Alex Gibney On What The Pope Knew (And Why He Did Nothing) In 'Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God'
Sundays are a good time for soul-searching — which makes it a good time to check in with filmmaker Alex Gibney, whose chilling documentary about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, is a must-see for anyone interested in the subject as well as the larger issue of what happens when religion becomes big business.
Mea Maxima Culpa, which translates to “My Most Grievous Fault,” takes Gibney all the way to the Vatican, and in this interview, the filmmaker talks about the surprisingly integral roles that the late Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) played in this tragic tale as well as his doubts that the church will ever openly confront this issue in a way that will bring some measure of peace to its many victims.
Movieline: After seeing Mea Maxima Culpa, I thought that it shares a theme with Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. On one level, this is about a giant corporation quashing someone those who dare to challenge its ethics.
Gibney: That's right. It's an abuse of power of sorts.
The Vatican is a corporation.
It's religion that's become a corporation and therein lays the rub. The Vatican has become too seduced by its own power and money. Vatican City is its own state.
What struck me about Mea Maxima Culpa is the arrogance that the church has shown towards those who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.
For somebody like Pope Benedict, I don't think it's an arrogance born of malice. I think that the hierarchy intuits itself as a kind of holy order, which is innately better than everyone else and, therefore, can't fathom the idea of punishing one of its own. It's like ratting on a family member. If you find out a brother has committed a crime, you don't go running to the police. But once you’ve started to believe your own hype, even if it’s illogical hype, it can take you to some dark places.
And then you’re in the position of maintaining the illusion that you have done nothing wrong, which entails silencing anyone who says otherwise.
I think many of these people are true believers — even somebody as sick as Father Murphy: In those therapist’s notes he talks about why he did what he did with those children. He said, "Well, I was taking their sins upon myself."
Doesn’t he also say that he was “fixing” rampant homosexuality at the St. John’s School for the Deaf by having sex with the students there?
Right. "I was fixing it." I think rationalizations like that are made because people like Murphy believe in their essential holiness. It's not necessarily Machiavellian where they're sitting there thinking, "Okay, here's the strategy. We shall employ X, Y, or Z." Although recently, I do think there’s some of that as well. Tell me what's going on with Cardinal Dolan, for example, and his maneuvers with the cemetery fund in Milwaukee.