A culture that fails to protect its children

“In America, we sacrifice everything to the morality of the bottom line.”

After directing the Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” Alex Gibney created the current “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” which addresses the coverup by the Catholic Church of the sexual abuse of children. He spoke to Variety’s Jon Weisman about society’s failure to protect its children.

The abuser profiled in “Mea Maxima Culpa,” Father Lawrence Murphy, was a towering member of the community.
I think that (the impact) was all the more devastating, because he was such a charismatic and compelling figure. Many of these predators are sick but get away with their predatory behavior because they shroud themselves in the mantle of goodness, and that both protects them and gives them greater access.

How does protecting the institution become more important than the fate of individual children?
It happens slowly but surely and over time. You believe that the good you’re doing is so important that it outweighs anything, and then you begin to think, “Father Murphy, he’s a bad guy, but we don’t want his bad deeds to bring down the church, so better that we hide it, better that we protect the church’s reputation because the church does so much good.” So it ends up being an excuse that corrupts the church.

That’s the thing you always have to ask about the church — where’s the concern for the victims? They are so concerned with protecting their reputation that the concern for the victims was lost.

Should we be surprised that in this era of heightened media, there is as much covering up as there is?
Yes. In some fundamental way, we all seem to be hard-wired not to rock the boat. So when whistleblowers pop up, we tend to discredit them or not believe them, rather than celebrate them. Because they’re stirring the pot, they’re upsetting everything, and they pose difficult questions.

When I was going around the country for my Enron film (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”), one of the questions that was always asked was, “Who does that (Enron VP and whistleblower) Sherron Watkins think she is? She’s not so great.” Of all the damage the execs at Enron did … it kind of testified to the fact that we have an innate suspicion of people who ask these questions.

People seem to view events as a few bad apples rather than as a systemic problem.
I think it’s particularly an American problem. Americans tend to like white hats and black hats, and there’s a tendency when there’s a problem to look for the black hat.

There’s a few bad apples in the church, but no more than, say, in the public school system. Saying that there are pedophiles in public institutions is somehow an excuse for public coverup.

Is there a connection to be drawn between sexual abuse and Sandy Hook?
(Adam Lanza) clearly was a bad apple. But we’re missing the rotten barrel. All you have to do is compare the rates of gun-related violence in this country to other countries around the world to see how badly rotten our barrel is. The amount of high-powered weaponry he had at his disposal, the amount of bullets he was able to put in his gun, these are, largely speaking, institutional problems in that we don’t seem to have the courage to protect our children. Where is the courage we need to protect our children?

Is America losing its moral compass?
Here’s where I think America’s gone wrong. We sacrifice everything to the morality of the bottom line. I think if the NRA weren’t so potent as a lobbying organization, we would have had laws changed long ago. Politicians need money to successfully run for office, and they get a lot of that money from the NRA. They know if they take a stand … the NRA will pour lots of money into the coffers of their opponents. What does that say about our society that we’re willing to let money essentially regulate (us)? Where did we become so morally weak that we decided the bottom line is the best arbiter we can come up with?

The Catholic Church used to sell indulgences. Is that what we’ve come down to? We’re back into that game?