young Stephan, who is so energetic.

There is a love story as the two young men rival each other for Rachel’s attention. Jasper Christensen as Dr. Vogel gives a prize-winning chilling performance as Dr. Vogel.

The Debt does present moral issues with great intensity. It is the kind of movie lends itself to discussion and connects with the recent history of the killing of the leader of the 9/11 attacks in Pakistan.

Because of the nature of the genre there is violence that is graphic. The R and L ratings are because of that reality and language and some sexual situations.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates The Debt R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Catholic News Service rates the film L – Limited Adult Audience – films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.


As you can pick up from various reviews, I can easily be drawn into a good thriller. I guess it is all those Alfred Hitchcock movies I’ve seen through the years.

The new film from Ireland, titled The Guard, stars two great actors: Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in a film that has many comedic aspects within the genres of a thriller and a “fish out of water.”

Gleeson plays Garda Sgt. Gerry Boyle in a small village in the west of Ireland. Rarely is there a murder in Boyle’s jurisdiction. Boyle and his new partner McBride (Rory Keenan) discover the body of a man who seems to be connected with millions of dollars in drug money.

The investigation turns serious when the FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) arrives on the scene to play a major role. Everett is straight-laced and serious while Boyle is vulgar and seemingly undisciplined. This makes for a series of humorous events.

Boyle even asks Everett if he grew up in the projects. The Celts of the Galaway area give Everett a frustrating time as he goes door to door seeking to find information. It becomes clear as time goes by that each of them need each other as against all odds it is the Lone Ranger Boyle and the “do it by the book” Everett who are the ones who can solve the murder.

The Guard is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of the famous Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who in past years has taken Broadway by storm. The ending is powerfully filmed in the midst of violence and redemption.

Because of language and adult themes The Guard is for adults. But if you can get by the language and violence The Guard is a wonderful thriller.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates The Guard R-Restricted. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film.


The film version of the novel Sarah’s Key recently was in theaters and I assume will be on DVD by November. Those who have read the book will enjoy the Gilles Paquet-Brenner movie very much. The charming actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who is equally at home in French and in English, does a pitch-perfect acting job.

The weakness is in the story of the 2009 part of the film where the reporter, Julia Jarmond (Scott Thomas) is having personal problems with her husband. This section is a weak balance to the Second World War part of the narrative.

The main part of the film is the account of French Jews being sent to concentration camps not by the Nazis but by other French citizens in 1942. The extensive research of the event is taking place in our time for a French magazine article written by Julia.

Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) is a 10-year-old Jewish girl who hides her baby brother in a locked bedroom closet when the police come. Her plan is to come back soon and save him. That fateful day in 1942 13,000 Jews were first sent to a bicycle racing stadium called the Velodrome d’Hiver where they were kept captive in inhumane conditions until they were placed on trains, first for camps in France and then in Germany and Poland. Families are separated. Sarah makes her escape with another young girl while at a transit camp in France. Thus begins her dramatic effort to save her brother from his hiding place. She plans to use the key she has valiantly held on to.

The movie as the book goes back and forth from 1942 to 2009 as Julia attempts to put the pieces of the mystery together.

This film reveals in a strong way the French history which is that roughly 85,000 French Jews were placed on trains to certain death by their French compatriots. Sarah’s Key clearly shows how this part of the war years was hidden in France, not talked about, and had deep ramifications. It is well worth seeing.

Sarah’s Key is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America because of violence and adult themes. Catholic News Service has not yet rated it.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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