The Mexican director Carlos Carerra has won awards at home and at Cannes, but has never experienced notorieity on the scale brought by his latest film, "The Crime of Father Amaro." Banned by Mexican church leaders and criticized by the wife of the country's president, the movie became the highest grossing movie made in Mexico, and certainly one of the most widely discussed. Now touring international festivals, "The Crime of Father Amaro" opens this weekend in the United States. Beliefnet producer Paul O'Donnell talked with Carrera recently about the film's history and his reasons for making it.

The story of Amaro is based on a 19th century novel of the same name. How is the movie different from the book?
The relationship between Father Amaro and Amelia is the same, but we softened some characters a little. Amaro in the novel is worse than in the film. He's already a corrupt character. He's selfish, he's ambitious. We wanted to show the process of the corruption. In the novel, Amelia is a complete victim of Amaro. We made her more aggressive, not only the victim. We also tried to find equivalences between the conduct of the priests in the novel and the priests in Mexico today. We introduced the subjects of the liberation theology and the story of Father Benito and the drug lords.

What motivated you to make this movie?
Mexico is nearly 95 percent Catholic, but [in a sense] there are many Catholic Churches in Mexico. They one I wanted to talk about was the political institution. They preach one thing and do the opposite.

How so?
They talk about the good things about Catholicism, the necessity of love, the necessity of forgiveness and they deal with power. They charge commission for every baptism, they don't listen to people without money--some of them. It's not the general behavior of all the priests in Mexico, but there are many priests who did this kind of thing.

Father Benito's relationship with the drug lord taken from an actual case?
Yes, there are many cases of priests related to drug lords. The narcos always try to improve the conditions of their own people and they sometimes they use the priests to achieve this. They build streets and hospitals. It's very common, but it's not [a good thing to do.] They kill people in order to get the money the donate. There are a lot of crimes involved in that money.

At the end of "The Crime of Father Amaro" there is no redemption for the character. Is there no good that can come out of the church in Mexico now?
I think there is, and that's why we put in Father Natalio [the priest accused of preaching liberation theology]. He is honest and his actions support what he believes, and what he thinks. In the movie, we're not talking about all priests, we're talking about bad priests. Their story is like the story of Amaro. I would like for Amaro to repent and change, to think about his actions, but I've seen many cases like his in the Church's history, and that doesn't happen.

So Amaro too is based on a real case?
Yes, there was a case here that was the same. A priest got a young woman pregnant and then she died. So in these cases I feel very pessimistic.

Were you raised a Catholic?
Yes, and the screenwriter is a practicing Catholic. He worked on this film because he's concerned about the problems facing the Church in Mexico.

Why do you think that the film was so popular, besides the media boost from the scandal?
Unfortunately, I think many people knew about many cases like the one portrayed in the film, and they like to see this part of reality publicized.

Have you been following the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S.?
The first reaction of the bishops was to hide the problem, not to find a solution to it. I think celebacy should be optional. It goes against the priest's human rights and it's very strong and that's why we have this kind of conduct.

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