Report on Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God

The Director:

Alex Gibney’s purpose is apparently to expose the child sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church and how every level of authority in the Church was not accountable in handling it.

The Story:

Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God talks about the child molestation cases and scandals in the Catholic Church all around the world.

The film starts out focusing on four deaf men, Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Kuehn, and Arthur Budzinski.  They all attended the St John’s School for the Deaf.  They all suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest at the school.

Through interviews, the men talk about the abuse that Murphy inflicted upon them and the toll it took.  It was difficult to deal with, not surprisingly.  One of them could not tell his parents because they did not know sign language.  Another of the men was fearful of not being believed.  One of them was confused by Murphy’s abuse.  He wondered if it were really bad if a priest was doing it.

The problem was of course much larger than it first appeared.  First, it turned out that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church all the way up to the Vatican knew about Father Murphy’s actions.  An attempt was made to get the local Archbishop to remove Father Murphy, but Murphy refused to be removed since he ran the school.

In addition, attempts were made to have Murphy held legally accountable for his crimes.  However, due to the “politics” of the situation, no charges were filed.  Eventually Murphy left the school for “health reasons.”

Later, Father Fitzgerald from Boston created an order that sought to treat pedophile priest by way of prayer rather than counseling and to contain sexually abusive priests from the public at large.  One such order was created in Grenada with more created in the Philippines, Africa, and the UK, and their goal was to rehabilitate priests and send them to new parishes.

Gary Smith eventually confessed to father that he was been molested.  His father sued the school, Father Murphy, and the local Archdiocese.  Nuns from the community pressured him to drop the case.  Eventually Smith was tricked into settling for $500.00 in legal fees and a few thousand dollars for counseling and apologizing to the Church for bringing the suit in the first place.  He never received the money that was supposed to go into counseling until twenty years later.  Due to his deafness, partially, Smith was rather illiterate, and therefore, it was easy to get him to agree to a subpar settlement.

The Vatican’s policy of dealing with pedophile priests is to deal with the problem internally and certainly not to refer such cases to the police.  This eventually led to national and international outrage.

Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston cost the Church tens of millions dollars in settlements because of the cover-up of child sexual abuse.  He resigned from his position in 2002, but then was appointed on a seven-year term at the Basilica Papale Di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome at the Vatican.  He was essentially rewarded for his actions and inactions.

Soon after the scandal of sexually abusive priests broke in America, it turned out such cases were not limited to just America and Canada unlike what the Vatican claimed.  In 2010, cases broke from all over Europe: Ireland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria.

A noteworthy non-American case was that of Father Tony Walsh of the Dublin, Ireland suburb of Ballyfermot.  Walsh had abused dozens of children more than 200 times.  The local Archdiocese knew about it, but, of course, they kept it quiet and kept it quiet on order Vatican; under Canon Law, all involved, the accusers, the accused, and the witnesses, were sworn to secrecy otherwise they would be excommunicated.  Walsh was sent to a secret Catholic treatment facility and was kicked out, yet he was still given access to children.  Eventually, Walsh was held legally responsible for his crimes.  This case has led to church attendance in Ireland to drop considerably.

There is a very severe lack of accountability.  In Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI attempted to gain the forgiveness of the Irish public, by writing a letter to them.  However, the letter blames the scandal on the local bishops rather than the Vatican and their orders.  Not only that, when Benedict later commented on the sexual abuse cases, he was more concerned with the fact that the image of the Catholic Church was tainted than with the suffering of the victims.

Benedict has known about sexual abuse cases long before he became

The main reason for the lack of accountability seems to be the fact the Pope has immunity and cannot be punished by an government or religious body.

Style:

The style is primarily in “talking head” interviews.  There is also archive footage, and photographs.  The interviews of the four deaf men are emotional.  Actors narrate their words, and we learn about the emotional toll being abused did on them.  There are also other interviews of reporters and even members of the Church clergy talking about all of the vile details of cover-ups.

A Call to Action:

There is no call to action in the film.  However, I feel that this film should inspire people not be silent when children are abused.  People should educate themselves on the issue of child abuse in all of its forms and on what to do if a child confesses to being abused or even if you are merely suspicious that abuse has taken place.

 

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