Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

I have just finished watching a wonderfully done yet singularly disturbing piece: the HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.  In it, writer/director Alex Gibney exposes the depravity of the catholic church regarding sexual child abuse by priests, particularly but not exclusively in its defense of one Father Lawrence Murphy, who had a two-decade history of such abuse at the St. John’s School for Deaf Children near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

There is no way I can convey in a few words the level of horror represented by what Fr. Murphy and literally thousands of other priests are documented to have committed against children, as reported by this film.  Watching it has made me unspeakably angry, though I doubt anywhere near so much as those who attempted to gain a response from the hierarchy of the RC church to their abuse, to the failure of both church and civil authorities to respond initially to that abuse, and to the incomprehensible fact that this is a problem not years or decades old, but, indeed, centuries.  Worse, this is a problem which is well-known to the current vicar of Christ, Joseph Ratzinger, himself, as he personally directed during his tenure as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that all cases of priest child abuse were to be vectored through his office.  He MUST know what has been going on as regards this perfidy and know it in detail … yet he fails to be in any way forthcoming with that knowledge.

As upsetting and dislocating as this documentary is, I must recommend it, strongly and fervently.  If you have access to HBO, watch it.  If not, find someone who can record it for you and see it that way.  And get angry, get very, very goddamned angry … because this business demands anger.

And it demands action.

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Comment by matthew greenberg on February 10, 2013 at 11:19am


Comment by Pat on February 10, 2013 at 10:58am

I suppose if there is one bright spot in all this, it is the greater public awareness of the crisis over the last few years. I do begrudgingly compliment the press on bringing this more to light.  Not only the blatantly transparent move of Bernard Law(less) out of Boston to the Vatican, but now Mahony/Baloney in LA, and the film we're discussing here. I recall when the whole Penn State sex abuse scandal broke out, I would hear jokes like, "I didn't know Penn State was a Catholic Seminary?" The public is becoming more aware, notwithstanding the efforts of the slimy little apologists for child rape like Bill Donohue and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who are more interested in protecting the institution than the victims. The more the sewer rats are exposed, the louder they scream.

Comment by Loren Miller on February 10, 2013 at 9:17am

Pat, I am reminded of the Intelligence Squared debate of 2009, whose topic was: "Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?"  The result of that debate was an overwhelming loss for the "Yes" side of the debate, in no small measure owing to Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry, the two debaters arguing against the proposition.  The powerful and inarguable points they advanced made it clear that, whatever good may be perceived in the actions of the RC church, they are badly outweighed by the transgressions they are guilty of now, never mind the historical wrongs they have committed over the centuries.

These points need to be made more public, more a part of the public discussion.  In addition, I think that the kinds of false positive spin which the church puts on the activities of Mother Teresa needs to be promulgated more, along with their proscription of the use of condoms in AIDS-ridden countries such as Uganda.  Indeed, the very fact that the church is looking to expand in one of the most ignorant areas of the world should be very telling as to its attitude and intent.  The informed and intelligent world is turning away from catholicism, so should it be any surprise that Vatican City turns to those who have no education or sophistication in an attempt to restore their ranks?

Making the argument against the RC church a bipartisan issue would be the best way to go.  Creating such a coalition would be difficult, granted, and there remains the old issue of rational claims based in evidence coming up against the irrational support based in emotion.  Still, if any one issue can cement such cooperation, the abuse of children, continued unabated for more years than anyone can reckon, may with repeated emphasis and focus be that issue.  Such a thrust will require public exposure for those who have been abused, and that will be painful.  It will also likely require a near-constant tattoo of this issue in the media to the point where people will either tire of it and tune it out or, one hopes, resolve to take decisive action to STOP the cause of the abuse.  It will be exceedingly difficult, but very often, those things worth achieving have to be that difficult.

I agree entirely, Pat: the catholic church has no intention of fixing itself.  Indeed, the only "fix" for it which would be most beneficial to all parties is its eventual dissolution ... which cannot happen soon enough to suit me.

Comment by Pat on February 10, 2013 at 7:56am

The Catholic Church is NOT going to "fix" itself. Never has, and never will. I some ways, I understand why. They're the poster boy for institutional cover up. In fact, I'd posit the opinion that they invented it. Think of an example of any giant giant bureaucracy that willingly hangs out its dirty laundry and then, after voluntarily exposing its shortcomings, takes real and positive steps to clean it. I can't either.

The fly in the ointment is that religion is inextricably linked to politics. Like it or not, and just like labor unions, the Better Business Bureau, the Farm Bureau, and countless liberal and conservative organizations, the church helps "get out the vote." If you're politician and your campaign is dependent on the largesse  these groups, you tend not to bite the hand that feeds you. It will take a lot of public pressure on those responsible for prosecuting crimes to go after them. If the public pressure and threat of losing office is greater than the backroom support, there may be a chance.

Comment by Loren Miller on February 9, 2013 at 6:08pm

Meantime, I've been nosing about's entry for Mea Maxima Culpa and found this striking closing word in the review from The Hollywood Reporter:

Mea Maxima Culpa argues persuasively that the Catholic Church is unlikely to fix itself without being forced to by governments that answer not to God, but to citizens. [emphasis mine]

To which I have a single-word query: WHEN?

Comment by Loren Miller on February 9, 2013 at 5:11pm

I wonder how much of the various courts' lack of action in these cases is a matter of ability and how much is a matter of WILLINGNESS.  I DO know that Mahony in LA is catching 10 different kinds of hell, and I hope the diocese of Los Angeles along with him.

Makes me wonder if a very serious public outcry would accelerate matters a touch.

Comment by Pat on February 9, 2013 at 3:59pm

I just finished watching it. My congrats to Mr. Gibney on a job well done., Although, I felt myself throwing up in my mouth. And, my sincere and incredible respect to the men who came out against Murphy and that fetid nest of sewers rats. Speaking of rats, I always suspected Rat Boy and his entourage were deeply involved, but I had no idea they're the "Nuremberg" defendants of child torture and rape. While the criminal courts of the US, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, et al., may not be able to touch them, I would strongly suggest the International Criminal Court in the Hague take a long hard look at them.

Comment by Loren Miller on February 6, 2013 at 11:02am

Well put, SB - Bravo!

Comment by Loren Miller on February 6, 2013 at 10:13am

To a certain degree, it may be a truism that those who empower the hierarchy of the RC church must also be those who disempower them.  That doesn't mean that those who are not directly involved with the church or its activities can just sit on the sidelines, and it's pretty clear that we DON'T.  What may also be necessary is that those other than atheists who ARE on the sidelines also add their voices in protest to what is going on.

THIS is how you take an organization which is assumed to be acting for the greater good and promulgate the idea that it ISN'T.

Comment by matthew greenberg on February 6, 2013 at 10:05am

i suppose i was stating the obvious.  and frankly i answered the wrong question.  you asked why we let them get away with it.  my bad.  i don't have an answer for that one.  IMO, it's up to the Catholics themselves to hold their leaders accountable, either by asking hard questions or leaving the church.  that's what they've done in Ireland, where some 70% of Catholics have left the church.



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