Divisive Polish film skewers Catholic clergy

Warsaw (AFP) –


The Polish film "Kler" (The Clergy) has aroused passionate debate in the deeply religious country, winning awards but also triggering calls for it to be banned.

"Those who hold the homeland in their heart, who love God and Poland, must clearly say "No" to the destruction of our nation's values," said an association of Catholic journalists that wants the film about child abuse, clerical corruption and burn-out to be pulled from almost 500 movie theatres.

Directed by Wojciech Smarzowski and filmed in the Czech Republic, "The Clergy" was shown last week at the Gdynia film festival, where it won prizes from both journalists and the public.

Its release comes as the Catholic Church faces a crisis in several countries owing to charges of sexual abuse of children by clergy and lay members, which the Vatican's chief spokesman has called "a cultural problem" and "very grave sins".

Film critic Janusz Wroblewski said that "no director has ever dared to present as critical a vision of the Catholic Church in Poland."

Smarzowski "denounces all its cardinal sins from paedophilia, payment by the faithful for sacraments, crooked tenders and a generally demoralised hierarchy," the critic added.

- 'Hard-core propaganda'-

The film has nonetheless been attacked since it was shown for the first time to the public Friday.

Journalist Jan Bodakowski called it "hard-core anti-clerical propaganda. The priests do nothing but drink, rape choir boys and obsess about money. It is a vision of those who do not know the Church and real priests."

Some cinemas have decided not to show it, while others have run it almost non-stop since its release.

"It is without doubt THE Polish film of the past three decades," Wroblewski wrote.

Smarzowski has said he "did not want to attack faith itself" but "the men who make up the Church and those who are not saints and act like outlaws."

That it benefitted from public funds has fuelled the controversy, and presidential staff member Pawel Soloch, who has not seen it, nonetheless claimed it was made "in the way that Nazis made films about Jews."

Among those who have seen the film, several told AFP that Poland needed this moment of truth.

"We have spoken about paedophilia around the world, in Ireland and the United States. The wave has finally arrived in Poland because of this film," student Sebastian Suchodolski said.

Pensioner Zofia Zukowska added that "it is good this film has come out. The director and actors have shown great courage, especially those who have risked their careers."