Suppose you found out someone who molested you as a child now lives five doors away from you and your family. What would you do? Twist of Faith, Kirby Dick’s latest documentary, explores that question with the help of Tony Comes, a Toledo firefighter, who allowed his painful psychological journey to be filmed.
Comes claims he suffered years of sexual abuse from a Catholic priest, and he finally decided to report this past abuse to a bishop he trusted. After discovering that the bishop lied to him about other similar accusations of abuse by the same priest, he filed a lawsuit against the Church. Twist of Faith, a powerful Oscar-nominated documentary (2005), follows Comes as he struggles with intense anger and frustration plus almost debilitating confusion over how to maintain his faith in the Catholic Church.
“Tony did not want to sue the Church -- it was agonizing for him,” declares filmmaker Dick. “But survivors experience a double betrayal. Not only was Tony abused by a trusted priest, but then, when he finally went to tell the bishop what happened, he felt betrayed again when the bishop lied to him. And that, unfortunately, is a recurring theme in the stories of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Its only when survivors feel they have nowhere else to turn that they decide to sue the diocese.”
Lawsuits like the one Comes filed are not unusual. During the past fifty years, over 10,000 survivors have accused more than 4,000 priests, but Dick wanted to go beyond the statistics and focus on the experience of one person. To make his documentary as intimate and personal as possible, Dick gave Comes and his wife their own video cameras to record relevant private moments and their feelings about what was happening.
And therein lies what could be a problem for extremely sensitive viewers. It’s not easy to watch these disturbing revelations -- either from an emotional or technical perspective. Dick, who has incorporated a similar technique in previous films (including Chain Camera), thinks this kind of personal touch enhances the impact of his work. However, the cinematic value of such an approach seems questionable to me. Still, Dick believes Twist of Faith will shock audiences into understanding the trauma of sexual abuse by priests in a way they won’t be able to ignore.
Sadly, the diocese of Toledo refused to participate in Dick’s film. However, one Toledo priest did come forward to support the cause of the survivors of abuse.
“If the film helps to encourage the Catholic Church to reach out to survivors and change the way it deals with this issue, then perhaps 20 years from now we won’t be learning about another generation of people who have experienced the same kind of suffering that Tony has lived through his entire life,” Dick says.
Unfortunately, Twist of Faith might produce a different impact than the one Dick intended. This alarming film could be viewed by some as a warning. Like Sydney Lumet’s The Verdict (released in 1982 and starring Paul Newman in the best performance of his career), it demonstrates the tremendous toll taken on the lives of individuals who are brave enough to become involved in lawsuits against powerful organizations like the Catholic Church.
(Released by Artistic License Films and HBO; not rated by MPAA. Scheduled for release in NYC and San Francisco on July 1, 2005. HBO premiere on June 28, 2005.)