Guest / Limited Access /

In T. S. Elliot's "Murder in the Cathedral," the play's doomed Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Thomas Becket, confesses, "[This] last temptation is the greatest of treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason."

The line came to mind throughout Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which airs on HBO tonight (9/8c). Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney's scolding documentary on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church professes to serve the truth, but obscures it for obvious ulterior motives.

The film profiles several well-publicized cases of pedophilia by clergy on both sides of the Atlantic. The principal focus, however, is the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a Wisconsin priest accused of serial abuse of young boys, while serving at the Saint John School for the Deaf, from the 1950s to 1974.

Mea Maxima Culpa, which takes its title from the Latin phrase in the Confiteor penitential prayer meaning "My most grievous fault," starts off strong, as several of Murphy's victims—now grown men—use sign language to tell their agonizing stories, while actors including Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke lend them voices.

Gibney's effective use of archival photographs and grainy home movies helps to recall the era and underscore Murphy's depravity by emphasizing the innocence and vulnerability of the victims.

These crimes and the response by civil and ecclesial authorities can hardly be covered dispassionately. But in Gibney's hands, advocacy for justice gives way to an activist agenda that relies on half-truths rather than facts to cast the Catholic Church in a sinister light.

Conspiracy Theories

To quote psychologist Donald R. Gannon, where ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Browse All Movie Reviews By:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueThe Grace of Church Discipline
Subscriber Access Only
The Grace of Church Discipline
We do no one any favors if we ignore or downplay core beliefs.
RecommendedWhy are Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?
Why are Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?
To find the answer, we must look to the Councils of Jamnia...
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickRealizing My Addiction Had Chosen Me Began My Road to Recovery
Realizing My Addiction Had Chosen Me Began My Road to Recovery
Framing addiction as a chronic disease gives a broader framework for understanding.
Christianity Today
Mea Maxima Culpa
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

February 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.