PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter)
– Kirby Dick’s Oscar-nominated “Twist of Faith” puts a face to the media stories in recent years about allegations of sex abuse by Catholic priests.
The face belongs to Tony Comes of Toledo, Ohio, and add to that the faces of his wife, Wendy, and even his young children, family and friends. The film reveals with devastating intimacy the mental anguish of a person struggling to come to terms with crimes committed against him 20 years before.
Dick made his film for HBO Documentary Films, and probably cable TV is the best venue through which this touching yet complicated film can reach the greatest number of people and let victims of sex abuse realize they are not alone.
One’s immediate reaction to this subject is to that of old news. Dick, a veteran maker of docus on difficult subjects, knows this, of course, so the focus is on one individual ordeal. Comes says his religious teacher and priest, Dennis Gray, abused him over a long period of time, along with other boys. He managed to bury much of his anger and torment and was emotionally invested in an admirable job and lovely family. Then comes a double whammy.
First, it’s the many news reports of similar episodes suffered by thousands of survivors nationwide, which trigger unwelcome memories. Next is the sickening discovery that he had just moved his family into a gracious home five doors away from Gray.
Comes goes to his spiritual leader, Bishop Hoffman, with the story. While expressing remorse, the Bishop is not honest with Comes about his knowledge of the ex-priest’s pedophilic activities. (According to this film, canon law permits a priest to lie to protect the interests of the church.)
Comes decides to join other survivors in a lawsuit against the Toledo diocese, first as a John Doe, then bravely going public with his own name. The pressure on Comes mounts. He goes from an outwardly cheerful man, well-settled husband and father to an angry, morose man. Anger grows within him, yet he finds no meaningful way to channel it.
This strains his marriage to Wendy, who converted to his religion. It perplexes his mother, who lacks compassion and continues to financially support the church her son is suing.
Dick gave cameras to Tony and Wendy so they might tape things inside their home to which the filmmakers are not privy. In one, Comes tells his 8-year-old daughter what happened to him before she sees it in newspapers. Dick introduces the only footage of Gray available to him, a videotape of Gray’s legal deposition, where Gray coyly flirts with the truth. His insistence that no real harm came to any of his victims starkly contrasts with the trauma of just one.
Meanwhile, the church offers neither an apology nor sympathy but lawyers with paltry settlement offers. How does one remain a Catholic under these circumstances? Tony’s mere attendance at his daughter’s confirmation causes him many sleepless nights.
“Twist of Faith” is a painful yet invaluable examination of a problem that extends beyond the church, one in which the real enemy is denial.
Director: Kirby Dick; Producer: Eddie Schmidt; Executive producers: Sheila Nevins, Kirby Dick; Camera: Eddie Schmidt, Tom Hofbauer, Kirby Dick; Music supervisor: Blake Leyh;
Editor: Matthew Clarke.