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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Alex Hopkins of Sioux City, Iowa, is seen in the documentary "Bully."
With the poignant documentary "Bully" (Weinstein), filmmaker Lee Hirsch sheds light on a widespread and tenacious social problem and provides a valuable — though not unproblematic — starting point for important family discussions.

Hirsch reveals the victimization of a trio of teens from different parts of the country who have endured verbal and physical abuse from their peers at school. He also recounts, primarily through interviews with their grieving parents, the stories of two other students whose sufferings apparently led them to commit suicide.

Perhaps the most effective part of the movie is that which concerns a Sioux City, Iowa, seventh-grader named Alex. Wisely and effectively, Hirsch and his team simply trail Alex through his various experiences.

Thus we can hear him almost hyperventilating with dread as he prepares for the first day of a new school year. We later witness Alex's fears being cruelly fulfilled as some of the other riders on his crowded school bus hit him, strangle him, stab him with a pencil and slam his head into the high backrest of the seat ahead of him.

Awkward in manner, and stonily uncommunicative with his parents, Alex unwisely jokes with the boy sitting next to him, at one point, that they are "buddies." He's met with a sadly predictable torrent of foul-mouthed abuse.

Adult administrators who appear on screen seem either indifferent or impotent. Kirk Smalley, the father of an 11-year-old boy who took his own life, by contrast, has become engaged in an energetic initiative: Together with his wife Laura, he has established a consciousness-raising movement called Stand for the Silent.

Considerable debate has been provoked by the Motion Picture Association of America's original R rating for "Bully." While their detractors have argued that this classification bars precisely those who would most benefit from seeing the film, the MPAA presumably applied it based on the same objective criteria they use in evaluating every other picture, regardless of its social and aesthetic worth or lack thereof.

The distributors, who originally spurned the R in favor of releasing the film as unrated, have now made the edits necessary to earn their project a PG-13.

The new classification stands, in a sense, as an invitation to youthful audiences. Before allowing their teens to accept it, parents should be aware that, in addition to the small-scale brutality on display, the narrative also focuses on the fact that one of those being profiled — a 16-year-old girl named Kelby — is enduring persecution in her small Oklahoma hometown for being an avowed lesbian.

We see Kelby embracing the schoolmate she identifies as her girlfriend. But we also learn that she has been expelled from her church, made the target of a slow-speed hit-and-run incident and prevented from participating in the team sports she loves — and which, she feels sure, would have earned her a college scholarship.

Accordingly, younger viewers will need sufficient maturity — or guidance — to distinguish between the individual rights of the homosexually oriented and a broader social agenda out of keeping with Scripture and sacred tradition. Still, after careful parental consideration, "Bully" may possibly be found, on balance, acceptable for older adolescents.

The film contains scenes of cruelty and petty violence, adult themes, including suicide and homosexuality, at least one use of the F-word and numerous crude and crass insults. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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