Film defrocks church hierarchy over handling of sex abuse

Fri Nov 16, 2012 9:37am EST
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four deaf Wisconsin men were some of the first to seek justice after suffering childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, and a new documentary about the Catholic Church's poor handling of such cases stemming from the Vatican seeks to make their voices heard.

"Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" explores the impact of the Roman Catholic Church's protocol as dictated from the Vatican for dealing with pedophile priests. It opens in U.S. cinemas on November 16, and will air on cable channel HBO in February.

Though American media coverage about child sex abuse by clergy has been extensive since a slew of cases came to light in Boston in 2002, Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney wanted to connect individual stories with what he sees as systemic failures stemming from the top of the church.

"A lot of individual stories had been done about clerical sex abuse, but I hadn't seen one that really connected the individual stories with the larger cover-up by the Vatican, so that was important," Gibney told Reuters in an interview.

The film centers on the group of deaf men and their experiences as young boys attending St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin.

In a letter to the Vatican in 1998, the late Rev. Father Lawrence Murphy admitted abusing some 200 deaf boys over two decades beginning in the 1950s.

Murphy claimed he had repented, and asked to live out his last years as a priest, and was never defrocked or punished by civil authorities. He died in 1998.

In the film, the men communicate their frustrating attempts to bring their experiences to the attention of religious and civil authorities with effusive sign language and facial expressions, paired with voiceovers by actors such as Ethan Hawke.   Continued...

Undated HBO handout image shows "Rev. LC Murphy & Pat" from an upcoming documentary film "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" due to be released on November 16, 2012, which will air on HBO in February. REUTERS/Noah Fowler/HBO/Handout