Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Executive Producers: Lori Singer, Jessica Kingdon and Sheila Nevins
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Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God investigates the secret crimes of Father Lawrence Murphy, a charismatic Milwaukee priest who is believed to be responsible for the abuse of more than 200 deaf children attending the St. John School for the Deaf.
At the heart of the film is a small group of deaf heroes—Gary Smith, Terry Kohut, Arthur Budzinski, and Bob Bolger—who sought to protect other children and courageously expose the priest who abused them.
Mea Maxima Culpa not only tells their story, but also makes clear how the immense power of a worldwide organization can be used to cloak its flaws and marginalize victims.
There in Wisconsin on school grounds, a place where parents sent their deaf children to be taught—and where any parent would expect their child to be safe—Father Murphy betrayed their trust by molesting boys over many decades, even training one generation of boys to groom the next generation for him.
Many boys over the years tried to tell someone, a parent, another priest. Yet, they were either ignored or not believed: Who could believe that a priest, especially one so dedicated to these deaf children, would do such a thing?
Atop this obstacle of assumed credibility, this abuse was taking place during the late 1950s and early 1960s—a time when deaf people were widely considered to be of lesser intelligence than others.
Even when the boys did find someone who tried to help, the church went out of its way to hush up the allegations, and nothing was done.
In many ways, the Catholic Church is the largest corporation in the world. And like most corporations, it prefers to handle personnel matters internally.
The film tells how priests accused of abuse were often moved from parish to parish, with no notification to the new parish about the problems at the old. The church also has its own “treatment center” for pedophile priests.
If all else fails, priests are often either sent to monasteries or even promoted within the church where they will have less contact with young parishioners. The Peter Principle becomes the Saint Peter Principle.
Many would have given up, but Smith, Kohut, Budzinski and Bolger refused to suffer in silence. They distributed flyers, staged protests, and wrote letters calling Father Murphy out for his crimes.
Although Mea Maxima Culpa focuses primarily on the story of Father Murphy and the students at Saint John’s, it also considers the broader worldwide problem of clerical sexual abuse and the church’s historical response to it.
The recent pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was at one time the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the original office of the Inquisition and the office in the church responsible for dealing with accusations of sexual abuse by priests.
In 2001, Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, ordered that all cases involving sexual abuse by priests had to come through his office, making him the man who knew the most about the problem and its prevalence worldwide.
As a result, Benedict was named in a lawsuit as an accessory to one accusation for providing a cover-up, but was spared prosecution by declaring diplomatic immunity, which was granted.
Because the film was made in 2012, before Benedict’s 2013 resignation, the film was unable to take into account actions taken by Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God deftly illustrates the immense power an organization like the Catholic Church may wield and boldly shines a light on the potential harm which follows it.
It also points up the difficulties faced by those attempting to rectify bad situations because of the huge—and, in the case of the church, ancient—infrastructure of such a behemoth.
Celebrating the tenacity and courage of the 4 former St. John’s students, the film vividly demonstrates how deeply the lasting wounds and lingering pain of broken trusts can hurt.
For amplifying the voice of these once voiceless victims-turned heroes, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is the recipient of a 2014 Television Academy Honors award.
— Melissa Byers, Special to TelevisionAcademy.com
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is currently scheduled to air on the HBO cable television network — check your local listings — and is available to watch here on the HBOGO website and mobile app.