Frontline Examines One Family's Confrontation with Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy
Religion News Service [Massachusetts]
December 27, 2006
In recent decades, more than 10,000 children were reportedly sexually abused by Catholic priests in the United States. In Hand of God, airing Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), filmmaker Joe Cultrera explores the very personal story of how his brother -- Paul -- was molested in the 1960s by their parish priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, who allegedly abused nearly 100 other children. Hand of God tells the story of faith betrayed and how the Cultrera family fought back against a scandal that continues to afflict scores of churches across the country.
From an early age, Paul Cultrera and his siblings were immersed in the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church, being raised in an Italian-Catholic family and attending all-Catholic school.
At 14, Paul became an altar boy at St. James Parish and came under the guidance of Father Birmingham, a young and friendly priest, who often took the boys on trips and invited them to the rectory for pizza parties. It was during a routine rite of confession that Paul's relationship with Father Birmingham changed.
"Being as brainwashed as I was, I would actually tell him what I had done: 'Bless me Father, I have sinned. It's been one week since my last confession and I lied two times," recalls Paul.
He went on to confess that he lied to his mother and masturbated, which led to Father Birmingham's offer of private "counseling" sessions at the rectory and in Birmingham's car, where Paul was sexually abused.
Paul would keep his secret for nearly 30 years until he decided to finally confront the Church and launch his own private investigation into whether the Archdiocese of Boston had covered up allegations against Birmingham by moving the priest from parish to parish, thereby placing more children in danger.
Paul began to place advertisements in the newspapers of the various towns where Birmingham had been posted asking the simple question, "Do You Remember Father Birmingham?" The dozens of responses Paul received were his first indication that he was certainly not Birmingham's only victim.
In a homegrown detective story, the film follows Birmingham's trail and the cover-up instituted by his superiors. Hand of God is a frankly told tale of betrayal. In balancing faith against outrage, the Cultrera family survive it all with their humanity and humor intact.
Hand of God is a Zingerplatz Pictures production for WGBH/FRONTLINE. The film is produced, directed, and written by Joe Cultrera. The film is co-produced by Laura Corwin and Hugh Walsh. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Park Foundation. Additional funding for Hand of God is provided by the Jerome Foundation. The FRONTLINE executive producer for special projects is Michael Sullivan. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
Press contact: Diane Hebert-Farrell (617) 300-3500 Diane_Hebert-Farrell@wgbh.org
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