Mea Maxima Culpa

Silence in the House of God

by Jose Solis

30 January 2013

Short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar, acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney's film will be broadcast on HBO February 4th.
cover art

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Gary Smith, Pat Kuehn, Arthur Budzinski, Bob Bolger, Richard Sipe, Patrick J. Wall, Laurie Goodstein, Robert MIckens, Terry Kohut, Rembert Weakland, Alex Gibney (narrator)

(HBO Documentary Films)
US theatrical: 16 Nov 2012 (Limited release)

Just when you thought you’d heard everything about Catholic priests molesting children, here comes one of the most disturbing documentaries released in recent years. Alex Gibney shares the untold story of the children of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who for decades were under the sick regime of Father Lawrence Murphy, a cherub-faced man who raped over 200 of them while the Vatican kept it a secret.

Featuring interviews with four men - Gary Smith, Bob Bolger, Terry Cohut and Arthur Budzinski - who were abused by Murphy, the film finds the right amount of scandalous storytelling without ever becoming downright sensationalist (meaning it will infuriate you, but it will also make you want to help these people after watching the movie). The men’s testimony is read by famous actors (including Ethan Hawke and John Slattery) but you don’t really need the celebrity sounds to make out the heartbreak, horror and disappointment in their lives. Their lack of a “voice” is in fact what makes the story’s center all the more horrifying.
How can a man devoted to God do something so cruel? This is where director Alex Gibney finds the right way to turn this into a “cinematic” event, he turns his subject into an essay of how deranged our notion of faith can become. According to interviewees, Murphy became convinced he was helping these children by assaulting them night after night. Watching archival footage of the priest one would’ve imagined Hollywood movies with Bing Crosby songs would’ve been made about his sanctity and this is precisely why watching the movie hurts so much.

Even the most devoted of Catholics will find this movie to be a revelation, especially in how Gibney doesn’t directly “attack” the church, as much as he questions its organization. Most shocking of all is the revelation that sexual abuse cases have their own Vatican policy, one that goes all the way to—wait for this—the Inquisition! Gibney’s research and his smart way of tying up loose ends would give Dan Brown a run for his money (if Brown was even slightly trying to stimulate readers intellectually to begin with…)

As he has proven with his previous works, Gibney is a master storyteller who knows just what is the right balance between interviews and reenactment. No horror movie will show a creepier moment than an actor playing Murphy as he opens a dormitory room at night and moves like a predator from child to child. The narration of those without a voice, making it all the more terrifying…

From HBO Documentary Films, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God will be broadcast on the cable network Monday, February 4.

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