Four Men Must Choose 'God or the Girl'

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For a documentary series about a serious subject -- whether four young Catholic men should abandon the idea of a wife and children to enter the seminary to become priests -- A&E Network's "God or the Girl" has a pretty cheesy title. But that's OK with potential seminarian Mike Lechniak.

"I like the whole idea," he says. "It is a decision between two goods, and it shows how hard this struggle is. You think about two goods of anything, and it's such a hard struggle to pick one road or the other. Although if you did get the girl, you could have a lay-ministry life.

"But between the actual priesthood or having a married life, it is a hard decision. It's two goods. It's not picking between a good and an evil."

"God or the Girl" premieres on Easter Sunday, April 16, with its first two one-hour episodes. Two more air on Monday, April 17, with the conclusion airing Sunday, April 23.

For centuries, the Western or Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church has required its priests to take a vow of celibacy at the time of ordination, which prevents them from ever marrying.

Now, there are exceptions. With special permission, certain married clergy from other Christian denominations who convert can become ordained as Latin Rite Roman Catholic priests but may not remarry if their wives die. And in the church's Eastern Rite, would-be priests can wed before ordination but not after.

But for the guys in "God or the Girl," the choice is a clear-cut one. The men involved are Joe Adair, 28, who has been in and out of seminary twice and has trouble making a final decision; Dan DeMatte, 21, a collegian and passionate youth minister; Steve Horvath, 25, who left his lucrative job and just-purchased condo to become a campus missionary; and Lechniak, 24, who is caught between the parish priest, whom he sees as a spiritual mentor, and his platonic but loving relationship with his girlfriend.For executive producer Mark Wolper ("Penn & Teller: Bulls---," "Helter Skelter," "The Mists of Avalon"), son of "Roots" producer David L. Wolper, meeting these four was a revelation.

"We realized," he says, "this was not like 'Temptation Island' or 'The Bachelor.' While [the people in those shows] are after something, these guys are not after anything. They're not after glory or fame or money, and they're not going to get it. They're after figuring out what they want to do and serving God. That's unlike any other people that you put into a reality show or a documentary, who are usually about glorifying themselves.

"I always would be somewhat of a jaded Hollywood TV producer. This was a completely different experience for me. I realized that everybody's not like us out here [in Los Angeles]. Everybody's not a celebrity or a producer. I've never met anybody so committed to something. Whether I agreed with it or not is totally irrelevant, but the level of commitment and belief and dedication to what they believe in -- I haven't seen that before."

In today's world, with its emphasis on self-realization and instant gratification, it's hard for many to imagine making this sort of radical lifetime commitment.Making it even more incomprehensible is the fact that the four men are bright, healthy and attractive, all top candidates for secular success. But along the way, each heard something else.

"One of the Bible verses that struck a chord with me," Horvath says, "is, 'To whom much has been given, much will be asked.' The reason I began discerning the priesthood is because I met other guys my age, normal people, who had plenty of opportunities, who were discerning. If they had privatized that, I never would have been privy to that, never would have been able to use that and say, 'But what about my life?'"

"When you watch the show," DeMatte says, "every one of these questions is answered, because these are the questions that people are constantly coming to us with."

In the last few years, sex scandals involving priests preying on children and adolescents have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, causing suspicion and scorn to be thrown on guilty and innocent alike. In this climate, one might wonder why a young man would want to put on the collar.

"That's exactly why," Horvath says. "That's the very reason why. Something that you care about so much, when it is being attacked, the first thing you want to do is go and help it and, if so, give your life to that. That's sacrifice. That's the best expression of love that you could come up with. It's a call to duty, a call to arms, in a sense, that really ignited my desire to discern."

The men also see "God or the Girl" as an opportunity put a new face on an ancient church.

"This can be a platform," Adair says, "to humanize the Catholic Church, to show guys who are thinking about becoming priests, to show guys who are very human and who are American, like a lot of our audience is going to be."

Also, says Adair, his faith is a fixed point in an ever-changing world. "I experience ambiguities in the world, and I engage in them, and in some ways you can find God in them, but what's useful about having the church and its teachings, it's a sounding board to bounce that off of, to find the truth, so you're not floating around by yourself and finding some relativistic truth, that you can have some solid rock with which you can engage the world.

"The church is a solid rock on which I can engage the world. I said that three times." Says Lechniak, "I'm sure they got it once, then."

Mike Lechniak is one of four young potential seminarians portrayed in the five-part documentary series "God or the Girl," premiering Sunday on A&E Network.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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