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Caught between heaven and earth

`God or the Girl,' A&E's new reality series, follows the spiritual struggles of four would-be priests.

April 12, 2006|Cecile S. Holmes | Religion News Service

Always fraught with difficult choices, the call to the Catholic priesthood becomes a mini-drama of men struggling within themselves and within an increasingly secularized world in the A&E network series "God or the Girl," which begins Easter Sunday.

"It's going to put a human face on the priesthood," said Joe Adair, one of the four men whose struggles are chronicled in the reality TV series. "It's going to show four guys who are pretty normal guys with relationships, family. Guys who aren't losers. It's going to show a real struggle that people have."

Indeed, the young men in the A&E five-part series are all-American fellows. They're intelligent and bright with diverse interests and multiple talents. Each -- in different ways -- fits the profile of the sort of men church leaders usually say they want to attract to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Deep down, though, each man is at war with himself. Consider:

* Adair, 28, who is a campus counselor at John Carroll University in Cleveland. Already in and out of seminary twice, he alternately fights and embraces family pressure to enter the priesthood. He recognizes that his ongoing uncertainty is costly to his daily life and spirituality.

* Steve Horvath, 25, left his job as a well-paid consultant in Virginia to be a campus missionary at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. In the series, he wrestles over leaving a comfortable existence for a much more demanding one, sifting through his fear over the sacrifice he must make to answer God's call. He even returns to Virginia to explain his choice to his former fraternity brothers.

* Mike Lechniak, 24, idolized his parish priest when he was a child. Especially tough for him as he considers the priesthood is his growing attachment to his girlfriend, Aly. For this young man, the choice is clearly between God and the girl -- answering the call to the celibate priesthood or the call to Christian marriage and family.

* Dan DeMatte, 21, is in his second year at Ohio Dominican University. Passionately Catholic and still very young, he lives with nine other celibate young men in a spiritual formation house they've dubbed Fort Zion. He works as a full-time lay youth minister. In the show, he finds himself trying to decide if he's cut out for the priesthood.

When asked to do the series, DeMatte hesitated.

"My initial reaction was that this was going to be very time-consuming," he said. "They were with me every day for 12 to 15 hours a day for five straight weeks. I was going to school and doing youth ministry and had so many commitments, and I didn't really want to do it.

"But I prayed about it, and surprisingly God told me quite blatantly that he wanted me to do it."

Doing the show was tough and enlightening, he said. "They wanted to get at the heart of the discernment process. They really wanted to get inside of me. They would ask lots of questions. It wasn't only the producers but my vocations director as well. Even God, in my prayer time."

Adair had a similar experience, soon becoming friends with the media professionals tailing him on a daily basis. "One of the reasons I enjoyed it a lot is they gave me a lot of objective advice," he said.

Adair said he understands why some people cannot fathom a man choosing to be a celibate Catholic priest.

"Sometimes I don't get it either," he said.

"That's been my struggle. Maybe they will see that because I'm struggling with this, that there is something to it. That there is a great value to living a celibate life, if it is done well -- with prayer -- in a healthy way."

The idea for the series developed from a round-table discussion, said Darryl Silver, one of the series' executive producers. At first the conversation was sort of a joke. But the more they talked about it, the more Silver and the other producers liked the idea.

Silver is Jewish, as are the other producers. Their distance from the subject helped them tell a story instead of producing a polemic, Silver said. He also produces the popular NBC show "The Apprentice."

"I don't think this is a show about the priesthood. This is a show about guys who are discerning their vocation to the priesthood," Silver said. "You learn a lot of things about priests, about the Catholic Church. But it's really about these guys and their struggles between two goods."

The series, shown in one-hour segments, premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday. The second segment follows at 10 p.m. the same night. The third hour will air at 9 p.m. Monday, with the fourth segment at 10 p.m. that same night.

The fifth and final segment, which A&E is keeping under wraps, will air at 10 p.m. April 23. Only then will viewers learn of the final decision -- to become a priest or not -- made by each young man.

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