Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (4 stars)

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Damning doc implicating Pope Benedict XVI in the Catholic church's cover-up of child sex abuse

Roland Barthes devised the term 'inoculation theory' to explain how the dominant order in society permits a few ‘bad-apple’ individuals within corrupt organisations to be blamed for wrong-doing, as a way of deflecting attention away from any fundamental criticisms of these institutions. The latest documentary from American filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) powerfully illustrates Barthes’ idea, by examining how the child abuse perpetrated over several decades by a Roman Catholic priest at an educational establishment in Wisconsin exposes the rottenness at the very highest levels of the Vatican City.

Father Murphy was a predatory paedophile at the St John’s School for the Deaf, who from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, abused hundreds of pupils. Courageously several of his young male victims informed local law enforcement agencies and religious authorities about the abuse they suffered, with a civil lawsuit being taken out against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee back in 1975.

As with Amy Berg’s Deliver us from Evil, the impressively researched Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God details the ways, in the face of devastating evidence, that the Catholic Church attempted to cover-up a priest’s serial criminality. Rather than being defrocked, Murphy was simply moved to another parish, whose inhabitants were kept in the dark of his past behavior, whilst canon law and confidential settlements were deployed to ward off legal proceedings. Incorporating interviews with non-hearing victims of Murphy’s pederasty who ‘sign’ their testimonies to the camera, alongside some superfluous dramatic reconstructions, Gibney illustrates how the efforts to cover-up priestly paedophilia stretch all the way to Pope Benedict XVI himself. For it was none other than the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who was placed in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the committee responsible for assessing all sexual abuse cases involving Roman Catholic clergy. Unsurprisingly, no representative of the Vatican was prepared to be interviewed for Gibney’s justifiably damning film.

Limited release from Fri 15 Feb.


Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Alex Gibney
  • Written by: Alex Gibney
  • Cast: Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery, Chris Cooper
  • UK release: 15 February 2013

Powerful and justifiably damning documentary from Enron / Taxi to the Dark Side director Gibney about the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who, between the 1950s and the 70s, abused hundreds of deaf boys in his care.