Faith-based films are hot in Hollywood, but a local bishop is "mortified" about what he considers a faith-debasing movie.
Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch blogged a blistering response Tuesday to a report that "an apparently raunchy and sleazy movie" titled Sex Ed was partly filmed at Sacred Heart Academy in Tampa, a parochial school that closed in 2012, more than a year before production began.
Lynch leads the diocese that encompasses almost a half-million Catholics in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties.
Calling this a "publicly painful moment," Lynch blogged that a representative for Sex Ed struck a deal with a Sacred Heart parish pastor to use the mostly deserted school for an undisclosed fee. The pastor then and now is the Rev. George Corrigan.
The pastor didn't ask to read the screenplay, but did see an outline of the plot, according to Lynch and producer Dori Sperko of Bradenton. Lynch wrote that "did not raise any alarms." He also noted that the dioceses' vetting process for property rentals wasn't properly followed.
The bishop was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Sperko said several other schools were scouted as a location, but passed on getting involved.
"There's a reason we got turned down by the others: They read the script," she said.
In his blog post responding to a Tampa Tribune article, Lynch said he believed, "Sacred Heart Parish and its pastor had been duped."
Sex Ed stars Academy Award nominee Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) as Eddie, a middle school detention teacher who realizes his students lack proper knowledge about sex in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs. His efforts to change that situation are resisted by the PTA president, who happens to be a local minister.
The irony played for comedy in Bill Kennedy's screenplay is that Eddie is a virgin, falling in love with the older sister of one of his students.
Sex Ed will be released in theaters and on home video-on-demand on Nov. 7.
Sperko said the movie contains "implied nudity" and dialogue concerning sexual topics. "But I would not call this film a raunchy sex comedy," she said. "I would call it a coming-of-age story that does have some racier topics.
"I certainly don't think it's blasphemous. I don't think in the end that people are going to be as outraged when they see the movie as they might be led to believe currently."
Yet, Sperko expects Sex Ed to receive an R rating from the MPAA, for its verbal frankness.
"You get the R rating if you use the f-word more than twice nowadays," she said. When asked how many f-bombs are dropped, Sperko said: "Thirty, 40 … a lot."
Sperko said she couldn't confirm whether any profanity or "risque stuff" was filmed at the school without seeing the movie.
"What was (filmed) at the school was the teaching of sex ed," said the producer, whose credits include the indies Among Ravens and A-- Backwards. She added that materials from Planned Parenthood — a proponent of contraception that Catholic dogma disapproves — were used in those scenes. Despite its parochial location, the setting is identified as a public school in the movie.
"We don't have an agenda with the movie about contraception," Sperko said. "Nor do we have an agenda that addresses ending pregnancies or anything like that. We simply needed sex ed materials and (Planned Parenthood) has accurate materials that have historically been used in schools."
Sperko said offending the parish wasn't the production's intention, and steps were taken to maintain the sanctity of the school.
"We were very respectful," she said. "No one was allowed in the little chapel in the convent area. We roped everything off. We treated the school with a lot of respect. … We returned it in as good or better condition than we got it, and we didn't misrepresent anything to the pastor."
Another Sex Ed producer, Joe Restaino of Tampa, wasn't involved during production, but joined later to steer the publicity campaign. His response to the controversy was all show business:
"I wish (the story) didn't come out this soon," Restaino said, "because we're not releasing (the movie) for about two and a half more months.
"Our PR people up in New York are wondering why this (controversy) is coming out so soon. I don't think it's that bad because it's going to create some buzz."
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.