The Magdalene Sisters, directed by Peter Mullan, picked up the prestigious Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. It is based on the true story of an Irish reform school for wayward young ladies, where residents were forced into a sort of slave labor and abused mentally and physically.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is voicing objections: "To be sure, conditions were harsh by today's standards but they were not uncommon in their day. Historians have recounted how Protestant-run institutions were similar."

But Peter Malone, author of several books on film and faith and president of SIGNIS, the international Catholic association for communication, defends the film. "Mullan … has made an expertly-crafted but grim film. The film will certainly cause sadness in audiences who have been disturbed by the experiences of the 1990s, the revelations, the court cases, and sentences. It will cause sadness for those who have positive memories of education by sisters and for those who want to see pleasant images of the church and church personnel. However, this story, which makes more impact perhaps because it is being seen rather than merely being read, is no less true than many of the recent stories that have been reported even in the Catholic press. Most audiences will appreciate, as they would with a film criticizing the police or politicians, that the majority of members of the profession did not act in this way. The Magdalene Sisters can be seen as part of an honest examination of conscience by the church and a request for repentance, an expression of sorrow and an apology, something which Pope John Paul II has exemplified and encouraged in recent years."

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