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By Phil Hall | February 28, 2007

Joe Cultrera’s “Hand of God” is a home movie about a family tragedy: the filmmaker’s older brother Paul recounts how a priest named Father Joseph Birmingham sexually molested him during the early 1960s, when Paul was a teenage altar boy. Paul kept the shame of the abuse to himself for three decades, until he began his own investigation of the pedophile priest and the level of damage he brought to Boston-area parishes.

Needless to say, it is a harrowing story and Paul Cultrera recounts his story in graphic detail (including the revolting description of how Father Cunningham was “ejaculating all over the place”). The balance between Paul Cultrera’s loss of faith (which is understandable) and his elderly parents’ refusal to jettison their Catholic traditions (which is less understandable) creates considerable tensions.

However, Joe Cultrera has serious problems in stretching this story into a 90 minute documentary. An excess of Film School 101 artsy touches (cobwebs on a figurine, photographs in a sink) provide irrelevant visual shocks, although they are occasionally more interesting than the dismally dull old family films that turn up at odd moments. It also doesn’t help that Paul Cultrera is among the most monotonous raconteurs captured on film – the genuine heartbreak of his life story is numbed by his droning voice and emotionless personality.

“Hand of God” is unusual: it takes one of the most dramatic stories of modern times (the child abuse scandal within the Boston Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church) and creates one of the least interesting films on the subject. It is a major disappointment.

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