On Monday, February 4th, a documentary will debut on HBO that takes a hard look at a sensitive subject – the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
“Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence In the House of God” is a documentary produced and directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, exposing the widespread abuse of power in the Catholic Church.
Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates into English as “my mistake” or “my fault”. To emphasize the message, the adjective “maxima” may be inserted, resulting in mea maxima culpa, which would translate as “my most [grievous] fault.”
Indeed, the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests stands as a most serious mistake, for which the Church has received serious criticism.
Now Alex Gibney, the founder and creative force behind Jigsaw Productions, takes an unflinching look at this subject as he investigates the secret crimes of Father Lawrence Murphy, a charismatic Milwaukee priest who abused more than 200 Deaf children in a school under his control. The film documents the first known public protest against clerical sex abuse in the U.S., which led to a case that spanned three decades and ultimately resulted in a lawsuit against the pontiff himself. The investigation helped uncover documents from the secret Vatican archives that show the Pope, who must operate within the mysterious rules of the Roman Curia, as both responsible and helpless in the face of evil.
At the heart of the film is a small group of heroes – Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Arthur Budzinksi and Bob Bolger. These four Deaf men set out to expose the priest who had abused them, and sought to protect other children by making their voices heard. Gibney uses the voices of actors Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Jamey Sheridan and John Slattery to tell the stories of men abused by Murphy. However, it is the faces and expressions of the courageous Deaf individuals that illustrate the indelible effect Murphy continues to have on their lives.
In addition to the Murphy case, MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD spotlights similar sex abuse cases in Ireland and Italy, and highlights the horrific actions of Marcial Maciel Degollado, a prominent church fundraiser and ruthless sex criminal beloved by Pope John Paul II. The film also reveals that in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger – now His Holiness, Benedict the 16th – ordered that every sex abuse case involving a minor come through his desk, essentially establishing him as the most knowledgeable person in the world regarding priestly sexual abuse of minors.
Working in association with HBO Documentary Films, Gibney now brings this story to cable network television.
The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival last September, and then opened to limited release in November. Reviews of the film by critics have been mostly positive, with The New York Times particularly praising the way the way the interviews of the victims were shot:
Mr. Gibney films them against dark backgrounds with soft indirect light, which emphasizes the expressivity of their faces and hands, and will remind hearing viewers of the richness and eloquence of American Sign Language.
Well known film critic Roger Ebert has also weighed in with his own views about the film on a personal level, stating
To someone who was raised and educated in the Catholic school system, as I was, a film like this inspires shock and outrage.
Ebert goes on to state that he found the film to be “calm and steady, founded largely on the testimony of Murphy’s victims.”
Undoubtedly this will be a difficult and painful movie to watch, about a highly charged subject. However, Gibney does not directly “attack” the Church, as much as he questions its organization, and the way it has handled sexual abuse cases. A master storyteller, he finds just the right balance between interviews and reenactment to tell the story in a manner that most viewers will find to be a revelation.
This documentary will be shown on several different days and times through-out the month of February on HBO. For more information, check out your local HBO listings.