Editorial: The Unreal O'Neals

Far and away the most derogatory word being associated with the Catholic Church in the current climate is “bigoted.” As Church teaching has found itself more and more at odds with mainstream society, it has been called anti-woman, anti-progress and, of course, anti-gay. It is shunned as hateful, closed-minded and intolerant, and more than a little bit behind the times.

Such views have resulted in an increasing amount of public backlash against the Church — often disguised as art or entertainment. More and more, tenets of the Faith are the butt of jokes on satirical and late-night television shows, in films and in music videos. Now, such mockery is as commonplace and accepted as a weeknight family sitcom — a platform that once was synonymous with wholesome family values.

“The Real O’Neals,” a half-hour ABC midseason premiere sitcom about “your typical all-American, Catholic, divorcing, disgraced, law-breaking, gay family,” is so outrageously and appallingly anti-Catholic that it takes the media’s propensity to Catholic-bash — now so in vogue — to a new level.

From beginning to end, the show ridicules Catholic practice, sacramentals and beliefs. But perhaps most disturbingly, the show reflects a stunning and highly offensive lack of priorities and judgment on the part of the Catholic parents, particularly mother Eileen (Martha Plimpton), whose life goal seems to be to use the Church as a tool for manipulation to achieve her own selfish ends.

“I invited the bishop to Bingo Bonanza,” Eileen says in the premiere. “I was hoping that he’d see how generous we are and then he’d write a recommendation for Jimmy to go to Notre Dame so he doesn’t end up living with us forever because he’s a little dumb.”

And this is only in the first five minutes. Eileen’s crowning moment in the first two episodes comes when, after a lifetime of telling her children that premarital intercourse is wrong, she tries to force her gay teenage son, Kenny, into having sex with his ex-girlfriend in the hopes that it will make him change his mind about his sexuality.

The show is so blatantly disrespectful that even the New York Post has proclaimed it as “anti-Catholic” and that it “sets a new low for TV sitcoms.” “It’s easy to see where this sitcom is going — using Kenny’s story of gay liberation as a vehicle for co-creator and former sex columnist Dan Savage to work out some hard feelings he has against his parents, his upbringing and a world that didn’t understand him,” writes reviewer Robert Rorke. “One wonders how network programmers would react if the offensive jokes heard here were used against another religious group. But Catholics are fair game.”

That answer is easy. Had such a show been created about any other system of beliefs, the outcry would have been deafening. But despite mild complaints and petitions over the last year, “The Real O’Neals” moved forward in production.

In its review, The Washington Post cooed that “The Real O’Neals” is “a perfect fit with the authenticity we demand from TV right now.” But while their struggles may reflect some quality of truth — no family is perfect — there is nothing authentically Catholic about the inward-focusing O’Neals.

Rather, authenticity in faithful family life comes from striving to love, respect and care for others before self. Authentic Catholic family life isn’t perfect, but it does desire holiness. This is what many Catholic families strive for every day, and this is the face of Catholicism that we proudly share in this newspaper every week. This, not the O’Neals, is what’s real.

Editorial Board members: Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor