In the hands of God, filmmaker Joe Cultrera explores the very personal story of how his brother – Paul – was molested in the 1960s by his parish priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, who allegedly abused nearly 100 children. The producer Joe Cultrera tells the story of faith betrayed and how his brother Paul and the rest of the family fought Cultrera a scandal that continues to affect dozens 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 experience and that of my family would prove healing and liberation of others.”
Paul Cultrera and his siblings were raised in an Italian-Catholic family in Salem, Massachusetts, 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. “It was the Catholic Church, and everything else was hell,” recalls Paul. “All the world beyond the confines of the Catholic Church was doomed. All that is presented in terms of sin.”
At age 14, Paul, an altar boy at St. James Parish was under the guidance of Fr. Birmingham. Birmingham was young and friendly, often taking children on trips and invites them to the rectory for Friday and Saturday night pizza parties. It was during the confession that Paul’s relationship with the Father. Birmingham changed. Confessing to masturbation led to private “counseling” sessions in the rectory, where Paul was sexually abused. Birmingham also abused him during overnight trips in black Ford Galaxie Birmingham and on trips out of town.