Is a presumed man of God really to be trusted? In the play Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius become entangled in a conflict that casts doubt on Father Flynn’s innocence. Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of dishonest behavior and accuses him of sexually abusing a young school boy named Donald. When Sister James reports the smell of alcohol on Donald’s breath, Sister Aloysius is convinced of Father Flynn’s guilt. Based on the evidence in Shanley’s play, Doubt: A Parable, it is most likely that Father Flynn is guilty based on his suspicious behavior and his defensive actions.
From the moment that Sister Aloysius accuses Father Flynn, he shows discomfort and acts suspicious. Father Flynn notes his discomfort and steps into defense mode when Sister Aloysius questions him about being alone with Donald in the rectory: “Happened? Nothing happened. I had a talk with a boy. It was a private matter” (Shanley 32). When Sister Aloysius points out that having a conversation with a twelve-year-old boy can’t possibly be private, Father Flynn immediately becomes argumentative over Sister Aloysius’ tone. In addition, Father Flynn attempts to contain his guilt by controlling his facial expressions. Later, Father Flynn attempts to deflect the conversation with Sister Aloysius when she is not satisfied with his reasoning for holding a private conversation with Donald: I don’t wish to continue this conversation at all further. And if you are dissatisfied with that, I suggest you speak to Monsignor Benedict. I can only imagine that your unfortunate behavior this morning is the result of overwork. Perhaps you need a leave of absence. I may suggest it. (Shanley 33)Father Flynn is superior to Sister Aloysius as the priest of St. Nicholas, a Catholic church and school, and Father Flynn uses his power of position to quell the conversation with Sister Aloysius. By directing Sister Aloysius to speak with Monsignor Benedict, Father Flynn ends the interrogation before Sister Aloysius can catch him in anymore lies. When Father Flynn suggests to Sister Aloysius that she may need a leave of absence, he again imposes power over Sister Aloysius’ position by threatening her with the suggestion of a leave of absence.
Another reason Father Flynn is guilty is because he leaves the church to defend his reputation even though Sister Aloysius has no physical proof. Sister Aloysius uses the false testament of a nun from Father Flynn’s previous church to push him to transfer to another parish. Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn and supports her accusations with fabricated proof: “This morning before I spoke with Mrs. Muller, I took the precaution of calling the last parish to which you were assigned … This is your third parrish in five years” (Shanley 53). Although Sister Aloysius’ story is untrue, Father Flynn appears distressed and he becomes defensive again. Moreover, just the fact that Father Flynn has been in three parishes in five years is disturbing. Father Flynn further implicates himself when he responds to Sister Aloysius’ accusations. Instead of standing firm in his story and position, Father Flynn argues that he can’t tell Sister Aloysius everything: I can’t say everything. Do you understand? There are things I can’t say. Even if you can’t imagine the explanation, Sister, remember that there are circumstances beyond your knowledge … That child needed a friend! (Shanley 56-57).It is clear that Father Flynn is protecting himself or someone else, but no matter what, Father Flynn is guilty of some type of inappropriate relationship with Donald. Father Flynn’s guilt ridden conscience drives him to leave St. Nicholas, rather than question Sister Aloysius’ falsified statements.
Others may argue in favor of Father Flynn’s innocence. They may agree with Sister James that Father Flynn is protecting Donald. As a matter of fact, Sister James is convinced that Father Flynn is a good man: “You were trying to protect the boy … I might have done the same thing!” (Shanley 34). In her desire to believe in the greater good, Sister James accepts Father Flynn’s plea of being kind to Donald and protecting him so he is not singled out. Since Donald is the only negro student at St. Nicholas and Father Flynn is the priest, Sister James trusts that Father Flynn is acting in Donald’s best interest. On the contrary, I still believe that Father Flynn is guilty and playing on Sister James’ naivety. For instance, Father Flynn also uses his power to subdue Sister James: Have you forgotten that was the message of the Savior to us all. Love. Not suspicion, disapproval and judgement. Love of people. Have you found Sister Aloysius a positive inspiration? (Shanley 41)Father Flynn sees an impressionable opportunity with Sister James to persuade her that Sister Aloysius is a cruel person after her humanity. By making Sister James feel vulnerable for believing in anything but love, Father Flynn plays on Sister James’ own guilt for being judgemental, as in the eyes of the Lord, such behavior is sinful.
Given these points, Father Flynn is most likely guilty of sexually abusing Donald. Father Flynn is a priest and his behavior is unorthodox for a man of his age having a private relationship with a young boy. Father Flynn’s questionable behavior and self-justifying actions are indicative of his guilty conscience. If Father Flynn is innocent, he would never have left his home of God, because a man of God has nothing to hide and nothing to fear.