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January 29, 2024

How the much-discussed documentary Godforsaken set society in motion

In VRT Canvas' four-part documentary series Godforsaken (original title: Godvergeten), a lot of witnesses break the silence about the sexual abuse of Catholic priests in Flanders. The victims, or as they prefer to call themselves: survivors, courageously let their voices be heard and testify not only about the devastating abuse, but also about the vengeful way in which the abuse stayed under the radar.

The impact of the serene but highly confrontational documentary could not be underestimated. Godforsaken put the issue of abuse in the church directly on the political agenda. After being aired in September 2023, the debate in parliament was opened and all Flemish parties supported the demand to start a parliamentary committee of enquiry. That parliamentary enquiry committee will also hear some witnesses from the programme. Public outrage was and still is enormous.

It is the core task of a public broadcaster to produce things such as documentaries that trigger something socially or make it clear: this is something that needs to be heard now and covered now.
Ingrid Schildermans, writer of Godforsaken

The programme was followed by a record number of viewers on television and on video platform VRT MAX. Altogether, an average of almost 800 000 people watched an episode. The programme also made an impression on radio, online and in written media. More than 2,000 articles were written about it. In addition, it was featured 400 times in a radio programme. Over 3 million Flemish people came in touch with Godforsaken. The impact reached all levels of society and far beyond the usual VRT CANVAS audience. The programme was shown on the broadcaster of the Walloon-Brussels Federation RTBF and Dutch public broadcaster NPO. The documentary has already received several awards. Humo's Ha! for best TV programme of the past year and the impact award at the Kastaars!

A lot of people feel empowered by the courageous testimonies from the documentary and now want to share their story too. 1712, the Flemish government's hotline for victims of violence, recorded 31% more calls after the series. The shock wave triggered by the series is now also reverberating down to Rome. Pope Francis will engage with victims of abuse in the church during his visit to Belgium in 2024.

We had hoped it would have such a meaningful impact for people, but we never thought a television programme could take it this far.
Ibbe Daniëls, writer of Godforsaken

Godforsaken is an idea and programme by Ingrid Schildermans and Ibbe Daniëls. When Ingrid saw the book In the Name of the Father by Rik Devillé, she felt that the story of the victims of sexual abuse in the church should continue to be told. With the cooperation of Rik Devillé, who has an immense archive of testimonies and knowledge, the series came about.

The programme was realised as a co-production between VRT CANVAS and De Mensen, with support from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund.