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.]


  1. adam fisher says:

    This morning, in email, I received what I thought was a very quiet, very tempered, and quite sane depictions of a woman Catholic who chose to involve herself in the church sexual abuse vortex. Virginia Jones has a point of view (she sides with those abused), but she does not assert the defensive outrage that can color either side of the church/abused debate.
    I highly recommend her piece to those Roman Catholics of good will who may feel that the church is being unfairly demeaned or targeted. For my money, Jones speaks to the human being in any of us, regardless of belief or allegiance. If nothing else, Jones may offer Catholics of good will a clearer idea of what the church is up against.

  2. jim robertson says:

    The idea that the reporting of rape can be shluffed off as mere money raising for the media is pathetic. Can we say the same thing then about murder?
    I agree (believe it or not) about how little the media CAN look into things. Hense SNAP.
    SNAP's creation is bought hook line and stinkers by the media. No press ,as of yet, have published how  activist victims feel about the "oldest and largest" "survivors" group.
    So here's the deal: SNAP's the Church behaving crudely and rudely at times against the Church. Again how does that help victims?
    SNAP/Church behaves like Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. He holds his own gun to his head and says: "I'm gonna kill the n-word" And you guys are like the little old lady who says: " He'll do it."

  3. Julie says:

    I think that Dave is right to ask, Is something going on with the media coverage of this issue? Something IS going on. I have read about cases of horrific sex abuse of children within other denominations in local newspapers posted on the internet. And then I looked to see if the Associated Press picked up the stories. NOPE. I have seen several one-sided stories on the AP about Pius XII, where only his detractors are quoted. I have seen several gushing stories on the AP wire about pentecostal churches attracting Catholics here and in Latin America. Do you think Catholic missionaries get any coverage in the AP? I've never seen it. You would think with all of the "positive" AP stories about churches sheep stealing from the Catholic Church, that Pope Benedict would not be accused by AP writers of sheep stealing when he finally agreed to a long-standing request and established Anglicanorum Coetibus. But there AP was, quoting a complainer accusing the pope of stealing sheep. Something IS going on. My local newspaper played it up big when a local Catholic priest was ACCUSED of having sex with two young ADULT men years ago. But buried it when a local Lutheran pastor was CONVICTED, involving children.

  4. Publion says:

    Alas. 'JR' had promised that he would have nothing more to do with me, and – as I feared and said in comments on the Church-legal-victory – his promises have proven to have no more credibility than his assertions.
    And here he is today again.
    You insist you are nobody's student but that's precisely it:  I don't think you ever were, which is part of the problem. You haven't ever been spoken to the way you've been spoken-to on this site (to great extent, I infer, by me)? Well, to borrow a trope from Harry Truman: Act and think like a grown-up and you won't be spoken to that way. And develop some grown-up respect for the process of deliberation and seriousness.
    We "religious types" are here on a site trying to work on a religious-related issue, and you can't understand how you and some others (apparently not-religious types) don't get any respect even when you try to lick each other like ice cream cones to prime the adulation pump for everybody else.
    If people weren't defending the Church (and not illegitimately, in this Stampede) then obviously you wouldn't be getting all the non-respect you are complaining about, would you?
    I put up my ideas about life and thought. You put up yours. I pointed out the problems with some of your conceptualizations and in response you call me names and create Cartoons because – unless you've been perversely hiding your sanity and competence from everybody for whatever reason all this time – that's all you've got. And that, I would say, should be your major focus of concern. That's just my advice and you're free to ignore it – and I imagine very strongly that you've heard it all before and ignored it all before, for 65 years and counting. 
    I claim and have claimed that victim-claims have in almost all cases never been examined as to whether they are true or false - which to anybody who can read English is not the same as saying that all the claims are false – but then again, I am dealing with 'JR' and that has to be taken into consideration, apparently. But I do think that upon examination, there would be many many fewer claims demonstated to be accurate than SNAP and its ilk would like everybody to believe.

  5. Publion says:

    Responding to ‘Catholic Donor’ ‘AF’ says he had “promised myself to bow out of this discussion” – which would be an unhappy development, since I had been hoping for some further responses and explanations. But this is a neat rhetorical way to keep commenting without having to address the issues I had raised about material in his earlier comments: he’ll reluctantly shoulder the ‘discussion’ pack and aim his material at somebody else, in this case ‘Catholic Donor’ (‘CD’).  It’s always gratifying to see a sly play well run.
    ‘AF’quickly  overpaints himself – a neat rhetorical play and apparently instinctive with him – as being some sort of boogeyman ‘liberal’ whom ‘CD’ can then be over-painted as blaming for “picking on” the Church. So from the get-go, the Cartoonist’s brush is on the table and on the job – we are not going to be getting direct and accurate discussion of the matter as actually presented by ‘CD’ nor of the dynamics actually driving ‘AF’.
    Leaving aside various rhetorical ploys and references to women’s underwear (what is it with these weird tics: FAAF’s “wee children”, ‘JR’s “darlin”, and ‘AF’ with women’s underwear?), ‘AF’ is setting himself to the task of explaining the sustained, selective and intense focus on the Church while – in the matter of sex-abuse (let alone worse) – other religions and organizations have pretty much gotten a free pass in comparison.
    His first justification is that if “no one had said anything about” the problem, nothing would have been done to break the cycle of “closed door hearings” and “pseudo-solicitous apology”, and all “just as in decades and decades past”.
    I note first of all that ‘AF’s “centuries of oppression” has now become “decades and decades past” (although perhaps nobody was supposed to notice the change).
    I note second that what has been going on for the past couple of decades is not adequately characterized as somebody ‘saying something about’ a problem. Not hardly. What has been going on for the past few decades has been a sustained and highly selective agenda and program: untested stories, global inferences drawn without justification from specific cases which were themselves based on un-tested ‘stories’; assertions based without grounds that were continuously negative toward the Church and not simply in this matter of clerical sex abuse’ but then leaping beyond the parameters of that issue to attack with selective, tendentious, and sustained intensity and focus  the fundamental integrity or value or legitimacy of the Church (and/or God, religion, Christianity, ‘men’, among other possible targets).
    I note third that while a very few  such “situations” as have been seen might accurately be characterizable as “heinous”, yet on the scale that descends from Rape to Abuse at the lower end of that term’s definitional range, “heinous” is an extreme term and thus inaccurately applied to most of the cases. I have used “repellent”, for example. If the actions described in a majority of the formal allegations listed in – say – the John Jay Reports – are to be characterized as “heinous” then what is humanity to do with genocide and mass-murder? (Nor will I accept the SNAP-py claim that even the merest instance of boundary-violation or sex-abuse in even its lower ranges ‘metaphorically equals’ murder or mass-murder.)
    So if ‘CD’ has a feeling that somehow the Church is being unfairly singled out and “picked on” (to use ‘AF’s term), I would say that the Question ‘CD’ poses is certainly justifiable. Surely in the matter of sex-abuse there are other organizations of great power on the planet or in the country that are themselves eligible for public concern.
    ‘AF’ disposes of that thus: The Church is a big target and the media just couldn’t pass up the opportunities for such a show; and the Church in this matter ‘abused its power’ (presuming ‘AF’s assumptions that the whole thing was a Churchy plan and objective all along); but it was all worth “pursuing” because “the victims of these crimes live with their pain and shame every day of the week … and it has been this way for years and years”. (Note the huge dial-back in ‘AF’s timeframe again.)
    Well, my answer to his (perhaps rhetorical) question is: a) the creation of the Stampede – in all its inaccuracies of assertion and insufficiencies of fact – was and will increasingly prove to be far too costly in its consequences; especially b)  when considered in proportion to the proven experiences of those claiming such abuse.
    Because look what ‘AF’ is saying here: that the entire Stampede of the past two decades – in all of its queasy and insidious untruthfulness – is justified because the (easily presumed) victims “live with pain and shame every day of the week” and have been doing so “for years and years”.
    What human beings – for whatever reasons – do not live with a certain amount of “pain” and maybe even “shame” every day of the week? Is it harder to have admitted publicly you are an alcoholic or drug-addict or to have admitted you were (however defined or allegated) ‘abused’? At least as a self-proclaimed abuse victim you aren’t responsible like an alcoholic or addict is responsible. Yet alcoholics and addicts have been working with this burden – and with some real success – for quite a long time. So – compared to alcoholics and drug-addicts – just how much ‘pain and shame’ do claimed victims of ‘sex abuse’ (and very few, recall, on the more extreme end of that definition’s spectrum) suffer, such that the costs and consequences of this decades-long Stampede are justified?
    Marvelously, ‘AF’ then gives part of his conceptual background away: “Are they [i.e. the ‘victims’] not worth the price of admission … ?” That’s a showbiz term, and I have been saying for quite some time that there is a profound and queasy synergy between soap-opera Scripts and the Catholic clerical abuse ‘crisis’. And that the whole bit also resembled a Cartoon for which, back in the day, payment was required for admission to the fun and pleasure of the viewing experience.
    Hasn’t it all been worth it to “seek rectification of a long-time grievance?” To which (rhetorical) question I would respond: a) what has been sought in that “rectification” has largely been both disproportionate to the ‘harm’ alleged to have been caused and unproven as to its actual existence in the first place; hence it is already inaccurate to call the whole Thing a “rectification”, let alone then presume slyly that the harms claimed (but unproven) were also sufficiently grievous to justify the costs and consequences.
    So I would say: No, it has not been worth it. The damage claimed by those making allegations has not been proven; nor proven to be proportional to the damage caused to both the Church and to the belief her faithful; nor proven to outweigh the tremendous damage to integrity caused to the media, the government, the justice system  and even the public itself as the price of Keeping this queasily under-justified Ball Rolling for two full decades at least (with, if you  think about it, no prospect whatsoever envisioned by its proponents of its ever stopping).
    For that matter – although this self-declared “idjit” would clearly like to get himself off the field since he now has realized this site isn’t the two-bit rube pick-up game he clearly prefers – I would ask yet another Question: under what conditions and judged by what verifiable parameters does ‘AF’ see this whole Thing stopping?
    This Question is in addition to the one I posed in my prior comment (at which point he then promised himself to get out of town): In ‘AF’s view, just what more steps have to be taken that the Church has not already taken? A short List would suffice, at least for openers.
    ‘AF’ then gets into deeper and murkier water: it’s never a matter of fairness when you are dealing with “any institution that lays claim to power”.  This of itself exemplifies the issue I had mentioned in a prior comment: given that imperfect human beings cannot live without institutions which are themselves comprised of imperfect human beings, then how is humanity to handle that complicated balance?
    ‘AF’ would try to cut the Gordian knot simply by reducing it (as Marx and Co. did) to “power”: if you have it then you may reliably be cast as Evil and Guilty, and if you don’t have it then you can reliably be cast as Good and Innocent. It will work neatly enough for a Hollywood script-session (which, as I have said, is part of the reason this Stampede has succeeded for so long).  But it is still more of a Cartoon than a working and accurate Conceptual Map for grasping the fundamentals of the problem.
    He uses the term “employees” to describe priests and clerics, although that is the fruit of a legal theory that has not met with much success when applied to the Vatican’s relationship to priests  (diocesan and religious) and Ordinaries and religious Orders and their members.
    He tries to make (or perhaps honestly sees)  the core of the problem as being merely one of the Church not liking the now negatively-valenced high-visibility that in palmier and positive-valenced  times it so eagerly sought.
    I don’t think that’s adequate as a diagnostic conception. It fails utterly to take into account the fact that what the Church and not a few Catholics are objecting-to is the highly unusual special-opprobrium heaped on the Church, out of all proportion to what has been proven against it, what harm has been caused, and what consequences have ensued for the integrity of some major structural elements of American culture, society and governance. As I said in response to a comment somewhere on this site, what we see in courthouses all over the country every day is ‘a normal response to crime’ but what we see in the Catholic abuse ‘crisis’ as it has mutated and engorged over the past decades is something else indeed.
    ‘AF’s effort to see (or spin) this sustained Stampede as ‘just’ a normal dynamic of public concern is akin to his spinning himself as ‘just an old fart’ – which, if that status includes the refusal-to deploy sly rhetorical devices in the service of largely inaccurate assertions, he has most demonstrably shown himself not to be.
    And he himself slyly dials-back his own description of the ‘harm’ caused to all the ‘victims’: the Church and/or its “employees” have “upended” those lives. A rather original term as deployed in this context, yet very useful: vague enough to carry proponents’ more extreme imaginings, while technically mild enough to prevent objective analysis from concluding he is unjustifiably exaggerating. Rather a neat bit, this. 
    He then gets into some thickets working up to his summation: “Child abuse is ugly, heinous … and, to use a bit of church verbiage, apostasy”. Marvelous sound-bite but clearly he knows nothing about what “apostasy” actually involves. But then again, I think ‘AF’s approach is more a sound-bitey than a conceptual-analytic one; there’s no need to understand what a) you already are sure you understand anyway and what b) you have already defined as evil. One wonders what so sensitive a soul would do about current genocides and industrial-scale civilian deaths due to assorted military or paramilitary actions around the planet, but the “upending” of lives through “pain and shame” seems to keep his attentions quite happily engaged.
    And he brings it all home with the homely thought that the Stampede is just like some astringent applied to an injury so that it “prevents further infection”. The Stampede is actually “painful and exhaustive investigation” and so that high quality of Product – and in such a Good Cause – is of course worth it.
    I would say that this Stampede has demonstrated almost nothing of the qualities of a “painful and exhaustive investigation” – and surely ‘AF’s own characterization of the Bergen website mentioned in a prior comment above, and his own assertion that he found its ungrounded allegations “compelling”, indicates that he is not really interested in getting up to speed on “painful and exhaustive investigation” himself.
    And consequently, his own very ungrounded and loosey-goosey spinning of the Catholic abuse Stampede as “painful and exhaustive investigation” will actually have the consequence of further reducing the public’s ability to distinguish between grand-standing inaccuracy in the service of seducing and manipulating public opinion and serious, careful examination and assessment of  matters of major public import.
    And as I said he appears to harbor neither a working knowledge of Church theological terms nor any deep respect for the Church. And that’s his business. But, I submit, let’s not ourselves harbor any illusions about this “idjit” either. We won’t get our own business done here if we do.

  6. jim robertson says:

    And where did Jesus say to respect a child abusing corporation?

  7. says:

    Guys, thank you for your contributions to the site!

    But I would like to shut down this topic for now.

    Thank you.