Turbulent Priest

"Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

An Evil Empire, Repressive Dictator, Government Conspiracy or even a Corrupt Corporate Executive has sinister plans. Where will the hero find an ally? In The Church.

A Turbulent Priest is a member of the clergy who will resist the plans of somebody with power. Usually their fight is with a secular authority who threatens the Church or general morality, but struggles against other clergy attempting to subvert what the Church stands for is just as viable a cause.

This trope can be depicted in either a positive or a negative light. If the Turbulent Priest is portrayed as in the right, his opponent is usually interested in money or power, and will quite gladly engage in animal cruelty and other immoral behavior to get it (sometimes said opponent will also attack the church to try and remove any opposition). They could also just be someone who kicks anyone who gets in their way because they have money or power (the latter opponent being more common in real-life than the former). If he's in the wrong, the Secular Authority is generally trying to improve society, and the Priest is afraid of change. The Trope Namer (see below) is actually quite neutral by most understandings.

How the Turbulent Priest conducts himself depends on his rank and standing. If he is the equivalent of a Monk or Parish priest, he may offer sympathies to the hero. If the work is set in The Evil Empire or similar, expect him to be part of La Résistance and usually given more freedom than the average citizen, because the Church retains some power and would not like to see its clergy picked on. If the Turbulent Priest is a bishop or other high-ranking member of the Church, expect him to publicly decry the plans, and encourage resistance. If his beef is with one person, sometimes questioning whether his soul is as safe as he thinks is an effective deterrent. Both styles may overlap with a Badass Preacher or a Church Militant.

Named for Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who spent most of his tenure arguing with King Henry II over his plans to exercise increased royal control over the Church in England, leading Henry II to utter the quote at the top of the page. There was no real right or wrong side from a modern perspective, as Henry saw clergy abuse the Ecclesiastical Legal system to escape secular punishment, and Becket saw the sovereignty of the Church as being threatened; in summary, both were convinced the other was going to make a power-grab then abuse that power. Interestingly, what Henry actually said about Becket is not exactly known, though several of his knights apparently took the quote as a royal execution order, and murdered the Archbishop at the altar of his own cathedral, getting their king in trouble with the Pope.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Films — Animated 
  • The Archdeacon of the Cathedral in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame interferes with Judge Frollo's more morally questionable acts, such as drowning babies and violating the sanctuary law. Amusingly, the original Frollo from the book was both a more moral person... and archdeacon of Notre Dame. It's like Disney split him in half and made him fight himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in the movie Black Death. The young monk is the only man who recognizes that most witch-burnings are the result of hysterical superstition, and initially sides with the villagers against the knights. Then he finds out it's a Village With A Dark Secret...
  • The Tower Guardian Dumont in TRON is a Cool Old Guy who maintains the only free I/O Tower on the system, despite Master Control's persecution of User-Believers. He's on the verge of the Despair Event Horizon, but Tron and Yori convince him to help. After he's captured and facing certain de-rez for his actions, he is remarkably sarcastic and defiant, declaring that Master Control "started small, and will end small!"
  • Subverted in the Movie Dracula Untold. The bearded monk is horrified when he finds out Dracula is a vampire, exposes this to his people and extols Dracula to to cure himself or die. Dracula himself is benevolent and using this power to save his people from the Ottoman Turkish Empire. However, the other vampires he creates are bloodthirsty and malicious as the monk feared, and the monk saves Dracula's son from them by repelling them with a crucifix, leading Dracula to realize how dangerous his vampiric subjects are.

  • Having at the core of its plot a schism between a Corrupt Path of Inspiration and the nation it tried (and failed) to destroy, there is a number of such characters in the Safehold series, such as Charis Archbishop Maikel Staynair and members of the reformist movement within the Church of God Awaiting known as the Circle.
  • Friar Tuck in the Robin Hood legendarium.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire features the "Sparrows", pious knights and peasants who become increasingly angered at the unmitigated atrocities (and general immorality and corruption) occurring across Westeros, eventually leading them to force the installation of one of their number as the new High Septon, who starts out as rather openly condemnatory of the leadership of the realm. Cersei Lannister attempts to placate them by authorizing the restoration of the Church Militant.
    • King Baelor the Blessed from the backstory proves an interesting case. He was an utter pacifist who walked barefoot across the continent to make peace with his elder brother's enemies, and constantly gave away the kingdom's treasury to the poor, but it was only through the political savvy of his machiavellian uncle Viserys that the nobility were kept from rebelling. In The World of Ice & Fire, it is suggested Baelor might have been assassinated because he got in his head that all infidels must be converted, which would have led to a humongous civil war against the Northmen and Ironborn, who practise different faiths from the rest of Westeros.
  • Several examples in Mercedes Lackey's Bardic Voices and Valdemar novels.
  • Rosemary Sutcliff got a lot of mileage out of religious conflicts. Fanatical druids stir up anti-Roman revolts in The Eagle of the Ninth and Frontier Wolf; monks bicker with King Arthur in Sword at Sunset; Augustine of Canterbury rocks up to convert the dubious Anglo-Saxon kings in Dawn Wind; zealous Puritans ally with Parliament against King Charles in The Rider of the White Horse and Simon; and Presbyterian Scottish Covenanter priests reject the rule of English kings in We Lived in Drumfyvie and Bonnie Dundee.
  • Philip in The Pillars of the Earth is one. One of his great life goals is to prove that faith and virtue is a more powerful force than violence and wickedness. In the end, he does.
  • In the third Dune book, Children of Dune, a man known only as "The Preacher" pops up on Arrakis condemning the religion of Muad'Dib that the Fremen have set up. Notably, he isn't condemning Muad'Dib himself, but rather the overbearing, controlling religion that has come about since Muad'Dib's death, and many suspect that he's trying to return the Fremen to their previous way of life. The Preacher is Paul-Muad'Dib himself, returning in disguise after everyone believed him dead. He never liked the religion that sprung up around him when he took control of Arrakis, and after some reflection in the desert has committed himself to tearing it down.

    Live Action TV 
  • Jake in All The Small Things introduces sweeping reforms in his church in order to make it relevant to the local community. Needless to say, the traditionalists in the choir and on the parish council aren't happy.
  • One episode of Blackadder I has the title character, the younger son of the king, made Archbishop of Canterbury after his father had the previous one assassinated for being turbulent. Blackadder spends the whole episode trying not to be this trope, even trying to talk a dying nobleman out of leaving all his money to the church. The king celebrates the fact that, unlike Henry II, he will never have to ask "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Unfortunately, a pair of drunken knights overhear part of the conversation and think it means they should go kill the new archbishop.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Necromunda has the Arch Zealot of the Redemption, a completely batshit insane Imperial priest who goes around with his band of fanatics setting fire to heretics. He's so extreme higher-ups in the Redemptionists have put a bounty on his head.
    • The Warhammer 40K short story The Last Church, set before the Great Crusade, features Uriah, the priest who looks after the last church on Terra. He spends the story debating the need for religion with a mysterious stranger who turns out to be the God Emperor of Mankind in disguise. Then he proceeds to call out the Emperor in front of a crowd of Thunder Warriors (prototype Space Marines) and walks back into his burning church to die in the flames.
    • During the Age of Apostasy, the corrupt head of the Ecclesiarchy (and Administratum, and Munitorum) Goge Vandire ruled with an iron fist until he was opposed by a firebrand preacher known as Sebastian Thor. Thor whipped his followers into a frenzy and started a rebellion, which Vandire sent a fleet to crush. The entire battlefleet was obliterated by a Warp storm that was taken to be a sign from the God-Emperor himself, and a full-blown civil war resulted.
    • Implied to be the case with the pre-Fall Eldar, who tried to convince their kin to abandon their debauched ways. Unfortunately, the others disregarded them, resulting in the birth of Slaanesh, the loss of their homeworld and the death of about %90 of their race.

    Video Games 
  • Turbulent Priests tend to pop up a lot in Random Events in Paradox Interactive games, such as Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis. Revolts and / or stability drops tend to follow in their wake, leading to much frustrating head-clutching.
    • In Crusader Kings II, Catholic bishops are Turbulent as long as they like the Pope more than their secular liege. This, by paying taxes to the Pope and withholding levies from their liege.
  • If the respect of the Religion Faction in Tropico 4 drops too low, they'll begin preaching against El Presidente's rule, lowering the opinion of everyone who visits a church (i.e. everybody). In general, priests are troublesome when they get unhappy, because it causes a lot of unrest to spill over if they're executed.
  • In [PROTOTYPE 2] Father Guerra is a close ally of protagonist James Heller through the first part of the game.
  • Mass Effect plays with this in the form of two minor NPC's, a Hanar evangelist and a Turian C-Sec officer. It's a netural situation of Grey and Grey Morality, as the evangelist is preaching in the Presidium, where all preaching is forbidden was a form of religious neutrality, but the C-sec officer is trying to move him along out of bigotry against the Hanar and/or their religion (as he only refers to the evangelist using a racial slur and the religion's he's espousing as "nonsense"). Siding with either, depending on how it's done, can get either Paragon points, Renegade points, both or none.

    Western Animation 
  • One of the Fire Temple's Fire Sages in Avatar The Last Airbender helps the Gaang gain access to the inner chamber in "The Summer Solstice".
    • As a member of the Order of the White Lotus, Jeong Jeong is this, as is their leader Iroh.

    Real Life 
  • Thomas Becket, as described above.
  • This trope is one of the main reasons one of the first moves a repressive dictatorship makes when they get into power is to attack religious institutions, religious people and/or religion itself (eg; North Korea and Stalinist Russia).
  • Pope John Paul II actively encouraged the Solidarity movement in Poland, which resisted Communism. Some people credit the man with being a major part in Communism's non-violent downfall.
    • And he was far from being the only one. Father Jerzy Popieluszko was an activist preacher involved in the Solidarity movement, and murdered by the secret police.
      • A fairly large number of Catholic religious officials in Catholic parts of the Soviet bloc (as well as the Russian Empire) were actively involved in activities against the regime. One, Cardinal Slipyj of Ukraine, provided the model for the fictitious Cardinal Lakota in the novel Shoes of the Fishermen.
  • Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, was one of the main figures in the revolution that brought Philippine dictator Marcos down.
  • Two examples from the Catholic Church: One, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns helped save the torture records in the Brazilian dictatorship and store them abroad for later use (as evidence against the torturers, hopefully, but, at the very least, as a registry of that dark period), besides providing aid and abode for those that resisted said dictatorship. He actually managed to copy all or most of the records in a measly 24 hours as well by using the structure of the Church (and against the wishes of its conservative side, which meant he had to do it subtly), making it a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Two, some bishops of the "Sul-1" branch of the Church tried to interfere in the Brazilian presidential elections in 2010, using abortion (changes to abortion laws weren't really being discussed) as an excuse to attack a candidate, ignoring the rules the Church itself set regarding interference in politics in the process. It got bad enough that the Pope became known to some people as the losing candidate's most effective campaign volunteer.
  • Marco Arana in Peru interacting on the behalf of natives against mining companies and other such forces. He even founded a political party! However, this involvement in politics got him expelled from the church. Other priests have also gotten involved but not to the same extent.
  • A number of priests, Catholic and Protestant, were this to the Nazis. Many preached against the party's actions from the pulpit, while others hid those bound for the camps in their orphanages and abbeys. Sadly several of these priests were caught by the Nazi's and either killed or imprisoned (the latter involving their Death Camps).
    • Catholic cardinals von Preysing and von Galen and Protestant minister Bonhoffer were determined enemies of the Nazi regime and, as such, were loathed by Hitler who said, "the foulest of carrion are those who come clothed in the cloak of humility and the foulest of these Count Presying! What a beast!". Coming from Hitler, it is a huge compliment to the moral fortitude of these men.
      • Fortunately von Preysling was protected from Nazi retaliation by his high position. Unfortunately his cathedral administrator, confidant and fellow Turbulent Priest Bernard Lichtenberg, was not. Lichtenberg served at St. Hedwig's Cathedral from 1932, and was under the watch of the Gestapo by 1933, for his courageous support of prisoners and Jews. He became a confidante of Bishop von Preysing from 1935. He ran Preysing's aid unit, the Hilfswerke beim Bischöflichen Ordinariat Berlin, which secretly gave assistance to those who were being persecuted by the regime. From 1938, Lichtenberg conducted prayers for the Jews and other inmates of the concentration camps, including "my fellow priests there". For preaching against Nazi propaganda and writing a letter of protest concerning Nazi euthanasia, he was arrested in 1941, sentenced to two years penal servitude, and died en route to Dachau Concentration Camp in 1943.
  • Girolamo Savonarola, the 15th-century Florentine preacher, political reformer, and self-proclaimed prophet.
  • Oscar Romero, a Catholic archbishop in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. He spoke out against the persecution of priests and human rights abuses carried out by the Salvadoran government and was consequently assassinated by a member of a state-sponsored death squad. Currently being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church, though his cause for canonization has been taking a while.
  • Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancón was despised by the most immovilist elements of the Franco dictatorship to the point of being greeted with the cry ¡Tarancón al Paredón! ("Gun down Tarancón!") at Carrero Blanco's funeral. It should be noted that after Vatican II the Franco dictatorship was a bigger Catholic hardliner than the Vatican itself.
  • In medieval China, a wandering monk named Zhu Yuanzhang put an end to 100 years of Mongol rule in China by himself and seized the throne as the Hongwu Emperor, first of the Ming Dynasty. Since he had been born in a dirt-poor farming family, his is also one of the most epic Rags to Royalty stories ever.
  • Fr. Alexis Toth, a saint in the American Orthodox Church, to the American Catholic Church. Originally an Eastern Catholic priest ministering to Ukrainian immigrants in Minnesota, he was enraged by the way his flock was treated as second class Catholics for following Greek rather than Roman rite. He not only quit Catholicism to join the Orthodox Church, he led many thousands of Eastern European immigrants to follow him as well.
  • The TropeMakers were probably the Biblical prophets, who prophesied against the corruption of the people, the priests, and above all, the kings of Israel and Judah. For example; Moses' opposition of the Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.
  • Many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. starting in the 1950s were religious leaders, with the most famous examples being Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Many leaders in the continuing effort to correct racial injustices in American society today are also religious leaders.
  • Priests following the Liberation Theology loudly protested against Central and South American dictators and some paid for this with their lives.