Max Mea Culpa: Silence in the House of God is today's pick for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival
Day Two of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival sees Max Mea Culpa: Silence in the House of God document child sex abuse from the Catholic Church
By Genna Patterson
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God explores the horrifying cases of sex abuse on deaf children and the subsequent cover up by the Catholic Church all the way to the Vatican.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God was never going to be easy watching or enjoyable. However, it is compulsive viewing as director Alex Gibney delves deep into the disturbing depths that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will go to cover up the crimes of their priests and bishops.
The documentary starts with interviews with four men, all survivors of molestation as children by Father Lawrence Murphy at St. John’s school for the deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The interviewees stories are voiced by actors Ethan Hawke, Jamey Sheridan and John Slattery.
Pictured: Father Murphy (left)
They tell their harrowing tale at the hands of a predator, one who we later find out sickenly thought he was ‘helping’ the boys relieve themselves of homosexual thoughts and that he was taking on their sins. This documentary reveals many things that although you don’t want to hear, they happened, and they draw rage and empathy from the viewer. Some accounts and information are truly heartbreaking, as it should be.
The four survivors were the first public protest on the abuse of children by priests in America. They started by circulating ‘Wanted’ flyers with Fr. Murphy’s face on it in church car parks or after fundraisers he went to because they didn’t know how else to proceed. We see how the pleas to remove Murphy from the school were ignored despite the church being aware of over 20 years of abuse from him.
Gibney shows that part of the Church’s solution to the abuse allegations was to move the priest to another parish without warning the new parishioners about his abuse record. Some were sent to a retreat where they were ‘helped’ cure themselves of the want to sexually abuse through prayer and reflection. Needless to say, once released, they re-offended repeatedly. The church spent over $8 million trying to ‘cure’ about 2,000 priests. The documentary reports that the church hierarchy’s concern is for the priest and not the victim of abuse, citing shockingly that a ‘boy will get over it’.
Pictured: Abuse Survivor Gary Smith
Also explored is the knock-on affect of victims coming out with their stories worldwide, including in Ireland with the case of Ballyfermot priest Tony Walsh, known as the singing priest. There are simply too many appalling stories to mention, and while you think you have heard the most of it, this documentary blows the lid off even more.
One of the main areas the documentary deals with is how, after repeated reports to the Vatican, they rarely defrock the offending priests. It also examines the current Pope Ratzinger’s part in it all – he had all the cases of sexual abuse brought to him and him only and did little to stop it. Many priests who tried to report their colleagues were silenced or ignored, as were bishops appointed to make a judgment on offending priests. There is a wall of silence, and it seems it has taken a group of deaf men to try to break through it.
So far, this documentary was hailed by critics at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012 however it was largely ignored by the Oscars. This is a great pity, as it is both powerful and evocative and should be seen by the masses.
Pictured: Director Alex Gibney
Director Alex Gibney, has previously won an Oscar for documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God needs to be seen, because only through public awareness will it change anything. As the four deaf survivors proved with flyering cars outside a church, creating public uproar is the only way to get heard. Gibney deals with a delicate subject matter gently and with integrity. Here’s hoping this documentary becomes another stone thrown at the Catholic Church to finally make them take responsibility and start the necessary changes in an outdated and bourgeois organization. A must see documentary, beautifully and respectfully made.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is released on February 14 for the Jameson International Film Festival at the Lighthouse cinema and on general release on February 22 nationwide.
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Watch the second episode of SportsJOE Live with Ronan O'Gara, Andy Reid, Dion Fanning and Colm Parkinson here.