Sacrilege in Shia LaBeouf’s New Padre Pio Film?

Yes, God brings good out of evil, but we are never permitted to do evil that good may come of it.

Actor Shia LaBeouf as Padre Pio in a new movie in theaters June 2.
Actor Shia LaBeouf as Padre Pio in a new movie in theaters June 2. (photo: Courtesy photo / Interlinea Films )

Disclosure One: I have not seen the recently released R-rated film about Padre Pio.

Disclosure Two: I refuse to ever watch the film.

The reason for my refusal is that the film contains a sexualized scene of sacrilege involving an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (For obvious reasons, I am not going to give any more detail here — and it is with significant trepidation that I mention even that.)

Some might say that mine is an overreaction — that this is only a portrayal, rather than textbook sacrilege. But that is parallel to saying that a sexual act committed in a pornographic film merely constitutes actors playing out a scene. The underlying act, however, is the same. The only difference is that it was captured on film. Similarly, a cinematic depiction of sacrilege against an image of Mary — especially an explicitly sexual-themed one — constitutes a sin. Some might argue about the textbook definition of sacrilege, but at minimum, such a scene constitutes a sin against religion.

Sadly, this is not the first movie to do so. In 1973, a film titled The Exorcist was released. The movie contains a scene of sexual-themed sacrilege involving a crucifix. Nevertheless, the film had its fair share of Catholic defenders. Some claimed that the film reinvigorated the Catholic Faith. No doubt, the same claim will be made about this new movie.

But even if this is the case — that some people might become Catholic by watching this movie — it does not excuse the sin. It is a fundamental moral principle that a person cannot, under any circumstances, commit a sin even if he believes it will lead to great good. This is the stuff of situation ethics, which has been formally and consistently condemned. Bluntly, I am not morally permitted to commit a sin even if that sin leads to the conversion of the entire world. Yes, God brings good out of evil, but I am never permitted to commit sin.

There’s something else here that needs to be discussed, and it is addressed far too infrequently. Though scenes like those described above should offend the sensibilities of every Catholic, they are terribly damaging to those of us who suffer from scrupulosity. As Father Alfred Wilson explains in Pardon and Peace, a scruple can be defined as “an uneasy and unfounded fear of having committed sin, based on feeling rather than on reason.” Though scrupulosity has not afflicted every saint in history, it has afflicted many of them, including some of the most brilliant, including St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Scrupulosity is often a quiet and lonely struggle. I would know. Over the years, I have suffered from scrupulosity. With the help of a heroically patient and saintly confessor, I have been largely able to largely overcome scrupulosity. Yet, there it remains in my rear-view mirror. And I remember the agony.

In the course of my research, I came to understand that although scrupulosity has its common denominators among men and women and children, it can manifest in varying ways. One of those ways is that it can be difficult for a scrupulous person to look at religious pictures without feeling like he is somehow sinning in doing so. To many of you readers, that might sound bizarre. But based on my experience and research, it’s not uncommon.

Father Thomas Santa directs an apostolate called Scrupulous Anonymous. In an effort to assist people and alleviate their anxiety, Father Santa has written a series of 10 directives (“Commandments”) for scrupulous persons. Number five reads, “You shall not hesitate to look at any crucifix or at any statue in church or at home or anywhere else because you may get bad thoughts in your mind and imagination.”

Father Santa explains, “Although this commandment deals with a situation that is not necessarily a problem for all scrupulous persons, it is nevertheless a real burden for some. If you try to avoid the problem by not looking, the problem will tend to become more severe.”

Practically speaking, if you watch The Exorcist, it may be difficult for you to look at a crucifix ever again.

If a scrupulous person happens to watch the referenced scene in the Padre Pio movie, it may be difficult for him to look at a picture or statue of Mary again. Ever.

We are told that the Padre Pio movie had Catholic consultants. Thus, it’s curious how such a movie could so significantly violate Catholic sensitivities. And it’s terribly unfortunate that this film contains a scene that will undoubtedly wreak havoc in the hearts and minds of scrupulous souls.

But as for me and mine, we will never view this film.

Padre Pio, pray for us.