Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Imagine what would happen if the government or Microsoft or any other major established institution discovered something that threatened their very nature. The people in power would do everything they could to protect their interests. Stigmata tries to illustrate that the Roman Catholic Church wouldn't do any different either. (After all, the Mafia is also Italian.)
Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is an atheist who receives a rosary as a gift from her mother vacationing in Brazil. Unknown to Frankie, the rosary belonged to a Father who was ex-communicated from the Church and who suffered from stigmata (i.e., the manifestation of the wounds Jesus Christ suffered at the hands of the Romans during his crucification). (I use the word "suffering" intentionally: the issue of why a god could "give" such a gift to anyone is asked but not answered in the film.)
Soon Frankie begins exhibiting stigmata which draws the attention of the highest offices of the Roman Catholic Church to her. Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is dispatched to investigate. After initial doubt, he begins to unravel the mystery of Frankie's "possession" putting their lives in danger when he realises Frankie holds the key to destroying the Christian Institution as we know it.
In the film, Father Andrew argues passionately as to why a god must exist, even though he's a scientist, because randomness alone cannot account for the wondrous things around us and that science is at a loss to explain how it occurred. Therefore, he says, there must be a god. Notwithstanding the fact that science has done a pretty good job thus far, better than any religion has, I'm here to say that that argument is an utter logical fallacy. Unlike religion, science doesn't purport to provide an explanation for everything. The beauty of the scientific method is that it not only allows one to constantly question their beliefs and even "facts", but precludes assuming your favourite notion just because there is no explanation currently available for a sequence of events.
The acting is fairly decent. The music is okay, though I'm not a big fan of Billy Corgan's work. The filming, sometimes done in the style of an MTV video, works some times and comes off as pretentious at others. The movie does a good job of building up the tension as Frankie receives each of Christ's wounds one by one, but the pacing in-between is slow.
As an atheist, I find little value in Stigmata's message. Even though it "exposes" the corrupt nature of people who wield power over the sheep-like masses, it is nothing people in general don't know. In fact, it is one of the reasons I am an atheist. What the filmmakers don't realise is that organised religion attracts people in spite of the Church's institutionalisation (and this says a lot about humanity as a whole). To Stigmata's credit, the movie is surprisingly unexploitative and in the end, it is a positive message for religion but not religious institutions.
Stigmata was worth watching for a gem of brilliance I got out of it, during an interesting conversation that occurs when Frankie is flirting with Father Andrew. She asks him how he could renounce a life free from romantic relationships, including sex. He responds by saying he just exchanged one set of complications for another.