Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (HBO Films)
Written and directed by Alex Gibney
We’re back to trying to do these “Chosen One(s)” as separate articles, and while in fact this week’s Chosen One would normally be David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, that’s only because it cheated into a limited release five days before its original wide release date. It would also be a shame to not give special attention to Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, which is another one of his unforgettable and jaw-dropping efforts.
Anyone who has read this column or site already knows how highly I regard Gibney as a documentary filmmaker, going back to Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken to him for movies he’s made since then, because he’s just a really smart guy as well as one prolific mother*cker.
Mea Culpa Maxima is a surprising turn for him since it veers further away from his previous work, and while it may not seem overly political, it actually still deals with politics, only this time it’s dealing with the politics within the Catholic Church and how they’ve hidden hundreds of cases of pedophilia and abuse.
At its core, the film is about the St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee where young boys were abused during the 50s and 60s by their teacher, Father Lawrence Murphy, who took advantage of the fact they didn’t have families who could understand their sign language. The victims, now in their ’40s and ’50s, tell their stories using expressive and emotional signing, something that makes up the main body of the film.
Mostly narrated by Gibney himself–one of the few clear signs that it’s a film by Gibney–it’s certainly one of his stronger efforts, using stylish cinematography for the interviews and combining them with lots of vintage photos and archival films of kids playing at St. John’s while we hear the victim’s sign language being translated.
It goes off on a fairly substantial tangent when it starts getting into some of the other priests and higher-ups in the archdiocese whose sexual indiscretions were being secreted by the Vatican going all the way up to the current Pope. Gibney’s film certainly goes a lot more in-depth into the topic than Amy Berg’s excellent “Deliver Us From Evil,” yet the decision to not remain focused on St John’s does hurt the movie since that’s really the story that needed to be told rather than going into other documented wrongdoings by the Catholic Church.
Eventually it does get back to the victims of St. John’s and we see them getting the deserved resolution to decades of not receiving justice for what was done to them, and the film certainly is powerful enough to leave you wondering whether the Catholic Church will ever stop protecting child molesters.