Documentary on Catholic Priests Using Nuns as "Sex Slaves" Pulled After Court Challenge

Arte
'Sex Slaves in the Catholic Church'

German-French channel Arte says it will fight to overturn a court injunction that prevents it from rebroadcasting the documentary, which accuses rogue priests of sexually abusing French nuns.

A French television documentary that accuses Catholic priests of sexually abusing nuns has been pulled from the French-German television channel Arte after a priest filed a complaint with a German court.

French director Marie-Pierre Raimbault and investigative journalist Eric Quintin shot the documentary, Sex Slaves in the Catholic Church, over three years, basing it on firsthand testimony of nuns who claim they were used as “sex slaves” by priests. The women say when they presented their allegations to church authorities at the Vatican, they were ignored and often moved elsewhere in a cover-up that stretched across four continents.

Arte first aired the film in March. Some 1.5 million French viewers caught the original broadcast, with a further 1.7 million watching on replay, making it the most-watched documentary of the year for the channel. The film has sold worldwide.

Pope Francis has publicly acknowledged the problem, noting that the Vatican had to dissolve a French order because its sisters had been reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of its founder and other priests.

In November, the organization representing all the world’s female Catholic religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that prevented nuns from speaking out and urged sisters to report abuse to their superiors and police.

The Vatican's women's magazine, Women Church World, has reported that some nuns had been forced to abort the priests’ unwanted children.

Arte was forced to pull Sex Slaves in the Catholic Church from its online site earlier this month after a court in Hamburg, Germany, slapped a temporary injunction on the film following a complaint filed by a priest. The court said the priest said, while he was not shown in the documentary, he was "recognizable" from an interview given by a nun. In the interview, the complaint reads, the nuns “gave the impression that the priest had forced a nun into sex against her will.” The priest was not identified in publication of the complaint.

“For both formal and factual reasons, Arte considers this decision to be wrong and we have therefore decided to appeal,” a channel spokeswoman said in a statement.

For the time being, Arte is keeping the documentary off its replay site. Violations of the injunction carry a possible fine of up to $280,000 and jail time of up to two years.

Another film criticizing abuse by the Catholic Church — Francois Ozon's Berlin Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God — had to battle two separate legal challenges that sought to block its release.

The film, largely inspired by the real-life case of Father Bernard Preynat, a French priest indicted two years ago for sexual assault and accused of molesting more than 80 boys, faced legal injunctions filed by both Preynat and former church volunteer Regine Maire, who sought to block its release in France. But the French courts threw out both cases and the film bowed in France on Feb. 20.