A priest sits on a bed, trousers off, legs open. ‘What do you do when you think of girls?’ he asks

Everything in the bedroom is white, including a white crucifix on a white wall. A holy man is sitting on a corner of the bed, his pants off, his legs open. “You have to confess everything,” he says and grabs a boy by the arm to pull him closer. “The Catholic Church has done you, your mother, your brother and your sister very good.

“You don’t want all of this to go away, do you? So tell me what else did you do wrong? What if you think of girls What do you do when you think of girls If you can’t tell me, you can show me. Show me what you do when you have impure thoughts. “

The disturbing scene with its dark music is interrupted by a “Cut!” Roar. It is by Ed Gavagan, on whose childhood memories this tale is based. Later, upon discovering that the criminal case against his alleged perpetrator has been dismissed, Gavagan vented his frustration by smashing the all-white set with a sledgehammer.

The six abused men saw the potential to confront long buried parts of themselves. They took on roles in each other’s stories, using the same young actor to play themselves in each segment

This is a vignette from Procession, a haunting documentary about six men making short films inspired by their childhood trauma of being sexually abused by Catholic clergymen and priests.

The Netflix movie shows the Kansas City group working through their experiences as a collective by scripting, directing, and acting based on their memories and dreams. They dig into the rituals, culture, and hierarchies of the church that silenced them.

The film’s director, Robert Greene, was inspired not by Spotlight, the Oscar-winning film about a church sex abuse scandal in Boston, but by a press conference in August 2018 with four men talking about being molested by Catholic priests as boys. and called for grand-jury-style investigations.

“I saw this press conference and fell in love with these guys, and I couldn’t believe how moved I was,” he says of his home in Missouri via Zoom. Greene and a producer reached out to male lawyer Rebecca Randles and suggested her radical idea for the film. Then she went up to the men with it.

Greene, 45, says, “Of course they were skeptical when they walked in. They were full of doubts. It’s the most suspicious group of people for a reason. But it does not bother me. In fact, I celebrate it a bit because you don’t do this type of work without a doubt.

“One has to take the risk that one takes, by respecting the doubts, the worries and the worries, so that worries and worries have helped us build the metaphorical space that we would always work in doors. They always had a way out. You never had to do anything.

“At the first meeting you see in the film, I was right with them: ‘Look, it could be. We could just talk about it and maybe we decide it’s not worth it and move on. You may think I’m not serious – how can a filmmaker say that? – but I’m dead serious. ‘ Part of the point of that first meeting was the decision: Do we even want to do this? “

Ed Gavagan, Michael Sandridge, and Dan Laurine.  Photo: Netflix

Ed Gavagan, Michael Sandridge, and Dan Laurine. Photo: Netflix

The procession is not based on theater therapy, but is clearly influenced by their ideas. The six, including a location scout and an interior designer, saw the potential to face parts of themselves that had long been buried. They took on roles in each other’s stories, using the same young actor, Terrick Trobough, to play themselves in each segment.

Greene, who is making his seventh documentary, explains, “You make art for therapeutic reasons. This idea made sense to everyone on a fundamental level. You might say it’s strange, but these are guys that Rebecca put in the room. She picked the guys who she thought could make something of this and actually make it and get through safely.

“As she put it, these are all guys who had their voices taken away at some point during the trial. as an antidote to what happened to them. At that first meeting, Ed starts talking about, ‘It’s showtime, folks,’ and everyone got it. “

None of the men regretted this choice – it describes the transition from victim to survivor – although raw emotions often surfaced. Greene admits, “Every single step along the way has been difficult. In fact, even today, every step remains difficult when it comes to the theatrical release or the screenings we are going to attend.

These are all guys who had their voice stolen at some point during the process, so it makes a lot of sense to these guys that ‘hey we’re going to do something together’ as an antidote to what happened to them

“None of this is easy, but it is evidence of the overall idea and process of the film that there was never a ‘Hey, stop shooting’ because the camera was part of why they did things.” . “

Greene had never intended to return men to the places of sexual abuse. But Gavagan asked to return to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to revive a childhood memory of a bell he had previously rung. In the procession he enters the church for the first time in more than 30 years.

Greene says, “You see it in the movie, and he rings that bell, and he’s instantly transported back to his childhood in an incredibly cathartic way. And these other guys saw it, and they told the others, and the ball started rolling.

“Ed knew he wouldn’t have done this without the boys and without the camera. When we all realized that with the guys and the camera we were almost invincible, we got into it. It was almost like: What more can we do? Because we’ve started to see results. “

This is also a story of delayed and denied justice. Although four of the men received civil court settlements, none of the accused priests were charged with a crime. Earlier this year the Vatican acquitted the man who allegedly hunted Gavagan, Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, of several allegations of sexually abusing minors and teenagers.

For Greene, it was a pattern where police authorities are intimidated by the church, courts force survivors to relive their story over and over again, and not even a written promise from the Pope can pierce the indolence. What did he observe over the course of the project about the legacy of abuse in these men’s lives?

About this abuse one must not only be sexually abused at such a tender age, but be abused by an entire belief system

“These guys think they’re lucky to different degrees,” he says. “They are alive, and it’s that simple. That’s a really good way to describe what life is like with this trauma. It’s just the fact that being alive is considered lucky. They have neither used drugs nor are they suicidal. Many of them had suicidal thoughts all their lives, and sometimes they didn’t even know why.

“What you see in the film are six very different men who are in six very different places in their lives. But what they have in common is that this terrible feeling will not go away. This feeling of shame, this feeling of being separated from one’s own childhood self. “

He adds, “The thing to know about this abuse is not just sexual abuse at such a tender age: It is abused by an entire belief system. The Catholic Church indoctrinates believers into a worldview demonstrated by these rituals and symbols, and so it is a level of abuse that is very difficult to understand. That can’t be fixed. There is no giving back to these guys what has been taken from them. All we can hope for is to move forward. ”- Guardian

Procession is available on Netflix from Friday, November 19th

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