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Published March 17th 2013
An in-depth and disturbing look into the Catholic Church
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God documents the first known protest against clerical sex abuse in the US. Film-maker Alex Gibney, multiple Academy Award nominee and winner, examines the systemic and widespread issue of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church through the exploration of four young deaf men's' gut-wrenching stories of abuse, and ultimately survival, during the mid 1960's.
It centres around the charismatic priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who ran the St Johns School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was found to have abused over 200 children during his time in control at the school. His opportunity to abuse was made all the more possible due to the unique relationship he shared with these children in need. The children he chose to prey upon weren't just vulnerable because of their disability; he specifically selected children who were almost entirely isolated from communication with their family, as they either had little or no knowledge of signing. With Father Murphy being a proficient signer, the children forged an instant bond and connection with him and began seeing him as not just their priest but as a father-figure. With the indoctrination of religious beliefs in these children from day one, Father Murphy was in the perfect position to abuse as the children possessed such unflinching obedience to anyone of religious power.
Once these brave young men decided to expose Father Murphy for the monster he was, they opened up a whole world of hidden abuse and an even more extensive cover-up spanning from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Ireland and even peaking at the highest office of the Vatican. These scandals were not unheard of by the Catholic Church, they were not rare, there was simply a worldwide policy to snuff them out at all costs before they saw the light of day.
Reports of this nature would be sent to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Between 1981- 2005, Joseph Ratzinger, former Pope Benedict XVI, was the prefect in control of this congregation and all reports would go through him. In his time in the Vatican he was also one of Pope John Paul II's closest confidants, so the question of how much he knew and how many cases he neglected to acknowledge is a poignant one that features heavily in this documentary. The question is asked as to whether not only his poor health, but the extremely poor handling of the child sex abuse scandal contributed to the first resignation of a pope in 600 years.
Aside from these unconscionable crimes that are explored in Silence in the House of God, the bizarre justification expressed by Father Murphy, among others I'm sure, is delved into. Nobel Cause Corruption is a term that some may be familiar with. It is comparable to when say a police officer may do something slightly underhanded to take down someone committing even more heinous crimes. You feel your immoral actions are justified when looking at the bigger picture. To Murphy, his actions were justified under the Lord. As self-pleasure was a sin, he believed if he was to perpetrate the sexual act he would then be taking their sins upon himself, relieving them of further temptation to sin.
The vast reaching arms of corruption in the Catholic Church is thoroughly investigated in Silence on the House of God, with reliable testimony from not only victims themselves, but from priests and individuals deeply and directly involved in the Catholic Church as well. The most moving and compelling component of this documentary is by far the pure passion and eloquence expressed through sign language by the four deaf victims of Father Murphy. While each man has vocal translation from actors such as John Slattery and Chris Cooper, it is the power of their signing that truly expresses their pain and anguish in so desperately needing to be heard. The dark setting that Terry, Gary, Pat and Arthur are interviewed in, with merely a soft light capturing their faces and hands, only emphasises how powerful their physical verbalisation is. As well as a symbolic representation of them peering out of the darkness they've had to dwell in until they were finally heard.
Film maker Alex Gibney
This documentary is clearly not of a pleasant nature, it should not be taken lightly, nor should it be avoided because of the heavy subject matter. Alex Gibney has created this documentary with deep thought, care and respect to all involved. It simply states the facts that can not be disputed or denied any longer. It was impactful, confronting, comprehensive and fascinating. These stories that are so fearlessly told deserve to be heard.