In Review: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

by Martyn Conterio on 14/02/2013


Alex Gibney, acclaimed documentary filmmaker, turns his cine-eye to the plethora of child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church in recent years. Far from a modern development, archived reports show incidents have been noted pretty much since the organisation formed and turned ordinary folk into a collective, powerful body that feels it is beyond the law. Clericalism and a hocus-pocus approach to ontology allowed priests to go about their business and their crimes freely.

Where to start with this morass of depravity? The film largely focuses on Father Lawrence Murphy, who ran a school for deaf children in Minnesota. In the late 1990s, a former victim of Murphy’s penned a letter denouncing the man and his ‘saintly’ reputation. From this simple act of putting pen to paper, an avalanche of former pupils came forward and this time they would be heard.

The Vatican’s response, at times, bordered on callous along with typical self-interest. They were not caught unawares by events, but had known about them for a very long time and, like all organisations, attempted to deal with the issue ‘in-house’ and instigate covers-ups. What is truly outrageous is the Vatican believes itself to be above justice and written law. The Pope and his brethren cannot be judged by mortal man – only an eternal God. Some get-out clause, that.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God delivers a not entirely successful mixture of archive material, recreations of key events and voiceover narration using actors such as Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke. It maintains a subdued, if outraged, tone throughout.

The business-like attitude of the Church seems anything but holy and the ‘naughty priests’ angle peddled by them – as victimhood extends to them – is mystifying and potty. Gibney’s latest feature has a sole point to make on behalf of those affected by this travesty of justice and the monumental failings of the state. It seems the rule of celibacy and historical hatred of homosexuality was a powder-keg and opportunity for men of the cloth to conduct nefarious deeds.

Mea Maxima Culpa has been awarded three Torches of Truth


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