Church sex abuse exposé creates Oscar buzz

Alex Gibney, an award-winning documentary maker whose work has focussed on Lance Armstrong, Julian Assange, and Enron, has found his most contentious topic yet.

His Oscar-touted exposé, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, traces a sex-abuse scandal from a Milwaukee Catholic church to the Vatican.

Gibney also shot parts of the film in Ireland and Italy and received €50,000 from the Irish Film Board. The movie was banned by the Venice and Rome film festivals this year.

According to the New York Post, Gibney said of its rejection: “I was disappointed. The Vatican exerts a very strong influence in Italy. There is a palpable sense of fear there. This film takes on the Vatican’s complicity [in covering it up].”

The film won the best documentary prize at the London Film Festival last week.

It was co-produced by Belfast’s Below the Radar production company, and is in cinemas in the US from Nov 16.

It follows the story of Fr Lawrence Murphy at the St John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin, who molested 200 pupils for 24 years. He was never disciplined, even after his actions were brought to the attention of the Vatican. Instead, he was moved to other schools.

“The direct connection of the Vatican to this sheds light on the way they’ve shoved this stuff under the carpet,” said Gibney, who discovered a similar scandal involving deaf students in Verona in Italy while making the film.

Five students are interviewed in the film, and, as they use sign language, their words are voiced by actors.

Gibney said: “We play with the idea of silence in this film. How could this predatory behaviour exist with people so helpless?

“With the priests in Italy... there is very little sympathy for victims.

“Instead, there’s this resentment that people would attack the Church. What else is in this huge cache of documents in the secret Vatican archives that has been compiled for centuries?”

Pope Benedict, closing a gathering of bishops who discussed how to win back lapsed and lukewarm Catholics, said yesterday the Church had to develop new ways of reaching out to those who had drifted from the faith. “Besides traditional and perennially valid pastoral methods, the Church seeks to adopt new ones, developing a new language, attuned to the different world cultures...,” he said.

He did not name any new methods but recently the Church has turned to the internet to spread its message. One of the 58 proposals made by the bishops called for Catholic leaders to be better trained in the use of electronic communications.

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