Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney won an Academy Award in 2007 for his documentary Taxi to the Dark Side

Beware all those who fall under the scrutiny of Alex Gibney. The documentary filmmaker first came to mass attention with his acclaimed 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a movie that from initially looking at the sudden bankruptcy of the American energy company provided a prescient examination of the greed and corruption that can occur inside modern financial institutions.

It was followed by winning an Academy Award in 2007 for Taxi to the Dark Side, a film that used the death of an Aghan taxi driver at the Bagram Internment Facility to examine the ways the United States policy on torture defies the Geneva Convention.

His new film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, goes straight for the Vatican jugular. The title translates roughly as "My very great fault", and focuses on four men who were abused as children by a priest in Milwaukee. From their initial plight to get their stories heard the film expands to cover recently revealed religious sex scandals around the world, and how in the Catholic Church these atrocities can be linked up the chain of command all the way to the Pope.

As the documentary had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival, Gibney spoke exclsuively to IBTimes UK about what he hoped to achieve with the film.

"We just felt that in the context of what had been done already that our contribution could be something that takes the intimate horrific detail of a crime committed in a particular place, but also show how that crime was systematically covered up, and how that wasn't just a single incident but was part of a larger pattern of behaviour that then takes place everywhere.

"That is the real horror of the crime because it's so widespread and so systemic," said Gibney.

The film is not an attack on religion, but rather the corruption that can occur in religious institutions. Gibney was raised a Catholic and admitted that the revelations about the multitude of sex abuses cases across the world provided a personal motivation to make the film.

"It's really a crime film. It's not about religion, it's about crime. I view this as the great crime of the Catholic Church and so it was very personal to me because I was raised Catholic, and that heritage is part of who I am," he said.

The film has sparked outrage in some quarters, which will inevitably be magnified when the film is released in Italy next year. While aware of the controversy involved, Gibney said that he wanted to shed light on the plight of the men who were abused, and the difficulties in getting their cases acknowledged.

"My aim for the film is to provoke outrage but also to provoke admiration for these deaf men who would not be silenced and were so determined for so long to have their voices heard. They've had an impact by getting the church to disgorge through legal action some of its secrets, and secrecy after all is at the heart of criminality here," said Gibney.

Mea Maxima Culpa
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God investigates the recently revealed sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church [Pic: Jigsaw Productions]

When the sex abuse stories broke in 2010, the Vatican said it was unaware of them and dismissed them as a few isolated cases out of the church's control. Silence In the House of God looks beyond that to discover that for years the Vatican was aware of the abuses, spending the last four decades covering up any case that was brought forward.

"That's the ultimate excuse by most institutions when they abuse their power, 'it's just a few bad guys, nothing wrong with the institution,' where it's usually the case of a rotten barrel. The seductiveness of the few bad apples theory is you can demonise a few people and say 'that person's bad, if we get them out, then everything's good.' Well it ain't so," he noted.

The film goes to great lengths to reveal how the highest echelons of the Catholic Church were aware of the scandal. All the reports of sex abuse in the church since the 1960s went directly to the current pope, Benedict XVI, to the time when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Gibney explains that even the pope is not all-powerful and is a slave to an institution now seen as more important than the people who form it.

"Pope Benedict is a very weak man who doesn't either have the courage or, it seems, even the power to do what's right. It's the institution that corrupts him," claimed Gibney.

While garnering publicity for Mea Maxima Culpa, Gibney is also tinkering with his long-gestating project about Lance Armstrong. Initially designed to focus on the American's return to the Tour de France in 2009, Gibney said that the recent charges by the US anti-doping authority exposed a deep-rooted corruption similar to that in the Catholic Church.

"The interesting thing about the Lance Armstrong story, in a way similar to religion, is that [it] is so compelling. The idea of a guy coming back from cancer, or being near the brink of death and coming back and not only living but succeeding on a magnificent scale - it's the world's most important sports story. In that way the Lance Armstrong story not only reflects on Lance Armstrong but on all of us, both what we need out of our public figures and also how angry and disappointed we are when we find out they may have lied to us," said Gibney.

The next project seems very much in line with his other work: addressing corruption within an institution that is ruthlessly covered up or dismissed by those who choose to not read between the lines. Thankfully, Gibney always has the bigger picture in mind, and has no plans of staying silent.

This article was updated November 30, -0001 00:00 AM
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