Here We Go Again: Trailer For Upcoming Film Rehashes 2010 Smear by NY Times Against Pope Benedict

Mea Maxima Culpa Silence in the House of God anti-Catholic HBO film criticism

'Mea Maxima Culpa,' indeed! (l to r) HBO VP Sara Bernstein, Disgraced cleric Rembert Weakland,
NY Times' Laurie Goodstein, Dissident priest Thomas Doyle, and Filmmaker Alex Gibney

[Click here for the complete index of our criticism of Mea Maxima Culpa.]

The trailer for an upcoming film about an abusive Catholic priest in the 1970s appears to rehash the bogus attack on Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010 by the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein.

MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, produced by HBO Documentaries, is slated to make a big splash at the prominent Toronto Film Festival in early September, and the trailer for the film is now making the rounds on the Internet.

New York Times/Goodstein vs. the facts

The film is based upon the same story as the much-heralded, March 25, 2010, front-page article in the New York Times, in which the paper managed to reach a journalistic low in its obsession of smearing the Catholic Church.

The story essentially accused Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of somehow refusing to promptly laicize an abusive Milwaukee priest who had already been removed from ministry. The criminal priest, Lawrence C. Murphy, had been accused of abusing scores of boys at a Wisconsin school for the deaf through 1974, the year he was asked to resign from his position at the school. Murphy later retired in 1992 and died in 1998.

In truth, no one at the Vatican even heard about the abusive Fr. Murphy until 1996, over two decades since he last abused his students and at a point where the priest was in poor health and would die only two years later. By the time the Archdiocese of Milwaukee brought the Murphy case to the Vatican's attention, the guy was already out of full priestly ministry, as he had been given no official pastoral assignments since 1974 and was living with family.

No role by Pope Benedict

But in her article about the abusive Fr. Murphy, Goodstein tried to tie Pope Benedict to the case. At the end of May 1998, the Vatican was aware that Fr. Murphy was in frail health and that he would not live long enough for a lengthy and complicated canonical trial to laicize him. So it simply recommended that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee strengthen the restrictions it already had on the priest's ministry, instead of proceeding with a trial that would likely prove useless.

On August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland authored a reply letter to the Vatican indicating that he would follow its recommendations. However, Murphy died on August 21, just two days after the date on Weakland's letter, rendering the entire matter moot and showing the Vatican was correct in its judgment all along.

But Pope Benedict had no personal role in any of this. Had Goodstein taken the time to talk with Fr. Thomas Brundage, the former Judicial Vicar in Milwaukee, who supervised the Murphy case and probably knew more about the case than anybody on the planet, she would have learned:

"[W]ith regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information."

In other words, Goodstein's attack on Pope Benedict – which was uncritically relayed by hundreds of media outlets around the globe during Lent of 2010 – was bogus.

Also notably, Ms. Goodstein relied on information planted by the notorious Minnesota Church-suing contingency lawyer Jeff Anderson, who stood to make big money from the splashy New York Times coverage of the matter.

A revealing trailer: Twisted facts

The trailer for the upcoming film gives a good idea where the production is heading. Over a collage of Church imagery, a compilation of voices airs a blatant falsehood:

"We don't turn our priests in. That's the worldwide policy: to snuff out scandal."

In truth, there has never been any document or anything in the Code of Canon Law that has prohibited clerics from reporting criminal child abuse to law enforcement. Never. The statement that it has been a "policy" of the Catholic Church to not report child abuse to the police is simply false.

Questionable sources used

The trailer also reveals that the film portrays a number of personalities who have notable records of open dissent, misinformation, and/or animus against the Catholic Church. For example:

  • Rembert C. Weakland: The former Archbishop of Milwaukee has been described as "the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him." Weakland reportedly once characterized the reporting of abuse as "squealing," and he even admitted in a 1993 deposition that he shredded copies of reports of abuse by priests. He is hardly an authority to speak on the handling of clergy abuse cases.
  • Rev. Thomas P. Doyle: Doyle has a very long record of open dissent and profound animus against the Catholic Church. Most recently, while addressing his friends at the anti-Catholic group SNAP, he acknowledged that he has "nothing to do with the Catholic Church," has "nothing to do with the clerical life," is "not associated with the Church in any way," and his beliefs are "about as far away from the Vatican as you can get." Doyle is hardly an objective source.
  • Contingency lawyer Jeff Anderson: The notorious Anderson certainly has a problematic history with the facts and has happily proclaimed his pride of "suing the sh**" out of the Catholic Church. Like Doyle, Anderson is a close ally of SNAP. In fact, he was the enthusiastic leader of SNAP's fundraising effort at the group's annual conference last month, at which he also donated over $43,000.
  • [Addendum, January 2013: See also our post on the appearances in the film by angry ex-priest Richard Sipe.]

    'Deliver Us From Evil' redux?

    'Mea Maxima Culpa' appears to bear a striking resemblance to the 2006 Academy Award-nominated film, Deliver Us From Evil, which profiled the serial California pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady, who, like Wisconsin's atrocious Fr. Murphy, wreaked immeasurable harm on numerous innocent victims and disgraced the Church.

    However, the Amy Berg-directed film was rife with misleading and false information, and it ultimately served as little more than an anti-Catholic hit job.

    'Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God' appears to be heading in the same direction. The film will likely be a big hit with critics, even though it is likely problematic with its facts.

    [Click here for the complete index of our criticism of Mea Maxima Culpa.]