Mar 26

“Going Clear”: Scientology Documentary

For Scientologists, going clear refers to a coveted status awarded to those who have completed a certain level of auditing. But for the men and women on screen here, it means something else: reclaiming their own voices and demanding to be heard. Scott Foundas, Variety, reviewing Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Although at times likened to therapy, in actuality auditing is very different from the kind of therapy most of us know or practice. In fact, The Church of Scientology actually has a mission to discredit psychiatry, largely via its Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

Directed by Alex Gibney, the new documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief will soon become available on HBO. It’s based on the 2013 bestseller by Lawrence Wright and puts a lot of focus on eight former Scientology members, including Paul Haggis, director of the award-winning movie Crash.

Kurt Loder, “Haggis—who broke with the church over its hostility toward homosexuality (he has two gay daughters)—is joined here by Wright himself, and by a number of other dropouts, among them former Scientology executives, rank-and-file members (including Jason Beghe, star of the TV series Chicago P.D.), and a very talkative PR woman named Sylvia ‘Spanky’ Taylor, once employed at Scientology’s Hollywood Celebrity Center as a handler for John Travolta.”

Melissa Maerz,

The film builds upon Wright’s biggest allegations: that Scientology facilitated Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s kids turning against their mother, that it vetted and groomed the actress Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) to be Cruise’s wife, that it allegedly helped squash rumors about John Travolta’s sexuality. Gibney even scores one scoop that Wright didn’t know about: Cruise had Kidman’s phone tapped after she was labeled a ‘suppressive person.’ But Wright covers controversies that Gibney doesn’t, so it’s the rare archival footage from Scientology’s inner sanctum that makes the film stand apart from the book.

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, on why or how people fall prey to the “craziness” of Scientology:

…Scientology presents itself initially as a set of tools to help you live a better, freer, more purposeful life. Unlike other religions, it doesn’t actually tell you what its core belief system is until you’ve spent years and years (and, most likely, thousands and thousands of dollars) as a member. It’s only when you ascend ‘The Bridge’ and get to that Operating Thetan level that you’re given the sacred text — L. Ron Hubbard’s handwritten notes explaining humanity’s crazy backstory, about how Earth is a slave planet and how humans were brought here billions of years ago by the intergalactic dictator Xenu, placed in volcanoes, and blown up with hydrogen bombs, etc. (When he finally read Hubbard’s notes, Haggis says he thought, ‘Maybe it’s an insanity test? Maybe if you believe this, they kick you out?’ No such luck.)

Selected Reviews

Melissa Maerz, “If Going Clear were a Hollywood thriller, I’d complain that it’s too over-the-top. But this is real life, which is mind-blowing, and as a documentary, it’s disturbingly good.”

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “The familiar tale of the billion-dollar rise of L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi self-help religion-like philosophy/prank/cash-suck gets urgent, stylish treatment in Alex Gibney’s HBO doc, a fleet and surefooted account of Scientology’s origins, Hubbard’s years at sea escaping U.S. taxes, and the misery and harassment faced by the church’s apostates.”

Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter: “The doc ends on a hopeful note by reporting that according to best estimates the numbers of followers has dwindled to approximately 50,000 at most worldwide…(S)urvivors, ‘suppressive persons’ and the ‘disconnected’ families of people who have suffered from Scientology’s unholy war against its enemies will take enormous comfort in the fact that at least one film has now dared to say what only a few years ago seemed impossible.”

Jan 09

“Mea Maxima Culpa”: Silent Priest Victims No More

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is a 2012 documentary written and directed by Alex Gibney, who “explores the charged issue of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, following a trail from the first known protest against clerical sexual abuse in the United States and all the way to the Vatican.”

“Mea Maxima Culpa”: Latin for “My most grievous fault”

“Silence in the House of God”: The Catholic Church’s and pedophile priests’ cover-ups as well as specific instances of victimization that occurred at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee

The trailer:

The Victims

Victims of Father Murphy who are interviewed are given a voice by such actors as John Slattery, Jamey Sheridan, Chris Cooper, and Ethan Hawke. States A. O. Scott, New York Times

…(T)he heart of ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’ — the real source of its emotional impact — lies in a remarkable series of interviews with some of the men, most now in their 60s, who endured Father Murphy’s assaults when they were children and who have worked for almost 40 years to bring his crimes to light…

That Father Murphy’s victims were deaf gave their abuser an extra layer of protection. Some of the boys could not communicate very well with their hearing families, and Father Murphy operated in the literal certainty of their silence. These students were especially vulnerable, less because of their physical difference than because of the social marginalization that accompanied it. Their specific demand for justice as they grew older was thus also part of a larger insistence on recognition and the acquisition of a public voice.

The Perpetrators’ “Noble-Cause Corruption”

Justin Chang, Variety, reports: “Richard Sipe, a mental-health counselor and former Benedictine monk, illuminates the twisted nature of ‘noble-cause corruption,’ explaining how a priest could convince himself that his acts of abuse were in fact acts of consecration, supposedly cleansing his victims of their adolescent lusts by stimulating them sexually.”

The Mostly Misguided and Outrageous Response By Church Powers

Many of the reviews address the film’s emphasis not only on the perpetrators within the Church—from the accused priests to the poor response at the top of the hierarchy (up to Pope Benedict)—but also on those within the institution who at least tried to do the right thing.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “One of the most intriguing tangents in ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’ involves the Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic congregation established to help priests who were struggling with celibacy, alcoholism and other personal issues. A recently released trove of Fitzgerald’s letters reveals that as early as 1952 he had warned church leaders, including two popes, that there was a nationwide problem with abusive priests, and stressed that he believed priests who committed such crimes could not be cured and returned to their pastoral duties. Fitzgerald favored defrocking them or isolating them in monasteries, rather than turning them over to the authorities.”

Arguably, though not ideal, that would have been preferable to what actually happened. As described by John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: “The church’s policy became to ‘treat’ priests known to have committed abuse, then circulate them elsewhere in the church, all without acknowledging their crimes to law enforcement.” Hence perpetuating the abuse.