Sunday, 9 September 2012
Mea Maxima Culpa
Silence In The House of God. With the stories of several deaf men in Wisconsin who were sexually abused as children by their priest in the 1970s, documentary-maker Alex Gibney finds a particularly powerful and resonant anchor in which to investigate the injustices perpetuated by the Catholic Church. Indeed, what better way to highlight the Vatican’s appalling culture of silence than by following an opposing group of people who cannot talk?
Fortunately, Gibney, an Oscar-winner for Taxi To The Dark Side and maker of Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room, never belabors the cruel irony that he has employed to structure the documentary. Successfully balancing the intimate stories of the deaf men with a wider, investigative expose of global proportions, Gibney has made a powerful and affecting film, which could galvanize audiences, both theatrically in limited release as well as TV outlets around the world. (HBO will broadcast it in 2013.)
There is another more rhetorical reason for focusing on the story of Milwaukee priest Father Lawrence Murphy, and the alumni of the St. John’s School for the Deaf who fought to expose him: According to the documentary, their struggle, which began in the mid-1970s, is the first known public protest against clerical sex abuse in the United States.
Initially, Gibney tells a story that may be familiar to audiences: A respected Catholic priest fondles young boys in a closet and skulks through the dormitories at night, looking for his latest prey. While brief reenactments may come across as hackneyed, Gibney makes the effective choice of displaying the deaf men, now well into their middle age, use sign language to tell their stories. Each movement, slap and turn of their hands seems to pop on the soundtrack, reinforcing their feelings of disgust, anger and frustration, as actors (Jamey Sheridan, Chris Coope, Ethan Hawke and John Slattery) speak their words.