It’s both heart-wrenching and frustrating watching an account of a witness when he is denied the faculty of words. This is never better exemplified than in Alex Gibney’s exceptional documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which investigates in explosive detail the abuse of deaf-mute children in a Milkwaukeean orphanage by a paedophile priest Father Lawrence Murphy. His former victims, now in their fifties, burst into a tirade of sign language in front of Gibney’s camera – lashed with passion, hands wildly gesticulating, eyes welling and face in utter turmoil as they all try their damnedest to narrate their childhood trauma – all visibly holding this reservoir of truth for decades and now the damn has finally broken. It powerfully summarises Gibney’s purpose, setting these personal interviews as launchpad to an even bigger conspiracy that delves all the way to upper echelons of the Vatican.Gibney should be lauded for holding almost nothing back. There is a point where his documentary borders on sensationalism, but when abusive crimes like this point all the way back to centuries’ worth of denial and cover-up, it’s hard to fault Gibney for going straight for the jugular. He uses every technique in the book – interviews, dramatic re-enactments, voice-overs (supplied by actors Ethan Hawke, John Slattery and Chris Cooper), use of archival footage, photographs and an enormous amount of research – to launch a compelling indictment on Vatican’s preservation of the so-called sacrament of priesthood rather than the innocence of our world’s children. That former Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger, knew about it all and denied everything. That the priests who committed molestations spin their own sense of morality and claim that they are acting under ‘ the will of God’. That the Vatican orchestrates a mafia-like approach to the entire proceedings, hush it all up and send priests to a Caribbean island where they can recuperate, hide from the world and suck coconut juice on hammocks under the sun. Sponsored by every Catholic’s purse around the globe, of course. Every rationalist will be both angered and moved by the victims’ heartfelt and sobering accounts. The moment a victim confronts Father Murphy in his retirement home, demanding to pay for his immoral doings is like watching somebody pleading to give back the childhood that was stolen from him, in part systematically by the world’s most powerful and richest tax-free organisation running one of Earth’s largest religion, worshipped by billions. [separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney | CAST (voices): Jamey Sheridan, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, John Slattery | WRITER: Alex Gibney | PRODUCER: Jigsaw Productions | RUNNING-TIME: 106 mins | GENRE: Documentary | COUNTRY: USA
*Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is out on DVD on 24 June. Distributed by Element Pictures.