The Lives of Others:
“Father” Zuhlsdorf Recommends Immoral Movie
Wherein Fr. Z entices people to watch a film that can ruin their souls
This is really upsetting. On October 30, the Vatican II Sect’s biretta-wearing internet celebrity Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, commonly known as “Father Z”, published a blog post recommending the movie The Lives of Others (“Das Leben der Anderen“, 2007) with the late German actor Ulrich Muhe. The film, set in 1980s Communist East Germany, tells the story of a secret government operative who spent his life spying on and monitoring people the state tagged as (actual or potential) “enemies” — thus making it a movie incredibly relevant to our times.
Certainly, the movie is first-rate in terms of its quality; there is no question about that. However, good quality is hardly the criterion by which Catholics may judge whether or not they are morally permitted to watch a film, much less for a supposed Catholic priest to recommend it to a world-wide unsuspecting audience that considers him to be the crème de la crème of Catholic moral, liturgical, and doctrinal advice.
In the old days, there was something called the Legion of Decency, founded in 1933 by Archbishop John McNicholas of Cincinnati, Ohio. Its stated objective, which Pope Pius XI referred to as a “holy crusade,” was to keep immoral or otherwise harmful or objectionable content out of motion pictures, an endeavor that was, overall, quite successful. Of course, the Legion disintegrated after the Second Vatican Council (a small, laughable remnant of it survives in the United States Conference of Non-Catholic Bishops), and so the dam broke that had tried as much as possible to keep fallen man’s filth out of, in particular, the minds of the youth. The result was predictable: Once let loose, the moral sewer quickly turned into a raging river that has been poisoning millions of souls ever since.
There are still a lot of good-willed people stuck in the Novus Ordo Church who, striving to be real Catholics, want to lead holy lives and keep themselves away from the defilements of the secular world. They seek out what they think are good priests to turn to for the kind of advice they really need but can no longer get from their own parish’s clergy, especially on moral matters. What kinds of movies to watch is one of those very things they’d want guidance on, especially if they have children. And since Mr. Zuhlsdorf — sorry, but his 1991 ordination by John Paul II is actually doubtful — is precisely the kind of man many in the Novus Ordo would consider a “good Catholic priest”, what he says on such matters carries a lot of weight with a great number of people.
So, just what did “Father Z” say about The Lives of Others? His post is very short, so let’s just quote it in full (though we have removed his links to Amazon):
Last night I watched a very disturbing, very well made film: Das Leben der Anderen…. The Lives of Others.
US HERE [link removed]
UK HERE [link removed]
The film has a couple scenes that would make it unsuitable for children. It is rated R. Also, it is in German with subtitles (the subtitles were not too badly done).
The acting was great. Ulrich Muhe has got game. It won a passel of awards.
It concerns government surveillance of normal people. In the case of this film, the Stasi in East Germany before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It is appropriately set in 1984.
This movie was unsettling. As you watch, you know that what the characters were going through could happen again and could happen to us. It is happening to us in small ways, now. It could happen to us in spades were the creep we see under this administration to continue.
There are, however, some stirring moments.
Want a very smart, well-acted, thought provoking movie to watch? Give it a try.
(Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, “REVIEW: Film – The Lives of Others”, Fr. Z’s Blog, Oct. 30, 2013)
From this post, you’d think there’s not much in the movie that’s morally objectionable. Really, the only “warning” he gives at all, in terms of morality and/or occasions of sin the movie may provide to the viewer, is that “a couple [of] scenes” are “unsuitable for children” and that the flick is “rated R.” That’s it. (Less-than-perfect subtitles and “unsettling” or “stirring” moments in the movie’s narrative obviously aren’t objections based on morals.) So, as long as you’re not a child, there’s nothing “unsuitable” in it for you, right? That’s the message you get from Mr. Zuhlsdorf’s comments regarding what’s wrong with the movie.
And that doesn’t yet take into consideration what he says is good about it. He literally tempts you to get and watch it, saying it is “very smart,” “well-acted,” and “thought provoking”, suggesting you “give it a try.” Clearly, he’s endorsing the movie and recommending that the readers of his blog watch it. In fact, he even provides links to Amazon.com, where people can purchase the movie from the U.S. and the U.K., and of course, he makes sure he gets a commission on those sales (his links to the Amazon page include his referral ID, which means he will get a cut). So, not only is Mr. Z endorsing the movie and asking you to watch it, he wants to sell you a copy of the DVD and make a profit on it, too.
Given all that, and considering Zuhlsdorf’s general reputation as a super-orthodox conservative (by Novus Ordo standards), surely this film couldn’t possibly be immoral, right?
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s an independent review by a family-friendly organization called Common Sense Media. For the review category of sexual content, the organization gave it a full 5 out of 5 points. Let’s have a look at their explanation for this rating:
Several scenes show or suggest sexual activity. In the back seat of a car, a man gropes an impassive woman and undoes his fly as the driver watches in the rearview mirror; kissing and embracing between the primary couple; spy overhears a sex scene (viewers see its beginning) and records it in his journal; another somewhat steamy sex scene between primary couple; man hires prostitute (brief scene of their interlude, with her in lingerie); woman naked in shower (viewers see back, profile, breasts). Sex is traded for safety from the secret police/government.
(Review of The Lives of Others by Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media, Aug. 19, 2007)
Mr. Zuhlsdorf fails to mention any of this. Does he consider such scenes, which would be occasions of sin for most viewers (at least teenagers and young adults), to be mere “minor details”? Even if he wants to take the position that such scenes can be skipped (fast-forwarded), how in the world can he fail to alert his readers to them? What is he thinking??
Such filthy scenes can lead souls to eternal damnation! Not only can people fall into mortal sin right then and there (remember, mere consent to an impure thought or desire suffices for there to be a mortal sin), which would be bad enough, but such an occasion can also mean the beginning of an entire life of sin (not to mention an eternity of punishment if not repented of). Does “Father Z” not know how important it is to guard oneself against the many temptations to purity and chastity that constantly assail us in this world, especially in these times? Does he really want to be an accessory to someone’s spiritual ruin? And for what reason? So he can feel hip about being a cool “movie reviewer”? So he can consider himself important because of yet another blog post (the seventh for that day!)? So he can make $1 in referral bonuses per DVD sold? Is that why? Is that worth it? If so, why is this man a “priest”?
This is more than just an outrage — it is a scandal (“scandal”, in Catholic moral theology, refers to a word or deed that either is evil or has the appearance of evil and leads to another person’s spiritual ruin — see Catholic Encyclopedia here). “Fr.” Zuhlsdorf likes to be considered a “conservative” and “traditional” Catholic priest (he is neither Catholic nor a priest, but let’s leave that aside for the moment), yet here he is advertising and recommending a film that contains sundry scenes that present an occasion of sin, all the while being totally mum about the danger. The very least he could have done is alert people that there are many scenes that must be skipped or edited out, or else it is better not to watch the movie at all because holy purity is a priceless treasure, which must not be endangered over something so silly, so trivial, so mundane as following someone’s movie recommendation (cf. Mark 9:46).
Yet, we find none of this in the blog post of the celebrity presbyter. A secular movie reviewer — Cynthia Fuchs of Common Sense Media — showed more Catholic sensibility than this much-admired celebrity “priest.” Instead of at least cautioning people about the movie’s immoral scenes so they do not fall into the trap of a most terrible vice that can ensnare them for years even after a long life of virtue, Rev. Zuhlsdorf simply prefers to provide a link to a site where the flick is sold, with the hearty recommendation to “give it a try.” Which a lot of people, no doubt, will actually do, because they trust the man. What a disgrace.
“Religion clean and undefiled before God the Father is this”, says St. James: “to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world” (Jas 1:27). Now there’s an idea — though one that doesn’t involve an Amazon link.
We will end this post with an important quote which Mr. Z would do well to ponder if he has some spare time in between his busy blogging schedule:
“More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.”
–Our Lady of Fatima
Virgin Most Pure, pray for us!
- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Vigilanti Cura on Motion Pictures (1936)
- Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Miranda Prorsus on Movies, Television, and Radio (1957)
- St. Alphonsus Liguori, Sermon on Abusing God’s Mercy
- Fr. Francis Hunolt, Sermon on the Vice of Impurity
- Good Prayer to obtain Holy Purity: The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary