May 21, 2019

Winnipeg
14° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Their cross to bear

Documentary focusing on former Milwaukee priest and the more than 200 deaf children he's alleged to have sexually abused connects denials, coverups to Vatican's highest office

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2013 (2285 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's a historical documentary with current and ongoing implications, and the events of the past week have made it more timely now than when it was made.

The harrowing church-abuse film Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God takes the position that the trail of denials and coverups related to sexual-abuse charges against Catholic priests reaches all the way to the highest office of the Vatican.

The announcement this week that Pope Benedict XVI will resign -- the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years -- gives added weight to filmmaker Alex Gibney's (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) assertion that the pontiff's role in the scandal, most notably back when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man directly in charge of dealing with all sex-abuse charges directed at the Catholic church, can no longer be deflected or ignored.

In announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict cited his age and failing health. In interviews this week, Gibney -- who is in Britain promoting the U.K. premiere of Mea Maxima Culpa -- said he's convinced the sudden departure must be at least partially related to growing global pressure.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2013 (2285 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's a historical documentary with current and ongoing implications, and the events of the past week have made it more timely now than when it was made.

The harrowing church-abuse film Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God takes the position that the trail of denials and coverups related to sexual-abuse charges against Catholic priests reaches all the way to the highest office of the Vatican.

The announcement this week that Pope Benedict XVI will resign — the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years — gives added weight to filmmaker Alex Gibney's (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) assertion that the pontiff's role in the scandal, most notably back when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man directly in charge of dealing with all sex-abuse charges directed at the Catholic church, can no longer be deflected or ignored.

In announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict cited his age and failing health. In interviews this week, Gibney — who is in Britain promoting the U.K. premiere of Mea Maxima Culpa — said he's convinced the sudden departure must be at least partially related to growing global pressure.

Director Alex Gibney

HBO PHOTO

Director Alex Gibney

"(The resignation) seems, to me, inextricably linked to the sex-abuse crisis," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

"I think his papacy will always be saddled with the stain of the sex-abuse crisis. While he did some things to try to mitigate it, he never ever took responsibility in any kind of substantial way... He was always trying try to make it go away, and it wouldn't go away, because he never fundamentally understood how deep was the pain and the crime and never was willing to hold himself and the church to account for having done what it did."

In terms of the film itself, Mea Maxima Culpa — which has its Canadian TV premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBC News Network — is a perfect example of a film whose examination of a local problem ultimately reveals a widespread issue.

The documentary's prime focus is the crimes of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who was stationed at a school for deaf children in Milwaukee for a quarter of a century. Between 1950 and 1974, Murphy is alleged to have abused at least 200 young students, often targeting boys whose parents did not use sign language, meaning the victims had no way of communicating what had happened to them.

According to Gibney's film, church officials were made aware of abuse at St. John's School for the Deaf as early as 1958, and the Vatican was informed of the charges by the early 1960s. Murphy remained at the school until 1974, when he was quietly relieved of his duties and relocated to another parish.

Father Lawrence Murphy with a victim.

HBO PHOTO

Father Lawrence Murphy with a victim.

Eventually, one by one, former students began to tell their stories. In the 1970s, five deaf men banded together and found a way to make their voices heard. Mea Maxima Culpa takes their campaign to a global audience.

One of them, Terry Kohut, described his ordeal recently during the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. Speaking with the aid of a sign-language translator, Kohut said this documentary has played an essential part in advancing their pursuit of justice.

"Father Murphy abused me when I was a little boy," he explained. "I was kind of shocked, because I couldn't tell anybody. I refused to tell anybody; for many, many years, I would not tell a soul. And I realized that (by) keeping silent, I was suffering even more.

"I couldn't stand to see Father Murphy as a priest, and find out he had abused other children. When I found that out, I became very angry. I wrote a letter to Father Murphy, and told him how I felt. I called him out. I sent a copy of the letter to the Vatican to let (them) know everything he had done to me... and I begged the Vatican to please defrock Father Murphy. I only wanted justice, and they ignored me.

"But I'll tell you, I'm so happy and grateful that Alex has made this movie for us to tell the world. I want the world to see this movie."

Pope Benedict XVI

ETTORE FERRARI/EPA/CORBIS

Pope Benedict XVI

After exploring Murphy's history of abuse in minute detail in the first part of the film, Gibney expands his focus, offering details of similar cases in other U.S. locales as well as in other countries, most notably Ireland, a nation whose deep connection to the Catholic church has been irreparably damaged by continuing sex-abuse revelations.

During the press-tour interview session, former Benedictine monk and mental-health counsellor Richard Sipe said despite the shocking revelations in Mea Maxima Culpa, the truth of sexual abuse within the church is only beginning to be revealed.

"Sexual abuse of minors is a societal problem on every level of society, in every ethnic group," he explained. "But what you make of the Catholic church is that they have a tradition that says, 'We have a group of men who are entirely sexually safe,' that they do not practise sex in any form, at any time. That is the myth that I have been faced with in my life.

"I didn't start out being interested in sexual abuse of minors, but what came out, what evolved from studying this group of people over a long period of time is that there is a baseline... And I am right. This is systemic.

"What's unique about this documentary is that it puts the whole systemic picture together. And to me, the marvellous, almost miraculous thing is that you have people without a voice having a strong voice. As (Kohut) said, 'Deaf Power.'"

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12:51 PM CST: adds fact box

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us