Everything in the room is white, including a white crucifix on a white wall. A holy man is seated on the corner of a bed, pants off, legs spread. “You have to confess everything,” he said, grabbing a young boy’s arm to pull him closer to him. âThe Catholic Church has been very good to you, your mother, your brother and your sister.
“You don’t want everything to go away, do you?” So tell me, what else have you done wrong? And when you think of girls? What do you do when you think of girls? If you can’t tell me, then you can show it to me. Show me what you do when you have unclean thoughts.
The ominous scene, with its ominous music, is interrupted by a roar of “Cut!” It comes from Ed Gavagan, whose childhood memories are based on this story. Later, discovering that the criminal case against his alleged attacker has been dropped, Gavagan expresses his frustration by smashing the all-white set with a hammer.
The six abused men saw the potential to confront long-buried parts of themselves. They played roles in each other’s stories and used the same young actor to play themselves in each segment.
This is a vignette from Procession, a haunting documentary that follows six men making short films inspired by the trauma of their childhood after being sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy and priests.
The Netflix film shows the Kansas City band working on their experiences as a collective by scripting, directing, and performing fictional scenes based on their memories and dreams. They dig into rituals, culture, and church hierarchies that have silenced them.
The director of the film, Robert Greene, was not inspired by Spotlight, the Oscar-winning film about a sex abuse scandal in a church in Boston, but by an August 2018 press conference with four men who have spoke of being abused as boys by Catholic priests and called for grand jury-type inquiries.
âI saw this press conference and I totally fell in love with these guys, and I almost couldn’t believe how moved me they were,â he said via Zoom from his home in Missouri. Greene and a producer got in touch with the men’s lawyer, Rebecca Randles, and came up with their radical idea for the film. She then approached the men with it.
Greene, who is 45, says: âOf course they were skeptical on arrival. They were full of doubts. They’re the most suspicious group of people for very good reason. But that doesn’t bother me. Actually, I’m celebrating it a bit, because you don’t do that kind of work without a lot of doubts.
âYou have to honor the risk taken by honoring the doubt, worry and worry, so that worry and worry helped us build the metaphorical piece we would work in. But, more importantly, they always knew that in this room there were always doors. They always had some way out. They never had to do anything.
âThe first meeting you see in the movie, I was blunt with them, ‘Look, that could be it. We could just talk about it and maybe we’ll decide it’s not worth doing and move on. You might think I’m not serious – how could a filmmaker say that? – but I’m very serious. Part of the purpose of this first meeting was to decide, do we want to do this at all? “
The procession is not based on drama therapy but is clearly influenced by his ideas. The six, which include a scout and an interior designer, saw the potential to confront long-buried parts of themselves. They played roles in each other’s stories and used the same young actor, Terrick Trobough, to star in each segment.
Greene, directing his seventh feature documentary, explains: âYou make art for therapeutic reasons. This idea made sense to everyone on a basic level. They might say it’s weird, but these are guys that Rebecca put in the room. She chose the guys who she thought could get something out of it, achieve it, and get away with it safely.
âThe way she put it is: these are all guys who got their voices cut off at some point in the process, so for these guys it makes a lot of sense that, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do something together âas an antidote to what happened to them. At this first meeting, Ed starts talking about “It’s show time, folks,” and everyone gets it. “
None of the men regretted the choice – one described feeling a transition from victim to survivor – although strong emotions often surfaced. Greene admits, âEvery step of the way was tough. In fact, each step remains difficult even today, when we talk about the release of the film or the screenings we are going to.
These are all guys who have had their voices cut off at some point in the process, so for these guys it just makes perfect sense that, âHey, we’re gonna do something together,â as an antidote to what happened to them
âNone of this is easy, but it speaks to the general idea and process of the film that there was never a ‘Hey, stop recording’, because the camera being part of it. – this was instrumental in why they did things. . “
Greene had never intended to bring the men back to the scene where the sexual abuse had taken place. But Gavagan demanded to return to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to rekindle a childhood memory of a bell he used to ring. In Procession, he enters the church for the first time in over 30 years.
Greene says, âYou see him in the movie, and he rings that bell, and he’s immediately brought back to his childhood in an incredibly cathartic way. And these other guys seen it, and they told the other guys that, and the ball started rolling.
“Ed knew he wouldn’t have done this without the guys and the camera. Once we all realized that with the guys and the camera we’re almost invincible, that’s how it is. we got into it. It was almost, like, what else can we do? Because we started to see results.
It is also a story of delayed and denied justice. Although four of the men have received civil lawsuits, none of the accused priests have been charged with a crime. Earlier this year, the Vatican cleared the man who allegedly attacked Gavagan, Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, of several allegations that he sexually abused minors and adolescents.
For Greene, it was a model in which law enforcement agencies are intimidated by the church, courts force survivors to relive their history over and over again, and even a written promise from the Pope cannot break through inertia. As the project progressed, what did he observe about the legacy of abuse in the lives of these men?
The thing to know about this abuse isn’t just being sexually abused at such a tender age: it’s being abused by a whole belief system.
âThese guys, to varying degrees, consider themselves the luckiest,â he says. âThey’re alive, and it’s that simple. This is a really good way to describe what the experience of living with this trauma is like. It’s just the fact that being alive is considered lucky. They did not end up taking drugs or they are not suicidal. Many of them have had thoughts of suicide all their lives, and sometimes they didn’t even know why.
âWhat you see in the movie are six very different men who are in six very different places in their lives. But the common thing is that this terrible feeling is not going to go away. This feeling of shame, this feeling of shame. being disconnected from your childhood self.
He adds, âThe thing to know about this abuse isn’t just about being sexually abused at such a tender age: it’s about being abused by a whole belief system. The Catholic Church indoctrinates believers into a worldview that is demonstrated by these rituals and symbols, and so this is a level of abuse that is just very difficult to understand. There is no solution to this. There’s no way we can give these guys back what we took from them. All we can hope for is to move forward. – Guardian
The procession is available on Netflix from Friday, November 19th