Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God Movie Review
There's a reason this expertly shot and edited documentary is skimming under the radar: no one wants you to see it. The hugely skilled Gibney is taking on the world's biggest corporation, the Vatican, with a lucid, personal exploration of child abuse in the Catholic church. And while a first-person approach draws us in, it's the wide-ranging evidence against the top echelons of the church that takes us aback. This film is exposing one of the biggest ever conspiracies without ever shouting about it.
The main focus here is four men (Kohut, Smith, Kuehn and Budzinski) who were abused by a priest while they were students at a school for the deaf in Milwaukee. One of them blew the whistle in a 1972 letter, but the priest was never brought to justice for his crimes. It seemed like the local diocese was covering up his actions, but an investigation showed that the orders to stay silent came right from the Holy See in Rome. And as years passed, similar stories emerged from Boston, Ireland and Italy itself. In each case, the Vatican ordered the churches not to report the abuse to the police.
Yes, this conspiracy goes all the way to the top, although Pope Benedict has tried to remain outside the fray even though his previous job was to investigate these cases. And in looking at this careful outline of the events, it's clear that the real problem stems from the Catholic church's insistence that priests should never answer to earthly powers, which is why parents are so reluctant to believe their children's accusations against a holy man. In other words, the church is more concerned for the office of the priesthood than the victims of abuse.
But Gibney goes even further than this, digging up a scandal that's darkly sinister. He explores the shaky nature of the Vatican itself, which is treated as a nation state even though it has no characteristics of an actual country (such as a government with checks and balances). Throughout the film, Gibney continually tries to return to those four men and their specific story, but the scandal is so much bigger that the film itself seems to expand a bit uncontrollably. So the exposure of systematic criminal activity, as vitally important as it is, feels almost like a distraction from the emotional resonance of the Milwaukee story. But as a global call to justice, this film is essential viewing.