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Turbulent Priest

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"Will nobody 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 they also often struggle against other clergy attempting to subvert what the Church stands for.

This trope can be depicted in either a positive or 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, torture, executions, 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 has money or power and thinks this gives them the right to kick anyone in their way, with this often being Truth in Television regarding such situations. If he's in the wrong, the Secular Authority is generally trying to improve society, and the Priest is an Evil Reactionary 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, hide him in a Secret Underground Passage under the church, and give him food and supplies. If the work is set in The 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, encourage resistance, and be able to deploy resources (financial and personnel — heavily-armed Knight Templar warrior-monks). 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; the antagonist one is usually a Sinister Minister.

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 the clergy abuse the ecclesiastical legal system to escape secular punishment, and Becket saw the sovereignty of the Church as being threatened by an overreaching monarch; 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 in his own cathedral, getting their king in trouble with the Pope.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In 20th Century Boys, two Badass Preachers aides Kanna and Kenji's friends in the fight against the Friend cult, both of which are reformed criminals: Father Nitani, a Japanese priest, and Father Luciano, an Italian cardinal.
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto shows the historical example Savonarola just before he came to power. It takes place in 1491-92, and follows Cesare Borgia, 16, as he witnesses and reacts to the turbulent events of those years, ending with his father's election to the papacy. The Borgias would end up being one of Savonarola's prime targets, and Alexander would have a hand in his fall, but that was much later. At the time of the manga, he is just growing his following. Cesare also opposes corruption in the church, even though it's the foundation of everything he has. But he recognizes that if all the corrupt bishops and cardinals were done away with, a power vacuum would result, and the fact that Savonarola doesn't understand this is what scares Cesare the most about him.
  • In Claymore, Claire and her team of rebel warriors have human allies in the holy city of Rabona, including some priests.
  • D.Gray-Man:
    • There have been a few references for Cross Marian being a priest. He's referred to as "Father" by Ba Ba. When Allen first meets him, he assumes he's a priest. The mangaka, Hoshino, has drawn him wearing priest robes in one of her character books. And Mother, an old friend of his, seems to live in a church. We hear from her in the Reverse novels that she watches over it when Cross is away. However, Cross has not been shown to have any respect for The Black Order. He's an Exorcist general of the organization who has stated he hates going to HQ. And prior to the story had cut off communication with them for 4 years.
    • The Vatican of The Order has shown to have a good bit of corruption. The Exorcists are seen as warriors of God. But The Order is responsible for many experiments on people, trying to force synchronization of Innocence with some, which kills them. And there's no problem kidnapping people and forcing them to become Exorcists, such as young Lenalee, who was taken from her only family to work for The Order. Whenever she tried to escape, Director Lvellie would catch her and bring her back. It eventually led to her trying to commit suicide, at which she was captured and restrained to her bed. Along with the Second and Third Exorcist programs. Cross has actually been allied with a Noah for over 35 years and working with him. But despite hating the Order, and working with a Noah, he never became a Fallen One as Summan Dark did upon betraying Innocence and the Order to the Noah in attempt to save his own life.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Amen: Bishop von Galen is part of the effort to stop the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program. Father Fontana later attempts to reveal and stop the Holocaust, aiding dissident SS officer Kurt Gerstein.
  • Richard Burton played the Trope Namer in Becket, opposite Peter O'Toole as Henry II.
  • 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...
  • Changeling: Rev. Briegleb campaigns against police corruption in LA, and reveals to Christian how deep it's gone. When she refuses to accept the impostor the police foist off as her missing son and is wrongly committed to a mental institution, he helps free her and expose the affair.
  • 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 cure himself or die. Dracula himself is benevolent and uses 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 vampirism is.
  • In None Shall Escape, the rabbi in Lidzbark naturally opposes the Nazi occupiers, eventually leading the Jews to fight back physically. By then it is unfortunately far too late, however.
  • In the Star Wars franchise, after the Empire supplants the Republic and wipes out all the Jedi, the small amount that survive become this trope to take a stand against the Empire's oppression. In the classic trilogy films in particular, Obi-Wan Kenobi and then later his last apprentice, Luke Skywalker, became turbulent priests who would take part in the rebellion to overthrow the Empire.
  • 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!"

  • 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 Faith Militant.
    • Its spinoff book Fire & Blood had the Shepherd, a one-armed preacher who, upon the death of Heleana Targaryen, took advantage of the rabbles anger and railed against the Targaryen's and their dragons. This grew to the point that the Smallfolk stormed the Dragonpit, the stables that house the majority of the dragons of Westeros, killing five of them and, in the process, getting the Crown Prince Joffrey Targaryen killed. The Shepherd drew hundreds to his cause, but eventually was defeated and arrested by the invading Baratheon force. Refusing to repent to Aegon II, his tongue was torn out and he was burned alive, along with his most loyal followers.
    • 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 practice different faiths from the rest of Westeros. That said, even Baelor backed away from reviving the Faith Militant, so yes even the Befuddled One had more political sense than Cersei (though again that was due to his pacifism — he felt no weapons were needed, only prayer).
    • The Red Priests of R'hllor are generally The Fundamentalist, advocating extreme solutions and combining faith with sex-positive attitudes and magic. Tyrion sees a Red Priest rally a crowd of slaves in Volantis advocating for the end of slavery and heralding Daenerys as an abolitionist savior. Tyrion is scared of the religious frenzy this evokes in the crowd, leading him to remark:
      Tyrion: Give me priests who are fat and corrupt and cynical, the sort who like to sit on soft satin cushions, nibble sweetmeats, and diddle little boys. It's the ones who believe in gods who make the trouble.
    • The key obstacle preventing the Ironborn from assimilating into the rest of Westeros is the Drowned Men priests. They often prove to be far more resilient and determined than the Kings, especially Garlon Whitestaff (who is credited with uniting the Iron Islands into a single realm, something that is usually the task of kings) and Shrike, who rose against the three Harmunds when they sought to bring the Faith of the Seven and Andal influence to the Iron Islands and stop reaving.
  • 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.
    • The events of Thomas Beckett’s death and its implications are the focus of Part Six.
  • 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 sprang up around him when he took control of Arrakis, and after some reflection in the desert has committed himself to tearing it down.
  • A villainous example in The Dinosaur Lords with father Tavaros, the Papal Legate (army chaplain) sent to look after the spiritual health of Correction Army. In fact, he has a doctrinal feud with this army's commander, and constantly tries to undermine him. He also encourages the more rebellious elements of the army to Rape, Pillage, and Burn, and propagates the "let the gods sort them out" mentality.
  • Words of Radiance (second book of The Stormlight Archive): In an interlude in the city of Kholinar, a young ardent named Pai is shown how Elhokar's wife and her sycophants are wastefully living it up with the Highprinces away at war and common folk going hungry. Pai defaces a public forum with a written condemnation of them all. In short order, Pai is executed, and the city riots.
  • The Reverend Ebenezer Smith in Victoria is a Knight Templar example who eventually starts a bloody revolution when the government refuses to effectively prosecute the criminals who prey on his congregation.
  • Caliphate has several Catholic priests breaking shariah law by attempting to preach the faith, getting themselves crucified for their troubles. Their martyrdom helps a young janissary to rebel against the corrupt, decayed caliphate.
  • Brutha in Small Gods, upon becoming a bishop, stands up to the fanatical Exquisitor of the Corrupt Church, since he literally has his god on his side. The members of Omnia's Turtle Movement are also turbulent, but not to the extent of actually doing anything, just agreeing with each other, in coded language, about how terrible it all is.

    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.
  • Subverted in the Blackadder episode "The Archbishop" in which the title character, the younger son of the king, is made Archbishop of Canterbury after his father had the previous one murdered for displeasing him (by, presumably, being a straight example of this trope). Edmund spends the whole episode trying not to make waves, even successfully talking a dying nobleman out of leaving all his money to the church, thus earning the approval of his father for once. Unfortunately, the king (who has No Indoor Voice on account of his being played by BRIAN BLESSED) celebrates by stating that, unlike his ancestor Henry II, he will never have to ask "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?". Sadly, a pair of drunken knights overhear part of the conversation and think it means they should go kill the new archbishop — which they then try and do.
  • The Borgias has Cesare and Micheletto teaming up with Niccolò Machiavelli (long before they actually met in real life) against the real-life example of Savonarola, a monk who took over Florence in the name of dethroning the corrupt rich and powerful, such as the Medici, or their allies, the titular papal family. By that point, Savonarola has become a repressive Book Burning dictator.
  • Game of Thrones: The Sparrows spring up and cause a ruckus in response to the corruption of the Westeros nobility, getting their leader made High Septon in Cersei's (failed) attempt at making them her pawns. They're considerably worse than in the books, as while the Sparrows are the most significant political force advocating for the poor, they're also a bunch of murderous homophobes—one thing they dislike nobles for is being immune to the same sexual laws everyone else has to follow.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a few of these, given the prominence in the series of the Bajorans' Catholicism-based religion.
    • Recurring antagonist Vedeknote , later Kainote  Winn Adami crosses over with Sinister Minister. She's opposed to the Federation's secularism (her first appearance has her tangling with Keiko O'Brien over teaching the secular view of the Bajoran wormhole and the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who live within and are deified by the Bajoran faith) and at one point backs a coup attempt against the Bajoran provisional government. She has her sympathetic moments, too, and it's ambiguous how much of it is her personal lust for power and how much she genuinely believes.
    • "Rocks and Shoals" has a Bajoran priestess publicly hang herself on Deep Space 9's Promenade in protest of the Dominion occupation of the station and the Bajoran system. This spurs Major Kira to start covertly working against the Dominion.

    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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The 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 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 battle fleet 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.
  • Twilight Struggle has a couple of card events that mimic Cold War developments in the Catholic Church and the headaches they induced for each of the superpowers:
    • For the Soviet player, John Paul II being elected Pope as a Mid-War card event — it removes two Soviet infulence and adds one US influence in Poland, as well as allows the Late War "Solidarity" card event (adds three more US influence to Poland) to set off.
    • The US player's bugaboo is not represented by any individual priest but rather something more abstract in the Soviet Mid-War "Liberation Theology" card which allows the Soviet player to place three influence anywhere in the historically-US'-backyard Central America region (maximum two in one country).


    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 more 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. The game also awards a Steam achievement titled "Turbulent Priest" for having such a bishop assassinated.
  • 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 neutral situation of Grey-and-Grey Morality, as the evangelist is preaching in the Presidium, where all preaching is forbidden as a form of religious neutrality (those who wish to do so must obtain a permit and preach elsewhere), 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.
  • Just Cause 3 features churches that can be unlocked and used to clear heat. Visit one while being pursued by the military and the priest will sweep you inside while the game fast forwards to night and all of your heat is cleared.
  • Backstory of Path of Exile has High Templar Voll, who got fed up with the Eternal Empire's decadence and dabbling in thaumaturgy, gained support of its enslaved neighbors, took the capital by siege and overthrew the emperor.

    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".