Posted: Sep 10th, 2011
Mexican filmmaker, Alejandra Sánchez. Photo: Pamela Grcic
Mexican filmmaker Alejandra Sánchez exposed a taboo topic of clerical pederasty in her latest film, Agnus Dei: Cordero de Dios (Agnus Dei: Lamb of God) at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival.
Jesús Romero Colín’s wish was to become an altar boy and later a priest. His parents entrusted Jesus –11 at the time– to their parish priest Carlos LópezValdes to be his mentor. The priest started to abuse him sexually, and Jesus, overwhelmed with feelings of angst, shame and guilt, decided to keep it from his parents, who saw the priest as an immaculate man. In the film, Jesus pours out his soul, not only finding courage to denounce the man who stole his innocence, but to face the abuser and look for answers.
Agnus Dei shows the impunity of the Catholic Church towards acts of pederasty by some of his members and also a legal system that fails to help victims. Here a review of the the acclaimed film.
Sánchez has always had keen interest in social themes an realized there was a number of scandals regarding sexual abuse perpetrated by priests in Mexico, a predominantly Catholic nation. Sánchez spoke to the Vancouver Observer about her film, after her screening on Tuesday.
“I started to investigate (clerical pedastry), and what caught my attention the most, further than the news, was the double moral embedded within the Catholic Church regarding sexuality.”
“For one, sexuality becomes taboo for them. On the other hand, one can realize that the exercise of sexuality within the seminars in very similar to what is happening outside. There are heterosexual priests with women, homosexual priests (with men) and , well, the ones who are pederasts.”
As Sánchez was contemplating and researching for her documentary, she attended a book presentation of a well-known Mexican journalist, SanjuanaMartínez, an expert in this issue. There she met Jesús, a victim of clerical pederasty, who shared his story at the presentation.
“At the end [of the presentation], I approached him and we started to establish a connection, obviously without cameras or anything. Soon after, by the fifth meeting, I invited him to do the film. I asked him, ‘Why don’t we start to plan a documentary where we can tell your story?'”
Jesús accepted the offer, to shed a light on the sexual abuse that was largely being silenced by the churches.
For Sánchez, it was important to make a parallel to Jesus’ case, whose wish was to become a priest, and “the space where future priests are created,” where she captured students’ lives, what they are taught and their thoughts on sexuality.
“ Given that these spaces where young teenagers — almost children — are being formed with a sexual moral, which I think it’s very interesting to say to these children that touching (themselves) is to taint Jesus Christ’s body, that masturbation — and I am pretty sure that most adolescents, male and female masturbate– (is something bad).” She said that it must create problems for young people’s sexuality later on to teach them that such sensations are viewed as a serious sin such as tainting Christ’s body.
On the other hand, in order to “break” the ice and be let in the seminary, Sánchez approached clerical authorities, not really saying she was going to do a film on clerical pederasty at first.
“Firstly, I tell them that what I want to do is an observation of the clerical life – which was part of my work. And then I said to them ‘well, I want to do an observation to how priests exercise their sexuality, what they do with their sexuality,’ and then I tell them ‘what I want to also approach is the cases of clerical pederasty,” the daring filmmaker explained.
“We were gradually, little by little [doing it] because if I am there and approach [the subject], they would have thrown me out because they are very protective and very guarded of their power, of their intimate life.”
Moreover, the priest had a large collection of child pornography of 1,000 photos. Some of them were photographs he took himself, including sexual acts with Jesús and other material he obtained online. Jesus took these from the priest’s computer and showed it to Sánchez. The film includessome of those shots, but it was a “last minute decision,” explained the filmmaker.
“It wasn’t a decision I took in the beginning, what’s more, I saw them in the last cut and [then] I decided to include them, in the last minute because, obviously, it was for me a delicate material. It was controversial and in the middle of a mass,” Jesús entered the chapel as López officiated the mass.
“I could have hurt sensibilities strongly, but also I think that sometimes high and dry hits are blunter, and the images can become powerful when in good use,” she added. Sánchez also used a hidden camera when Jesús confrontsLópez.
Unfortunately, the priest is still officiating masses and has suffered no punishment despite being denounced for pederasty. Confronted with a problem, the church chose to protect the offenders.
“They have a sort of a very clear fraternity, I think, in many ways. That’s why the Catholic Church has maintained itself for more than 2,000 years in the power because the fraternity is absolutely strong. I mean, if they commit a crime, they fix it in between them. And of course, they fix it as a sin and they do all the possible, so nothing goes outside their walls. In reality [priest abusing children] is such quite an event and very scandalous, that many victims worldwide are demanding for justice now.”
Sánchez says that her film has garnered positive feedback from Catholic audiences in the festival circuit, including Mexico.
“It’s a film that doesn’t get in (the way of) anyone’s faith or spirituality. I tried to be very respectful with the faith, belief and God’s existence,” she said.
Currently, Sánchez is in the very early stages of a new project, this time a fiction film on nuns’ exercise of sexuality.