“That meant that after 2001 then Cardinal Ratzinger saw every single case that was announced. He is probably the most knowledgeable person about clerical sex abuse on Earth.”
As he made the film Gibney believed he had already sensed the scope and scale of abuse crisis. But it was only when he studied the details of the Milwaukee case that he understood how much evidence there was to see it as a global criminal conspiracy.
“We went over to Italy to research the film and while there we found there was a school for the deaf in Verona where a similar abuse crisis had erupted. That brought home to me the idea that patterns of abuse repeat themselves.”
Calling it a criminal conspiracy is fighting words, he knows.
“The reason I say it is that it that there have clearly been organized attempts to cover up this behavior. You can see that in the Murphy case. You can that in Irish cases,” he said.
“Part of what was revealed in the Irish government investigations was how civil society finally came forward to take responsibility for the abuses that were carried out. They also take responsibility for ending the horror and cover up by the church. So there’s tangible evidence already to call this an international criminal conspiracy.”
Gibney is receiving pushback from Catholic organizations that claim that, although raised Catholic, he’s anti-Catholic in his views.
“If the people who make these claims actually watch the film they’ll see there’s a key moment in the film where Tom Doyle, who testifies in a lot of these cases on behalf of the victims says, ‘People say to me why don’t you ever act on behalf of the church?’ Well, my replay is that I always act for the church. The church is the one billion Catholics, not the small number of men who are in the hierarchy.”
In that sense Gibney sees the film as a powerful plea to fellow Catholics that says enough, the hierarchy has corrupted the church. “There’s a difference between a faith and the venal abuses of power shown by its bureaucracy,” he explains.
In Ireland, the most common response Gibney noticed from the people he interviewed was anger.
“There were a few people like Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin who are trying to reckon with the anger over the abuse, but so many others there are burying their heads in the sand,” he said.
The most shocking part of Mea Culpa is that these crimes were carried out on children. In this case, deaf children.
“Criminal prosecutions should only stop when we know that the cover ups have stopped,” says Gibney.
“Prosecutions are important in terms of making them stop. You’re now seeing them in the United States where priests are being held to account not just for abusing but also for covering up abusing priests.
“That’s why survivors are so furious at the church, because it doesn’t seem to understand the need to show justice. In the middle of his canonical trial Ratzinger said about Murphy, well gosh he’s an old guy, we should just let it go? Really? That’s justice?”
Watch the trailer for 'Mea Maxima Culpa' here: