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John Patrick Shanley Discusses His Doubt

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The timing may have been fortuitous, with the explosion of complains and lawsuits about sexual abuse against the Catholic Church.

But writer-director John Patrick Shanley insists that Doubt, his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning play just released on film, isn't about the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. Despite the fact that it's set in and around a Bronx parochial school, it's barely about the Catholic Church, per se, he maintains.

"The sexual topic comes up maybe once," Shanley says in a telephone interview. "And obviously it's not about the Catholic Church and abuse. Rather, it's about living with doubt. It's about having your assumptions and prejudices exploded and having to live in the present tense. When your assumptions are overturned, what are you left with to look at?"

When I mention my take on it -- that this is a struggle between old and new ideas, as embodied by the Catholic Church -- Shanley gives an audible shrug.

"Yes, but if this was set in Nazi Germany and it was a choice between the old thinking and the new, well, the new obviously wasn't better than the old."

Shanley's film -- like his play -- focuses on the collision between two characters: Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a priest eager to bring a more modern and humanistic approach to his theology, and Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), who chafes at the power priests hold over nuns and who clings tenaciously to her faith in the traditional church's teachings. The film is set in 1964, when Shanley, now 58, was 14.

"That was when I started becoming aware that the foundation on which my world was built was not as firm as I thought," he says.

To read the rest of this interview, visit my website,