"“As you watch you grow more and more enraged, infuriated and increasingly disillusioned with society and the human race...”"
In the very same week that Pope Benedict XVI has stolen the headlines for becoming the first pontiff to resign from his position for 600 years, comes an accusatory documentary about the Catholic Church, as Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney delves into the upsetting themes of paedophilia at the hands of priests, in Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.
We focus predominantly on the case involving Father Lawrence Murphy, who is believed to have molested close to 200 young boys at a School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, throughout the 1950's and 60's. Although sexually abusing such a vast number of helpless youngsters, Murphy was never once convicted of any wrongdoing, despite countless attempts from those affected to send the priest to jail. It transpires that the Catholic Church and the Vatican were aware of the heinous crimes, yet in a bid to protect the reputation of the church, they actively ensured that nothing was ever done to resolve this horrific set of events.
In what is effectively a story of two monstrous crimes (the abuse, and the covering up), it's a real testament to the director in how angry it makes you feel. As you watch you grow more and more enraged, infuriated and increasingly disillusioned with society and the human race. You simply can't believe what you're being told, and every time you think the story has reached its peak of distress, more harmful news is unraveled. Although being a very fascinating and affecting piece of cinema – and not to deny Gibney of the fine feature he has produced – given the shocking nature of the cases he is exploring, it would be rather difficult for this film not to be upsetting.
We are still reliant on Gibney telling the story effectively however to maximise the effect, and he does an excellent job. It's brilliantly structured, telling the story patiently but pulling no punches. It ticks along at the perfect pace, depicting such events chronologically, and although deviating away from the Murphy case throughout the middle section – to explore similar cases across Europe - Gibney rounds up well by going back to the case in the latter stages.
The interviews are also disturbing and upsetting, speaking to those who were molested (now middle-aged) – as they tell of their past via sign language, which really highlights their vulnerability. Intelligently, the film desists from simple shock value, as we aren't in any way reliant on lengthy, graphic recollections of what happened. We know that they were abused, and that's more than enough information.
One of the biggest issues, and the foundation on which this film is based, is the silence within the church and the covering up of such crimes – crimes that needed to be exposed for those responsible to face the repercussions. Well, it's now up to us to see this movie and help spread the word – because the more people who see this and learn about what happened, the better.