OT: We cannot be silent.

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I don’t generally write about politics or religion.  Touchy subjects indeed and I try for the most part to keep things light and breezy.  But sometimes you just have to make your voice heard.

The poster for Mea Maxima Culpa during its theatrical release last year. Courtesy of Bing Images

The poster for Mea Maxima Culpa during its theatrical release last year. Courtesy of Bing Images

Last week I saw a documentary I have not been able to get out of my mind. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is now showing on HBO here in the U.S. The 2012 film by Alex Gibney focuses on a group of deaf men who were abused as children by a priest at the church-run school for the deaf they attended in the 1950s. They were first to openly protest sexual abuse by clergy but sadly, they would be far from the last in a long and frustrating journey right through to the present day.

Well-known actors such as Jamey Sheridan and Chris Cooper serve as their voices as the victims sign their experiences for the camera. We see photos of Father Murphy, round-faced, smiling, and learn that behind that caring facade was a monster who sexually molested somewhere between 100 and 200 boys during his time at the school.  He preferred deaf boys who had hearing parents unfamiliar with American Sign Language. The situation made it less likely they would try to communicate their victimization to their parents.

Father Murphy with one of the deaf students. He targeted deaf boys with hearing parents who did not know sign language.

Father Murphy with one of the deaf students. He targeted deaf boys with hearing parents who did not know sign language.

Murphy later justified his odious behavior by saying it provided helpful sex education for the boys, and practically patted himself on the back for “taking their sins upon myself” by bringing them to climax. While he admitted to his acts, he never admitted to doing anything wrong. He was eventually removed from the school for the deaf, but for “health reasons.” Instead of being defrocked, Murphy was sent to a parish to serve as their priest. And yes, he continued to sexually molest young boys.

In the documentary, we do see the Catholic Church’s various, largely unsuccessful attempts to reform pedophile priests over the years, including plans at one point to put them all on a private island to be purchased by the church (that idea was eventually dropped). We hear from those who tried to work within the system to see priests committing criminal acts brought to justice, often to little or no avail.

It seems there was far more concern shown by The Powers That Be over protecting the “poor” priests and the reputation of the Church, rather than trying to help those victimized by the molesters.

I do urge you to see this documentary if you have the opportunity. It is disturbing and riveting and powerful, a cautionary tale of the abuse of office, of institutionalized corruption, practiced over and over and over again against some of the most vulnerable of our society.  It is not easy to watch but it needs to be seen. It both broke my heart and made me angry, but I don’t regret watching it.

I have no intent or desire to vilify the Catholic Church or to get into an argument over religion. But it seems through their actions–or in many cases, inaction–in dealing with the horrific criminal acts of their very own, they have managed to vilify themselves.

And so when I heard this morning that the Pope had resigned, I was somehow not that surprised. Perhaps it is solely due to health issues making travel difficult; perhaps there is more to it. I don’t know, but some say there are no coincidences.

I do know this: when evil takes place, no matter where it takes place, and we know it’s taking place,  we cannot and should not be silent.

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

24 responses »

    • I just think the timing is very—interesting. Not that they will admit the connection.

      Benedict was actually the person in charge of handling the various charges of molestation that reached the Vatican before he became Pope. And one of the people he investigated was a bishop (I think) who had a least two mistresses and four kids, some of whom he abused, and who also had young boys brought to him on a regular basis. But he was popular and a big fundraiser for the Catholic Church and John Paul just loved him and wouldn’t hear anything negative against him . . .

      I think all this is coming back to haunt Benedict. By the way, the name of the office he was in charge of was originally known as–the Inquisition. I kid you not.

      I agree, younger, fitter, and much more forward thinking and willing to route the church of these pedophiles. It’s truly a shame and disgrace. 😦

      I have heard of the film you mentioned but not seen it.

      • Actually somebody just tweeted that Benedict’s cousin was murdered by the Nazis and he himself was never one. He probably had to join the Hitlerjugend as we had to join the Youth Communist Association in Hungary- not voluntarily.. I think the celibacy is a big problem.. Even my sister, a staunch Catholic thinks that priests should be allowed to marry. Greek Catholic priests ARE allowed to marry! I’m a Calvinist (protestant) and pastors are expected to marry and show a good example of family life to their flocks. And I’m not aware of any child abuse issues within my Church.

        • Yes, I saw that. I think it’s the issue over the sex scandals that is the root of the problem for him. I have always thought the celibacy requirement was a bad idea. Actually, they did some research and found out at any one time no more than 50 percent of priests were practicing celibacy. And some of them are gay, too, and that isn’t allowed, either.

          One of the priests who was trying to make headway in bringing the pedophile priests to justice had to be careful because he had been caught having an affair with a grad student. It was consensual sex and the student was 35, but it would still have gotten him into hot water.

          I have heard of some instances of molestation in Protestant churches as well here in the US, but nothing to the level we’ve seen within the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, predators of that sort are attracted to positions of authority that bring them into contact with children–youth ministers, coaches, camp counselors, scout leaders, that sort of thing.

          • It is a huge problem primarily because the Church has been so abusive, viciously so, to women and children, but protected its stalwarts from exposure and justice. The brutality did not stop with the Inquisition; it just got secretive.

            The rule of celibacy for (other than monks) only started in the 13th century. Before that, priests were allowed to marry and often did, or had “housekeepers” who did more than keep house. There was no sin involved, as long as one did not commit adultery. The new rules came about to prevent inheritance of parishes and Church property through the family, rather than the Church. It had nothing to do with sex or fornication as sin. There is no reason why the Roman Catholic Church cannot reverse its position now. There is also no reason to protect priests and other functionaries from public secular prosecution and imprisonment. The violation of trust makes the crimes that much more heinous.

            • Leigh, we posted similar comments only yours was so much more eloquent than mine! 😀 They’re shooting themselves in the foot with the celibacy rule. My sister says that on average, at least 1 of the children of Greek Catholic priests chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps, thereby ensuring that there’s a steady “supply” of priests. No such thing is possible for the Roman Catholic priests at the moment..

          • And the whole clerical celibacy rule was introduced in the Middle Ages in order to protect the Church’s vast properties.. As far as I know..But it’s so pointless in the 21st century..Already, there’s a huge “priest shortage” in Hungary (a lot of parishes have had to “import” priests from Poland!) and I know it’s a problem in other countries too. If they don’t change this requirement soon, it’ll bring about the end of the Catholic Church as we know it..

            • Y’all’s comments crossed each other. 😀 And totally agree. Why keep archaic practices in place?? There is also a shortage of priests here in US. The priest who serves our local Catholic church (we only have one, and it’s the only one in the county) also serves a parish in a nearby county. We had a priest from Ireland here at one point! Seminaries have seen big drops in enrollment in recent decades.

    • I’ve seen it twice, Judit and it filled me with rage on both occasions. The last of those institutions was, if memory serves, closed down as recently as the 70s.

      • I probably should wait a while to see it because I am already so angry from watching this doc and I do have to watch my blood pressure. An awful lot of bad has been done in the name of institutionalized religion over the years, I am afraid. And so much hypocrisy.

    • Judit, I agree completely. Unless the Church is willing to come clean and allow criminal prosecution, instead of protecting evil that works within it, we cannot be silent. We need not just a pope but a College of Cardinals who are much more forward-thinking and not corrupt.

      • I think it’s got to move forward and it’s got to be honest and forthright, or it’s going to see a lot more people leaving it. The church in Ireland has had a great falling off of attendance, from what I understand. You’re right, Leigh, the whole upper echelon of the Vatican needs to see a change take place within it.

        • The upper echelon is precisely the place where change is least likely to occur because the pope appoints the cardinal and bishops, and most often they are like-minded men who have grown up in a catholic ghetto, are conformists who have made the personal decision to play ball, and who can be relied on to protect the interests of the institution, which are more related to power and money and property than they are to the teachings of Jesus.

          “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.”. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”. Have these sanctimonious pedophiles ever heard this?

          Ordinary catholics have no power or rights in the church, other than the power of the purse and the power to vote with their feet. The Catholic Church is not a democracy and there is no such thing as freedom of thought or speech.

  1. When I was in college a lady I worked with came in talking about seeing a Catholic Bishop exposed as a pedophile on the news. He’d been her teacher in elementary school in St. Louis when she was a girl, and she remembered him fondling himself DURING classes. He was reported all those years previously by students and parents for touching himself in the classroom and for pedophilia but nothing was ever done. Instead he was promoted through the ranks. It is sickening to me that institutions are willing to brush such heinous acts under the rug in order to save face. And as we know it isn’t just the Catholic church, more recently The Boy Scouts organization has been exposed of the same crime.

    • Yes, in many cases these offenders are just moved someplace else or are actually promoted. It’s as if they are rewarded for doing evil. And as I mentioned, people with this proclivities are often drawn to organizations and institutions that place them in in authority over children–such as the Boy Scouts. It is very troubling.

  2. As an example of these awful things, may I say that the Canada public are all too familiar with what happened in Catholic Residential Schools in this country. A high percentage of those who were abused were First Nations (Aboriginal) children. The abuse suffered by them was not only sexual but also physical and mental. The more one finds out about these institutions the more sickened one becomes. There have been many documentaries on the subject in this country and more and more people are finding the courage to come forward to tell of their own suffering. It has been made abundantly clear that in many cases the Catholic Church knew what was going on and simply swept it under the carpet. Many priests were merely moved from parish to parish to escape the scandals. Although many of the victims are now gown up, they continue to suffer in so many ways and some are known to have taken their own lives as they couldn’t live with the pain. It just breaks my heart while at the same time it makes me incredibly angry.

  3. It is heartbreaking. Not only do these monsters devastate their victims, they destroy people’s trust in the Church. I think the Good Lord looks down with tears in his eyes at the horrible things that have happened over the years by people professing to be Christians. Is it any wonder that Church attendance is falling? I don’t think I’ll watch any of the above programs…just your descriptions are awful enough. However, it’s not just the Church that’s falling down, social services and child protective services are also a joke. We teacher’s talk about the tragedy in December, and think about all of the kids we have taught with serious anger issues. We have a lot of people who need help. But when people report it, it gets filed, ignored or lost in red-tape!

  4. The film The Magdalen Sisters is worthwhile seeing, and it is available on netflix. I recently watched it for the second time. It gives you a good feeling for how culture, power, religion, sexism, personal prejudices and failings, bad luck, all intertwine to perpetuate horrible injustices against children, under the guise of “helping” them.

    How are these crimes permitted to continue? And it’s not only the catholic church that has a problem. For example, the recent football scandal at Penn State, where vulnerable, at-risk boys were raped in the showers by a long venerated, very powerful head coach.

    It is very difficult to be a change agent, a whistleblower, a traitor to one’s class, an adult calling the emperor naked, a revolutionary, if you will, ( “Revolution” just means to turn things around.) To do so, one must recognise that there is indeed a problem, and one must speak openly about it.

    There are always powerful people who have a vested interest in the status quo, who refuse to permit honest talk about need for change because they might have to give up some of their prerogatives. One must be prepared for retaliation, and be prepared to make a personal sacrifice, including comfort, health, family relations, social ostracism, slander, money, opportunity, jobs, safety, incarceration, torture, even life itself.

    All this is the stuff of literature, cinema, investigative journalism, high quality television, and now internet video. These media shine sunlight, the best disinfectant, on unfair situations. President Lincoln acknowledged Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the runaway best-seller of its day, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as the little lady who started the Civil War. IMHO, the actor who played Lincoln deserves the Academy Award for a fabulous performance.

  5. Angie, I have wanted to comment on this sooner, but there was not the time to do this right. I am sick of people hiding behind any church to justfiy there means. My husband’s sister’s husband has been charged with sexual abuse of the oldest adopted daughter this past November. They are the type of people that are holier that thou. They have no problem to point out everyone else’s sins. Now that they are with sin, they would rather not say anything or lie. I have had a feeling for years that he was creepy but no way to prove this. I am not the only one to think the same thing, my husband and his brothers wife also. At first his sister would not even say way her husband was in jail, all I said was I bet it is sexual and one of those girls and would not be surprised if his daughter too. The sad thing is these people are foster parents . Are state still pays them $1500.00 a month per child, these children are still in the home (he is not). I was told that the girl abused was sexually abused before she came to this house 8 years ago, the poor girl is got to be a mess. They are home schooled, so they really is no one they could turn to for help. There might even be more that one of the sister’s we are not sure at this time. This people have been given the trust of others to help these children and only abuse it. It makes my blood boil to even write this and my heart breaks for them. NO ONE should have to go thought this. If I never see this person again (he is never welcome at our home again) it will be to soon. He will have to face his maker some day and will not be able to lie about the past.

    • Katie, I am very sorry to hear about this. There is never any justification or reasoning that can make this kind of behavior right. For foster parents, who are supposed to care for children who often come from backgrounds that may involve abuse and neglect, to carry out such crimes against these children seems particularly heinous to me. It angers me tremendously whenever I hear of such behavior, angers and sickens and saddens me. You are right, no one should ever have to suffer this type of treatment. My prayers for the children and for your own peace of mind.

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