Description from TIFF 2012 catalog by Thom Powers:
Sexual abuse of minors is a crime enabled by silence. Victims are ashamed. Witnesses are reluctant to come forward. Institutions fail to act. The cover-up can be so thick that it requires piercing determination to expose the truth. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God breaks down these barriers in an investigation into the sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Despite sporadic headlines, we still have enormous gaps in our knowledge about the concealment that took place over decades. Although the church has paid out over two billion dollars to settle claims, U.S. courts have convicted only one senior church official for his role in covering up these crimes. Increasingly, other countries are discovering their own dark secrets. Who should be held accountable?
Director Alex Gibney is a master at using personal stories to explore larger systems of corruption, as he’s demonstrated in such acclaimed documentaries as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, and the Academy Award®–winning Taxi to the Dark Side. To frame this crime story, Gibney follows the five deaf men who led the first known public protest against clerical sex abuse in the United States. At St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, Father Lawrence Murphy preyed upon more than 200 of his most vulnerable students beginning in the 1950s. His actions came to the attention of the Vatican in 1963 and he remained at the school until 1974, when he was transferred to another parish. He was never defrocked. In order to protect other children, the five deaf survivors of Murphy’s abuse were determined to make their voices heard. Finally, one of them launched a lawsuit against the pontiff himself, and the ensuing investigation uncovered documents linking the Vatican to a worldwide cover-up of abuse.
Gibney’s investigation leads from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., Ireland, Rome and beyond. He delves into the unsavoury role that Pope John Paul II played in cover-ups, and examines the pivotal position occupied by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — the former Vatican overseer of sex-abuse cases. Mea maxima culpa translates as “my most grievous fault” in the old Latin Catholic mass. Who has the courage to make that confession?