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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 11:10 GMT
Catholics urge film poster ban
Constantin Costa-Gavras attends the opening hearing in Paris on 19 February
A French religious group want to ban a controversial film poster
A French court is considering a request to ban a controversial film poster because it merges a crucifix with a Nazi swastika.

The poster, designed by Oliviero Toscani, the Italian photographer behind the controversial Benetton adverts, promotes the film Amen, which examines the Vatican's silence during the Holocaust.

It depicts a cross twisted into a swastika in red and black, the colours worn by bishops.

On Tuesday the Roman Catholic group, General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect of French and Christian Identity (Agrif), asked for a court order to ban the poster.

Poster of Amen in France
The film's director, Constantin Costa-Gravas, has defended the poster
The group said the poster offended religious sensitivities by associating "the symbol of absolute hatred and the symbol of absolute love".

A state prosecutor told judge Jean-Claude Magendie at the hearing that he did not think the poster constituted an affront to public order.

The film's director, Constantin Costa-Gravas, told the court: "Ultra-Catholics cannot claim the cross of Christ as theirs alone."

Whilst acknowledging that he could understand why the poster had caused uproar, he added that he hoped the real debate would be over the film.

The film was shown at the Berlin film festival and opens in French cinemas on 27 February.

It tells the story of real-life SS officer Kurt Gerstein, who tries to tell the world, and the Vatican in particular, about the Holocaust while simultaneously supplying poison gas to the Nazi camps.

The public silence of the Vatican during the widespread atrocities of World War II is arguably the most controversial issue in the Catholic Church's wartime history.

Wartime pope, Pius XII, has been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, although the Vatican has defended him, arguing that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

The poster has also offended France's Roman Catholic bishops but they have not publicly asked for it to be withdrawn.

Ten of France's most prominent Jews also voiced their discontent, including Chief Rabbi Rene-Samuel Sirat, although they have disassociated themselves from Agrif and the court action.

"We consider this amalgam of the Nazi emblem with a religious symbol to be unhealthy," the Jewish leaders said in a statement which will appear in the weekly Christian magazine La Vie on Thursday.

A ruling is expected from the Paris court on Thursday.

See also:

25 Jan 02 | Film
Religious groups praise Rings
18 Aug 99 | Entertainment
'Eyes' sparks blasphemy row
03 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka withdraws controversial film
27 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Malaysia bans Spielberg's Prince
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