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Churchgoing Villain

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"Protect me, Maria! Don't let this siren cast her spell. Don't let her fire sear my flesh and bone.
Destroy Esmeralda! And let her taste the fires of hell! Or else let her be mine and mine alone!"
Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney)

He'll go to church on Sunday and rob a bank on Monday. He'll lie to get what he wants but he won't take the Lord's name in vain. He'll kill innocent people but won't hurt a priest or a nun. This is a character who identifies with a religion and participates in religious rituals but also commits crimes in his everyday life. Basically, a Family-Values Villain if the "family value" is going to church.

One reason a writer might create a Churchgoing Villain is to examine religious hypocrisy. The character often views religion as a set of rituals that he follows out of habit. He rarely applies the teachings of his religion to his everyday life and generally does not think deeply enough to see how irreconcilable his faith and his actions are.

Sometimes the Churchgoing Villain may be portrayed more sympathetically. The image of a human being trying and failing to resist his sinful nature resonates with Christian teachings, which makes this version of the trope more common in Western fiction.

Finally, this might be done simply for the sake of realism as a large chunk of the human race belongs to some religion. That said, No Real Life Examples, Please!

This trope does not include religious extremists. Religious extremists do evil because of their views on religion. Churchgoing Villains identify with a religion but their evil acts are not connected to said religion in any way. It also does not include people who are members of a Religion of Evil. Compare and contrast Hiding Behind Religion, when a villain affects religious behavior as a cover. The No True Scotsman fallacy may be discussed if someone says "He's not a real member of that religion!"

See also: Straight Edge Evil, Family-Values Villain, Punch-Clock Villain, Nun Too Holy, Sinister Minister, Religious Bruiser, Real Men Love Jesus, and Holy Hitman. Compare and contrast with a Pious Monster. Very likely to be Affably Evil.

Not to be confused with Biblical Bad Guy.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Authority: During the False Authority arc, Chaplain Action, "He-Man of the Cloth", is somewhere between here and Sinister Minister.
  • Scarecrow's Great Grandmother.
  • In Runaways, Klara's husband, Mr. Prast, was a devoutly religious man. He was also a drunken, abusive pedophile who sent Klara off to work in dangerous conditions to earn booze money.
  • Eddie Brock, a.k.a. the original Venom, has always been a devout Catholic, even when he had the symbiote. Eddie's consciousness would put him into Anti-Villain territory more than once, like in the team-ups with Spider-Man. Other symbiotes he got over the years would be less unhinged, allowing Eddie to fully become an Anti-Hero.
  • The Uncanny X-Men graphic novel "God Loves, Man Kills" presents William Stryker, a highly religious minister whose sole mission is to rid the world of mutants because they're not (in his words) "children of God." His goons having already killed two mutant children, at a revival meeting he tries to shoot Kitty when she renounces his God for her friendship with Nightcrawler.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney): Frollo, a judge of deep religious devotion, is still governed by his lusts, hatred, prejudice, and revenge and driven to attempted kidnapping and murder. In the original story, he is also a clergyman, alchemist, and sorcerer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Corleones and other crime families in The Godfather were pretty devout Catholics and ruthless racketeers. And they kill each other in a Mob War too. The first film makes this a particular focus by juxtaposing the baptism of Michael Corleone's nephew— which Michael attends— with the violent murders of rival dons at his order.
  • Frank Lucas in American Gangster. He's a drug dealer, gangster, and murderer but takes his mother to church every Sunday. In fact, he is finally arrested on his way out of the church since the cops know this is the one place where they know he'll definitely be.
  • The gangster villains in The Boondock Saints, who are Catholic and disgusted at the murder of a priest.
  • Mr. Rooney, the villain of Road to Perdition. He's a gangster but frequently prays in church and realizes that he will not go to Heaven.
  • Moses from Beyond Re-Animator, a religious prisoner who nonetheless succumbs to his cannibalistic urges from time to time. He'll tear out a chunk of your flesh only to spit it out and beg God for forgiveness.
  • Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, or for that matter most of the characters, in one way or another, such as Bill's Irish Catholic underlings who stab Amsterdam in the back.
  • Paul Tai from Tian Di, who on the surface appears to be a wealthy philanthropist, but is actually a drug baron and corrupted executive, who spends much of the film praying in church and at one point, after hearing the destruction of his opium plant, beats up a failed henchman in the middle of the pews... while Ode to Joy plays in the background.
  • In Nuns on the Run Charlie is a practicing Catholic and a low-level Mook in a criminal organization.
  • Predators: Cuchillo and Mombasa are both seen praying at different points in the movie, but the former is a Mexican cartel enforcer and the latter a Death Squad officer in the RUF.
  • Robert Hanssen in Breach, a deeply devout Catholic who also happens to be a spy for the Russians.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Ragetti and Pintel, Played for Laughs. After losing their immortality and escaping the death penalty, they both become mildly religious. However, they always use it as a way of rationalizing their own selfish desires.
    • Gibbs mentions prayers a few times.
    • Angelica from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. She refuses to let her father Blackbeard kill a clergyman captured in a raid. However, she's still very much a pirate and perfectly willing to lie, steal, and kill.
    • Jack Sparrow himself leans this way in On Stranger Tides as well. He tells a missionary that he's concerned about where he'll end up in the afterlife. However, he's not concerned enough to convert.
  • Cruel Intentions: Kathryn makes noises about Christian piety, but she's a scheming adulterous harpy who hides cocaine in the crucifix on her rosary.
  • Edward Wilson from The Good Shepherd is an Anti-Hero version of this. He is a practicing Christian who has verses from The Bible inscribed on the walls of the CIA. He is also willing to drug, torture, and kill people. He's also a Noble Bigot with a Badge.
  • The mafiosi of F/X: Murder by Illusion were finding stolen religious artifacts with the intent of giving them back to the church.
  • Discussed in Lucky Number Slevin, when the title character meets with The Rabbi, a gangster who is also a Rabbi, and asks him how he reconciles his faith with his chosen career. At first, the Rabbi admits that he's a bad guy and doesn't waste time wondering about What Ifs. Later, though, he provides an example of how he skirts the rules of the Jewish faith, such as claiming that he could have killed Slevin and then claimed it was self-defense.
  • The Seeker: The Rider enters a church on Christmas Day with his minion, about the same time as the Old Ones, and in fact is singing Christian Christmas songs in the pews right with the Old Ones. Mid-song, they travel back in time to fight over a MacGuffin.
  • Vince LaRocca, the mafioso from Sister Act, is a devout confession-going Catholic who fears burning in hell if he divorces his wife to marry the woman he's having an affair with. Yet he's having an affair in the first place, and he thinks nothing of blowing some guy's head off for talking to the police.
  • A Time for Burning: The polite, godly, devout white parishioners of Augustana Lutheran in Omaha, Nebraska, who react very badly when their minister suggests they should start socializing with the parishioners of the black church just down the road.
  • All of the slave-owners shown in 12 Years a Slave are devoutly religious.
  • I Spit on Your Grave:
    • The Sheriff in the remake repeatedly mentions going to church with his family and claims he's God-fearing (but of course it's pretty hollow given his crimes in the film).
    • Valko in the second film is seen attending Father Dimov's church in Sofia and freaks out when Katie shows up there during the service.
  • The Sheriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is shown attending church services a few times, though he's also shown to not actually believe in any of it. He's even got a corrupt bishop under his thumb.
    • His comic counterpart, Sheriff Rottingham in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, insists on a church wedding with Maid Marian, and says a particularly devout 'Amen-ay' during the service (the church uses the New Latin). Of course, when things start to turn, he runs off with Marian, wedded or not.
  • In Order of Disappearance: All the Serbian gangsters dutifully cross themselves while speaking about the boss's son, who's just died. It's also implied with the characters in general, each of whom is marked by a religious symbol beside their name (aside from the Count, who's given the Humanist icon), though in many cases that was most probably nominal.
  • In Deadly Advice, Major Armstrong, Mrs. Webster, and Dr. Crippen sit in the front row of the church singing along with the hymns after having pushed Jodie to murder her mother.
  • The Clovehitch Killer: Don is a church-going, apparently upright Christian father who once lectures his son Tyler about not doing anything sexually immoral (though he concedes you can't help having thoughts). He turns out to be a depraved, cold-blooded serial killer whose clean-cut persona is a façade.
  • The Bishop in Ladyhawke is frequently seen conducting his ecclesiastical duties. The climactic encounter between him and the lovers he's wronged takes place at the region's most important service, resulting in Bloodstained Glass Windows. The Bishop's wickedness and hypocrisy are balanced out by the heroic characters all being genuinely faithful and devout Christians.

  • An airport sign in Ilustrado proudly declares: "Welcome to the Philippines, the most Christian country in Asia." Below it, a smaller sign: "Beware of pickpockets." Truth in Television.
  • Derek Sagan from the The Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weis.
  • Cardinal Richelieu from The Three Musketeers. First, he tries to become the Queen's lover. Not only would this be adultery (she is married), but as a Catholic priest, Richelieu is supposed to remain celibate. When she rejects him, he plots to turn the King against her by exposing her affair with the Duke of Buckingham. He also wants to start a war between England and France.
  • Stephen King:
  • Long John Silver and the other pirates in Treasure Island. They are worried when one of their crew members tears a page out of The Bible to make a Black Spot for Silver, who advises the crew members to start praying.
  • Jewels of Warbreaker is a devout follower of the Iridescent Tones. This would be much less interesting if it were not for the fact that she belongs to a conspiracy that is attempting to overthrow the authority of the Court Of The Returned, the living gods of the Iridescent Tones.
  • Captain Ahab of Moby-Dick is a Quaker who holds that all things happen by God's will. He reasons that this means his own insane obsession with catching the White Whale at any cost is not his own fault, but the inevitable result of forces beyond his control.
  • In Wylder's Hand, the lawyer Josiah Larkin is certain that he's a very trustworthy and godly man who's doing the best for his clients, even while he's overcharging them for expenses or trying to defraud them of their property for a fraction of its true value.
  • In the Count to the Eschaton series, the Big Bad Ximen "Blackie" del Azarchel is a traditional Catholic and, among other things, holds a dim view of taking God's name in vain. Not that it stops him from committing a number of murders and genocides, seeding the Earth with several civilizations that deliberately oppose Christian morality in a variety of ways, or harboring an ambition to take over a good chunk of the galaxy.
  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi: Amina's crew are outlaws and former pirates rather than villains, but most are quite devout, including observant Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. Amina is a lifelong practicing Muslim and takes her religious devotions very seriously, though she admits she's leaning pretty hard on the "All-Forgiving" aspect of God.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Leverage: In The Boys' Night Out Job Nate and Hurley hide from two Irish thugs inside a church, and one of the thugs refuses commit murder on holy ground, a conversation which descends into a prolonged debate about whether or not the church basement counts as holy ground. Eventually, their boss shows up with the simple solution.
    Callahan: Oh, I see your point. You can't go shooting a man in church! Well, go in there, and drag him out of the church. Shoot him in the face in the church parking lot!
  • Ekko and Sayyid in Lost are kind of the Anti-Hero version of this, especially if Sayyid were actually any good at torturing.
  • In the TV show Oz, most of the Christian gang is this, especially William Cudney and Timmy Kirk. One is a vindictive child murderer, the other is a manipulative sociopath and ex-Irish gangster.
  • In The Wire, most of the criminals honor the "Sunday Truce". This is apparently so that they can go to church with their family without those outside "The Game" getting shot at. When Stringer authorizes an attempt on stick-up-man Omar's life while he's with his grandmother, the rest of the underworld is appalled. Avon forces the shooters who carried out the attack to buy Omar's grandmother a new hat.
  • Shows up a few times in Dexter. A few victims of the week were active at their churches, and the Big Bad of season 4, the Trinity Killer, was a very religious man.
  • The Irish gangsters on Castle are portrayed this way.
  • Barney Miller has this a few times. One perp plays up his Catholicism, although it's more of an attempt to guilt Wojo into letting him go because Wojo doesn't regularly attend church himself (it doesn't work). Then there's an actual Catholic priest who worked as a fence to try and fund his parish. Another time, it's a bust on a rabbi who has dramatically overextended his synagogue's licence to hold a casino night.
  • Supernatural:
    • In "Heart" (S02, Ep17), Madison's neighbor Glen wears Mission Church t-shirts. Subverted, however, when we learn that the human side of a werewolf not only has no idea what goes on after they turn but doesn't even realize they're a werewolf.
    • You'd never find him worshiping in a man-made building like a church, but Lucifer's love for God is and always has been genuine.
  • Henry Gowen on When Calls the Heart attends the Sunday meeting along with the rest of the town.
  • Zero Zero Zero: Manuel is a Mexican Army commando in a unit responsible for taking down the cartels through any means necessary. He listens to church sermons while helping his squad torture captured narcos to death. His only form of recreation seems to be attending an evangelical church. It seems like he's a Knight Templar, but it later turns out that he's actually on the take from the cartels. Even though he's in league with criminals, he remains just as devout, sometimes claiming that God is guiding his actions.

    Mythology and Religion 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Miro in All Elite Wrestling is a brutish heel who always takes the time to thank God for giving him the strength to crush his opponents. After each victory, he will take it upon himself to "forgive" his opponents for the sin of defying him. His nicknames are "God's Favorite Champion" and "The Redeemer."
  • The BBC Radio 4 adaptation of "The Stanway Cameo Mystery" by Arthur Morrison in The Rivals includes a Canon Foreigner master criminal named Auguste Verlaine, who was a childhood friend of the detective Martin Hewitt, before their lives moved in different directions. Hewitt observes that, oddly, Verlaine became more religious as he progressed in his chosen field, while he became less so. They meet up in a church.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Made possible with the worship rules in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Eberron. As opposed to the rules of the standard setting, there's no requirement for a cleric to match their deity's alignment. Thus, there can be evil worshipers of good gods who barely follow the tenets of their religion, and yet can still cast spells and gain power through their worship, and are still considered members of the church. The Church of the Silver Flame in particular has a problem with corruption and violently zealous followers.

  • In Hamlet, King Claudius, who murdered his brother to claim the throne, is encountered by Hamlet praying. Hamlet intends to kill him but is forced to hold off during then because he fears killing Claudius while he's praying will send him to heaven. An unusual example in that Claudius is fully aware that his prayer is an empty gesture:
    My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
  • Tosca's first act takes place in a church. The villain Scarpia has his reasons to come there, but he inevitably bows to religion and joins in singing the "Te deum" at the end of the act.
  • Mascagni's short opera Cavalleria Rusticana has the adulterous Lola heading to church on Easter while heartlessly mocking Santuzza, the very girl whose lover she stole. While in church, Lola is heard singing the Easter hymns while Santuzza, having been barred from the church by the townspeople, can only join in from outside.
  • Assassins has Charles Guiteau, assassin of President Garfield. Guiteau, both in the show and in real life, was a preacher who truly believed his killing of the President was a Mission from God. (It should also be noted that Guiteau was totally insane.) In his Ballad, he even claims that if he's guilty, God must be, too. But, as the Balladeer points out, God isn't the one who'll hang for the crime — Guiteau is.

    Video Games 
  • In World of Warcraft Archbishop Benedictus becomes one after witnessing Deathwing's return and suffering a Faith–Heel Turn.
  • Any character who has the Zealous trait on top of any of several distinctly non-virtuous ones (including all the Seven Deadly Sins) can be one of these in the Crusader Kings series.
  • Humorously discussed in Dragon Age: Origins, when Affably Evil assassin party member Zevran chides Alistair for assuming he isn't religious:
    Alistair: But you kill people for money.
    Zevran: And? I always confess my sins afterward. What do you think I am, some kind of monster?
  • He's not really evil, just a Jerkass drug dealer (who later proves to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold). But Frank Bowers from Life Is Strange off-handedly mentions that he goes to church and that the only person he fears is his "maker". Other than that, his religion is not given much attention.
  • Rave Heart: One of Count Vorakia Estuuban's collaborators is Reverend Sergio. Even when speaking to other members of the conspiracy, he says "may the Lord of Divinity bless you". Unfortunately, he's also a Knight Templar who believes that he needs to forcibly evolve sentient life with horrific experiments, as part of his deity's will.

    Visual Novels 
  • Kirei Kotomine from Fate/stay night, who gets bonus points by actually being an ordained priest. He is quite the villain who actually delights in the suffering of others (down to the point that he's also The Gadfly). It doesn't help that the church actually trained him to become a Church Militant exorcist, though in their defense nobody realized just how dangerous he could become. In fairness, it's not entirely his fault: he’s not an evil person per se, but there's something deeply wrong with his psychosis that means he has a conscience and understands the importance of doing good but can't personally derive any enjoyment from anything that doesn't cause evil and suffering to others.
  • In Piofiore: Fated Memories, Lili, having lived a sheltered life at the church, is shocked to find out that despite both Dante and Gilbert being devout and regularly attending church, they are both capable of torturing people, dabble in shady businesses and can and will sacrifice citizens if it would further their goals.

    Western Animation 

  • In the Robin Hood mythos, one of the bad guys is an abbot who serves as an Evil Counterpart to Friar Tuck. Usually, this abbot will be the one who runs Nottingham’s church.


Video Example(s):


The Lord Protector

The Lord Protector is a devout Christian (and you'd have to be to run the Knights Templar), seeing the wolves as infestation and the Wolfwalkers as Pagan devilry.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChurchgoingVillain

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