It’s difficult to gauge whether Alex Gibney’s searing exposé Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God has more or less currency now a new Pope hobbles down the hallways of the same old controversy-riddled Vatican.
If Benedict XVI were still sitting on the throne, Gibney’s documentary — which connects the first known fight against Catholic church sex abuse in the US, spearheaded by four deaf men, to the highest echelons of the papacy — would play like a fire and brimstone push to get Benedict out. It stands just as well as a damning document capturing two legacies: his, and the church’s sordid history in handling sex offenders.
The former Pope isn’t the core “villain” of Gigney’s film. That scope is set on a serial suspected rapist the church protected despite hundreds of separate allegations. The man Gibney’s four central subjects pursue for decades, from outraged young adults distributing homemade wanted flyers to middle-aged men shouting at him to turn himself over to the police.
There are nuggets of grisly stranger than fiction gold along the way, including revelations the Vatican put a deposit on a Caribbean island with the intention of populating it with pedophiles.
Silence in the House of God is a tight, contained and darkly alluring work that maintains brisk momentum and largely avoids hyperbole. Unnecessarily separated into chapters (the film would have flowed fine without them), Gibney oversteps the mark in one of them: ‘The Devil in Disguise’. The subject’s despicable actions speak for themselves, and very loudly. Slapping on an incendiary bumper sticker only lessens the segment’s impact.
Missing from the smattering of outraged talking heads is a priest who defends sex offenders. Perhaps argues for a second, third or fourth chance, or that belief in God’s steering hand matters more than anything else. That would have been a good get. And, of course, probably an impossible one.
If Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is slanted, it has every right to be. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and Gibney mounts his case powerfully.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God’s Australian theatrical release date: March 21, 2013.