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After years of silence from the Roman Catholic Church, this explosive documentary about the sex abuse of children by members of the clergy resonates even more loudly since the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. It’s an expose that is way overdue and is quite frankly ‘God-smacking’… and I make no excuse for the irreverent use of God’s name. It reveals a secret that was exposed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when a report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in that diocese was lodged by some of the victims. This was many years after a letter had been sent to the Vatican in 1972, attempting to have a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, defrocked for his regular abuse of children under his care at St John’s School for the Deaf. As if that crime wasn’t horrendous enough, Father Murphy deliberately singled out deaf children who he knew couldn’t express themselves to their non-signing parents and therefore were unable to make any accusations against him.

Alex Gibney’s (Taxi To The Dark Side / Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room) documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House Of God, focuses on the abominable behaviour of this predator, who was accused by a number of the boys of hearing their confessions while making them masturbate in front of him. In a particularly mendacious claim to his innocence, Murphy went on record stating that he was merely making the children address their ‘sexual confusion’ by assisting them in purging them of their desires. Murphy went to his grave without being held responsible for his crimes and to this day the Vatican has not accepted the charges against him. He lies buried in consecrated ground in his priestly vestments.

Gibney’s documentary focuses on this wrong-doing and follows cases from the USA to Ireland and back to the Vatican, a city-state established by Italian Fascists before the Second World War. His carefully selected information delivers an extremely powerful emotional impact; you leave the cinema reeling as the stories unfold and the details emerge of an organisation that has never acknowledged the devils in its ranks and has only ever publicly announced its concern for the welfare of the priests accused, with little acknowledgment of the victims of their abuse. The code of silence is deafening in its cover-up.

Gibney uses a mixture of dramatisation, archival and documentary footage to reveal these compelling stories. We learn how relentless the pillars of the church were in succeeding in their goal of maintaining silence. Members of the clergy got away with selecting, cultivating and abusing their victims; because they used the threat of excommunication if the victims spoke up against the church, so that rarely was anyone held accountable. At one point I thought I was watching a depiction of Hell. I suggest you see this film, if only to make you wonder why Pope Benedict has resigned. Poor health or conscience? The question remains to be answered. As Mea Maxima Culpa points out, from 2001every reported case of sexual abuse by priests in the world had to cross the desk of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who led the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as The Inquisition.


Previewed at Studio 12, Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, 13 February 2013


On hearing of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, one's immediate thought was unfinished business; as if there was something about his papacy that would be best for someone else to fix. Days later, the head of the British Catholic church resigned over allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour as one scandal after another rolls onward toward Rome. It makes a timely backdrop to Alex Gibney's shocking documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God.

In the mid-1970's, several students from St John's School For The Deaf made allegations that a Father Murphy had molested a number of boys in his care. For three of them, it became a life's mission as they sought justice, not silence, from the Church. This is the starting point of Gibney's persuasive journey as he charts the response to their claims and others like it, decade after decade.

Responses like the million dollar establishment of treatment centres to rehabilitate sexual abusers or roving units whose role it is to 'stamp out fires' with intervention or settlement. Reports suggest that the cost of containment is in excess of $2 billion. Yet these criminal acts are, for the most part, dealt with the same way: deny, remove and relocate.

Layers build as this shifts from a horror story of sexual abuse to something much more intoxicating. Filmed with style, reason and intelligence, Silence In The House Of God rises beyond sensationalism (cheap or otherwise) as Gibney follows a trail that leads all the way to the office of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. Yet even the Pope, he argues, is not impervious to the machinations of politics or the weakness of vanity.

Placing priests closer to God and above the law places the Church in an impossible position, Gibney argues; one that Benedict stepped over as he continued his 'pilgrim's journey'. Said one renegade priest: “Jesus wasn't afraid of humanity, and we shouldn't be either.” For a film about deaf boys, Silence In The House of God makes a lot of noise.


Previewed at Sony Theaterette, Sydney, 26 February 2013

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Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) on IMDb

James Sheridan
John Slattery
Chris Cooper
Ethan Hawke

Alex Gibney



106 minutes

March 21, 2013
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