Loss of Faith

2014-09-21_2312It was during the filming of Devil’s Playground that Don Hany got a quick lesson in what it means to live as a priest, if only on one level.

Wearing the cassock as costume was one thing. But wearing such off-set was a bit of an eye-opener, as peoples’ behaviour towards him changed.

“Wearing Catholic vestments, I was shocked at how many people endowed me and John (Noble) and Andrew (McFarlane) with a completely different attitude. That visual representation is the doctrine that the Church engages in to build this hierarchy,” he says.

“There was no-one who ever suspected I was in costume when I walked down the street or back to the (film) unit. It was fascinating how many people would say ‘Hello Father,’ and give me the briefest little nod as I walked past. No-one suspected it was a costume.”

Hany plays Bishop Quaid in the Foxtel miniseries, which picks up the story of young Tom Allen (Simon Burke) 35 years after he appeared in the 1976 movie The Devil’s Playground by director Fred Schepisi.

“There’s still something so kind about Simon. There are lots of things that change in 35 years but the best parts about that kid are still with Simon, I reckon. He’s a great guy, although I know this is sounding a little bit gushy,” he concedes.

“The film is often grouped together with Coming of Age movies for the treatment of clergy abuse that Fred consciously or unconsciously examined. But in talking to both Simon and Fred there was actually very little in the film about child abuse. It’s about conflicted people who have made the choice at the age of 12 or 13 to commit their lives to (religion) and ask ‘Is that the right choice?’ Simon’s character was at the beginning of that journey, potentially.

“So the one thing the two pieces have in common is that they present characters who are utterly conflicted about choices before them. Other than that, the movie has a real buoyancy about it but the TV show is pretty dark.

“(In the film) Simon’s reactions, even the times when he is sexually confused, have a comic undertone to them, that I only think Toni Collette found (in the series).”

While the Matchbox series dramatises the Church’s reaction to sexual abuse, Hany says it sought to remain truthful, showing how it created a dilemma to those of faith.

“We were all really passionate about being faithful to the Catholic life, from the Clergy to the Laity to the kids,” he says.

“I think we sought the blessing of the Church because we wanted them to be proud of it as well. I hope that there are many who will be because I think the one opportunity we had is that there are so many good things about Church that we’ve lost today. There are so many acts of charity and kindness that we just don’t have anymore because the Church struggles to shake this media salaciousness about things like the Royal Commission. The way the Church has responded to it I don’t think reflects the way a lot of them feel.

“And that, to me, just makes the whole thing worse: that some people would be leaving the Church. It’s like the judgment many members of the Islamic faith would feel (over) the acts of a very small group of people. The loudest is the squeakiest wheel, but suddenly people feel ashamed of their belief. That’s the real crime, in one sense.”

Joining him in the ranks of the Church in the 1980s are Jack Thompson, John Noble, Andrew McFarlane, Leon Ford and Max Cullen.

Despite being the youngest bishop in the series, Quaid adheres to tradition, as an anti-modernistic priest, who struggles with the changes of Vatican Council.

“Liberalism swept through the ‘60s when the Church tried to open its doors, but they were suffering heavy losses, and continues to. So the idea was to soften ideas about homosexuality, abortion and contraception. They could remain faithful and do that,” he explains.

“For Quaid, making the choice early in life that the most comfortable pillow to sleep on is a clear conscience, this was just unacceptable behaviour.

“So he provides the story with a moral investigation into how the Church has responded to what’s about to happen. But he just can’t understand the deviation from his little black book.

“When I read the script I thought ‘This is just a house of cards ready to fall.’”

But he was reminded by a close Catholic friend that the Church continues to add value to society, even if it is often overlooked.

“He said, ‘You don’t see many athiests at soup kitchens in city slums putting in the work for the community.’ So there’s something vital we’ve lost because of the way we’re painting these organisations,” says Hany.

“Were we to lose the good things about the Church we would really all feel that.

“There are so many great things we’ve lost because we don’t all go to Church anymore.”

Devil’s Playground airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on Showcase.


  1. No David, you have misunderstood my comment. I was not saying Atheists were evil. I was saying that many Atheists feel that the Christian church is an evil presence in society. Please, reholster those weapons!

  2. No David, Christians don’t have a monopoly on good works. But they make a significant contribution to the good of society. But to many of the God haters, they do nothing at all and are nothing more than an evil presence in Society. Some, sadly out of their own prejudice just want to vilify. Its nice to hear Don Hany’s balanced and compassionate view of things.

    • Tatiana: Agree they make a significant contribution and we’re agreed they have no monopoly. But it’s ridiculous to suggest athiests do nothing and are an evil presence. I don’t find that comment helpful at all.

  3. I certainly agree that the entire church laity should not be tarred with the same brush as the sexual predators who have been protected for years by the church hierarchy.

    However, I must disagree with Hany’s simplistic characterisation of the church suffering under “media salaciousness”. Surely it is the behaviour of the paedophiles and abusers that is salacious? And certainly it is right to hold to account the bishops and archbishops who did nothing but turn their backs on the children who were subjected to this horror over many years.

    As for acts of charity and kindness, I see these most days being carried out by Catholics, members of other churches, other faiths, and those with no particular faith at all. You certainly don’t need to be a card-carrying catholic to volunteer some time and/or money to help out those in need.

  4. I am absolutely loving this miniseries at the moment. A great cast and Foxtel have once again pulled off a great drama. I like the way Foxtel cuts the crap and just does good quality shows.

  5. Well said Don Hany. Not everyone in the Catholic Church is an abuser or covering it up. Many are good people seeking to help others an society. Like the Muslims, its wrong to demonise everyone for the actions of a few.

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