THE film Mea Maxima
Culpa (Cert. 15), released today, couldn't be timelier.
The documentary, subtitled Silence in the House of God,
identifies a culture of tacitly accepted sexual abuse in church
circles. In the light of continuing revelations regarding Jimmy
Savile et al., this may well apply to secular counterparts
The picture opens with
former boarders at St John's School for the Deaf, Milwaukee, now in
their 60s, relating in sign language their experiences of sexual
maltreatment by a Roman Catholic priest. From there, the film
extends its examination of widespread abuse and ecclesiastical
cover-up, concentrating mainly on Ireland, Italy, and other parts
of the United States.
Powerful organisations tend
to protect their own unless forced to behave otherwise.
Exceptionally, Dom Rembert Weakland, on becoming Archbishop of
Milwaukee, tried (despite being institutionally thwarted) to act on
the petitions of those abused. Late in the film, he suggests that
all levels of church hierarchy need to come off their pedestals.
Humbled, they can thereby recover a sense of Christ's humanity, and
how far they have fallen short of this in regard to vulnerable
Oscar-winning Alex Gibney's
exposés of the Enron energy company's financial misdealings, and
the torture of Afghan prisoners, have made him a director of note.
His latest work comes over as meticulous but unsensational. Is this
because we, the public, have become case-hardened by a spate of
depressing revelations? Perhaps we are no longer surprised that
even in the Church such activities occur.
The film hesitates to call
it conspiracy. Rather, an attorney who has vigorously campaigned on
behalf of victims asserts that canon law effectively colludes with
patterns of secrecy and loyalty to the Vatican. Gibney appears to
have contacted all parties concerned, although, notably, the
Vatican refused any interviews. Some Roman Catholics feel the
director treats the abuse cases as a springboard to attack the
Church in general. I don't think so. The film makes it clear that
the Church is so much more than just those who have been ordained,
and that many of its members (including clerics) are fine examples
My own criticism would be
that the victims, half a century on, are not given any screen time
to detail the long-term effects such violations have had on their
lives. The viewer is left to imagine that the real damage cannot
begin to be calculated in terms of the monetary compensation that
they are at last receiving.
PAUL HILLS's film Do
Elephants Pray? (Cert. 15) uses Masheika E. Allen's poem
to question our arrogance vis-à-vis other creatures. It
sets up a dubious dichotomy whereby the sum of human achievements
is equated with nasty-mannered advertising executives, and a
reverence for nature is equated with a demented hippie.
Callum (Jonnie Hurn) tries
developing a campaign for alcoholic cranberry juice, but his
creative get-up-and-go has got up and gone. Nature, abhorring this
vacuum, presents him with a quixotic young Frenchwoman, Malika
(Julie Dray). The name can mean "angel". Hence her omniscience,
with capricious appearances and vanishings.
She introduces him to Lloyd
Pye's book Everything You Know Is Wrong, which claims
that, among other things, we are genetically engineered aliens.
Malika believes that fireflies are fairies, and also in praying to
the woods that she and Callum enter. What could have been a
reasoned consideration of humanity's alienation from Nature is
jeopardised by this nutter who gives tree-hugging a bad name.
The portrayal of "ordinary"
urban existence is no less skewed. Marc Warren (best known for his
swaggering days in Hustle) heads a parade of grotesques
which turns Mad Men into the essence of responsible
commerce. One yearns to share Malika's sense of awe and wonder at
the Creation - not least because many of us are ill at ease with
the old dispensation, as, getting and spending, we lay waste our
power. While Callum does come to meditate on the forest's sources
of enchantment, this serves only as a springboard to return him to
an odious environment. Yet still he dreams of that Roman Catholic
world that he once knew, which had meaning.
More of a Thomas Hardy
approach might have helped. "The Oxen" recalls the legend that
stabled animals kneel each Christmas Eve, acknowledging Christ's
birth. The sceptical poet longs to be present on such occasions,
"hoping that it might be so". Unfortunately, Do Elephants
Pray? doesn't do justice to any such hope. It assigns these
notions to a barely comprehensible leading lady, and likewise
parodies contemporary office politics.