** MEA MAXIMA CULPA: Exposing The Falsehoods of HBO’s New Anti-Catholic Documentary ** Fourth Century Clergy Abuse? More Loopy Claims From Gibney’s Calamity

Alex Gibney

Director Alex Gibney: A wild-eyed approach to documentaries

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

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.

Ding dong

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.

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


  1. jim robertson says:

    I do not know Mr Robertson but by name alone all honor to him. :) He must be right :)

  2. Julie says:

    Well, Jim, You're both rabid bigots. Ha ha.

  3. jim robertson says:

    No foam on my lips, Julie.

  4. Delphin says:

    ….this thread can only go downhill from here….please, someone have mercy on Mr. Robertson and shut it down now.

  5. jim robertson says:

    Ah delphinium, you little flower. Look at the positive. someone could say something intelligent.

  6. Fitasafiddle says:

    Can't wait to see it. Blessings on Mr. Gibney.


  7. Rod says:

    Ok, Ok, HBO got this wrong and they got that wrong etc.etc.  Maybe The Media Report could inform us in where HBO got it right.  The arrogance of we catholics that we have a corner on the truth is absurd,  And, this will be a major factor in the absolute failure of the reform of the reform taking place in the church now.  I say, if catholics deserve to be bashed, then let the bashing continue in earnest.

  8. Rod says:

    This entire exercise in nitpicking the HBO documentary for errors, is just another example of shooting the messenger.  Are we to believe that errors in the documentary discredit the entire premise of the documentary?  Would those that claim this is nothing other than catholic bashing have us believe that there are no problems regarding sexual abuse and sexual dysfunction among priests?  

  9. Elias says:

    I am telling you I have first hand knowledge that the priesthood has become a "gay option."  In other words, gay organizations list the catholic priesthood as one of the many vocational options for gay men.  


  1. [...] And the film’s claim that the problem of Catholic clergy abuse somehow dates back to the fourth century? Uh-uh. [...]