Three films and a real life incident all connected with religious beliefs dominated my thoughts this last week. All three films include death or sexual abuse, plus the horrendous killing on the streets of London, far more extreme than any movie, made me question the significance of worship!
The first film was Hors Satan (2011) a French movie that questions good and evil suggesting that Christ and Satan are possible different sides of the same coin? The second was Beyond the Hills (2012), which is based on a true story that happened in 2005 when a young novice was subjected to an exorcism in a Romanian monastery. The final part of this trilogy was Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012). Directed and produced by the American documentary film Alex Gibney, who won the 2007 Academy Award for the Best Documentary Feature for Taxi to the Dark Side, which focused on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed by US soldiers at Bagram Air Force Base in 2002. A film that exposed the modern day role of torture and political corruption in the so-called war on terror.
Gibney has turned his attention to abuse in the Catholic Church. Mea Maxima Culpa investigates the sexual crimes of a Milwaukee priest called Lawrence Murphy who it is alleged abused more than 200 deaf children under his control at St Johns School for the Deaf. The film details the first known protest against clerical sex abuse in the United States by four deaf men, Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Arthur Budzinksi and Bob Bolger, whose signing is spoken by actors. The resulting legal action spanned three decades and helped uncover documents from the secret Vatican archives that ultimately resulted in a lawsuit against the Bishop of Rome himself.
The heart-breaking part of this exposé is the understandable effect abuse has on the four men’s lives and how it is obvious that its impact still gives them no peace even to this day. The problem with this documentary is that it tries to cover too much ground spotlighting similar abuse cases in Ireland and Italy and highlighting the horrific actions of Marcial Maciel Degollado, a prominent church fundraiser and ruthless sex criminal beloved by Pope John Paul II. In the end we get bombarded with too much information, too many different faces, names and facts for it all to fully sink in. I feel Gibney could have made a more poignant film about the misuse of power by the Catholic Church if he just concentrated on the Lawrence Murphy affair, but even so a brave piece of cinematic work.