‘Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God’ (2013) – a tempting ad for atheism.

11 Mar

Mea Maxima Culpa posterChild sexual assault. The rape of minors. Paedophilia.  THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN. Why am I repeating this horrifying practice? Because by virtue of it being such a detestable, deplorable act it remains resolutely taboo and a sore topic of conversation for many, especially if the perpetrators belong to the beloved Catholic church. However, films such as Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God are working to dismantle the silence surrounding these crimes against humanity by casting a not so divine light over what has hitherto been shushed and kept under the golden rugs of the Vatican.

Lawrence Murphy was a Catholic priest serving at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A servant to his own paedophiliac urges rather than his holy order, the trusted and supposed ‘moral guide’ molested, raped and sexually assaulted scores of young deaf boys at a Catholic school for the deaf throughout the sixties. Directed by Alex Gibney (Client 9, Taxi to the Dark Side), several survivors of the abuse lay their heartfelt testimonies bare to the camera, and their efforts to oust the deranged priest are outlined. Knotty inner-workings of the Vatican combine with the victims’ quest for justice, and the result is as riveting as it is heartbreaking.

A documentary is only as effective as its source material is reliable, and Mea Maxima Culpa (which translates as “through my most grievous fault”) beyond succeeds in this department. Newspaper articles, witness testimonies and stock footage abound, but where this film truly excels is at the sheer amount of relevant faces which show up. Aside from the survivors, everyone from lawyers to journalists,  disillusioned former clergymen to defenders of the faith and many more besides all make an appearance, and each one of them has an interesting point to make.

While any film dealing with such a sensitive topic could quite easily rely on pure emotion to hook the viewer in and whip them into a vitriol-fuelled church hating frenzy, what this film rather cleverly does is it withholds labelling. It does not overtly brand the church ‘despicable’, ‘shameful’, ‘borderline evil’ or any other equally deserving term; rather, it lets the viewer decide for themselves. This avoidance of hyperbole is tactful on two levels: one, the audience’s own reaction is more authentic in its outrage, and secondly it repels the notion of this being considered an ‘anti-Catholic’ movie. A more apt label would be a ‘pro-facts’ flick.

One of the victims, with a poster he made back in the day.

One of the victims, with a poster he made back in the day.

If any complaints are to be found with this movie, they surely stem from merely aesthetic grounds; distributors HBO Films are clearly an influence, as several moments feel very “Discovery Channel” in their presentation. Some have complained about the film lacking focus, that it meanders through abuse scandals in Dublin, Boston and Rome, and in turn loses sight of its original Milwaukee beginnings. However, I would argue that Gibney uses the early Wisconsin location as a springboard from which to bounce on to similar cases worldwide. The cover-ups are global, and as such this is a transcontinental issue.

Devastatingly poignant, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is a damning condemnation of the Catholic church, and specifically the authorities within the Vatican, regarding their refusal to bring blatant criminals to justice. How one could call themselves a supporter of the institution after watching this, I have no idea.

Simon says: the best documentary I’ve seen in ages. What are you waiting for, go see it!


11 Responses to “‘Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God’ (2013) – a tempting ad for atheism.”

  1. Beverly March 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm #


    • Simon Mernagh March 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      Totally. It’s getting a very hushed showing here in Ireland – only once a day at the Lighthouse, a small indie cinema. Spread the word!

      • Beverly March 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

        Thanks…Am trying to find a “retail” copy of this. So far, no luck. Since, I just heard, we have a new pope, the way to get Rome’s attention is to quite putting money in the offering plate.

  2. Sean Murphy March 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I have reviewed the material presented by the film for the Lawrence Murphy case, including all of the available documents. There is no evidence to support the accusations made by Mea Maxima Culpa with respect to the Murphy case. On the contrary: in the words of New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein, the evidence turns Mr. Gibney’s story about “the Vatican” and Fr. Murphy on its head. See http://catholicecumene.wordpress.com/home/lawrence-murphy-william-cousins-rembert-weakland-and-the-sedevacantism-of-alex-gibney/

    • Simon Mernagh March 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      First of all, I’d question the opinion of a clearly Catholic-biased article written by a “Catholic layman”.
      Secondly, you mention that Goldstein scrutinised all “available” documents. Of course, if the Vatican is guilty to any extent, it would not make available documents which condemn themselves. That’d be counter-productive, for it clearly does not hold honesty as the highest policy. Also, I don’t recall her doubting herself in the movie?
      And thirdly, you admit that “missing records, or, at least, the limited number of publicly available records makes it difficult to reconstruct events”. Whether these documents are missing or intentionally hidden is irrelevant; we simply don’t have them. In any case, only using articles that you were “able to find on-line relevant to the Murphy case” is rather unimpressive, as I highly doubt a sizeable number could simply be obtained through a Google search. Also, using local journalism as a source is inherently risky, so pulling “contemporaneous newspaper articles drawn principally from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its predecessor publications” simply isn’t good enough.
      I applaud the dedication you present here, as more details need to be unearthed about this whole affair. But the obvious internal bias may be tinting your glasses, if you will. Also, I’d recommend dusting up your sources; take it from me, I’m a journalist.
      Thanks for your comment and good luck!

      • Beverly Arnold March 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm #

        I find it deplorable that anyone could or would doubt the fact in any of the cases.
        Maybe this is what Father (I refuse to call him Pope Emeritous, Cardinal, etc.) Ratzinger has been up to since entering “retirement”.

      • Simon Mernagh March 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

        I don’t mind doubting facts, but it’s the motive behind it that bothers me. That said, this film is very convincing and frankly I find it very hard to believe that it could be even in the slightest bit factually incorrect.
        I also find your theory of what Ratzinger’s been doing in his spare time extremely plausible!
        Thanks for the comment!

      • Sean Murphy March 25, 2013 at 2:45 am #

        If the documentation I have used is unimpressive, the NYT and MMC documentation is much more unimpressive, since I have used a number of documents that they have ignored, and included information from some documents used by MMC that the film did not disclose to viewers.
        We are all stuck with having to work with available documents. My analysis is based on the documents I have, not the one’s I don’t have. Similarly, an assertion that the analysis is incorrect should be based on something more than speculation about missing documents.
        The particular issue with Goldstein and MMC is the use they have made of what they have, and what documents were relevant and available to them that they did not use. These demonstrate that the claim made by Goldstein about the documents actually rebounds on her. It is her story that is ‘turned on its head’ by the documents. See Part 5 of the extended article for particulars on this point.
        I will have a look at the introduction again, as you seem to have misunderstood my ironic comment about Goldstein’s words, and that is likely my fault.
        Also, could you explain “dusting up your sources”? I’m not a journalist, and I don’t know the jargon.
        Most important, looking at Beverly Arnold’s comment, I do not doubt the allegations against Murphy. As I note in the introduction, MMC is at its best in presenting the horror of it. I have watched those sections of the movie repeatedly while working through the details, and the impact does not diminish with repeated viewing.

  3. Beverly Arnold March 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    If you will Google, “Mea…..:, you will need to scan through a long list, but I believe it was on page 2 about mid way that you can watch the video on your computer.

    • Simon Mernagh March 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      As in watch the entire movie? If so, great, my friends have been looking for it! It was taken away from Irish cinemas in a suspiciously short time frame. And while it was it here, it only got one screening a day in The Lighthouse.

  4. Riktorscale March 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    As a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, I understand the impact this abuse has. The fact that a position of such social authority has been used for possible centuries is not shocking so much, but frustrating and painful. I have seen first hand the double standards and misuse of religion as a justification to downplay the impact of such abuse on a survivor. I have been told by my own parents that I was making up stories, when I confronted them seeking answers of what they noticed when my whole personality mysteriously inverted at age 7.

    Society is slowly starting to understand the impact this kind of abuse has on a persona and its development. Only through documentaries like this can the corrupt and feeble lies of these predators be shown in a true context. Not out of sight out of mind. Not in the cloisters away from others views. No, it’s done openly, it’s got to the point where it is sanctioned. Whole sectors of damage control and management have appeared to address the issue.

    The survivor is finally finding a voice and often through the support of other survivors, find ways to make their voices heard. Cases of abuse via religious authorities are appearing in ever increasing numbers, from every corner of the world. The fact that religious bodies still try to deny the existence of these crimes is becoming a joke. Too much evidence is now available in this time of mass communication. Voices once silenced through isolation and distance are now able to find a forum to be heard.

    These voices have banded together to become a force able to call these religious bodies to admit their complicit nature. Publicly denounce those involved and apologize on others behalf. BUT sadly at this point in time no actual change has occurred. Those in religious power still command an unimaginable control and authority over the lives of so many. My questions that I pose to viewers of this remarkable documentary are simply this. What will it take for things to change? What evidence will you need to see for it finally to be stopped? What action by the actual members of these various faiths needs to occur for the leaders of these faiths to act? What more do you need to know before you stand up and say enough?

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