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Alex Gibney sets sights on church cover-up in 'Mea'

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

Filmmaker Alex Gibney Credit: Filmmaker Alex Gibney (Getty Images)

The prolific Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side") has tackled torture, corruption and insider politics in some of the most indelible documentaries of recent years.

In his latest, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," the filmmaker takes on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

His movie depicts the horrific story of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who abused some 200 children when he led the St. John School for the Deaf in Wisconsin from 1950 to 1974.

With the film centered on testimony from four of Murphy's victims, Gibney unpacks a cover-up that extended to the highest echelons of the Church.

amNewYork spoke with Gibney about the movie, which airs Monday night on HBO.

What led you to this story? It seemed to me, there were two really good reasons to pursue it: One, this Milwaukee story, not only was it extraordinarily outrageous in terms of a priest abusing 200 deaf children, but the case and the documents obtained through discovery and lawsuits about the case led straight to the Vatican. Not only to the Vatican, but also to Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict

Corruption is a frequent subject in your movies. Do you see yourself as an activist as well as a filmmaker? They're about corruption or abuses of power. That might be another way of putting it. In that sense, I think that's fulfilling my role.

As someone who was raised Catholic, what was the key to telling this story without devolving into condemning the faith? I really didn't want this to be perceived as kind of a diatribe against the Catholic faith. I really tried to be careful about the idea that it was a crime story. There are peculiarities to the way the Catholic Church operates that contribute to that criminality, but I really did think long and hard about articulating those in such a way so that it wouldn't be a kind of blanket condemnation of a religion. It's an analysis of crime.

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