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Film review: Procession

18 February 2022

A filmmaker recorded a re-enactment project, says Stephen Brown


Michael Sandridge, one of the abuse survivors in Procession

Michael Sandridge, one of the abuse survivors in Procession

CINEASTES require no convincing of storytelling’s ability to heal; how, by entering the experiences of others, we find ourselves also transformed. Procession (Cert. 15) records how six men sexually abused as children by Roman Catholic priests are empowered through re-enacting what they have continued to suffer.

When, in 2018, the director, Robert Greene, watched a televised press conference at which some adult survivors of clerical abuse accused 230 priests in the Kansas City area of organised child sex-trafficking, he contacted the men’s lawyer, Rebecca Randles, and a drama therapist, Monica Phinney. With the consent of half a dozen victims from the 1980s, they devised a filmmaking project through which it was hoped that they would at last find peace of mind. Decades on, the men certainly were in need of this.

Dan, raped by two priests when visiting a clergy house on Lake Viking, is enabled by the others to find, not without difficulty, the place where “punishment” was meted out — and all because of a fishing rod that he accidentally broke. This time round, with a young boy acting as Dan, the team work on a different scenario, one that brings closure.

A similar technique is used for other cases. Each time it is the same juvenile actor standing in for the now adult individual. Sometimes, the scene is shot where the grown man talks to his younger self. Joe has acquired enough courage to address the situation that he suffered then. Before this dramatisation of events, he readily admits, he was both his own jailer and prisoner, locking the adult self away from the person he was, who remained for ever in custody.

Tom, still involved in a lawsuit against the Church, helps the others out by playing various roles as molester. Sometimes, he’s in full liturgical garb or, as in the scene “The Confessional”, black shirt and collar. It is remarked on how, even in role-play, the clothes give power and permission to do terrible things. This is the nearest that the documentary ever gets to understanding what drove these clergy to misbehave so disgracefully.

In Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012), some involved in the Indonesian genocide made films about themselves as a means of comprehending what they did. The emphasis in Procession is almost entirely focused on the quest for justice. Mike is the most overtly angry character in the piece. He stands outside one of the Church’s administrative quarters, where the word “Justice” is inscribed on the wall, protesting at the lack of it. The statute of limitation means that there is no redress. Other clergy have escaped prosecution by going into hiding or have died.

It is hard to tell whether the men’s ordeals have left them without any faith. Mike (surname Foreman) in his film sequence does ask Tom, as the substitute priest, what God and Jesus Christ think about what he did. It is clear that at least one of the men, Michael Sandridge, has retained his Christian faith. Of the six, he stands out as a guiding light to where hurt can be transfigured into forgiveness without losing sight of justice.

Available on Netflix

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