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Strong visualization building a legal case against priest who abused summer camp scouts. How it works out in the church hierarchy is shown too
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. It did not win the 1st prize, the golden bear, but instead the 2nd in line: the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Strong visualization of building a legal case against a priest who abused children in summer camps on a regular basis some 20 to 30 years ago. What is shown in a perfect way is that each victum has struggled with what overcame him, but each in his own private way. No one was prepared to listen at the time. Some still suffer the consequences, again each in his own way. Some become normal citizens with a job, a family and still going to church. Others cope with persistent problems, without a proper job and without a family. And all combinations thereof. Compelling story telling fills over two hours without a problem.
The first main protagonist has a family with 5 children, all going to church and receiving the sacraments. Within his family he is very open about what happened to him when he was a boy scout. They talk about it (with all children attending), how he felt once seeing the offending priest in question still active in mass and confirmation classes. It was a trigger to start writing letters to the official contact person for these matters. As a result, meetings take place with minutes made. His case is handled proficiently and professionally by that contact person, following-up with replies, establishing contacts with the priest in question, later with higher echelons in the church hierarchy. Even two of his sons have a meeting with the superior of the priest. Every meeting runs its course in a polite and peaceful way.
The interaction with the church officials went much better than I had assumed beforehand, but still the case falters after some time and for no obvious reason. Seeing the priest still serving mass, he leaves church together with his family, explicitly stating that he does not want communion to be served out of the hands of that priest. Not knowing what else to do, he files an official complaint with the district attorney. To demonstrate that his case is not unique, he talks with a fellow participant of the summer camps where most of the sexual contacts took place, attempting to convince him to file a complaint too. Alas, he has troubles to follow suit and is unwilling to go to the police. The case seems to get a dead end.
Separately, others chime in and also file complaints with the police. They hear that someone else did the same before them but have no clue who it was. From that moment on, the story takes off, the addresses of other summer camp participants are collected and are phoned up. A few times they get only an indifferent response, while others show hefty reactions like bursting into tears. We follow some of them in the story, to show their attitudes and their motivation to follow suit, or conversely why they refuse to act.
New for me, even an eye opener, was that we also see how the case develops within the church hierarchy. It turns out that the church bureaucracy perfectly knew what was going on. Even worse, the priest in question had frequently reported that he had problems with children, but he persistenly got jobs where he could not avoid them, even in summer camps with ample young boys around and where he had all freedom to do what he wanted. The church deemed the priest very charismatic, preaching very well, and thus bringing in a lot of very desperately needed finances. For the church officials it was thus very difficult to dismiss his services, or even to defrock him. Their actions confined to moving him around several places but letting him keep his role in mass, sacraments and confirmation classes. The latter activity offered him ample opportunities for extra lessons on an individual basis, hence new opportunities for sexual activities with boys entrusted to him.
I could not avoid remembering an earlier movie with a strongly related theme, namely Le silence des eglises / The Silence of the Church (2013) by Edwin Baily. There are considerable differences, however, due to the 2013-one having only one boy and one priest as main protagonists. This new 2019-one has a reverse setup, focusing on a single priest and his hierarchy, with the abused boys taking action after 20 years. Still, similar is the instruction to the victims to keep it a secret or telling them that they are selected out of the group and treated as a favorite. Also similar is the denial by parents, teachers and other educators, as they cannot imagine that the priest who does so much good work and who is loved by everyone, can be suspected of something evil like sex with minors. And both movies show that the immediate as well as the lasting effects can be very different for each of the boys, some even killing themselves as their only escape to avoid the unwanted sexual advances.
All in all, both movies show a contemporary theme that has come in the open after decades of hiding. This one also shows the side of the church bureaucracy and their staffing problems, given a shortage on priests and hoping that denial and switching places moves the problem away. The story telling in this movie is very strong and keeps our attention for two hours without a problem.
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