Are "hot priests" in the media progress?

File this under, “Be careful what you wish for…”

As coronavirus grabs all the headlines, the misery industry known as the U.S. Catholic Church marches on.

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Last week, the Diocese of Buffalo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The diocese is facing abuse claims that may cost $150 million, according to CNN. 

And there’s still a steady stream of priestly abuse reports: In Providence, Rhode Island, a former priest was just accused of participating in a sex trafficking scheme involving children; in Rockland Country, a priest was accused of raping two women; and the Diocese of Memphis released a list of nearly two dozen priests “credibly accused” of abuse.

And that’s just last week! Nearly two full decades after the landmark Boston Globe investigation that inspired the movie "Spotlight."

This is so awful on so many levels, mainly because people suffered -- and continue to suffer -- at the hands of people who should have been trustworthy. 

It also stinks because this confirms the worst suspicions of anti-Catholic types, and makes it easy to overlook the priests, nuns and others who go about their business feeding the needy, and comforting the afflicted.

And so, there are days where I say to myself, “It would certainly be nice to take a break from all this misery and talk about priests in some other way.”

Well, I asked for it.

Last year, the Amazon/BBC TV show Fleabag had a breakout year, thanks mainly to star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But the other breakout star was Irish actor Andrew Scott, who played a man of the cloth who became known as “Hot Priest.” 

Waller-Bridge’s character fell madly for Hot Priest. But this was light years past that old showbiz staple of the forbidden love between a frustrated woman and a chaste priest, which we saw from The Thorn Birds to The Sopranos.

Oh no, this Hot Priest was something else, and you can find out all about him not just by watching Fleabag but also reading the show’s scripts, just released as a book entitled The Scriptures.

“My guess is that many people who buy The Scriptures will turn immediately to the scene on pages 338 to 340, in which Fleabag visits the Hot Priest...and sits inside a confessional,” writes Rachel Syme in Bookforum. “She starts to tally up her sins: ‘There’s been much masturbation. A bit of violence and then, of course, the endless f***ing blasphemy.’”

The Irish Times noted that Twitter is filled with posts such as: “When that priest said ‘kneel’ my vagina exploded in a way a man has never quite been able to achieve.”

Saints preserve us.

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But it’s not just Fleabag. A few years back HBO released an odd series called The Young Pope featuring Jude Law as, well, a young pope who ends up in a coma. 

HBO just released a (kind of) new season but with a new title, called The New Pope, featuring scenes of Law strutting about in a skimpy Speedo bathing suit “prompting a collective call for smelling salts (and poppers) on the internet,” as New York magazine noted.

Another scene, the magazine adds, features a comatose Law on a bed, “completely naked save for a serviette covering his genitals like a fig leaf, as a nun sponges him down. Overcome by the sight, she masturbates on the couch.”

Talk about ringing the bells of St. Mary.

Look, I’m very aware of how all kinds of provocateurs have played around with Catholicism and sex. And while it can be cheap and silly, at least it’s a break from the simultaneously awful and tedious sex scandals.

Which does not change the fact that this is just plain icky.

Priests are now either quivering pedophiles or masturbation inspiration. Progress? Maybe. But not much. 

It certainly does give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Going My Way.”

Where have you gone Bing Crosby? Ward Bond? And where is your Speedo?

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