The Mindy Project: Where Stephen Colbert Becomes a Catholic Priest

The Mindy Project’s latest episode pokes fun at Catholicism.

Catholicism is fair game for comedy – unlike some other religions we could name but won’t for fear of beheading. That includes starring Stephen Colbert as a Catholic priest and former “virginity thief” who flaunts his sexual escapades from the pulpit and readily excommunicates. 

The nineteenth episode of the third season of The Mindy Project, Confessions with a Catho-holic, aired March 10. Centering the plot on Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina), a Catholic, Fox described the episode as “When Danny's priest dies after hearing Danny's confession, he frantically tries to find a new priest so he can atone for his sins.” That “new priest” was a Father Michael O’Donnell, played by guest star Stephen Colbert.

Mindy Kaling, who rose to fame with The Office, writes, produces and stars as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN who dates Danny, in Fox comedy The Mindy Project

While attending Mass with Danny to meet Fr. Michael for the first time, Mindy’s curiosity peaked. Unfortunately, her comedy didn’t. “Who’s that guy in a dress? He’s hot as hell,” she said of Colbert in his cassock, before complaining, “That guy is a virgin? Aw man, what a waste.” How creative. 

Fr. Michael soon proved that notion wrong by introducing himself to his congregation with a number: 275 – or “the number of women I’ve had sex with.” 

Well aware of the reaction, he attempted to redeem himself. “I’m sure some of you are saying how can a man who has sinned in so many different ways, and positions, how can a man with a sleeve of tattoos, a man who did drugs, crazy drugs, how can that man be in charge of your spiritual guidance.”

His revelation happened, he explained, after breaking into and waking up on the bathroom floor of Keith Richard’s home. “I knew that I had a purpose in life, that was to lead people away from sins great and small because it’s not always the big sins that matter,” he added (or maybe joked), “like when I slept with my SAT proctor and ruined her marriage.”

“No, sometimes it’s the small sins that tarnish the soul the most,” Father Michael said. “I’m talking about birth control, cohabitating before marriage, and dating outside of the faith” (all things that Danny and Mindy are guilty of). “Trust me,” he continued, “these little sins are just a straight a path to hellfire as all that really cool stuff I used to do.”

(Note: it’s not a sin for Catholics to date – or marry – non-Catholics.)

To conclude the Mass, Fr. Michael sang a sorry mock version of Agnus Dei

Afterwards, Danny spoke to Fr. Michael and recognized him from childhood as the “virginity thief of Staten Island.” Fr. Michael retorted, “You were the little boy altar boy who would always snitch on me whenever I would take the girls back to the rectory to fool around.” 

In their exchange, Danny lied to Fr. Michael that Mindy is also “of the faith” as she took selfies with nuns in the background (“just stick your tongues out,” she tells them).

When Fr. Michael later discovered that Mindy was the “godless sex maniac” he had heard about in rumors rather than a nice Catholic girl, he concluded to Danny, “I’ll have somebody mail you your excommunication letter. You know you can’t be buried with your family now, right?”

(Another note: that’s not how excommunication works.)

Declaring Danny and Mindy’s apartment a “lair of Lucifer” after finding condoms, he starts to storm out – until Mindy interjects with the peace-making decision to baptize her (yet unborn) baby with Danny Catholic. She explained, “I know that Danny is a guilty Catholic weirdo. But his guilt is also what makes him so kind and wonderful.” 

The Mindy Project has poked fun at Catholicism in the past. Colbert has also joked about Jesus – being replaced by a banana.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.