TV programs explore real-life stories of forgiveness

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK – Here are a couple broadcasting highlights for this weekend you might want to consider watching: a family-friendly, made-for-television movie  on Fox and a PBS special that explore real-life stories of forgiveness.

The film, “Truth Be Told,” is the fifth presentation of the Family Movie Night initiative, launched in April 2010. True to the stated goals of that effort, this lighthearted drama – which premieres on Fox Saturday, April 16, 8-10 p.m. EDT – is virtually free of worrisome content and makes appealing entertainment for almost all age groups.

When old high school sweethearts Mark Crane and Annie Morgan (David James Elliott and Candace Cameron Bure) unexpectedly run into each other at a social event, their friendly reunion leads to a misunderstanding. Though Mark is a recently widowed father of two, and Annie has never been married, another guest in attendance, influential radio mogul Terrance Bishop (Ronny Cox), mistakes them for spouses.

Since Mark and Annie both have reasons for wanting to perpetuate this mix-up, they soon find themselves posing as husband and wife on a visit to Bishop’s sprawling New Mexico ranch with Mark’s son and daughter in tow, pretending to be “their” children.

The scenic desert setting, some innocent romance — as the dialogue makes clear, Mark spends his nights on the floor of the bedroom he and Annie share — a strong pro-marriage theme via Annie’s work as a family counselor and a wrap-up emphasizing the importance of truthfulness all combine to make this project suitable viewing for a wide variety of generations.

(A slightly spooky scene set in a long-abandoned American Indian village, though, may prove too frightening for the youngest and most impressionable.)

In “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” — airing on PBS stations Sundays, April 17 and 24, 10-11:30 p.m. EDT each night —  documentarian Helen Whitney offers a thought-provoking examination of both the promise and the limits of interpersonal reconciliation.

Though her film begins by acknowledging that the ideal of forgiveness is embedded in all the world’s major faiths, the claim is made, early on in the narrative, that there is a “new forgiveness” flourishing beyond the context of religion. This means that the Christian imperative to unlimited pardon – exemplified here by the Amish community’s swift and loving response to the West Nickel Mines, Pa., school shooting in October 2006 – comes in for some secular-minded criticism.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, national director of the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation in the U.S., by contrast, provides an eloquently expressed Catholic perspective

Author Terri Jentz, a victim — along with her college roommate — of a violent assault in Oregon’s Cline Falls State Park in 1977, describes the long process of psychological healing she has had to undergo to come to terms with her experience. (Protected by his neighbors in the nearby community of Redmond, Ore., her presumed assailant – who wielded an axe in attacking the young women — was never charged.)

Similarly, Claire Schroeder, the daughter of a Boston police officer slain during a 1970 bank robbery carried out by anti-Vietnam War extremists, recounts her efforts to accept the belated repentance of one of the militants, Katherine Ann Power. Power evaded arrest until voluntarily surrendering to authorities in 1993; since then, she has shown increasing willingness to acknowledge her responsibility for Patrolman Schroeder’s death.

Besides the obviously challenging nature of the program’s subject matter — and the discretion required to interpret it properly in the light of faith — the first segment screened includes a few crass terms and a scene of unexpected, somewhat bloody violence, further marking this as adult fare.

“Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” is rated TV-MA – mature audience only.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online at

Vatican deeply concerned over relations with China

Catechumens at Mass in China. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican commission on China expressed deep concern over worsening relations with the Chinese government, and appealed to authorities there to avoid steps that would aggravate church-state problems.

Specifically, the commission urged Chinese authorities not to persist in imposing new government-backed bishops who do not have the approval of Pope Benedict XVI. Titled a “Message to Chinese Catholics,” the text was issued April 14 following a three-day annual meeting of the commission at the Vatican.

In one hopeful sign, the commission expressed joy at the news that the Diocese of Shanghai was launching the beatification cause of Paul Xu Guangqi, a Chinese scholar who worked closely with the famed Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Pope Benedict met with commission members at the end of their encounter, praising the desire for unity with Rome among Chinese Catholics and underlining the importance of spiritual formation in confronting present challenges.

The commission’s message began by noting the “general climate of disorientation and anxiety about the future” of the church in China, following recent setbacks in church-state relations. It said that given the numerous vacant dioceses in China, the selection of new bishops was an urgent necessity and at the same time “a source of deep concern.”

“The commission strongly hopes that there will not be new wounds to ecclesial communion,” it said. “We look with trepidation and fear to the future: we know that it is not entirely in our hands and we launch an appeal so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace.”

The message said the ordination of a new bishop of Chengde last November — the first without papal approval in four years — was a “sad episode” that had inflicted a “painful wound” on church unity. It emphasized that the church considers the appointment of bishops a religious not a political matter, which rightly falls under the pope’s “supreme spiritual authority.”

The message said the Vatican, while it does not have reason to regard the ordination in Chengde invalid, does consider it “gravely illegitimate” because it was conferred without the papal mandate. As a result, it said, the bishop’s exercise of ministry is also illegitimate.

The message also addressed the fact that several other bishops, including some in communion with the pope, took part in the Chengde ordination. Because these bishops may have been forced to participate, excommunication was not automatically incurred, the Vatican commission said.

But it called on all bishops involved in the ordination to explain themselves to the Vatican and to their own priests and faithful, in order to help “repair the external scandal” caused by their participation.

The message also criticized the Chinese government-controlled National Congress of Catholic Representatives that was held in Beijing Dec. 7-9. Many bishops, priests, religious and laypeople were forced to take part in the assembly against their will.

The commission cited Pope Benedict’s letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, which said Catholic doctrine cannot accept that state-controlled organizations outside the structure of the church can guide the life of the Catholic community.

The commission’s message said the church was open to “sincere and respectful dialogue with the civil authorities” in order to overcome the present problems. Specifically, it said the Vatican was ready to sit down and consult with Chinese authorities on the question of the redrawing of diocesan boundaries in China.

The message asked the whole church to pray for Chinese Catholics, in particular on May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which Pope Benedict has designated as a day of prayer for the church in China.