Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Clearing His Name: Father John Gerard, SJ

The BBC has personally apologized and will correct one of their recent series depicting the Gunpowder Plot after a viewer complained about the inaccurate depiction of his relative, Father John Gerard, SJ. According to The Catholic Herald, Michael Maslinski is a 10-times great nephew of Fr John Gerard. He complained about how his 10-times great uncle was depicted in the historical drama series Gunpowder and then again about the historical documentary series Elizabeth I's Secret Agents, with different results:

He has been an inspiration to members of my family for hundreds of years and it came as a shock to see him featured in the BBC historical drama Gunpowder, clearly represented as being “in on the plot”. The characterisation of Fr Gerard was so far removed from all historical accounts that I believed it could only have been a deliberate misrepresentation.

I complained to the BBC that the priest they called “Fr Gerard” was an entirely fictitious character, and that it was unethical to use the name of a real person whom the drama was implicating in a serious crime.

The BBC did not dispute my comments, but its guidelines for historical dramas allow substantial leeway in departing from the facts. They clearly need to be changed.

This was followed by a historical documentary series on BBC Two,
Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents. In this series, Fr Gerard was given a starring role at the centre of the Gunpowder Plot, suggesting not only that he had prior knowledge of it, but also that he supported it and, most offensively, that he blessed the plot “in the Blood of Christ”. It was clearly stated that he played a leading role in devising the plot. . . .

Working through the BBC’s complaints process took a great deal of patience and tenacity: it involved at least six exchanges of letters, as the complaint gradually filtered up to the top level. The eventual outcome, however, was a great credit to the corporation. It accepted that the programmes were “seriously misleading” and a “breach of editorial standards”. It has agreed to publish an apology on its website and has had the series re-edited to reflect my complaints, prior to re-broadcast. I could hardly have asked for more.

The Jesuits in Britain website also reported on this story. Here's their biography of this intrepid missionary:

Aged 23, John Gerard became a Jesuit in Rome in August 1588. Having already studied at the Jesuit College in Clermont, he was sent almost immediately back to England. For six years he undertook a clandestine mission, bringing more than twenty influential families back to the Catholic faith and preaching the Spiritual Exercises. He worked closely with the Jesuit superior in England, Henry Garnet. He was captured in 1594 and sent to the Tower of London where he was tortured, fruitlessly, to reveal Garnet’s headquarters. In 1597 with the help of Nicholas Owen he made a daring escape from the Tower. He was implicated in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot because several of the plotters were those to whom he had ministered. He managed to escape to the continent (disguised as a servant of the Spanish Ambassador), and continued his ministry. Around 1620 he was removed from his position of novice-master in Liege because of his support for Mary Ward and her “English Ladies”, an early attempt to form an apostolic congregation of women. At the request of his superiors, he wrote his autobiography. After a decade as spiritual father, he died in the Roman College on 27th July 1637.

No comments:

Post a Comment