American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Every priest I knew was a kind and good man, and there was no gossip about them among my schoolmates, as there surely might have been. The nuns fill me with nothing but grateful memories. Yet as I was watching this film I heard a name that was familiar to me, and found that chilling. William E. Cousins was our bishop of the Diocese of Peoria from 1952 to 1958, and then after being made Archbishop of Milwaukee, was reportedly part of the cover-up of the first publicly known charge of sexual abuse against an American priest.
There's no reason to believe he was guilty of abuse himself, but this documentary argues that the entire hierarchy was fully aware of abusive priests and followed the church's ironclad global policy of secrecy.
That first public case involved the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who was a priest at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. Between 1950 and 1974, he abused young students and enlisted older ones to help him. When a group of his victims, now grown, tried to inform the church about what had been done to them, they were ignored, told to forget about it or assured that it would be taken care of.
Three Milwaukee archbishops were informed of Murphy's behavior, and one of them was Cousins. I read in an article by Laurie Goodstein and David Callender in the New York Times: "Arthur Budzinski and Gary Smith, two more victims of Father Murphy, said in an interview last week that they remember seeing Archbishop Cousins yell, and Father Murphy staring at the floor. The deaf men and their advocates were told that Father Murphy, the school's director and top fund-raiser, was too valuable to be let go, so he would be given only administrative duties."