The Good Wife Takes a Stab at Catholic Divorce (and Jesuits)

A funny thing happened on CBS’s “The Good Wife” last night. David Hyde Pierce, who plays a straight arrow candidate for district attorney running against lead Alicia Florrick (Juliana Margulies), revealed that the reason he hasn’t remarried is not because he’s gay, as the rumor mill was suggesting, but because, “I’m a Jesuit.”

Now I have to say, my first reaction was, “Holy cow, are they pulling a Princess Juana?” Which now that I’m writing it sounds a lot weirder than it did in my head.


For Jesuit nerds, a quick story: once upon a time, in the relatively early days of the Jesuits, there was a Princess named Juana, who wanted to be a Jesuit. And we didn’t take women, but hello, Princess. So we said yes, but under the condition that it was kept a secret. So for a time she was our super-secret ninja stealth Jesuit.

In point of fact, “The Good Wife” was not suggesting David Hyde Pierce’s character Frank Prady was a secret priest who intended to prosecute criminals for Jesus±though the idea of a DA who puts you away and then comes to hear your confession strikes me as SO MUCH FUN. #LetsDoThis   #DA4Xt   #ThreeStrikesAndYoureSaved

No, I think they thought “Jesuit” meant “good Catholic.” Here’s his speech: “I’m not gay. I’m a Jesuit. I never remarried, because you only get married once. To remarry is to commit adultery.”

The Jesuit flub aside, it’s a pretty loaded couple sentences, isn’t it? In fact, I think I’m relieved they made the mistake they did, because had they said “good/faithful Catholic” it would have been quite painful for many Catholics watching the show, who have struggled with these very issues, and faced clergy and fellow Catholcs that have at times treated them very unkindly using exactly this kind of logic. 

No Catholics today should live under the burden of feeling like remarriage in and of itself constitutes adultery. That is not at all the current teaching of our church. If anyone walked away from last night’s episode feeling otherwise—feeling judged (or for that matter justified in such a judgment)—it’s important to remember that fact. (Also, just because "The Good Wife" is a generally fantastic television show doesn't mean it always gets everything right.)

And for anyone who thinks “Jesuit” might indeed be synonymous with “good Catholic”—well first of all, a stroll along Google will help you find plenty of evidence (both true and otherwise) that we’re not!

Also, there’s this completely true story:

A Dominican, A Franciscan and a Jesuit were once all the gates of Heaven, waiting to get in. The Franciscan was ushered in first. But it was strange: St. Peter didn’t take him through the Pearly Gates, but a sort of side entrance. Nobody even noticed he got in.

Then it was the Dominican’s turn. And again, it was all sort of underwhelming. St. Peter didn’t even do it himself, he had some lower level disciple that never got named in the Bible do it instead.

And then it was the Jesuit’s turn, and not only did St. Peter let him in through the Pearly Gates, but as soon as entered the entirety of Heaven exploded in song, a rainbow of ticker tape poured out of the clouds, and a parade of Heaven’s very best—led by none other than the Virgin Mary herself—carried the Jesuit on their shoulders into his new home.

The Franciscan and the Dominican watched this, getting more and more furious by the instant. And when the Jesuit and his entourage finally vanished into the distance they turned back to St. Peter and asked him, “What gives? You let each of us in through some back door like we’re no big deal, but the Jesuit gets a parade?”

Hearing this, St. Peter’s face fell. “No offense, but we see Franciscans and Dominicans arrive here all the time. But it’s really rare for us to even see a Jesuit.”


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Kevin Murphy
3 years 10 months ago
I thought remarriage (without an annulment or, of course, if a spouse was deceased) was, in the Church's eyes, an adulterous relationship. That is the crux of the current controversy on Communion for the remarried. Please clarify.
Tommy O'Donnell
3 years 10 months ago
I'm with Kevin (and Martin, above) in this one in thinking that it's ultimately a matter of semantics, and how we define "marriage" and "re-marriage," but that the semantics do matter ...
Charles McNamee
3 years 10 months ago
Alicia and David suddenly became electrified by this revelation. Interesting prospect. Great writing.
Martin Eble
3 years 10 months ago
The story of Joanna of Austria (in Castilian "Juana de Austria"), foundress of the Convent of Our Lady of Consolation (Nuestra Señora de la Consolación) for the Poor Clares, now known as the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, entering the Jesuit order is apocryphal. A Catholic who remarries with an apparently valid previous marriage and then lives with the new spouse as man and wife is committing adultery. Other than that, great post.
Katherine Lawrence
3 years 10 months ago
Wonderful movie review! Am totally with the author! For the record, I think God is bigger than dogma. And I love the Catholic Church (warts and all) and the Jesuits (warts and all).
F. Kelly Dougherty
3 years 10 months ago
I am also waiting patiently for some elaboration of "No Catholics today should live under the burden of feeling like remarriage in and of itself constitutes adultery. That is not at all the current teaching of our church. If anyone walked away from last night’s episode feeling otherwise—feeling judged (or for that matter justified in such a judgment)—it’s important to remember that fact."
alan macdonald
3 years 10 months ago
I think Jim McDermott, the author of this article, needs a catechism lesson. The Roman Catholic Church does indeed teach that a second marriage, if both spouses are living, without an annulment is indeed adultery.
3 years 10 months ago
I agree with the other commentators that the author's comments are a bit unclear. So let me try to give the Chruch's view: Christian marriage is only dissolved by death, and one can only have a single spouse. The widowed can remarry; those who get married after receiving an annulment are in fact marrying for the first time. The problem is that we all know people who have received annulments are grounds that would be laughable if the circumstances were not so sad. What I find interesting about the TV character's reported comment—I haven't watched the episode yet—is that he says "I'm a Jesuit" and means "I"m a faithful Catholic: I know the rules and I follow them." As the joke that ends the column suggests, most Catholics hearing a layman say "I'm a Jesuit" would think he meant: "I'm a well-educated Catholic: I know the rules and I can get around them."
Martin Eble
3 years 10 months ago
A man approached a Franciscan and a Jesuit who were walking together and asked, "How many novenas must you say to get a Mercedes Benz?" The Franciscan asked "What's a Mercedes Benz?" The Jesuit asked "What's a novena?"
John Walton
3 years 10 months ago
In our diocese if you become a lay deacon, you also make a vow to not re-marry if your wife pre-deceases you. Perhaps the Jesuits take transfers!


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