Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Welcome to Our Blog

It’s been just over two months since “Hand of God”(HoG) set itself upon the public. With an initial burst of film festivals behind us and a Boston festival lurking in the near future I thought this was a good time to provide a space for discussion, dispute and democracy. If there is anyone who has met us on the road and wants to add their thoughts – here now is the space and place. Any questions you didn’t get to ask, any tomatoes left un-tossed? Any angry clergy out there that miss those old days of genuflection and fear? C’mon now, share it with the group.

I’ve been to some great festivals and cities where our film has worked as a communion of wondering spirits. We’re all trying to feel our way around this issue and we are all finding our own constantly evolving solutions. My brother, my co-producers and myself are offering up HoG as a genuine and specific experience that might make you all think about your own experiences and push you to your own conclusions. The whole process has made me poorer in pocket but stronger in backbone. As I travel from city to city I make it a point to chase down the local clergy and their mob bosses. I challenge them to the theatre. Barely a one has taken up the invitation. As I do this I often think back to the timid grammar school version of me – harassed by nuns, in awe of priests, clinging to a drainpipe at recess. If this film can bust one other little kid out of their shell – no matter how old he or she is now – we will have done our peace. Besides providing an education, that’s what I’d like the effect of this film to be – a breaking-out of individual spirit. Recognize what is holding you down, push back at it, get the hell out and find your own safe and tranquil place – whether it is in family, spirituality, food or something else. Make it your own and never let a guy in a costume consume you with his own twisted sense of up and down. Amen to that and to you.

Talk to us.

Zingerplatz Pictures, Inc.


Blogger Mark Belenchia said...

I have felt all of the feelings that you expressed. I had already considered extending an invitation to the local church. I know the priest there in Tupelo. I think I'm going to follow up and invite him and ask that he put it in his bulletin so that his parishioners will have an opportunity to participate!

Mark B.

12:58 PM  
Blogger AguaDeRosas said...

Thank you for making this film. I plan to see the movie in Salem on June 7.

As someone who was raised Catholic (and even more important, had a 're-awakening of faith' some years ago), the sexual scandal, the way the Church has handled it all, the parish closings, (along with my own recent discovery of the Church's responsibility through the ages for the persecution of our Jewish brothers and sister) has made me question whether I should stay and continue to worship in the Church - and, of course, fight for what is right & good.

This is not a struggle that has any easy answers, but I was wondering how others, such as yourself, have responded in their faith walk?

4:37 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Not sure we had any priests show up in Tupelo but the whole experience down there was great. Very supportive and enthusiastic. And a very nice trophy at the end of it all.

Having seen it play all across the country I am now convinced this film and subject cuts across religions and geographical boundaries. Soon we will see about New England.

I'm not sure I'm a good one to advise anyone that is looking for an organized path to faith. I just know I feel healthier and more spritualy fulfilled (did I say that?) having walked away from the Corporate Catholic path and founded my own ministry of silly walks. I have no faith in the whole hierarchy, the costumes, the ceremony. As a visually intrigued person I love looking at that stuff but I now see it all as a parade, maybe a drag queen kinda thing - it's fun to watch but should not be taken too seriously. I find my faith in daily doings with others - in what they give me and what I give them. It keeps me honest. I don't have the option of dispensing with sin at confession, so I live with my mistakes and try to improve next time around.

The process of working through this film allowed me to get to this point. Some self-annointed excommunication I guess. Personally, I think the world would be a better place if everyone just kept their religion in their pants.
But to each his own.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Kay Ebeling said...

What is happening with Hand Of God? I just found out about it and really want to see it. I am in Los Angeles.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey said...

Dear Joe,

I am so sorry. I'm not typing good tonight. I keep making typos.

Anyway, you bring up some good points, however, your documentary kind of gives the impression that the Catholic Church is the primary perpetrator. However, this is not the case unfortunately. As a math major, statistics interest me. Would you like to hear some shocking ones?

This not just and epidemic affecting the Church. My mother was a public school teacher. Did you know around 30% of children are sexually abused in elementary school? Yes, 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 8 boys. The Church's rate is nothing compared to our public school rates. Please, do some research into this. It will shock you on how widespread this is in all sectors of society.

Public schools, daycare, even police. It is everywhere.

3 out of every 5 girls are abused at least once in their life time.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Joe,

Being a Catholic myself I was at first reluctant to watch the movie about sexual abuse by Catholic priest because it seemed that it was being blown out of proportions. It started off by one victim coming out and than escalated to millions of people suing the Catholic Church. It was hard to recognize which people were actual victims or which one's were hungry for money.
However, I believe that there is always two sides. This documentary was very fascinating. One question that arose though was after exposing the Catholic scandals what do you want the Cathlolic Church to do now?

9:00 PM  
Blogger MOMOFTHREEKIDS said...

Hi Joe,
Just saw "Hand of God" on Frontline.Kudos on a job well done. You have told your brother's story from such a personal point of view that it is beyond powerful. By no means is this a comparison, but I feel the need to vent...
I had mean nuns who pulled hair, wrapped knuckles, screamed at us over the P.A. system, stuck us out for "recess" in sub-zero temperatures, let you pee your pants and/or vomit if it wasn't "lavatory time" and scared the hell out of you if you forgot your "beanie" (to cover your head) in Church.Bad Memories. Can't imagine your brother's horror if I still feel badly about this 30 year later.

When are you going to be on Larry King?

9:12 PM  
Blogger Donald Thomas said...

Joe and Paul,

Thank you for making this beautiful film that I can't stop thinking about. As survivors of clergy abuse, it is hard for us to watch these films but, it is a necessary part of the healing process.

Good luck and peace be with both of you and your loved ones.

Donald B., Rockford, IL SNAP

7:20 AM  
Blogger Fitz said...

Do you have any idea what the percentage of abuse is in our public schools, or YMCA camps, or Boy Scout troops? This is never portrayed as an institutional problem.

You do your best to indict the Church. Where is the balance and perspective?

9:51 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey said...

I agree with fitz. This seems more like an attack against organized religion than pederastry. This problem is infecting all sectors of our society. Everyone and their dog already knows about the Church scandal. It's old news, and stuff is being done about it. Why not focus on the problem as a whole instead of leading people to believe that something about Catholicism causes it? Obviously, religion has little or no relation to abuse. This must be true given the widespread occurence of abuse. Currently, Church abuse is actually lower than abuse in the Boy Scouts, YMCA, public schools, etc...

Don't make this an "us vs. Church" ordeal and ignore the real truth. It's "us vs. pedophiles" and society's toleration of them in many situations.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe and Paul -

Thanks for the film. I did not view it as an attack on the church but a look at one boy's story of abuse. It is the same kind of abuse that has happened to a lot of us. It helped me feel that I was not alone.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul and Joe -

Thank you SO MUCH for this film. I think that I will share it with my brother. We both suffered from abuse, him more than I. I saw alot of myself in Paul and recognized a lot of the pain.

Correct me if I am wrong:
I don't think the intent was to attack "The Church" but to put the story out there.

Once again, thank you.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Fitz said...

Joe & Paul

I don’t think it will surprise you to find out I was a victim of clergy sexual advances. Lucky for me he never got the chance to go further. The Catholic boarding school I was attending moved him out; at the time I never pursued the matter.

Sexual abuse (from rape to incest, to child abuse) is a notoriously unreported crime. It seems in everyone’s interest to not drag the victim through further trauma and subject them to possible shame. The level of proof needed to successfully prove a perpetrator guilty is necessarily high given the severity of the offense. As I said above, from our public schools to the YMCA this is a system wide problem, yet never (& your documentary included) presented as such.

Your documentary obviously was done from a perspective of neither belief, nor reverence for the Catholic Church. You openly blame the hierarchy and talk about its lack of accountability. This may be fair in your mind but my family and I found your documentary way over the top.

A few examples…

#1. The use of iconic imagery was overdone and insensitive to the faith (especially the Eucharist)

#2. The juxtaposition your Parents Parish closing was unnecessary and unrelated to the topic. As if the diocese was closing a Parish to spite your pain. This was silly grandstanding and diminished your account.

#3. Your expression that the Church does not have the authority to “tell us what to do” is interpretive- As if the presence of molesters and even cover up, somehow changes the veracity of the Christian sexual ethic.

I could go on of course. I was disappointed that Frontline would lend its moniker to what is (admittedly correct?) a interpersonal “story” or “perspective” rather than a true “documentary” or “journalistic account”..

Did you really expect the Bishop to allow an exclusive interview were you would be able to edit as you pleased.

Being a victim of abuse carries a certain moral weight. With that weight comes a level of accountability (just like the hierarchy) in exercising that authority.

Do you feel justified in that exercise?
Were there things you would have done different?
Were there things you would have included had time permitted?
Are other perspectives necessary, and need to be heard?
Have the media done an adequate job of covering the story?
What could be done to prevent further abuse?

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Congratulations on your film. I wish you could touch the topic of Marcial Maciel as founder of the "Legionarios de Cristo" or Opus dei order. This character was not only a drug addict but also a child abuser. He amassed great fortune and is very powerful within the church. Several books have been written about him and his organization, however, I believe someone with your courage and talent would go a long way in bringing out the untold stories of the thousands of children who were abused by this character and his followers.

Thank you.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the great work. After hearing a mother read a letter from her son's explaing in detail how smooth and delivish a young priest moved from a simple rubbing the back to other things makes a person realize that the devil is indeed in the church. These people, they cannot be considered men , for true mewn do not act this way, have runied thousands. We must see that the truth from Rome to the smallest town is brought out so that HIS chuirch if it is truly HIS church can see repentance and corrtect the damages , but money is not the answer. God wants therse people to be brought up so that the entire world can see these people are not priests , as they broke every celeby law and others they are only a hippocritical person who chose to act like a priest. NO TRUE PRIEST COULD EVEN FACE THE CONGRATION IF AND WHEN HE PULLED SUCH AN ACT. mAY WE PRAY THAT THE HOLY sPIRIT WILL OPEN THE LIGHTS UPON THESE PEOPLE AND THEY SHALL BE CONVICTED THAT THEY INDEED DID HARM UNTO hIS YOUNG. a ACT THAT MAN CANNOT EVEN PHANTOM BUT GOD KNOWS.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey said...

Thus, emotion trumps reason. Thank you fitz, for at least backing me and letting me know I wasn't alone in seeing it as a societal, not institutional problem.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Joe said...


You sure are obsessed with this public school coverup story (emails, blogs everywhere, and now here). I suggest you turn over all this info you have to a reputable news source. I can't imagine why CNN wouldn't jump all over this. Heck, I'll take it to FRONTLINE if you want. Send me your sources.

Let's go over your other concerns:

"I don’t think it will surprise you to find out I was a victim of clergy sexual advances."


"As I said above, from our public schools to the YMCA this is a system wide problem, yet never (& your documentary included) presented as such.'

This is not a film about systems and statistics. It is about what happens to one family that went through a specific situation and how it affected us and altered our perspectives. Just because a film is about a person who suffered abuse in one system, it does not have to address every other system where abuse has taken place. This is not a thesis. It is a personal story. Besides, supposedly the Church held a higher moral authority than pulic school teachers or gym instructors. And are you suggesting that public schools and the YMCA shuffled abusers from town to town?

"Your documentary obviously was done from a perspective of neither belief, nor reverence for the Catholic Church."

You got that right. I once believed and revered. Their actions have removed that power over me. I am entitled to my present non-belief just as you are entitled to your blinders.

".. my family and I found your documentary way over the top."

I could forward you over 200 emails from people who feel differently. But you are entitled to your opinion. And I am entitled to think you are wrong.

"#1. The use of iconic imagery was overdone and insensitive to the faith (especially the Eucharist)"

Your opinion. Personally I grew up with icons and rituals forced down my throat. I have reclaimed them, altered them and made them my own.
You can deal with it, or turn the channel. Nobody is forcing you to watch.

"#2. The juxtaposition your Parents Parish closing was unnecessary and unrelated to the topic..."

It is not unrelated. The archdiocese allowed young people to be abused and now they are abusing the faithful again - in a different way. How much do they need to bash you over the head before you say "ouch?" This incident is something that happened to my parents in connection to their beliefs and it has altered their faith. It is very much part of the story of this family's faith journey. How is this not related but abuse in the YMCA is?

"#3. Your expression that the Church does not have the authority to “tell us what to do” is interpretive- As if the presence of molesters and even cover up, somehow changes the veracity of the Christian sexual ethic."

They don't have any authority in my life or my brother's life. If you want to listen to them then go ahead. Once again - this film is not about you. And what exactly is the Christian sexual ethic???? Sounds kinda creepy. All I know is that the last person I need to listen to about sex is somebody who has never had it. Or, supposedly hasn't had it...

"I could go on of course."

Oh but you will...

"I was disappointed that Frontline would lend its moniker to what is (admittedly correct?) a interpersonal “story” or “perspective” rather than a true “documentary” or “journalistic account”.."

What is a true documentary? There are personal documentaries (this being one) as well as journalistic documentaries. There are other types of documentaries too (music, nature, dance, art docs, etc). I've been in this business for 30 years and have worked on many types of them. But I guess you know better than me.

"Did you really expect the Bishop to allow an exclusive interview were you would be able to edit as you pleased."

Yes. I would have offered him a chance to see how I used the material, and the chance to remove it if he did not approve. If I hadn't offered him the opportunity to be in the film you would be asking me why I hadn't. There's no winning with you on this one...or any one I suppose.

"Being a victim of abuse carries a certain moral weight."

Really? It carries a weight, that's for sure. I thought being a priest, Bishop aor Cardinal carried a certain moral weight. Even you must admit they dropped the ball on that one buddy.

"With that weight comes a level of accountability (just like the hierarchy) in exercising that authority."

Oh yeah, I forgot about the Pope.

"Do you feel justified in that exercise?"

YES. Even though I was not a victim of abuse. And therefore I do not carry the type of weight you speak of. I have no moral weights. But I do have a couple of 15lb weights that I use every morning. Just to work the kinks out. Some light lifting. Should I design a workout routine for you?

"Were there things you would have done different?"

YES. I would have got funding before I started filming so I wouldn't have spent my own money on this film about my family. I advise you to do this before you begin filming your "true documentary" about abuse in the YMCA.

"Were there things you would have included had time permitted?"

YES. I had to cut out the footage of McCormack and Birminham dancing the tango in Helsinki. I thought it was a bit over the top and it seemed to drag the second act down a bit. But if I had time...

"Are other perspectives necessary, and need to be heard?"

YES. I searched everywhere for a someone that might want to talk about abuse in the public school system and the YMCA but couldn't find anyone. I'm sure someone is out there that could address this huge issue that the media refuses to focus on: the shuffling of pervert teachers from school district to school district; swimming instructors from one pool to the next.

"Have the media done an adequate job of covering the story?"

If I thought they had I wouldn't have made this film.

Thanks for the Q&A.

Joe C

3:40 PM  
Blogger Catherine Mary Henry said...

Dear Joe, I wanted to send this you this response from a Rev. Edward Arsenault (EArsnault@RCBM.org) to my note to Bishop McCormack of Manchester. If you would pass it on to Paul I would be grateful. CM Henry

Dear Ms. Henry,

I write in reply to your message to our webmaster. Bishop McCormack has expressed his deep sorrow for the pain and hurt that victims of abuse have suffered and for anything that he may ever have done or not done that contributed to that hurt. Bishop McCormack did speak to Mr. Cultrera and met with the group, “Survivors of Joseph Birmingham.” For some these meetings were helpful and occasions of healing. Yet, there are others who are angry at the Bishop and at the Church. The Bishop accepts this anger and prays that our Lord may grant them and others who are angry for some release from it.

The sexual abuse of minors by some priests and the ways that the Church in some cases responded to that crisis is a serious wound. We cannot undo that wound, but we can all work together to be diligent against such a terrible hurt ever happening again. The Bishop has made the work of maintaining a safe environment within our Church, schools and institutions in New Hampshire a pastoral priority for everyone.

If you wish to correspond directly with Bishop McCormack, you may write to him at PO Box 310 , Manchester , NH 03105-0310 .

I will keep you and your family in my own prayer.

Rev. Edward J. Arsenault
Delegate for Ministerial Conduct

From: CatherineMary Henry [mailto:catherinemaryhenry@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, January 16, 2007 11:55 PM
To: William S. Skylstad; benedictxvi@vatican.va



I am just finishing up watching "Hand of God" on the local PBS television station tonight, having watched it once before at the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests convention last year and I have to tell you that I am just as angry and upset as I was when I first watched it up in Jersey City.

You, John McCormack, and Lennon, Law and the sorry lot of sexual abusers and pedophiles from the Class of 1960 are disgusting. I know that Law was kicked upstairs but I don't understand why you have not resigned your position because you, too, are one of the enablers who protected criminals like Birmingham and hundreds of other molesters.

I realize that you probably don't have too much integrity left, but with what little you still do have, you should resign.

May God have mercy on your soul for all the damage you have done to God's people.

CM Henry

2:04 AM  
Blogger Transient Reporter said...

I feel incredibly honored that you would post my review of your film on your website.

All the best to you and your family.

Transient Reporter

10:28 PM  
Blogger chevron said...

i just finished watching your movie that screened on Maori television New Zealand.
I didnt know the movie was on and i was flicking channels and started watching, I couldnt stop watching... you not only made a very insightful documentary but took on the scoundrels that is the catholic institution face to face... when you see one of these pervets make it to the top one cant help but wonder how many more are in control of a CHURCH which turns a blind eye to these going ons.i am sorry you went through the pain of abuse but it gave you and your brother strength to bring to light the obvious that so many others tend to ignore.

3:52 AM  
Blogger Terence said...

I too watched the film on Maori TV and having been brought up a Catholic watched with great interest. I too have a brother who was abused and has affected his life badly. Will make sure others are aware of your moving account of the Catholic hierarchy.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Joe -

Hi there. I just recently stumbled upon your film on PBS's website..obviously years later. But it caught my eye and I decided to watch it.

I first want to apologize for these unforunate events that happened to your family. These are indeed grave offenses and I trust that those involved will be correctly punished.

I am in my late 20s and work for the Catholic Church as a Campus Minister and am getting my Master's Degree from a Catholic Seminary in Pastoral Ministry. What I am learning about the Church and especially how it has changed over the years is fascinating. And wanted to remind you of something out of love...

While your film is an accurate portrayal of your families experience with this tragedy, I cannot help but notice how quick you are to blame the Church as a whole and the hierarchy. Hurt can do so much to us, including jade our perception as well. Friend, the Church is not the problem, the PEOPLE of the Church are the problems. As your father mentioned, these priests are hypocrites. And he is exactly right, they are hypocrites, just as all of us are. We are a Church of sinners.

The Truth is that the Lord loves us enough to not let us remain there, but to acknowledge, if we so choose to be forgiven by Him and obtain eternal life.

I just encourage you and your family to seek the Truth and reality of the Catholic Church, rather than your perception of it. What you have experienced are the stains of Original Sin...we are a fallen humanity. That is why we need God's grace ever moreso.

The Church is a good because it began with our Lord. It is His Church, not ours, despite what some people may think or abuse it as...at the end of the day God is still in charge. And its hard to understand, but forgiveness is so freeing, especially because this is what our Lord asks us to do.

I am praying for you and your family. I pray that you are someday able to forgive these people and continue to seek Truth, and not people.

Thank you.

12:52 PM  
Blogger atavisms said...

awesome awesome awesome job!!

I know this is 3 or 4 years old but I just watched it last night online and it blew me away.

You really conveyed the psychology of the victim, the level of awe that children have over these people (phony priests and their phony church), and the level of covering the church did to protect itself -victims be damned. You & your brother are great heroes. Thank You!

"I hope you're not going to be one of these people who tries to sue" (!!) That says it all. How could they protect a child-raping pedophiles? MONEY - REPUTATION.

Shame on the church & the bishop and all of those involved in this despicable cover-up; it is beyond disgraceful. What can one say about an organization that burned millions people alive for hundreds of years. Why? well, because they were 'devil-worshiping witches.' Only to learn that in fact there are no such things as witches/ All those people were innocent victims.
IMO, priests need to be burned themselves! How can ANYONE belong to such an organization just based on that history alone? I will never understand it. There is no true religion, ALL religion is man-made. They need to be completely put out of business! We can start by showing what a pathetic nonsense it all, in fact, really is.

True spirituality is about self-exploration. Like science, it is not bound by culture or tradition. If you speak with a real mystic, in any religious tradition, they will all tell you virtually the same thing; explore your inner mind through practice and meditation, DO NOT interfere with others. What could any 'priest' know of such thing? nothing. Because they are not 'priests' but charlatans

12:41 PM  

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