date: 6th Jun 2016

tags: Documentary, Religion

Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s controversial “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” investigates the endemic sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church.

>> Watch “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” Now

Silence in the House of God

The story centres upon Father Lawrence Murphy, a charismatic priest from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, Murphy was head of a school for deaf children. It is estimated he molested and abused 200 boys under his care. A combination of Murphy abusing his position as priest combined with the fact the boys’ communication skills were often poor, the existence and extent of his abuse was kept under the guise of silence for many years.

However, the film documents the growing awareness of sexual abuse, culminating in the first public protest in the US and sparking a lawsuit that spanned three decades. In the middle of the story is a group of four men – Terry Kohut, Garry Smith, Arthur Buzinki and Bob Belger – courageous deaf men who, as middle-aged adults, finally brought the stories of their abuse as children out of the silence to which they had been previously condemned. Their powerful voices were heard so as to expose the priest that had abused them, and thereby protect other children from the painful fate that they had endured. Gibney uses the voices of actors Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Jamey Sheridan and John Slattery to tell their stories, yet it is the faces of the courageous men that illustrate the effect Murphy had, and continues to have, on their lives.

Their story is told in parallel to similar sex abuse cases in Ireland and Italy, highlighting the extent of the abuse within the Church across the globe with documents which evidence the extent of the abuse. The investigation traces all the way back to the Vatican and to Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. It reveals that in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger ordered that every sex abuse case involving a minor pass through his desk and so establishes him as perhaps the most knowledgeable person in the world in relation to the sexual abuse of children. Despite his knowledge, and beyond ‘dealing with the matter internally’ and seeking to protect the priests, Pope Benedict did nothing to help the victims.

Moving from the voices of courageous individuals in small towns to stories shared across the glove, Gibney launches an investigation into the oldest, most powerful organisation in the world: the Catholic Church. It is, as the Screen Daily notes, “a poignant argument, full of outrage and ample evidence, about the heinous crimes and cover-ups that have taken place in the Catholic Church.” Gibney leaves uswith the question: when will the law call the Church to account? Should it be tried for crimes against humanity, as Geoffrey Robertson QC argues?

>> Watch “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” Now


Written by Tara Janus


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