By Simon Miraudo
March 22, 2013
Alex Gibney isn't casting the first stone at the Vatican with his documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. But, God willing, it will be the most effective in shattering their narrative of blissful ignorance. For decades, the Church has seemed to employ the 'three monkeys' approach to child molestation charges, turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by men of the cloth. Gibney's doco claims they went one further, spending more than two billion dollars over the decades to hush up victims that dared to stain the legacy of Catholicism. In the same way his masterful, Oscar winning Taxi to the Dark Side struck a decisive blow against America's policy of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, MMC: SITHOG - and the actions of its subjects - will hopefully inspire real change. At the very least, it waves the white smoke out of our eyes.
It begins at St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, where young children (often those unable to communicate with their parents) were sexually assaulted by the nefarious Father Lawrence Murphy throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. When his victims come of age, they lodge a series of complaints; none of which are particularly successful in making their oppressor pay for his sins. Gibney follows the paper trail, leading him right to the desk of one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who spent several years prior to being proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI overseeing every allegation of rape and abuse lobbed at a member of the priesthood. Gibney finds numerous critics of the Church willing to defend Ratzinger, noting the centuries-old 'Canon Law' as being an impossible obstacle to overcome for even the most righteous of holy men (which is a pretty poor defence, if you ask me). He is not, however, the only Pope linked to the protection of paedophiles; the beloved John Paul II is revealed to have requested one unsavoury pal of his be spared from scrutiny.
Four of Murphy's former students are interviewed throughout the picture, sat in front of a velvet curtain that suggests both ritual and secrecy. They communicate via sign language, and though talented actors John Slattery, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, and Jamey Sheridan bring their words to life in tender voice-over, their impassioned hand gestures speak volumes. It's an affecting marriage of sound and vision. Slightly less successful is Gibney's re-enactments, showing Murphy stalking the boys like prey. Undeniably foreboding and beautifully shot by Lisa Rinzler, when combined with Ivor Guest's haunting score, it brings to mind a monster movie. Yes, this is a monster movie. But there's making a point and then there's making a point.
The film is, elsewhere, thoughtful and well-argued. As an essay, it's a compelling and convincing evisceration of the Church's methods; one that never takes cheap shots at the faith itself. As Joseph Ratzinger hands over the big hat to Jorge Bergoglio and retires to a nunnery inside Vatican City, we have to consider what that changing of the guard means in the wake of this information. Is the Church merely hiding their guilt in a cloud of ceremonial fumata bianca? Or, does it herald a new age, wherein Pope Francis will take decisive action against the criminals in his midst? We can only pray.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is now showing in select cinemas.