Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Madman Films

Now Showing

Call it perfect timing or sheer coincidence, but I saw Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, an HBO-produced documentary about the sexual abuse of children by American Catholic clergy, two days before the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.

Mea Maxima Culpa begins in America in the 1950s, detailing the disturbing abuse of a group of boys at a Catholic-operated school for the deaf, and spans decades and continents before arriving at the Vatican and asking serious but not difficult questions of the powers-that-be, including Pope Benedict.

Before becoming Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger spent 21 years heading up the Vatican's department which handled all complaints of sexual abuse by clergy across the globe. In that time, not one accused priest was excommunicated from the Church.

The Church's policy on paedophile priests has seemed always to be one of inaction; moving priests from one diocese to the next and in rare instances, providing some attempt at rehabilitation. So prevalent was the problem, at one point the Vatican even contemplated buying an island where they would send all of their transgressing priests. There was, of course, never any talk of excommunication or involving the police.

Alex Gibney has produced a powerful film but given the subject matter, how could he not? First hand accounts by the boys, now men (they sign, actors give voice to them), of their abuse by one particular priest at their deaf school are chilling, anger-inducing and just sad. One story of the boys being taken to a lake house for a weekend and forced to choose which one of them will sleep with the priest is just heartbreaking.

Gibney's film is not unlike Amy Berg's 2006 doco, Deliver Us From Evil (although the HBO connection has afforded him better production values). It, too, detailed sexual abuse of children in America by Catholic priests, with both films raising pertinent questions about the perpetrators, the cover-ups and the culture which defends the abusers and denies the victims.

It's one of the reasons -- arguably the main reason -- why non-Catholics and atheists have no faith in the Catholic Church. Will the election of a new Pope, Argentine Francis I (announced only hours ahead of my writing this review), see a change in the Vatican's policy for dealing with this issue, and thus making the frequency of documentaries like Mea Maxima Culpa less and less so in the future? I say a little prayer.

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