"In recent decades, more than 10,000 children were reportedly sexually abused by Catholic priests in the United States.
In "Hand of God," film maker Joe Cultrera explores just one of those cases, that of his own brother Paul. Paul Cultrera was molested in the 1960s by Father Joseph Birmingham, who allegedly abused nearly 100 other children. "Hand of God" tells the story of faith betrayed, and how Paul and the rest of the Cultrera family fought back against a scandal that continues to afflict scores of churches across the country."
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Paul Cultrera and his siblings were raised in an Italian-Catholic family in Salem, Mass., and attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. From an early age they were immersed in the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church.
"I was inspired by my brother's strength of spirit in surviving his abuse," says Joe Cultrera. "His story was unlike any I had seen in the media. I thought a detailed film about his and my family's experience would prove healing and freeing for others."
"There was the Catholic Church, and everything else was hell," Paul recalls. "Everyone beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church was doomed. Everything was presented to you in terms of sin."
At 14, Paul, an altar boy at St. James Parish, came under the guidance of Fr. Birmingham. Birmingham was young and friendly, often taking the boys on trips and inviting them to the rectory for Friday and Saturday night pizza parties. It was during confession that Paul's relationship with Fr. Birmingham changed. Confessing to masturbation led to private "counseling" sessions at the rectory, where Paul was sexually abused. Birmingham also abused him during nighttime rides in Birmingham's black Ford Galaxie and on trips out of town.
"When you're totally wrapped up in the environment of sin and guilt, you internalize it yourself. At least I did. I decided it was my fault. It was something the matter with me," says Paul. "You think you've done something really bad. So you become very adept at drawing a huge circle around that part of your life."
Paul would keep his secret for nearly 30 years, until he decided to finally confront the Church and launch his own 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.
He began to place advertisements in the newspapers of the various towns where Birmingham had been posted. The advertisements asked the simple question, "Do You Remember Father Birmingham?" The dozens of responses he received were his first indication that he was certainly not Birmingham's only victim.
A homegrown detective story, the film follows Birmingham's trail and the cover-up instituted by his superiors. But balancing faith against outrage, the Cultrera family survive it all with their humanity and humor intact.
"The film created an opportunity for my family to deal with these issues in a very intimate way," says Joe. "We have emerged as a more understanding unit. One of my hopes is that the film will inspire other families to talk."
Abuse Scandal Still Echoes Through Catholic Church
by Rachel Martin 1/11/07
"Five years ago this month, The Boston Globe published a series of reports exposing widespread allegations of sex abuse by clergy in Boston and efforts by the Catholic Church hierarchy to cover it up. According to the Globe, 130 people claimed to have been sexually abused by Father John Geoghan, and church officials had known about the abuse and covered it up. The scandal triggered a chain reaction. Thousands of victims of clergy sex abuse around the country went public and filed suit, creating a scandal that rocked American Catholicism and has cost the Catholic Church more than $1 billion."
Archdiocese outlines $75 million settlement - Sex abuse - The Portland church plans to pay more than 150 accusers as it exits bankruptcy, a filing shows 12/19/06 Ashbel S. Green "The Archdiocese of Portland late Monday revealed details of a $75 million plan to pay off more than 150 priest sex-abuse accusers and get out of bankruptcy."
Double Murder by Sexually Abusive Priest Gives Rise to New Wrongful Death Lawsuit 12/12/06 "Young Victim's Parents Reluctantly Take Legal Action Against Superior Catholic Diocese Confronted About Child Molestation, Cleric Shot Two Men and Years Later, Hung Himself - Church Officials Knew of His Crimes & Bizarre Behavior But Didn't Act, Suit Says Victim's Family Sets Up Non-profit Child Protection Foundation St. Paul, Minn., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- A Wisconsin couple whose son was murdered by a bizarre and sexually abusive Catholic priest is "reluctantly" filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Superior Diocese that ordained and hired the cleric. Carsten and Sally Ellison of Barron, Wisconsin, filed a civil lawsuit today in St. Croix County Court, Wisconsin, Court File No. 06CV938 assigned to Judge Lundell seeking unspecified damages for the loss of their 22-year-old son, James Ellison. He and Daniel O'Connell were shot and killed at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson by Fr. Ryan Erickson in February 2002. Days earlier, O'Connell had apparently confronted Erickson, his parish priest, about allegations that Erickson was molesting local children."
Judges approve residential school deal
"Judges across Canada are giving their approval to a settlement plan worth up to $5 billion with former students of Indian residential schools....Over the past two decades, there have been more than 12,000 lawsuits launched against the federal government and churches alleging sexual, physical and other kinds of abuse."
Abuse victims get $2.9M - 117 claims paid so far; more coming every day
By Jim Hannah Enquirer Staff Writer - Burlington 12/9/06
"Almost $3 million has been paid to people abused by Covington Diocese priests as part of a settlement reached last year. That's the figure contained in a report dated Dec. 6 and filed with the Boone Circuit Court Clerk's Office. The report, the sixth that has been submitted since the settlement was reached, states that 117 claims have been decided and that 13 claims were pending. Additional claims are being processed almost every day. As many as 350 people could be eligible to submit a claim, according to previous court records."
Spokane Diocese agrees to pay at least $48 million to settle clergy abuse
By Janet Tu 1/4/07
"The Spokane Roman Catholic Diocese has agreed to pay at least $48 million to victims of clergy sexual abuse to settle its long-running bankruptcy case."
Pair Allege Sex Abuse at Boys' Ranch
By Benjamin Shors The Spokesman-Review [Washington] 1/4/07 http://www.spokesmanreview.com/
"Two former residents of Morning Star Boys' Ranch allege they were sexually abused at the home for boys in the 1970s, according to documents filed in Spokane County Superior Court. Steven Kinard, 47, and Stephanie Miller, 37, are among 10 people who have active claims against the home, which is located just south of Spokane." http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2007/01_02/2007_01_04_Shors_PairAllege.htm
Quebec to give about 1,700 abused Duplessis Orphans a total of $26 million
- 12/21/06 Peter Rakobowchuk - Montreal (CP)
"Saying it's time to turn the page, the Quebec government has set aside $26 million to compensate the last group of so-called Duplessis Orphans. Many of them were the children of unwed mothers who were physically and mentally abused in Roman Catholic Church-run institutions in the 1940s and '50s....A group of about 1,100 other orphans settled with the government in 2001 for about $25 million for wrongfully placing them in mental institutions. That offer, based on a flat $10,000 to each individual plus $1,000 for each year they were wrongfully confined, worked out to about $25,000 per orphan. Many of the orphans say they suffered beatings, sexual abuse, electroshock and even lobotomies."