Pope Francis’s groundbreaking sex abuse summit coincides with an explosive movie and separate book released in France this week — one on a pedophilia scandal roiling the French church; the other on homosexuality in the priesthood.
Francois Ozon’s "Grace à Dieu" — or "By the Grace of God" — got the go-ahead just hours before its release on Wednesday, despite efforts to block it in court. The movie is based on a real scandal still rocking the French Catholic church. It involves priest Bernard Preynat, accused of molesting dozens of boys during the 1980s and ‘90s.
The archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, is currently on trial on charges of failing to act against the accusations, which he denies. Preynat has confessed to molesting boy scouts, and is also due to go on trial later this year.
The movie has already grabbed a top award at Berlin’s international film festival. Its release here comes at a crucial moment for the Vatican, where senior bishops are meeting for a four-day summit on sexual abuse in the church.
Here in France, Ozon’s movie is drawing praise, including from members of the Catholic hierarchy, who were invited to its preview.
Vincent Neymon, spokesman for the French Bishops’ Conference, told French TV the movie was excellent in terms of portraying the victims, although less so when it came to clerics. He called it "a building block in the fight against pedophilia."
Ozon’s depiction is not black and white — a reality he acknowledged in an interview on French radio. When he met the real-life protagonists, he said, he realized everyone was a victim to a certain extent. "Only now, is the church coming to terms with the seriousness of sexual abuse," he said.
Francois Devaux, head of victims’ group La Parole Libérée and who is portrayed in the movie, told French TV he hopes the church finally takes action on a scandal that has tainted the institution for centuries.
Meanwhile, a controversial book on homosexuality in the church hit stores on Thursday. "In the Closet of the Vatican" is reportedly based on hundreds of interviews, and exposes a gay sub-culture and duplicity allegedly rife in the Catholic hierarchy.
In interviews, gay author Frederic Martel describes a so-called silent majority in the church, where he claims members are protecting their sexual status by pretending to be homophobic. The book has drawn criticism, however, and some believe it may undermine efforts to gain acceptance of homosexuality within the church.