The new documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” combines the auditory and visual aesthetics necessary to deliver a solid
The film addresses the role of the Catholic Church in the abuse of thousands of children worldwide and how these crimes are systematically concealed. This is a topic discussed frequently in the news, but somehow documentarian Alex Gibney (“Taxi To The Dark Side”) humanizes the familiar tragedy with his visual style and the unique nature of the
story he reveals.
The documentary focuses on the Milwaukee abuse scandals from the ’60s and ’70s and the crimes committed by Father Lawrence Murphy against over 200 children at St. John’s School for the Deaf. The film follows the accounts and reflections of five of his victims’ painful memories, and the secretive dealings and debauchery of a broken system.
Focusing on individuals like Tony Walsh, a convicted priest who impersonated Elvis, and networking genius and formerly favored Rev. Marcial Maciel
Degollado, viewers become gradually aware of an intricate web spun by an organization so concerned with its image and the purity of clericalism that it betrays its own spiritual center.
“Maxima” is powerful in its accounts; the five deaf men are mesmerizing in both their stories and their enchanting signing. They bring humanity to what otherwise might be a distant story, providing the audience with genuine pathos. Through the film, viewers are given a stern look at the decaying infrastructure of the Church.
The film is structured with sharp visuals and clear imagery. It is backed by a score that tugs at the heartstrings and follows a logical progression from isolated incident to global epidemic. The narrative culminates in a powerful climax during which the victims — now adults, but still tormented — confront Father Murphy. Gibney finds a topic worth discussing and delivers its harsh message in a compelling fashion. Its focus, however, remains on the cries that have fallen on deaf ears and a public who held the priesthood above their own children and left them to suffer.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 15 print edition. Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]