Alex Gibney On What The Pope Knew (And Why He Did Nothing) In 'Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God'

Alex Gibney Interview Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God

In the film, you point out that Sandy Weill and Jeb Bush were friends of Maciel.

And Carlos Slim. And Rick Santorum.

You indicate that Maciel brought millions of dollars into the Vatican’s coffers, so he was protected, right?

Right. And of course they can all excuse it, "Oh, he's a holy man. He's done so much good for the church." You keep hearing that over and over and over again — just like Murphy. Among the deaf community in Milwaukee, Murphy had raised a ton of money for St. John's. He was an expert signer. He had in some ways made the educational experience in St. John's very good, except for the fact that he abused a couple hundred children. So there were a lot of people who were like, 'Okay, so he's made a few mistakes.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Dublin is saying he's too busy to look into sexual abuse allegations in his backyard. 

Oh, my God. That's one of the most chilling lines of the film: Des Connell, the Arch Bishop of Dublin, on being asked by a reporter why he didn’t reach out to the victims of the singing priest Tony Walsh, says, "Oh, I suppose I should have, but I have so much to do." Yeah, you were so fucking busy worrying about what kind of color crepe to hang over the altar that you couldn't bother protecting children from rape.

Did immersing yourself in this subject give you any insights as to why sexual abuse in the church is so prevalent? Why are there so many priests abusing children?

I think you have two problems. One is the problem of secrecy. You have the secrecy that’s inherent to the priesthood, which is supposed to be a society set apart, and you have sexual secrecy at the heart of all this. The church demands celibacy of its clergy, and yet we know that at least 50 percent of the priesthood do not follow their own vows of celibacy. So they're having sex. But they're not talking about it.

Except for Andrew Greeley’s book's, you don't hear about it. So there's an essential secrecy and, sometimes, a kind of blackmail system. And the Catholic Church also has laws about secrecy, particularly when people are suspected of committing sexual crimes in the confessional. So, over time, the Catholic church becomes a haven for these people because they're never exposed.

You left me with the impression that the Vatican is never going to reform when it comes to this issue.

I agree. I despair of their reformation, although I certainly hope for it. Imagine the effect it would have if Pope Benedict systematically went around to all of the sites where the worst abuses occurred and apologized to the victims in the congregation. And imagine the Vatican saying, we're not so concerned about money as we are about showing the truth. So we're going to open all of our archives. But it's hard to imagine because the Vatican is so wedded to the things that are so un-Christian about its essence, which is power and money.

So much for spirituality.

The defenders of the church would say, “We're not going to have our Pope kneeling for a lot of ambulance-chasing lawyers. And Jeff Lena, the attorney for the Vatican, is aggressive on this. They're intoxicated still by their own power, even though people are leaving the church in droves. I often wonder why do people need the Pope? Why can't you be Catholic without the Pope? Why not build another church next to the one that exists in the town you live in and go there and hire a priest who believes all the same things and have a minister at mass,. But you don't have to have all that money making its way to the Vatican, which has a system of hierarchical control that is clearly pernicious.

Did you get a lot of legal pushback from Vatican while you were making this documentary?

Nothing. For a long time we kept the film under wraps and we didn't announce it on purpose, in part, because we wanted people from the Vatican to talk to us. We tried very hard to get them to talk. I didn't expect the Pope to talk, but I certainly hoped that the person who's now the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith [Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller] would. He's a very articulate guy. We even asked Cardinal Dolan, the most powerful cleric in America, to talk. He didn’t. Talk about a conspiracy of silence.

So, their strategy is ignore it and it will go away.

They always want to move on. It's like Obama with the torture issue: “We're not going to go back. We're going forward.” But if you stop and think about that, it's like saying to the family of murder victims, "We’re not going to have a trial. After all, the person's dead. It's not going to bring him back. So let's just move on shall we?" This is about justice. That's what the victims want. They want some sense of justice.

Regarding Pope Benedict’s conduct in all of this. Given his prior involvement as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he’s obviously been immersed in the issue of sexual abuse in the church for decades. Has he simply been playing politics all of this time?

I do believe that he is genuinely disgusted by the abuse of children. That's genuine. But also he lives within this political hierarchy. As somebody says in the film, this man knows more about clerical sex abuse than any human being on the planet because all the cases came through his office. In some instances, such as the case with Maciel, he tried to do something but was stopped. So, he’s a politician. Nobody likes to think of it that way. He's supposed to be the Holy Father. He's supposed to  be infallible. That's one thing I don't get:  I can understand belief in God, but how you can invest a human being with any sense of infallibility.

There’s another point you make in the film that really resonated with me: That sexual abuse is a kind of homicide because the abuser is —

Murders your soul. Soul murder is what some people call it. Under canon law, using the confessional to commit sexual abuse is a crime that has no statute of limitations. The thinking is that you’re at your most vulnerable. You've been utterly honest before God and then the priest uses that honesty to abuse you. Well that’s a form of soul murder because the priest is destroying your sense of faith.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Gibney's film has not gone without charges of serious factual issues, misleading claims, and virulent anti-Catholicism:


    • hrh says:

      Your two sources are nothing more than apologists for clergy rapists. Shame on you.

    • June Annette says:

      Sir, you need to take a long hard look in the mirror before you start calling people Catholic haters! Your anger, outrage and indignation is grossly misguided and misdirected. I suggest you take a closer look at those within your own faith community!
      Roman Catholic priests . . those whom your “church” calls “Christ's representatives on earth” abused Roman Catholic children. Roman Catholic bishops transferred known abusive priests to other Roman Catholic parishes unbeknownst to the Roman Catholic laity where they could prey on more Roman Catholic children. The so-called “princes of your church” failed to protect Roman Catholic children but opted instead to cover up their crimes for the “good of the church” and to shield them from prosecution and you have the gall to call others “Catholic haters”? ? ? That’s reckless endangerment; that’s criminal negligence; that’s reprehensible; and legally equates to FRAUD. Knowingly placing children in harm's way constitutes a willful disregard for others and violates what Christ defined as the second greatest commandment, namely to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22;39) Failure to protect the “little ones” in their flock is a refutation of the most fundamental Christian principles of love, mercy and compassion. The collective failure on the part of the so-called “princes of the church” to respond to victims in a pastoral way is both contemptible and anti-Christian! The Bishops have effectively turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of the victims of this heinous crime and have spurned Christ's command to be our brother's keeper!
      My friend, the most virulent, (and I might add diabolical) form of “anti-Catholicism” in TRUTH was and continues to be that which is perpetrated by members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against their fellow Roman Catholics!

  • June Annette says:

    Mr. Gibney has exposed the egriegous abuse of power displayed by the so-called “princes of the church” who sought to conceal the despicable crimes of their abusive priests. No longer will their vile crimes be suppressed and buried in an institution shrouded in secrecy and darkness. The world community now knows there's nothing HOLY about the Roman Catholic “church.” and the only thing transperant about them is their obsession with secrecy and their penchant for cover up. The reason is equally transperant to all who look on .. . they have plenty to hide .Never again can those who commit that which the Vatican herself describes as the “worst crime”, namely the abuse of children, hide beneath the cloak of religion. The heretofore impregnable walls of silence that have encased the Vatican have finally been breached. Mr. Gibney's moving documentary has given a powerful voice to the countless victims of Roman Catholic clergy abuse and is deserving of worldwide recognition and distribution. It is my earnest prayer that it will be shown across the globe. “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall not be known.” (Luke 12:2).
    In the interest of truth, transperancy and justice the harrowing accounts of the horrific crimes committed by Roman Catholic clerics perpetrated against the most weak and vulnerable amongst us must be told. In the interest of common decency, the depraved and lewd acts committed in secret by these unscrupulous men of the cloth must be exposed. The time is long overdue for the Voice of the Victims to be heard above the self-righteous and sanctimonious cacophony of the unrepentant RCC hierarchy. Time for the VICTIMS to come out of the closet in which they so long cowered in fear and shame. Time to hear of the forgotten children who were treated as chattel, whose morals were corrupted, whose bodies were defiled, whose innocence was stolen, whose spirits were crushed and souls destroyed by those who were entrusted to their care. The time has come for predator priests and bombastic bishops who abused their position and power to know what it is to feel utterly POWERLESS! Time for the abusers to endure the torment, grief and anguish in their souls that their innocent victims endured for decades in unbearable silence. Time for them to be publicly shamed and censured by the world community for committing the unspeakable crime of child abuse.

    God's Word.. Eccl. 3:7b:
    “.... a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;”.

    Silence is no virtue in the face of such unbridled, such unchecked, such unspeakable, such gross, unconscionable and blatant evil. See no evil; Hear no evil; Speak noevil... or... “Deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13)

    Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
    -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    In solidarity with the VICTIMS of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse & those who advocate for them,


  • Ken says:

    A nice puff piece interview with this religious bigot director and his movie of abject fiction. If the same were said of blacks or Jews, he would be arrested for hate crimes.

    Go here to learn the truth about the media's jihad of exaggeration, bias and misinformation about the Catholic church and sex abuse.

    Stop the bias! Stop the lies! Tell the truth!

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses hit with $28 million sex abuse settlement Oakland,Calif.-Google it.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have many issues with sexual molestation of children.The religion and its members are more concerned about protecting the group image than the victims.

    TWO WITNESSES required.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses require ‘two witnesses’ to a crime or it didn’t happen,you are supposed to ‘leave it in
    Jehovah’s hands’ wait on the lord.
    How many pedophiles allow an eyewitness?
    These people engage in a door to door ministry, possibly exposing children to pedophiles.
    The Watchtower corporation has paid out millions in settlement money already.
    Danny Haszard *tell the truth don't be afraid*

  • June Annette says:

    The tragic story of deaf children who were the victims of the most heinous form of abuse meted out by Roman Catholic priests and the shameless cover up by their bosses . . the BISHOPS is not isolated to this school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A similar case is unfolding in Quebec, Canada as recently reported by the Montreal Gazette here:


    EXCERPT from Article:

    This case may turn out to be the worst ever seen involving the abuse of deaf children. Unlike the previous record, held by a single Roman Catholic priest, Lawrence Murphy of Wisconsin, in Quebec more than 30 clergy are alleged to have abused the deaf children in their care, sometimes one after another. (Murphy, who may have sexually assaulted as many as 200 children at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, was denounced in 1996 to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican took no action against Murphy, who died in 1998.)
    In Quebec, the alleged victims of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur were given permission by Superior Court in March to pursue a class-action suit against the religious order. Named in the suit are 28 priests and brothers and six lay workers

    I might also add that in a recent interview with the New York Post here:

    Mr. Gibney said:
    ““The direct connection of the Vatican to this sheds light on the way they’ve shoved this stuff under the carpet,” says Gibney, who discovered a similar scandal involving deaf students in Verona, Italy, while making the film.
    “Who knew an ‘anomalous’ story about a priest abusing 200 deaf children in Milwaukee would be a testament to the predatory nature of this problem? We found a worldwide pattern.”

    Only those whose conscience is seared and whose vision is so blinded by their misguided sense of loyalty would seek to defend this morally and spiritually bankrupt organization masquerading as a “church”!. In truth . . . the foundations of the self-proclaimed “one true church of Jesus Christ” are crumbling / collapsing under the insupportable weight of the rot and corruption that lurks beneath the surface of its’ pretentious pious exterior.

    In solidarity with the VICTIMS of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse & those who advocate for them,


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