Sex and the Holy City

Posted: 27 October 2003

This week marks 25 years since Pope John Paul was elected to Saint Peter's throne. Yet as his reign is celebrated, millions of women around the world may feel they have reason to regret his long rule.

The BBC Panorama documentary, Sex and the Holy City, co-incides with worldwide celebrations of 25 years of the papacy of John Paul II. A quarter of a century ago the former cardinal Karol Wojtyla was widely seen as a modern Pope with progressive views about sex and love - a caring and compassionate man, who idealized women.

Placard of the Pope
Placard of the Pope
Placard of the Pope at the festival of the Feast of the Assumption, Kalwaria, Poland© BBC

Today, though, critics argue his campaign against artificial contraception, and abortion under any circumstances, has deprived millions of women of the right to control their fertility - at a time when many have begun to see this as a key to development and eradicating poverty. They claim that withholding birth control from women who face death from unwanted pregnancy, or advising people with AIDS not to use condoms is both immoral and inhumane.

But in forums like the UN the Vatican has counter-attacked, arguing it is trying to prevent a "culture of death", a "contraceptive mentality", and promiscuity that breaks up families and causes the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Bishop of Manila
Bishop of Manila
Steve Bradshaw with Catholic Bishop of Manila, Teodoro Buhain debating sex education© BBC

To make the programme, Emmy-award winning journalist Steve Bradshaw and producer Chris Woods travelled across four continents to talk to those directly affected by the Pope's hardline doctrine on sex, to pro-lifers who've taken control of Manila's health clinics, banning the Pill and condoms, to the Archbishop of Nairobi who blames condoms for the spread of AIDS, even as members of his own congregation die of the virus... and to schoolgirls raped by their own father, yet forced to carry his babies to term.

In this unique documentary, Steve Bradshaw investigates how the Pope who tried to actin the best interests of women came to be accused by his opponents of ruining so many lives.

Following the BBC 1 broadcast of the programme on October 12, Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) is distributing Sex and the Holy City for non-broadcast, educational use worldwide and broadcast use in developing countries. For copies of the film contact TVE's distribution office by clicking here.TVE, 21 Elizabeth Street, Victoria, LONDON SW1W 9RP. Telephone: +44 20 7901 8855; fax: +44 20 7901 8856.To order online, visit TVE's Moving Pictures catalogue.