MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD **** (out of five)
Before you say you can’t take another feature length documentary about sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, know that Alex Gibney’s examination of the subject is both fresh and revelatory. Starting with the focused subject of abuses that took place in a single school – St. John’s School for the Deaf – by a single priest, over a specific period of time, and utilizing beautifully shot interviews with four of the survivors of that abuse, four decades later (their American Sign Language distinctively interpreted by actors including Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke and John Slattery), the film gradually telescopes outwards to take in the much larger picture of this, and other examples of serious abuse, being ignored, hidden, shunted aside, or very peculiarly being dealt with by Church structures leading all the way up to the Vatican – and recently resigned Pope Ratzinger (“Benedict XVI”), who, it turns out, knew all about the St. John’s case – and many, many others, being in charge, before he was Pope, of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition), which specifically dealt with investigating child sexual assault by Catholic priests.
Gibney’s style is never hysterical nor burning with righteous anger; the crimes are horrendous enough on their own, and the four men at the center of the story are beautiful, poignant story-tellers. This is moving, inspiring, deeply committed and informed documentary making.