SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD: MEA MAXIMA CULPA
The film documents the first known public protest against clerical sex abuse in the US (in the 70s) long before the crisis in Boston, a struggle of more than three decades that ultimately led to a lawsuit against the Pontiff himself. The heroes of the story, four deaf young men, set out to expose the priest who had abused them and so many others by trying to make their voices "heard." Their investigation helped to uncover documents from the secret Vatican Archives that shows how many senior Vatican figures including Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, must operate within the strict rules of secrecy of the Roman Curia.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
By a poignant coincidence (some might claim divine intervention), the media preview for this film was held (unintentionally) on the evening before Pope Benedict's resignation came into effect (28/2/2013). This film could well ignite a fire of even greater indignation around the world than already exists, also coming hot on the heels of the resignation of Ireland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien (25/2/2013).
With meticulous care and intricate detail, Silence In The House of God deconstructs the nature of the Catholic Church's systematic cover ups of pedophilia among their clergy, stretching back well into the past century - and even earlier. For a film that launches its investigation through the experiences of young deaf boys in a Milwaukie school in the 1970s, the title is painfully and ironically appropriate: the silence of the church in this matter has been deafening.
Terry Kohut attended St John's School for the Deaf along with Gary Smith, Arthur Budzinski and Bob Bolger, all of whom suffered frequent sexual abuse at the hands of Father Lawrence Murphy - now deceased. They haven't just come out of the woodwork for this doco. In the autumn of 1973, Bob, Arthur, and Gary report abuse to the Milwaukee Police and St. Francis Police Department. No charges are filed. They continued through 1974 to pursue the matter with Archbishop Cousins, and a supporter even write to inform the Vatican's Apostolic Delegation about the charges against Murphy.
Before Murphy finally retires, he will have molested an estimated 200 boys - all vulnerable, some who can't even communicate adequately with their hearing parents.
But this isn't the place to rehash the story; the film does that superbly well, using all the tools of documentary filmmaking from substantial and relevant interviews with the key players (who are alive) and some exceptional archival footage. Woven together with commentary from Vatican watchers and serving priests, it is a damning doco that one hopes will contribute to a cleansing of the church - starting at the top. The tagline is short, sharp and damning of Ratzinger: 'He knew everything and did nothing...'
Review by Louise Keller:
It is ironic that the raised voices of a small group of deaf boys from Milwaukee, Wisconsin are loud enough to threaten the code of silence over child molestation accusations in the Catholic Church. Alex Gibney's meticulously researched documentary begins with the powerful words: It began with a single letter.... before plunging into the detail of the plight of the students from St John's School for the Deaf, being the first known case in the United States to accuse a Catholic Priest.
There are many revelations and reinforcements of the nature of the systemic nature of the issue of abuse of young boys in the Catholic Church and the great length to which any hint of scandal is 'snuffed out', in the subsequent interviews from abuse victims, attorneys, ex-clergymen, experts and the accused themselves. Amy Berg's powerful 2006 precursor, Deliver Us From Evil was an eye-opener, while Gibney's documenting of the facts about the hush factor and the trail of holy bread crumbs that lead directly to the newly resigned Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) is disturbing to the extreme.
There's great poignancy about the story involving the deaf boys, some of which came from normal hearing parents and with whom they were unable to communicate. They relied on their school priest Lawrence Murphy, who allegedly molested over 200 boys during his years at the school from the 1950s to the mid 70s. So outraged were they at the vulnerable and intolerable position in which they were placed that they issued their own protest by circulating 'Wanted' posters with Murphy's face.
The case springboards into others, and well-oiled institution of the Church is shown to protect its own with ferocious tenacity, reinforcing its code of silence. The way that the abuse is justified - suggesting it to be part of the boys' sex education and cleanse them of lust - is contemptible. Cash settlements are made and priests are not removed from the church, but simply moved elsewhere.
The level of detail is overwhelming and at times confusing, but the message is alarming and clear. In the crescendo to the finish, the sharpest barbs are reserved for the revelations about the (now former) Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican; in his previous role as Cardinal, from the year 2001, Ratzinger was provided with all information relating to abuse cases and was the most informed person within the Church. The immunity of the Vatican and the fact that the Pope is above the law are facts that also echo resoundingly in this shocking disclosure of abuse, betrayal of trust and manipulation of vulnerability.
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SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD: MEA MAXIMA CULPA (M)
CAST: Donaugh Gleason, Brady Bryson, Kyle Donnery, Robert Hoatson, Larry Hunt, Antony Toron
VOICES: Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke
PRODUCER: Alex Gibney, Alexander Johnes, Kristen Vaurio, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney
SCRIPT: Alex Gibney
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lisa Rinzier
EDITOR: Sloane Klevin
MUSIC: Ivor Guest
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Markus Kirschner
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 21, 2013