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

Documentary 106 November 16, 2012
By Marsha McCreadie
It's a good thing that documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney is an ex-Catholic; it takes the rage of the disillusioned to so zealously rip the veil as he does in Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. Yet even non-believers will get angry deciding which is worse: the sexual abuse of deaf children (mostly though not exclusively boys) at St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee from the 1950s through the early '70s, or that the Church worked so hard to hide it. Putting a face on misery, as he did in his Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, Gibney begins with four of the 200 boys abused by Father Lawrence Murphy—Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Kuehn, and Arthur Budzinski—all as brave today for being filmed as they were when they first tried to out Murphy in 1973, handing out fliers proclaiming "Serial Child Abuser is Loose in Milwaukee;" turning him in to the police to no avail. (The men’s stories are given voice by actors including Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, and John Slattery.) Terry describes Murphy as wolf-like; in one of the movie's re-enactments, we watch his nightly visitations stalking the dorm, looking especially for boys whose parents didn't sign and couldn't be told. Though Murphy admitted to some wrongdoing in a Church-supervised internal investigation, defending himself by saying he was taking the sexual sins of adolescents upon himself, he was like so many abusive priests simply moved to another diocese. The film also exposes secret million-dollar settlement funds, and even an attempt to buy an island in the Caribbean for pederastic priests.
Alex Gibney Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Brady Bryson, Larry Hunt Alex Gibney Independent Pictures

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