Action Alert!

A study of pastoral prudence: Léon Morin, Priest (1961)

By Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | May 03, 2024 | In Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast

Listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | RSS feed | YouTube Channel

This is a listener-supported podcast! Thanks for your help!

In occupied France during World War II, a Communist woman named Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) enters a confessional for the first time since her first Communion. She is there not to confess but to troll the priest by saying “Religion is the opiate of the people.” To her surprise, Fr. Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is not thrown off balance, but offers a compelling response to each of her critiques of Catholicism. Barny starts to see Fr. Morin regularly for a mix of intellectual tête-à-tête and spiritual counsel, and is gradually drawn back to the Church—but mixed in with her spiritual attraction to the Church is a romantic attraction to the man.

This, combined with subplots about the experience of wartime France, is the premise of the 1961 film Léon Morin, Priest, and it may on first summary sound like the sort of sensational and irreverent story no Catholic wants to touch with a ten-foot pole. But Fr. Morin does not break his vows. Instead, this is one of the best priest movies ever made, a realistic, tasteful (and not excessively cringe-inducing) treatment of a real problem that arises in priestly life. From the priest’s point of view, it’s a thought-provoking study of pastoral prudence; from the female protagonist’s point of view, it deals with the necessity of gradually purifying one’s motives in the course of conversion

Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission.

Criteria is hosted by Thomas V. Mirus and James T. Majewski.

Thomas is Director of Podcasts for and hosts the Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

James is the Director of Customer Relations for as well as the host and narrator for Catholic Culture Audiobooks. See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: jslabonik53 - May. 04, 2024 10:14 PM ET USA

    It would be interesting to hear a woman's take on the film.