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Alex Gibney Reacts to Pope Resignation, Talks HBO's 'Mea Maxima Culpa,' Exposing Institutional Protector the Catholic Church UPDATED (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 12, 2013 at 2:07PM

One of the villains in documentarian Alex Gibney's takedown of the Roman Catholic Church, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," is the Pope, who February 11 announced his plan to resign at age 85. Did his long-term role --as Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI--in covering up pedophile priests contribute to this decision?
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Alex Gibney's "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"
Alex Gibney's "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"

The horrifying criminal aspect: Murphy was an expert signer, he raised tremendous money for the school, which was good in in terms of its ability to teach kids. He targeted children whose parents could not sign, so they could not tell their parents what was happening.

AT: What surprised you the most?

AG: I discovered a piece of footage that I never expected to find that was shocking, riveting and lluminating: one of the guys who died, he was their ringleader, decided because no justice was meted out by the Catholic Church to go up to a northern town in Wisconsin and confront them. He took with him a homemade video camera and videotaped the confrontation with Murphy, the old man. In a revealing moment, this woman helper from the Milwaukee archiocese began to attack these guys, signing back and forth, 'No, what are you doing? Stop this, you are Catholic.'  It's a moving moment. 'Take one for the team,' she was saying. "The Catholic Church is more important.' To watch that was terrifying, to see a raw and honest exchange on video as these guys tried to get an admission from this guy who would not be held to account.

AT: What else do you have coming up? What happened to your Lance Armstrong doc?

AG: We followed Lance Armstrong in his 2009 comeback tour all along the way, putting the film on ice for some time until the resolution of the story, so we feel it's resolved sufficiently and can move to finish it.

Universal Pictures asked me to make a doc about Wikileaks, which I have been working on for some time; we're approaching locked picture; it will be theatrically released next year. "Park Avenue" is about rich and poor for series called "Why Poverty?" Eight directors from different countries. I did one about wealth and how it creates poverty, at one building on Park Avenue where the biggest billionaires live, then go across the Harlem River to the poorest district in the US per captia, to show how the ultra rich create poverty.

AT: Are you doing another music movie?

AG: About Fela, the Nigerian inventor of Afro Beat. It's a cool story I'm doing with the guy who produced the Broadway musical
'Fela,' a mix of the Broadway creation and the real man who had a vision for world beat.

Audience question: Were you blocked access?

AG: When we knocked on the door of the Vatican no one answered. We knocked frequently. One cleric was an archbishop in Milwaukee, a leading light of the liberal wing of the American Church, who we knew spent lot of time in Rome, he was part of taking the case to Rome, we got insight from him. He was a flawed figure, because of that he's impressive, he had his own sex scandal, an affair with a 35-year-old man, who tried to blackmail him; he took $450,000 out of the church coffers to hush him up. When it was revealed, he resigned, but his ability to see these issues make him a compelling character. Everybody should get off their pedestals, he says. Christ wasn't afraid of humanity, neither should we be. Aside from another former priest we didn't penetrate the Vatican.

Did you know anyone who had been abused?

AG:  I didn't know anyone abused in my parish; there was chit chat: 'dont go back in the sacristy with father so and so, he'll feel you up,' it was treated as a kind of joke, 'ah, you know, that's what they do.' It was accepted in a way that it would not be today.

What is the cost of these scandals to the Catholic Church?

AG: $3 billion is the high price; there were priests who warned that unless they took steps to make this right they would pay a price, and they have.


 

This article is related to: Alex Gibney, Documentary, Documentaries, Awards, Awards, Oscars


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.