Alex Gibney, Irish filmmaker behind “Mea Maxima Culpa” talks about why he holds the Catholic Church to account - VIDEO
Cahir O'Doherty speaks with Irish filmmaker Alex Gibney
Believing that you can do no harm because God is on your side has a long history, but it’s still one of the most dangerous ideas you can entertain. As Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney has discovered, the consequences of that belief have been playing out for decades in the Catholic Church. In his new powerful new film Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, he tells Cahir O'Doherty why he holds the church to account for it.
Fearlessness. That’s the quality that best describes film director Alex Gibney’s approach to his art, which happens to be Oscar (and Emmy, Grammy and Peabody) winning documentary filmmaking.
Where some might hesitate over the controversial nature of the material at hand, Gibney, 59, has consistently shown a willingness to grapple with the issues that the vested interests would prefer he overlooked.
It’s a trait he inherited from his legendary Scranton, Pennsylvania-born Irish American father Frank, the former editor of Time and Life magazines. It’s what made his son Yale material, and it’s what saw him quickly make a name for himself as a filmmaker after graduating from UCLA.
In 2008, Gibney won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for Taxi to the Dark Side, a film that exposed the brutal torture practices endorsed by the Bush administration and then adopted by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. Although the film was garlanded in awards it still proved a hard sell with distributors here, and the major networks declined to screen it due to its subject matter.
So Gibney is used to sometimes finding his work celebrated by the critics and held at arms length by the industry, depending on whose actions are being examined.
His latest Oscar nominated film is no stranger to controversy already. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which debuts on HBO on Monday, February 4, begins by profiling Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who abused more than 200 deaf children at a Catholic school in Milwaukee decades ago.
Now adults, the film follows the four former students Arthur Budzinski, Terry Kohot, Pat Kuehn, and Gary Smith as they seek to redress the wrongs done to them and countless others by holding the church responsible.
But what happens next is as jaw dropping as it is unexpected. In researching the decades long scandal, they uncover the shocking secret that the man with the most information about the scandal turns out to be Pope Benedict himself.
“I was raised Catholic so it was obviously an emotional issue for me,” Gibney tells the Irish Voice. “I mean, it’s a shocking story for anyone but particularly for Catholics.
“What motivated me to take it on was the particular poignancy of this story, involving over 200 deaf students and the fact that they appear to be the first ones in the United States who raised a public protest about what happened to them.”
The second thing that motivated Gibney’s decision was the way that this story connected to the bigger international abuse crisis in the church, he says. The film makes it clear what a worldwide conspiracy it was.
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