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Cardinal expresses outrage at Venice Film Award

Retired Italian Cardinal Ersilio Tonini denounced the Venice Film Festival on Monday for honouring a British movie that depicts cruelty and abuse in an Irish Catholic institution.

Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters won the Festival's prestigious Golden Lion award on Sunday.

"I feel enormous bitterness...This doesn't do any credit to the Venice Festival," said Cardinal Tonini. "This isn't a truthful portrayal of the Church and its director has made libellous statements against Catholics," he told reporters.

The movie follows the lives of four, supposedly promiscuous girls interned in Ireland's Magdalene Asylums in the 1960s, forced to work like slaves in laundries and abused by the nuns. Based on a true story, the girls are locked up for shocking reasons, such as having being raped or being "too" pretty.

The movie's world premiere was warmly received by audiences at Venice last week, but was condemned by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano as an "angry and rancorous provocation" that misrepresented the Church.

Mullan, a Scottish actor-turned director, has defended himself from charges of bias, arguing that his film is a statement against all types of religious intolerance.

"To say that my movie is a scandal is absurd," he told a news conference on Sunday. "I didn't create the Magdalene Asylums, they created them. I just wanted to expose one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th century."

Andrea Piersanti, head of an Italian Catholic commission on the performing arts, said the jury had been more "influenced by the newspapers than the content of the film".

"It's a strange signal on the part of the first festival run by the centre-right who gave the prize to a film so brazenly anti-clerical," he added.

Catholic priest and media commentator, Gianni Baget Bozzo, also rounded on the jury and festival organisers.

"Whoever gave the prize to this film did so only because of its anti-Catholic content."

Venice Film Festival
Sisters of Mercy are like the Taliban, says Mullan
Ersilio Cardinal Tonini (


10 Sep 2002