The title “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” does not begin to cover the horrors detailed in the documentary debuting Monday, Feb. 4 on HBO.
“Mea Maxima Culpa” — the Latin words mean “my most grievous fault” — concerns a Milwaukee priest who sexually abused more than 200 deaf children over decades.
Some of the victims staged what was the first known protest against Catholic priests, alerting every church official they could. It is remarkable that boys who could not speak made themselves heard.
Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney hopes viewers take “an appreciation of everyday heroes. Even deaf men can raise their voices in ways that make a difference.”
The crimes they accuse the late Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy of are reprehensible. And worse, say many in the film, the Vatican knew.
Inspired by reading The New York Times’ reports on the crimes, Gibney spent two years on this and traveled to Ireland, Milwaukee and Italy to interview people. The film feels diluted with the story of the deaf boys, denials from Rome and similar cases in Europe.
“In a way, [the Vatican] can’t help but act in a such a venal, contemptible manner, revealing their law is not divine law but just corrupt old men inflicting their s*** on others.” Gibney says.
The first part of the film deals with children in a school for the deaf. Many were isolated from their parents who didn’t know sign language. Murphy was the one adult with whom they could communicate.
They tell of being sexually abused in confessionals and waking in the middle of the night to find Murphy molesting them.
A filmed confrontation between a victim and Murphy, who admitted no wrong, haunts Gibney. The priest’s deaf housekeeper defends Murphy.
“She keeps asking ‘Are you a Catholic?’ It’s kind of ‘Why don’t you take one for the team?’ ” Gibney says. “It is such a powerful scene. He keeps saying, ‘This is a crime.’ “