“Perfect Obedience” Shows That Absolute Authority Is Dangerous

June 9, 2017 — When Mexican audiences first saw the movie Perfect Obedience, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Luis Urquiza, they were shocked by it, despite the fact that the story was well known to most of them.

It was based on a true story, that of Catholic priest Marcial Maciel. Maciel was a revered member of the clergy, well-loved in Rome for having raised massive amounts of money for the Church. In addition, he had started the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movements, both conservative elements within the Church. When John Paul the II would come to to Mexico, Maciel would travel with him.

He was renowned for his abilities to recruit new seminarians. However, in 1997, a number of those seminarians claimed that they had been abused by the priest during the 1940s and 1950s. Formal charges were raised, but the men were informed that the investigation had been shelved on orders from the Pope. 

Less than one year after the Pope’s death, the investigation was resumed. Investigation proved that the priest had been sexually abusing boys for decades. He had had at least three children with two different women, he plagiarized one of his most revered writings and his drug use was notorious. He was accused of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” and was removed from his position in 2006.

Perfect Obedience draws from this incident. The title refers to one of the major precepts taught by the seminarians of the Legion of Christ, the order Maciel had started. It stated, famously, that a seminarian should never question or criticize anything a superior does. This tenet was one reason that Maciel was able to behave as he did for so long — according to his reasoning, everything he did was right.

That precept was changed after the investigation.

Urquiza, in discussing the film, brought up the recently canonized Pope John Paul II, saying  “For me, the Pope is obviously guilty. He is guilty, he is associated, he is an accomplice. When there is a genocide and there is a general who is responsible, if the soldiers do something, the general is called and he is judged. Here, Pope John Paul II has not been judged but we already know that this is what the Church does, the Catholic Church as an institution – because there are also exemplary priests.”

His film shows a priest similar to Maciel, but through the eyes of a young seminarian, chosen because of his angelic good looks, to be an intimate of the presiding priest.

Juan Manuel Bernal, who plays 

The film won two Ariel Awards in Mexico (Best Actor, Juan Manuel Bernal; Best Adapted Screenplay, Ernesto Alcocer, Luis Urquiza) and two at the Montréal World Film Festival (Grand Prix des Amériques; Glauber Rocha Award, Best Latin American Film). 

Perfect Obedience is available in DVD and  Blu-ray, or you can stream it immediately on Amazon Video. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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