"The Town" Poster's Nun with a Gun: Too Sacrilegious?

PHOTO The poster for the film "The Town" is shown.
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The four thieves in Ben Affleck's new film "The Town" give new meaning to the term accessorize. During a key heist, the quartet, headed by Affleck's character Doug MacRay, wear nuns' habits as a disguise and, for good measure, carry machine guns. This riveting juxtaposition is the central image of the movie's black and white movie poster. But is it making Catholics see red?

"The decision to use this image was made by the studio, in consultation with the filmmakers," said Jessica Zacholl, a spokesperson for Warner Bros. Pictures. "It was chosen for its power and impact, but it was never the intention to offend anyone."

Video: Movie trailer for The Town.
Ben Affleck stars in Martin Scorseese's new movie The Town

An informal survey taken yesterday at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio – a conservative Catholic institution with a student population of 2,400 – generated a different assessment.

Bob Rice, professor of theology at Franciscan, distributed copies of the poster to 18 students in his Youth Ministry course and noted the comments. "There were some audible gasps," he said. "Students who had seen the trailer, which they had not found offensive, were surprised by the poster. They felt the poster was trying to shock."

The poster for "The Town."

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"One student was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt but said, 'You can't help but wonder if there is some kind of anti-Catholic agenda,'" he said. "Another thought the poster was in bad taste and said, 'It doesn't seem to single out Catholics, but it shows the lack of reverence towards the faith.'"

"Some Catholics will be offended by the image of people dressed as nuns holding guns," said Rice. "A religious habit is an image of holiness and virtue, and bank robbers holding guns are the exact opposite."

"The poster suggests sensationalism and it exploits Catholic iconography," said Jeff Field, director of communications for Catholic League, a national organization that fights anti-Catholicism. "It's also silly. No one in their right mind would think that nuns would rob banks."

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Patrick Keats, associate professor of English Literature at Christendom College, a conservative Catholic College in Front Royal, Virginia, finds that the absurdity of the image – nuns, whom most people think of as non-threatening, toting guns – is what makes the image non-offensive.

Despite Hollywood's "Sin City" reputation, nuns and Tinsel Town have made glorious bedfellows. Some of cinema's most iconic actresses have portrayed nuns. Ingrid Bergman played one in "The Bells of St. Mary's." So did Deborah Kerr in "Black Narcissus." Audrey Hepburn delivered an Oscar-winning performance as Sister Luke, an accomplished scientist in "The Nun's Story."

Meryl Streep in "Doubt."

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Two years ago Meryl Streep portrayed "Doubt's" Sister Aloysius, hell-bent on ridding her parish of a priest she suspects is up to no good, with Amy Adams playing a young nun. Pedro Almodovar gave us Sister Rosa, portrayed in "All about My Mother" by none other than his muse Penelope Cruz.

Penelope Cruz in "All About My Mother."

Hollywood has also had its fair share of faux nuns. In "Sister Act," Whoopi Goldberg played a chanteuse who, after becoming a target of mobsters, hides out in a convent and becomes Sister Mary Clarence. She even got back into the habit for "Sister Act 2."

Video: Men pull nun out of the path of an oncoming train.
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