My wife and I watched last night one of the most disturbing film documentaries we have ever seen, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Alex Gibney directed the documentary which talks with many witnesses in many countries about how priests routinely molested young boys for years with impunity. That is disturbing in its own right. Yet, the evidence is very compelling that the actions of these priests have been known for years at the highest levels in the Vatican, and efforts to take action were actually thwarted from Rome.
It is now available on-demand through HBO and I encourage each of you to watch Mea Maxima Culpa (which means through my very great fault). If you are raised a Catholic like my wife, the documentary will both break your heart and trust as well as making you furious that pious people would let this happen and then cover it up. If you are a parent, this documentary will break your heart even more. You see, in addition to raping hearing children, the priests preyed on deaf children who could not easily communicate with others what was wrong.
This is how the story of the molestations broke, as deaf boys, who attended St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee, had been molested for years by a priest named Father Lawrence Murphy. As adults, when no one would heed their pleas including the police, other priests, bishops, archbishops and even a Cardinal, they began putting wanted posters on car windshields with the Father’s picture and name on them. This was in 1972. People used to believe this was isolated to America, but Ireland had a huge scandal over priest molestation and the church handled it so poorly, the Irish government in a very Catholic country had to call the church on the carpet for tolerating pedophiles. Even in the shadows of the Vatican, a deaf school in Italy had the same issues as St. John’s in Milwaukee. And, stories of molestation have been and are being reported in many other countries and in the US, such as what is transpiring on Los Angeles and over time in Boston, where a significant sum of money was used to settle cases.
Yet, what the documentary reveals as even more troubling, is the Vatican has known about pedophile priests for years with some evidence going back to Spain in the year 400. And, to make it even worse, the current Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had all pedophile cases reporting into him. So, for some time, Ratzinger has had full awareness of the priests who were molesting children and led in the cover-up and attempted rehabilitation of the priests. You see, the problem was so significant, the church had a program to try to rehabilitate priests who were molesting children. Yet, the leader of the program wrote that it was his belief you cannot change pedophiles from preying on children and they need to be removed from their duties. His opinion was overruled by higher-ups in the Vatican and the rehabilitated priests were sent back to their parishes or to other parishes to molest again.
What also was revealed in the investigative stories is a contradiction that the US Archbishops did nothing. While they could have done much, much more and deserve a lot of blame, some begged Rome to let them take action and did so in writing. Yet, the Vatican would not let them do so out of good faith to a fellow priest. The troubling part to many of the reporters who were interviewed, some of whom follow the Vatican closely, was how certain church leaders focused more on the priests and saving the image of the church rather than the kids. The Archbishop in Ireland was caught on camera saying he is very busy in response to why he has not gone to see the victims and their families.
The Catholic Church has done an amazing amount of good for many in the world. We should not lose sight of that. The people who make up the church have donated time, energy and money/ goods to help those in need. And, for the number of priests who have done these evil things, there are countless others who do so much good. Yet, these good-hearted Catholics deserve more than this from their leaders. I feel for the nuns and priests who have devoted their lives to the church to have their leaders breach the trust and faith of so many. I feel for those many parishioners who have the constancy of faith to keep them going to see them now have to question their spiritual guides. The position of priest is so important in the church, when the incumbent shames the role, they need to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. In these cases, piety does not trump criminality.
These pedophile priests are criminals and need to be prosecuted. They are actually worse than normal pedophiles as they betrayed the lofty trust placed in them and abused their authority as well as the rights of the victims. There are some who have called for Ratzinger (I cannot refer to him as pope at this point) to be tried for his crimes of cover-up. To know priests have done these horrible things and to not have taken action is criminal. One of the victims in Milwaukee has actually sued the Vatican without much success, yet he did bring suit against them. However, he gave up on his suit and recently joined with some other cases to get restitution for other victims and to prevent it from happening to future victims.
Unfortunately, it continues to happen. While these issues are of such great concern, the church continues to grow in South America and other parts of the world. A reporter who was chastised for her role in breaking the story, noted these countries are where America was on this issue back in the 1960’s. The victims dare not accuse a priest as they would not be a good Catholic. Their communities would quiet them just as the boys in Milwaukee were not heeded, even after they became adults.
I encourage you to watch this film. It will disturb you. We cannot tolerate letting people, but especially leaders, prey on children. And, it is even more paramount if the leaders are religious ones. They have a level of trust that makes it worse when it is breached. If we suspect something, we need to go to the police. To do otherwise, lets a pedophile harm another. To apprise the church would likely lead to more cover-up and denial than action. And, it does a disservice to all the wonderful priests who earn people’s trust every day. Most importantly, do it for the children. If we always remember that, we know the path, while hard, is the more righteous one.