by Gjergji Evangjeli
The premiere of Susan and John Michalczyk’s documentary A Matter of Conscience: Confronting Clergy Abuse (2014) was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on October 4. The documentary largely treated the plight of the men and women who chose to speak out against the clerical abuse that affected the Catholic Church. It is the sequel to the Michalczyk’s previous work, Who Takes Away the Sins: Witnesses to Clergy Abuse (2013) that was primarily concerned with the lives and the lasting psychological and spiritual damage to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion on the topic.
The film goes into some detail concerning the difficulties which whistleblowers of the clergy abuse scandal faced in coming out with their frustration and concern for the safety and souls of a number of minors who were abused by members of the ordained clergy. Through a series of interviews, a number of priests and nuns, as well as members of the laity, some of whom were survivors of sexual abuse themselves, recount the trials that they withstood for speaking out and seeking to stop the epidemic of pedophile priests. Those who raised their voices regarding this matter were consistently stonewalled in their attempts to end abuse and bring those responsible to ecclesial and secular justice. The matter did not gain nation-wide notoriety until 2002, when The Boston Globe ran a series on the ongoing sexual abuse by priests and the subsequent cover-up by members of Church hierarchy.
The panel discussion that followed the viewing was somewhat tense, since not all members of the panel held the same views regarding the Catholic Church. While some pointed to a lack of confidence and, ultimately, faith in regard to why these horrible events were allowed to occur within the Catholic Church and were hopeful against hope that the matter would ultimately be fairly resolved and those responsible would face their due consequences both by the Church and by secular authorities, some members of the panel were not as optimistic. Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented numerous abuse victims, called for wholesale defrocking of Bishops for handling this matter so poorly. Dr. Robert Hoatson, a former Christian Brother (C.S.A.) and Boston diocesan priest who has grown disillusioned with the Church over his frustration and pessimism regarding his attempt to bring abusive clergy members to justice and protect their innocent, argued that the requirement for Catholic priests to be celibate may lead to sexual frustration and that it could have played a part in the destructive choices that some made. Regardless of whether one agrees with these more broadly discontented voices, however, they stand as a testament to the deep damage that this scandal has caused not only to survivors of sexual abuse, but also to the people who tried to end it.
The documentary was narrated by Robbie McCauley, a theater actor, director, and OBIE Award playwright and featured interviews with Anne Barrett-Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, Sr. Sally Butler, Fr. Patrick Collins, Fr. James Connell, Thomas Patrick Doyle, Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, Prof. Marci Hamilton, Dr. Robert Hoatson, Sr. Claire Smith, Fr. Bruce Teague, and Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish. All interviewees spoke on how they chose to follow their conscience and go to extraordinary means to speak out and act against what they saw as intrinsically evil acts, which in many cases caused what has been coined as soul-murder among many victims. The documentary is expected to be made available to college classes and interested organizations seeking to spread awareness and demand action regarding this issue.