It’s heartening to see a major Catholic institution like Boston College get behind a documentary that, without mercy, attacks the Boston Diocese for its sinful coverup of priest abuse of children.
Who Takes Away the Sins: Witnesses to Clergy Abuse, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, October 4 through 6.
By Gerald Peary
Who Takes Away the Sins: Witnesses to Clergy Abuse was produced at Boston College, where co-filmmaker John J. Michalczyk is a long-time professor. It’s heartening to see a major Catholic institution like BC get behind a documentary that, without mercy, attacks the Boston Diocese for its sinful coverup of priest abuse of children. Cardinal Bernard Law, be damned!
This very low-budget, 54-minute video is a compendium of talking head witnesses to Catholic Church criminality: pained and damaged adults, tearful and enraged, recalling how they were violated by priests who claimed to represent God on earth. Most were so ashamed when it happened that they kept it secret, blaming themselves. Several parents found out, but then Church officials told them to keep it secret. Go home and forget about it! “To take a small child, manipulate him for your perverse pleasure, you have more or less killed a child,” a male adult victim describes his ever-messed-up life.
Who Takes Away the Sins flashes back to 2002. That’s when the Boston Globe famously ran a prize-winning, muckraking series of articles which named names of sexual predator priests. The Globe also discovered the startling number of cases in which the Church paid off victims in out-of-court settlements, always with a stipulation of “confidentiality,” that the victims couldn’t discuss the cases publicly. Meanwhile, humanoid snakes like Father John Geoghan raped children at will, as he was simply transferred by the good Cardinal Law to other parishes whenever there were pedophile complaints.
The most effective interviewee: Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who headed the 2002 investigation at his newspaper. With his blue-collar New England accent, he’s a salt-of-the-earth Catholic who was shocked and revolted by what he uncovered about his own Church. “This was far and away the most difficult story to handle emotionally,” he explains. “There were more than a few nights when I cried in my car over what I had been told.”
Well, Bernard Law was forced to resign his Cardinalship, before ascending to a comfy sinecure at the Vatican. (I wonder if Pope Francis knows about this creep whom he inherited with the job.) So are things better in Boston in 2013? With Catholic Bishops on record for “Zero Tolerance” of pedophile priests? Maybe for today’s children, but, as seen in Who Takes Away the Sins, there is no closure for the still-suffering victims. A man: “I still want to go to a Catholic Church and throw rocks through a window.” A woman: “I can’t forgive the institution, the Catholic hierarchy, those who let the tiger out of the cage to rape children. I can’t forgive them. I can’t.”
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.