Hard-hitting documentarian Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM) returns to the big screen with MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, taking a look at the recurring patterns of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church.
We’re introduced to several deaf men who attended the same school for deaf children in the mid-1960s, and who were routinely abused by Father Lawrence Murphy.
They tell their stories through sign language, dubbed over by actors including Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke, alongside reconstructions tinged with a blood-red hue, giving them a horror-film atmosphere.
It doesn’t make for an easy watch as the men tell of how their attempts to bring justice against their abuser were blocked and ignored because “priests would never do those things to children”.
Hard-to-stomach details include the priest targeting boys whose parents couldn’t sign, so they had no way of telling anyone; the nuns at the school turning a blind eye to what they knew was happening; and senior members of the clergy contemplating buying a Caribbean island as a refuge for known paedophiles.
Perhaps the discomfort for the audience is intentional, as Gibney shows us the dangers of turning away and not facing the problem head-on.
He widens his look to take in a very public Irish case and exposés from the American press. His trail of evidence leads all the way to the Vatican and to the Pope. We are made to ask: when so many people were aware of an international endemic problem, why did so few do anything to stop it?
The Church’s policy of silence and protecting their own is staggering, making the documentary all the more necessary to watch.
Gibney gives his deaf subjects a voice and an opportunity to tell their story in a way that they were never able before.
The final shot is heartening; it serves as a reminder of the strength of humanity and of the fact that underneath the grim statistics, there is a hunger for justice, and a band of men campaigning for a better future for others.