Wednesday, November 6, 2002

This Sunday, the ABC program The Practice tackles the Situation (NYTimes - LRR)

With his series "The Practice" set in Boston and featuring two characters identified as Catholics, David E. Kelley, the Emmy-winning television writer, said he realized for a long time that he probably had the ideal forum on television in which to address the priest sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church and especially the Archdiocese of Boston.

But in this case he was convinced he could not follow the standard television formula of walking a line to steer clear of controversy, presenting, as he said in an interview, "the arguments of the two different sides to provide balance." With this issue Mr. Kelley said, "There is no balance, it's just an atrocity." Looking to avoid a case that pits a priest against a victim, which numerous shows have done, Mr. Kelley invented a case in which a man who had been raped by a priest as a teenager sues a childhood friend for endorsing the priest as a counselor even though the friend himself had previously been raped by him. .....

......The debate is augmented by Donnell's conversation with the other Catholic lawyer in the firm, Jimmy Berluti. Berluti is played by Michael Badalucco, who is Catholic himself. Mr. Kelley said he incorporated Mr. Badalucco's personal views, almost word for word, in a speech arguing against leaving the church.

"It would be like leaving God," Berluti says. "The church is not just the priests. It's you and me. We are the church."

To his and the parish priest's arguments that media coverage has tarred good priests and the charitable works done by the church, Donnell says: "What can you say? Molestation gets a bad rap? I don't look to the church like it's the United Way. For me it's about spiritual and moral leadership."

Mr. Kelley said his purpose was "to put the question out there" — Can Catholics adequately express their rage without quitting the church? The show does not specifically mention the Boston cases and the criticism of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's handling of offending priests, though Donnell does make a reference to a "Father Shane" who was sent to California, "with praise."

The mention refers to the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, one of the accused priests who was protected by the Boston Archdiocese. The script originally included the real name. "That was an edit by standards and practices," Mr. Kelley said, referring to the company's censors, who did not want to use real names. Otherwise the ABC standards department said, it had no problem with the episode.

Mr. Kelley is not leaving the issue Sunday night. He said the conflict over the baby's baptism would continue for several episodes. Next week Donnell finds himself representing an accused child molester, and the parish priest he confronted so angrily shows up and calls him on it.

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