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September 2, 2016

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

by Franz Patrick


Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

In 1972, a case involving a priest sexually abusing four deaf children became a part of the public consciousness. Despite the Catholic church’s awareness of the late Reverend Lawrence Murphy being a pedophile, the institution consistently looked the other way, simply assigning Murphy, and priests with the same affliction as he did, to another Catholic school where he could get his hands on other children. This reflects not just a failure of leadership in the Catholic church but a failure to do what is morally right for the victims.

Directed by Alex Gibney, “Mea Culpa: Silence in the House of God” is certainly a documentary with something meaningful to say about a renowned establishment that is, in some ways, corrupted from the inside, but in its attempt to explore the bigger questions about servants of God being in a place of power—while at the same time being powerless—focus is taken away from the story of the four deaf men finding the courage to tell the world what had happened to them as children. As a result, it begs to be compared to documentaries with a similar subject matter especially Amy J. Berg’s highly unsettling but fascinating “Deliver Us from Evil.” When taken side-by-side, this film, though the content is worthy of our time and attention, appears to be less organized in structure and presentation.

The recollections and reenactments are supposed to be repulsive. The camera appears to have an eerie calm as it shifts from the men who had been molested by Murphy to images that represented their experiences. Though subtitles graced the bottom of the screen as the men signed, I found myself paying particular attention on their faces and hands. The emotions on their faces and the power behind their gestures are equally important as the words meant to be read and processed. I felt like, as it should be, they were communicating to us rather than the camera. It might have been a different story of the camera were not so still or if the filmmaker had been more interested in the controversy than showing what is.

Is it meant to incite anger toward the Catholic church? Well, it is impossible not to be upset. In one of the most disturbing sections of the film, through his writing, we are shown how Murphy justified his actions to the church. He claimed that there had been “rampant homosexuality” with the older boys and so he took it upon himself to correct the problem by using their sins against them so that they could, in a way, be satiated and feel ashamed afterwards. Hearing his reasoning was like a horror movie playing in my head. His mind was so irrational that instead of considering or conceding that his actions were wrong, he saw himself as some sort of savior. This man made me sick but I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to hear more about what he had said or written during the investigations.

The material could have done a better job discerning homosexuality from pedophilia. A simple acknowledgment might have sufficed. At times I got the impression that the two were hand-in-hand. This might not have been the director’s intention but considering that many Catholics may want to watch this (and we all know organized religion’s stance of homosexuality), many of them might assume that pedophilia and homosexuality is one entity.

In my eyes, homosexuality or homosexual acts is not due to a sickness of the mind. Pedophilia, on the other hand, is a disorder that, in my opinion, deserves careful attention, further scientific studies, and, equally important, action. After all, behind that affliction is still a human being—even if it is extremely difficult to look past our own judgements and bias.

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