Staggered by its own ambition to browbeat the Catholic Church, HBO's Mea Maxima Culpa whips up a number of wild claims.
Clergy abuse in the fourth century?
In the attempt to paint the Catholic Church as an organization with child abuse entrenched in its very foundation, the film claims that the problem of clergy sex abuse dates back as early as the fourth century.
Propagators of this falsehood point to the ancient Council of Elvira, which convened in Spain in about the year 305 to address a wide array of concerns in the emerging Church, including "marriage, baptism, idolatry, fasting, excommunication, the cemeteries, usury, vigils, frequentation of Mass, [and] the relations of Christians with pagans, Jews, heretics."
And, indeed, one of the Council's canons did pronounce:
71: Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches.
Church bashers have long pointed to this particular canon as evidence that the Church was addressing some kind of "clergy abuse problem."
Absent in this claim, however, is any sense of context. And proper context is something that is sorely lacking throughout Mea Maxima Culpa.
Notice that Canon 71 does not single out Church clergy. The canon is addressed to all Christians. The Council was addressing an ancient culture where sex with teenage boys was very common – "considered natural and unremarkable." In ancient Rome, for example, even girls as young as seven were arranged for marriage.
In other words, the Church's message to believers to not engage sexually with teenage boys was very countercultural. This is very much like the Church's countercultural messages today against gay marriage, sex before marriage, and adultery.
Context, context, context. The Church's pronouncements in the early fourth century are not indicative of any unique "abuse problem" specific to the Catholic Church, as Gibney would have you believe. The canons are indicative of a growing Christian community addressing various cultural concerns around it.
In its effort to stereotypically portray the Catholic Church as an all-powerful, callous monolith, Gibney unleashes this zinger:
"The signal from Vatican Radio is so strong that Romans can often hear Sunday Mass on their electric doorbells."
Really? It would have been interesting – and a bit funny – if Gibney actually provided a little video or audio of this bizarre phenomenon actually happening, but he didn't.
This claim is strange to anyone who has even a remote idea of how an electric doorbell actually works. The claim also prompts a number of questions: What do people hear the other 6 days of the week that Vatican Radio broadcasts? And why does this curious phenomenon only happen to Romans on Sundays, as the film suggests?
Just plain stupid
Geoffrey Robertson is a noted British atheist who makes little effort to hide his rabid bigotry against the Catholic Church.
Roberston has absolutely no direct connection to the clergy abuse scandals whatsoever, yet Gibney trots out this noted zealot to air his silly objections to The Holy See merely being recognized as an independent state.
According to Robertson, Vatican City should not be recognized as a country because, among other arbitrary reasons, it "doesn't have a soccer team" and "no one is born there, except by accident."
Robertson's appearance in the film would be comical except for the fact that his role is simply more reinforcement for the obvious anti-Catholic agenda of Gibney's work.