As Dorothy Parker once asked, "What fresh hell is this?" And that's what a lot of Catholics must be wondering these days, especially if they are moviegoers. Still reeling from the blazing scandal of sex-crazed priests, they slip into the darkness of a theater for a moment of peace, and here's what they get...

EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO: A young (and, of course, sexy) Mexican priest doesn't like the fact that his superior takes money from drug-peddling members of organized crime, but he thinks the older priest's relationship with a red-hot restaurateur is a nifty idea. So nifty that he follows suit with the woman's daughter, who, at the peak of her passion, manages to remind him of the Blessed Virgin. How does their affair end? With a back-alley abortion. But isn't that a mortal sin? Yes, but who's keeping score, and who's left to hear Padre Amaro's confession? Carlos Carrera's movie, currently playing in U.S. cities, was officially condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico. To nobody's surprise, it turned out to be that country's all-time box-office champ.

AMEN: What did the Pope do in the war? If you're talking about Pope Pius XII and World War II, the answer is nothing. At least, that's the way writer-director Costa-Gavras sees it his adaptation of Rolf Hochhuth's 1962 play, "The Deputy." Based on actual events, this is the story of Kurt Gerstein, the SS officer who developed Zyklon B, a gas he thought would be used to fumigate German barracks. When he discovered that the Nazis were instead using the gas to exterminate Jews in concentration camps, he and his confederate, a young Jesuit priest with Vatican connections, made a frantic effort to notify the Pope. As the world now knows, they failed to get their message across. The movie opens in January.

MY MOTHER'S SMILE: The Vatican is in the spotlight once again in Marco Bellocchio's dark account of an Italian family's scheme to secure canonization for a cold-blooded matriarch who was murdered by her loony, blasphemous son. Not making things any easier for the conniving clan is the fact that another son--the film's central figure, played by Sergio Castellitto--is a devout atheist. My God, is nothing sacred?

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS: It could be argued that Peter Mullan's movie succeeds in taking a little heat off predatory priests. The downside, alas, is that it gives predatory nuns plenty to sweat about. Based on fact, this is an account of the ungodly physical and mental torture that took place behind the walls of the Sisters of Mercy convent in Dublin. The sadistic behavior of the women who called themselves Brides of Christ reached a peak in the sixties and finally came to an end in 1996. But not before the lives of many of their victims--young women found guilty of sins ranging from flirtation to being raped to bearing children out of wedlock--were destroyed. Mullan, the Scottish actor who made a powerful directorial debut with "Orphans" in 1997, wrote and directed "The Magdalene Sisters," and he has a cameo as a priest. Not sitting too well with high-powered Catholic clergymen is the fact that the movie won this year's Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and it has been estimated that approximately a quarter of Ireland's population has seen the movie since it opened in late October. Look for Miramax to announce the U.S. release date in the near future.

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