Film About Priests Causes Controversy

MEXICO CITY (AP) - A new film about love and corruption among Catholic priests has scandalized some Mexican churchgoers, even though the plot is adapted from a novel written in 1875.

Adding to the odd set of circumstances, Mexico's Catholic Council of Bishops says it doesn't object to the movie, "The Crime of Father Amaro," which it sees as a "wake up call" for the church.

Some church-allied groups, however, have threatened to sue the government for funding the film, known in Spanish as "El Crimen del Padre Amaro."

Set to open in Mexican theaters Aug. 16, the film rankled Catholics here because it depicts priests having sex, while others mingle with drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas.

"This is a work that is loaded with hatred of our church," Bishop Alberto Suarez of western Michoacan state said Friday in a statement to the media.

The film is a modern-day adaptation of Portuguese novelist Jose Eca de Queiroz's satire about a priest struggling with his vows of celibacy. De Queiroz died in 1900.

The film appeared controversial, but not objectionable, to Father Rafael Gonzalez, spokesman for the Council of Mexican Bishops, who saw it in a prerelease screening.

"Some groups get radicalized, and say it's an attack against priests," Gonzalez told the newspaper Reforma. "It is a wake-up call for the church, to review its procedure for selecting and training priests, and being closer to the people."

Leaders of a Catholic anti-abortion group have threatened to file a criminal complaint against the government for supplying a small part of the film's funding. The church apparently has no plans to boycott the film.

No date for international distribution has been announced.

Criticism of the film has been so heated that the Mexican Film Institute and the government's arts council took out full-page ads in Mexican newspaper to justify the funding.

The film opens with the arrival of a newly ordained priest in a small parish, where he falls in love with a 16-year-old girl and discovers that one of his fellow priests is mixed up with a local woman and drug traffickers, while another is involved with leftist guerrillas.

Some of the film's more controversial scenes reportedly show a woman spitting out a communion wafer and giving it to a cat, and the young priest having sex with a girl.

Carrera directed the successful 1998 movie "La Mujer de Benjamin," while many of the lead actors in "The Crime of Father Amaro" have appeared in cutting-edge movies including "Y Tu Mama Tambien," that have revitalized Mexico's movie industry.