Churchmen is a fascinating and engaging look at contemporary Catholic faith in Paris. Disclaimer: I’m not Catholic, but that didn’t prevent me from appreciating this series. It is not a documentary, but a drama that surround the Capuchin monastery in Paris, and the five new seminarians that live there. Now, this should be a nice, quiet and holy place with no intrigue or problems with the outside world. But, this is not the case. The seven deadly sins all make their home in and around the monastery, especially envy, pride, and greed. The monastery is caught up in the power struggles of an up and coming cardinal that wants to make his mark in the Church. It is also a clash between traditional religion and Catholicism in the 21st Century. Paris embraces their communist secularism, and are often hostile to the Church and its seminarians. They will learn to fight back.
And, it’s in French, with English subtitles. My french is not good enough to survive without the help of subtitles, but I am used to reading my favorite TV shows, when they are worth it. I think that Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) is worth the effort, some will find it too much work to watch. While the five new seminarians are the stated focus of the series, the center of the drama is actually Fr. Fromenger (Jean Luc Bideau), the head of the seminary. Although very human, Fromenger possesses the spiritual insight to guide his flock through dangerous waters, even if he lead them up to their necks in controversy with the Bishop of France, Monseigneur Roman Poileaux, a nuanced character played ably by Jacques Bonnaffe. Roman is an ambitious man, and the Capuchin monastery is a thorn in his side that he’s willing to pluck up and destroy if necessary.
But, its the seminarians who provide the day to day dramas of life in the monastery. I’m particulary fond of Jose (Samuel Jouy), a passionate man of faith who recently found God in prison, bringing a more earthly tone to the men of God. During the series, we learn more about each of the men seeking ordination. They all have a past, they all have gifts, and they may have secrets.