Mischaracterizing facts – again
One interview subject that plays a prominent role in Mea Maxima Culpa is New York Times National Religion Correspondent Laurie Goodstein, who wrote obsessively about the decades-old Fr. Murphy case during Lent of 2010.
Goodstein has a long record of animus against the Catholic Church, and one popular blogger once dubbed her "the least competent major religion reporter I've ever read."
In talking in the film about the Catholic Church's handling of the Fr. Murphy case, Goodstein wildly claims:
"And the response from the Vatican is to have compassion for the priest and almost no thought at all about the victims, and you see that in these documents."
First of all, the Vatican had nothing to do with Murphy or his horrible crimes. The Vatican's involvement in the Murphy case came over two decades after the abusive priest's crimes, in 1996, when the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sought to laicize him.
Most importantly, however, even a cursory look at available documents shows that Goodstein's claim is false. The most extensive document from the Vatican concerning the Murphy case is a summary memo of a May 1998 meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) between Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of the CDF, and two Milwaukee Church officials, including Archbishop Rembert Weakland.
The memo about the Vatican meeting plainly acknowledges the Church's concerns for the victims of Murphy's crimes:
- "there have turned out to be many victims of the abuses by Fr. Murphy, all of them deaf";
- "the deaf community is now experiencing great indignation because of this case";
- "Fr. Murphy has no sense of remorse and does not seem to realize the gravity of what he has done" (bold type in original);
- "penal remedies" should be implemented, and they may include penalties "not excluding dismissal from the clerical state" (italics in original).
In other words, Goodstein's claim that the Vatican showed "compassion for the priest" and "almost no thought at all about the victims" is demonstrably untrue.
In addition, a number of other documents pertaining to the Murphy case (including some which were conveniently not included in the large trove of papers once posted online by the New York Times) stress the grave effect that Murphy's abuse had on his victims and note the importance of "pastoral care for the deaf community."
Looking at the 1950s sex abuse through a 2012 lens
Another glaring problem in Mea Maxima Culpa is that the film applies a current-day perspective of the handling of child sex abuse to a case from a half century ago.
Sadly, our society did not nearly have the same heightened awareness of child abuse decades ago as it does today. This fact is undeniable.
(For example, take the disturbing 1977 case of popular Hollywood director Roman Polanski. After plying an innocent 13-year-old girl with illegal drugs and alcohol, Polanski then raped her by forcibly performing oral, genital, and anal sex upon the weakened youth. Polanski's initial sentence from a judge was merely a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. A psychiatrist then concluded that the director exhibited "good judgement and strong moral and ethical values" and "incarceration would serve no necessary or useful purpose." Such a determination would be completely unthinkable today in 2013. [Read more])
In truth, bishops' practice years ago of sending abusive priests for "treatment" was very much in line with widespread societal practice. As Dr. Monica Applewhite has explained:
"From the 1950's to the 1980's,  treatment-based interventions for sexual criminals were not only enormously prevalent in the United States, but surveys of ordinary citizens showed that they were enormously popular …
"[T]he science of human sexuality and sexual offending is extraordinarily young. Virtually all of the information we utilize today regarding the treatment and supervision of sexual offenders has been discovered since 1985."
This honest historical perspective is glaringly absent from Mea Maxima Culpa.
A warped view of the priesthood
Does the Catholic Church really teach that its priests are perfect and beyond reproach, which director Alex Gibney appears to imply throughout the film? Well, once again, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) actually teaches:
CCC 1550 "[The] presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister's sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church."
Indeed, Catholic priests can commit abominable sins and wreak immeasurable harm upon other people. The case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy aptly illustrates this.
Unfortunately, Mea Maxima Culpa repeatedly warps Church teaching in order to advance its anti-Catholic agenda.