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by Alison Willmore
February 4, 2013 11:24 AM
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Alex Gibney on 'Mea Maxima Culpa,' Catholicism and Why Institutions Can't Be Trusted to Regulate Themselves

'Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God' HBO

Do you think specifically with the Catholic Church that there's hope of significant reform? Between your film and the reporting that's been done in the last decade, do you see a closing of the ranks or some kind of permanent change happening?

I think there's a short term and long term effect. In the short term, the Church shows very little evidence of reforming itself. Where are the calls to have a truth and reconciliation commission? To contact a human rights organization and say, we're now going to disgorge all the documents we have relating to the abuse of children, to not only figure out what went wrong but how we're going to protect children in the present and in the future? You can't even imagine that happening, but you look at countries like Ireland that used to be so dominated by this utter reverence and acceptance of the priests and the Catholic Church. Their civil society has risen up and the parishioners who still have faith in God no longer have faith in the hierarchy of the institutions, so they're establishing a kind of parallel system.

"I've got to believe that's getting the Church where it hurts most, which is in the pocketbook."

I've got to believe that's getting the Church where it hurts most, which is in the pocketbook. They're not giving every Sunday. I talk to a lot of my Catholic friends in the States and it's the same thing. It's like, you keep asking us to put money in the collection plate so that we can pay for more of these lawsuits because of the cover-up of pedophile priests. I think from the bottom up, pressure will ultimately force change. I hope, or people should discard the institution. The Catholic Church behaves very much like the big banks on Wall Street. And i think the Church assumes that it's become too big to fail, but I think that isn't so and that Ireland proves that point -- it can fail.

How have those Catholic friends of yours reacted to this? I know for some people there's just never going to be a way to separate criticism of the institution from an attack on the faith.

I try pretty hard in this film to draw a distinction between attacking the hierarchy of an institution versus attacking faith. This is not a film that attacks the faith of the parishioners at all. Indeed, Tom Doyle makes a very persuasive, powerful statement in the film when he says he's the guy who gets hired for these lawsuits attacking the Church. They ask, why won't you act for the Church and he says I do, every time, because the Church is the people in the pews -- and I believe that. That's what I tell my Catholic friends. I was raised Catholic, so those I speak to, they find it persuasive. This is not an atheist film, not an anti-religion film -- it's the opposite. It's a crime film saying people in institutions, whether religious or not, need to be held accountable for a crime that they commit, period.

That idea that people have to connect the two seems to be part of the problem.

It is. The Catholic Church in particular is very good at making you feel peculiar -- and I say "peculiar" not in a negative way, but in that you're special because you're attached to a religion unlike a lot of kind of Protestantism, one that has rituals. Because you're bound up in that, it's part of your identity, so that when someone attacks the Church you're like, screw them because it feels like they're attacking me -- but it's not so, it doesn't have to be that way.

It is hard to separate, though. When I went to my wife's church -- Church of Christ, which she likes because she likes the minister -- I remember saying The Lord's Prayer. I'm routinely mouthing the words, and when you get to the end there's an add-on that the Protestant church has done: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, amen." That's not in the Catholic Lord's Prayer, it stops at "deliver us from evil," so I stopped too and wouldn't say the rest. I thought, wait a minute, you don't go to church anymore, why is it that means so much to you? But that's not my experience. It was hardwired into my personality to resist that rather than to just do the polite thing and say the words along with everyone else.

It is hard, but people have to get over that because that's how cover-ups work. Institutions co-opt people. You find governments doing that too: "You don't wanna be unpatriotic, do you?" Since when is criticizing your government unpatriotic? It's tricky, but people have to make that distinction or else we're all done.

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