The October 10 episode of CBS’ Tom Selleck vehicle Blue Bloods has drawn criticism from Catholics after the lead character proclaimed that the Catholic Church was “behind the times” on gay issues.
The episode, entitled “Burning Bridges,” presented New York Police Chief Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) facing a sticky situation over questions of a gay police officer involved as a witness in a gay bashing crime.
In the series, Chief Reagan is a staunch Catholic, but as the head of the NYPD he must follow city and state rules on gay employees. Members of the press raise this dichotomy as they question the chief over the gay bashing incident.
Responding to the media, Chief Reagan stumbles through his feelings, ultimately saying that he felt the Catholic Church was “behind the times” on gay issues.
This plot line sparked criticism from the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who wrote that his Catholic League has “been bombarded with complaints following the last episode.” It all made Donohue wonder whether CBS was “turning on its audience” by injecting the anti-Catholic subject mater into a series that has in the past been generally strong on traditional values.
On October 14, Donohue summarized what he considers the anti-Catholic message of the episode in an email blast to supporters:
The Bible is ‘anti-gay.’ That is the logical conclusion that unfolds in this episode. The show also misrepresents the sexual abuse scandal: almost all the molesting priests were practicing homosexuals. Moreover, the scandal ended in the mid-1980s, thus showing how far behind the times the show’s writers are. As for the wavering cardinal and the wayward nun–it is what we would expect from writers who have decided to pivot.
“Is CBS committing suicide,” Donohue asked. “The audience for Blue Bloods has been carefully cultivated, so the price tag for alienating its base is high. Time will tell.”
One of several scenes that drew the ire of Donohue’s Catholic League is midway through the episode, as NYPD Chief Reagan is presiding over a press conference. A reporter stands to ask if the officer who witnessed the gay bashing earlier in the episode was a “detective who is a closeted homosexual.” Reagan says he cannot confirm that fact.
Then another reporter stands and confronts the Chief over Church doctrine, saying, “The Catholic Church condemns homosexuality as a sin, and the Commissioner is famously Catholic. How do you line up your anti-gay faith with your role as an equal opportunity employer?”
Selleck’s Chief Reagan answers, insisting, “What my men and women do in private is their own business.”
But the reporter persists, saying, “So, you only condemn homosexuality on Sunday?”
Looking perturbed, the Chief then delivers the line that incurred the Catholic League’s criticism.
“Well, I do believe the Church is a little behind the times on this. But, then, I still miss the Latin Mass,” the Chief says uncomfortably.
The episode also features a proud lesbian turned Catholic nun and a scheming Cardinal who uses political maneuvers to get Chief Reagan to attend a fundraiser as payback for keeping a local Catholic school open, an offer that is rescinded as soon as the “behind the times” quote is uttered.
Later in the episode, Selleck’s character is asked to apologize to the city’s Cardinal Brennan (Bill Irwin) but demurs, saying, “I do believe the Church is backwards on this. And of all the stands to hold onto. In the midst of the scandals of the past decade.”
Blue Bloods star Tom Selleck is famously far more conservative than most in the entertainment industry, and the show has generally been one of the most family friendly series on TV-often touting duty, honor, fidelity, and traditional values-so it isn’t surprising that some might be shocked by this more liberal plot line.
The Catholic League’s full press release is as follows:
IS “BLUE BLOODS” COMMITTING SUICIDE?
Bill Donohue comments on the October 10 episode of “Blue Bloods”; it stars Tom Selleck as police commissioner Frank Reagan:
We’ve been impressed with the underlying positive message of “Blue Bloods” over the years, as well as its welcome treatment of Catholicism. But after last Friday’s show, we’re now wondering whether CBS is turning on its audience. We’ve been bombarded with complaints following the last episode.
Police Commissioner Reagan cannot defend the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, so when Catholicism is branded an “anti-gay faith,” he replies, “Well, I do believe the Church is a little behind the times on this.” Indeed, he goes so far as to say, “I do believe the Church is backwards on this. And of all the stands to hold onto. In the midst of the scandals of the past decade.” Viewers also meet a conflicted Cardinal Brennan, and a proud lesbian, Sister Mary.
The Bible is “anti-gay.” That is the logical conclusion that unfolds in this episode. The show also misrepresents the sexual abuse scandal: almost all the molesting priests were practicing homosexuals. Moreover, the scandal ended in the mid-1980s, thus showing how far behind the times the show’s writers are. As for the wavering cardinal and the wayward nun–it is what we would expect from writers who have decided to pivot.
Is CBS committing suicide? The audience for “Blue Bloods” has been carefully cultivated, so the price tag for alienating its base is high. Time will tell.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org