Vows of Silence doesn't focus myopically on Maciel's supposed sexual deviance, however. The probe is a wider-reaching study, examining in turn the Vatican's warped power structure from the top down and how the transfer of the papacy " from John Paul II, a staunch Maciel supporter, to Joseph Ratzinger, a largely unknown quantity at the time of his selection by the Conclave in 2005 " would go on to impact the due process of justice on such an entrenched and potentially inflammatory subject matter. Its call into question of the integrity of John Paul II, among the most beloved figures in modern Roman Catholic history, is just one example of the film's constant willingness, and even zeal, to tackle hugely unpopular topics in pursuit of the truth.
In another powerful sequence, the film detours midway through to profile siblings Christopher and Elizabeth Kunze, a priest in the Legion of Christ and a missionary in Regnum Christi, respectively. The latter movement, a controversial, lay ecclesiastical wing of the Legion, was accused of striving to create a 'parallel church" by one Catholic bishop. Berry posits the Kunze clan as a microcosm of the Legion's myriad destructive effects: Elizabeth, still dedicated to the cause, has been estranged from her family for years, while Christopher now denounces the entire enterprise, tearfully describing his own molestation at the hands of his mentor, Father Maciel.
Set to a disquieting score of stabbing strings and pieced together like a suspenseful Hollywood thriller, Berry's picture is most affecting in its individual interviews with the humiliated Christopher Kunze, the resolute Juan Vaca and their allegedly abused brethren. These sad, long-suppressed confessions, which range from silent sobs to bitter condemnations, each burn with a shared shame " the raging fire and shadow story beneath Rome's billowing black and white smoke.
Vows of Silence's screening during the New Orleans International Human Rights Festival is its local premiere.