Having already taken on Enron, Eliot Spitzer, and torture in the American military among many other controversial topics, prolific documentarian Alex Gibney’s latest film Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is an indictment of the Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse scandals, concentrating on one particularly disturbing case.
It was producers Jedd and Todd Wider, whom Gibney had worked with before, that first drew his attention to a story on the cover of the New York Times about a Catholic priest in Milwaukee who had sexually abused over 200 deaf children, targeting those whose parents could not understand sign language. “It seemed to me that my contribution could be that I would look at a particular crime, in this case Father Murphy, and maybe see if by following that crime you could follow it up the chain right on up to the top and that’s what the film ultimately ended up doing.”
Of course the top meant the Pope himself. “Ratzinger knows more about clerical sex abuse than any human being on the planet and he had an opportunity to really aggressively pursue it, but he’s a politician and so even though he regards it as an evil he had this kind of odd position where he would only prosecute if it seemed like the political wins were right.”
Raised as a Catholic himself, Gibney felt so passionate about the subject matter that he decided to narrate the film himself while actors Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and John Slattery leant their voices to the deaf victims who sign their stories.
At one point during the talk, Gibney drew a comparison between the Church and the recent Penn State scandal. “The Catholic church is not unique in the way in which it seeks to protect itself as an institution and to allow horrible things to take place because the grandeur of what is being accomplished in the other sphere is so important, and that’s really at the heart of this. There’s a key phrase in the film, a phrase that police departments often use called ‘noble cause corruption’ and I think that’s the theme of this. It’s not evil men doing evil things, it’s good and holy men allowing for evil to be done because the view is if you’re holy you can do wrong.”
Watch video from both talks below: