“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”, or “Sorry Guys There’s Nothing Remotely Funny about this One” by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on April 19, 2013


By the time a film gets reviewed here, it’s sometimes a little bit old. I like to watch films that are slightly obscure, and then recommend that you good people see them, because they often send an important message. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is one of those films. I really hope this doesn’t apply to anyone reading this, but there is a major trigger warning on this film. It’s confronting.

I remember the child sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. The news flashed with images of Pope John Paul II silent and statuesque in his ostentatious gold hat blessing the masses in St Peter’s Square. It made me as angry then as it does now. Somewhere behind those infamously secretive walls were people who were complicit in a cover-up that had allowed child abuse to permeate this religious institution for such a long time.

The film poster.

The film poster.

The film opens with a recited letter that sets the scene for the audience to bear witness to the evidence of four deaf men, who were victims of horrific and systemic abuse throughout their schooling. We then see what I believe is Super 8 footage of young boys playing – jumping on their beds, running and most importantly smiling. Their evidence is delivered in sign language, as Alex Gibney (writer, director and narrator) made the decision to have voice-overs speak for the men. This decision is an important one as it allows for the men to give far more emotive and evocative accounts of their experiences. John Slattery, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and Jamey Sheridan deliver the voice-overs. The latter is unknown to me, but all four give great dignity and respect to the testimony of the four victims.

While the four men are the protagonists and, in a sense, instigators of this investigation, as the film goes on it becomes clear that this interrogation into the activities of the Catholic church has been a long time coming. Beginning with one pastor in Milwaukee, the Catholic church comes under increasingly frenetic scrutiny until it reaches the very upper echelons, the Pope.

One of the four men signing.

I was raised a Catholic, in the sense that my family identified as such, until I was old enough to make the decision for myself. It is in moments like these, when I watch films like these that I’m glad I realised I never believed in God and that I never had religion forced upon me. It is important not to tar all Catholics with the same brush (so to speak), and the intelligence of this film is that it doesn’t. Indeed, one of the interviewees is an Archbishop who was “outed” by the Vatican after he started advocating for justice on behalf of these men. This is not an anti-Catholic film in any sense. It is a film to inspire; one must open one’s eyes and see the influence of Catholicism into schools, lawmaking and politics.

Sorry this week has been such a sombre one, sometimes things are just too serious to make jokes.

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident film critic. You can read her column, Here. Hare. Here., every Friday. 

A confronting and important documentary. To the comments!