If you are a pious, conservative member of the Catholic Church, stay away from any movie theatre showing the documentary Mea Maxima Culpa. You will be exposed to scenes of diabolical evil, revolting details of lives destroyed, to corruption, institutional ineptitude, chronic, sinful delay, ignorance, injustice and a disturbing misuse, no, an abuse of power – all in the name of Jesus. If you are a loyal member of the institution, a little person with a simple, delicate faith who wants to believe the best of those you call “Father”, “Your Grace”, “Your Eminence”, protect yourself from the agony of knowledge, cover your face, clench your fists and pretend that the characters of this documentary never existed.
Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence in the House of God was directed by Alex Gibney and, in this 1 hour and 46 minutes documentary, he exposes the sexual abuse of little deaf boys who could not speak, by a clerical predator in the diocese of Milwaukee, and it records the lifelong battle of four of these boys to be heard, to be dealt with compassionately and justly. It is an horrific story interlaced with vignettes involving other priests, archbishops, cardinals, popes, and serial offenders from Ireland and Italy. We learn the dirty details surrounding the life of the Vatican darling, Marcial Marciel Degollado who founded the Legionaries of Christ, a friend of Pope John Paul II, a close associate of the powerful Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a gold-carded donor to the Vatican coffers, a serial pedophile abuser of his seminarians and even of his own illegitimate children. We meet Father Tony Walsh, a singing priest in Dublin who could entertain incredulous fans with his impersonation of The King, and who, among a large field of competitors, won the reputation of being the most notorious clerical pedophile in Ireland. We watch, with mouth agog, as his bishop, the effete Archbishop Connell, tells us that he was too busy, with too much to do, to follow up complaints about Father Walsh. We witness Marcial Marciel’s friend, the silly angelic Cardinal Sodano, advise the pope in solemn ceremony, not to concern himself about “the petty gossip “ circling the world, involving clerical pedophilia and the quality of the Vatican’s response.
But the documentary focuses its attention on Father Murphy. He was for almost twenty-five years, from 1950 to 1974, and in the face of serious complaints of criminal behaviour, in charge of a boarding school of little boys who were all profoundly deaf. He had been blessed with the special gift of communicating with his charges by sign language. Over the years, he selected his sexual victims carefully, making sure that he assaulted and raped those boys whose parents could not use sign language and therefore could not communicate effectively with their own sons. He was a monster. You will need a strong stomach and an unshakeable faith to endure this documentary to its conclusion. It is a powerful and damning indictment on the hierarchy, the clerical club and the Vatican. Watching the victims expressing their primeval, gut emotions through their eyes and hands was for me a transforming experience, beyond the world of written or spoken words. The images these men created were overwhelming.
I came away with a feeling of profound shame at the depth to which consecrated men could descend; a sense of anger at the mafia sub-culture of God’s shepherds; a sense of horror at the thought of what young, innocent, vulnerable boys had to endure, and of the raw wounds they had borne throughout their lives; and a sense of wonder and admiration at the courage and determination profoundly deaf men have brought to their fight for justice and recognition. These isolated men put us all to shame. While ever people like them are alive and demanding to be heard, the Church and her illustrious message will never die. The cardinals, the archbishops and monsignors of the Church do not give us hope for the future. They must know that they have dropped the ball. Their credibility is in ruins. But these wounded men with their thirst for justice and their amazing, powerful and explosive sign language, and the ordinary, angry, scandalized little people of the local churches are the hope of things to come.