In Hand of God, filmmaker Joe Cultrera explores the very personal story of how his brother - Paul - was molested in the 1960s by their parish priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, who allegedly abused nearly 100 other children. Producer Joe Cultrera tells the story of faith betrayed and how his brother Paul and the rest of the Cultrera family fought back against a scandal that continues to afflict scores of churches across the country.
"I was inspired by my brother's strength of spirit in surviving his abuse," says Joe Cultrera. "His story was unlike any I had seen in the media. I thought a detailed film about his and my family's experience would prove healing and freeing for others."
Paul Cultrera and his siblings were raised in an Italian-Catholic family in Salem, Mass., and attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. From an early age they were immersed in the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church. "There was the Catholic Church, and everything else was hell," Paul recalls. "Everyone beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church was doomed. Everything was presented to you in terms of sin."
At 14, Paul, an altar boy at St. James Parish, came under the guidance of Fr. Birmingham. Birmingham was young and friendly, often taking the boys on trips and inviting them to the rectory for Friday and Saturday night pizza parties. It was during confession that Paul's relationship with Fr. Birmingham changed. Confessing to masturbation led to private "counseling" sessions at the rectory, where Paul was sexually abused. Birmingham also abused him during nighttime rides in Birmingham's black Ford Galaxie and on trips out of town.