Mea Maxima Culpa is a powerful piece of work.

Director Alex Gibney has crafted a fascinating documentary examining paedophilia in the Catholic Church. The film uses the first known protest against clerical abuse in the US as its starting point, but from there goes on to analyse the wider issue in the church.

There has been so much written and TV discussion of this sensitive issue over the last 15 years or so - in this country especially - that there could be a fear this film would be a rehashing of old evidence.

However, Academy Award-winning documentary director Gibney crafts a distinct study of clerical abuse. His use of personal testimony by men abused by the priest Lawrence Murphy at St John's School for the Deaf in St Francis, Wisconsin from the 1950s to the 1970s is direct and harrowing and brings the concept of abuse to a very personal level that resonates powerfully with the viewer.

From here, Gibney then embarks on a journey to examine the refusal of the church to adequately investigate or prosecute Murphy's abuse, while also simultaneously retracing the prominent history of abuse in the church, and cover-ups and denials by the church hierarchy.

The approach of detailing clerical abuse on a micro and macro level works expertly, as it gives a very complete background to this shocking crime, as well as highlighting one particular example of how children have been detrimentally affected by a specific case in the past.

Gibney's film covers many areas: how monks were sent as 'fixers' around the US to cover up scandals rather than expose the perpetrators of the abuse; a plan in the 1970s to attempt to rehabilitate paedophile priests by sending them to a Caribbean island; how first cases of paedophilia were recorded by the church as far back as the ninth century; as well as the efforts of the Order of the Paraclete to remove abusive priests from public office.

Gibney has no qualms about pointing to The Vatican as a major player in covering up abuse cases and points to Pope Benedict XVI's work on the Doctrine of the Faith and failure to pursue abusers as a damning indictment of the church.

Crucially, the scope of abuse across the Catholic world is also broached, with most countries that have been implicated in a scandal at least briefly mentioned – not least Ireland. Indeed, abuse by Irish clergy and Ireland's reaction to it forms a not inconsiderable chunk of the film.

There has been criticism of the work, with journalist David Pierre writing that the film portrays a distinct bias against the church.

Pierre cites a failure to interview the former judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Father Brundage, as a key omission in giving a rounded account of how the Father Murphy abuse case was handled by the church.

Pierre also writes that the interviewees in the film are all anti-Catholic Church and that the selection of interviews is one-sided and subjective.

Needless to say, the highly respected Gibney refutes all of these criticisms and assessments of his objectivity.

The magnitude of the cover-ups of abuse depicted in the documentary is shocking, and the detailed information and specific testimony, as well as historical evidence, is harrowing.

And the abiding thought on leaving the cinema is that this film is crucial in bringing further light upon this horrendous crime.

Whether the film has an anti-Catholic bias is a very subjective issue, which ultimately will divide opinion as to the efficacy and accuracy of this work.

Tadhg Peavoy