Directed by: Alex Gibney.
I am an atheist, but I have always believed that most Catholic priests are good men. Men who devote their lives to their faith, and try their best to help those in their congregations. And even after all the clergy molestation scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years, I still firmly believe that. I also firmly believe however that those in positions of power in the Church are more interested in keeping that power, in protecting the Church and their assets, then they are in actually helping the victims of the monstrous actions of the minority of Priests, who take advantage of their positions of power to prey on children. Watch a movie like Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (or Twist of Faith or Deliver Us from Evil, two other excellent documentaries about the same subject) and I think you will find it impossible to disagree.
Mea Maxima Culpa focuses mainly on one case – the case of Lawrence Murphy, who was a Priest at a school for deaf children between 1950-1974, and molested countless boys during that time. That he preyed on children at all is deplorable, but preying on deaf children is somehow even worse – especially when we hear that he picked out the students whose parents didn’t speak American Sign Language, so it would be even harder for his victims to tell their parents about the abuse.
The film was directed by Alex Gibney, one of the best and most prolific documentarians working today (although he is dead wrong on Zero Dark Thirty, but I digress). He interviews many of Murphy’s victims, who sign their answers, and we hear the voices of famous actors (like John Slattery, Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke) translate their painful words for us. The readings by these actors are very good, but the pain these victims feels really doesn’t need translation – it is written all over their faces, as it tells their stories.
The molestation scandal that has rocked the Church is obviously bigger than Murphy and his victims – and the movie gives us a wider ranging portrait of what was done in this case – how the complaints made their way up the food chain where they were ignored at each and every step – and how those responsible for covering up the crimes of Priests goes all the way to the top. Pope Benedict, before he was Pope, was in the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and wanted to see every report on priests molesting children, although he didn’t really do anything about them. And the beloved Pope John Paul II, who seems to be on the fast track for Sainthood, is not above criticism either – considering his support of Marcial Maciel Degollado, who even the future Pope Benedict wanted to investigate, but Pope John Paul II protected (according the documentary, an investigation was finally launched – on the very day Pope John Paul II died).
Mea Maxima Culpa is the type of movie that inspires outrage and anger, but more than that sadness. Sadness because these Priests had a duty – took a sacred oath – to protect those in their care and help them, and instead used their positions to permanently damage them. Anger and outrage because it has become increasingly clear that those in positions of power didn’t want to see what was directly in front of them – didn’t want to know what had happened, and took the easy way out, shunting the problem off the side and ignoring the victims. One expert, who has testified at trials on behalf of the victims, says he is often asked how often he testifies on behalf of the Church – and he says “Always”. Because it is the people, not the priests or those in power, who are the real Church. If only those who had it in their power to change things believed that, this scandal would never have become so far reaching, such a permanent black mark on the Catholic Church, and so damaging to the victims. And also, it must be said, so damaging to all the good Priests out there – the majority of them – who really DO care, but are now looked upon with suspicion. There are no winners and losers in this case, just more sadness and anger than any child should have to feel.