Whereas Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education imagines a long-ago personal history on the same subject, Conspiracy of Silence mixes current fact with fiction in a story, set in Ireland, about the firestorm that results when an investigative reporter, David Foley (Jason Barry), uncovers the link between the suicide of a beloved priest, Father Frank Sweeney (Patrick Casey), and the expulsion of a young seminary student, Daniel McLaughlin (Jonathan Forbes). While David experiences mysterious and ominous threats to his family and himself, Daniel is torn between returning to the Church—where he would have to help stifle its complicity in murder—or give up his dreams of becoming a priest.

Church corruption and cover-up has only been touched on in a few older films, namely Francis Coppola’s The Godfather Part III and John N. Smith’s The Boys of St. Vincent, so it is refreshing, finally, to have an entire story set in the world of the Catholic seminary, without the usual genuflecting to idealized religious imagery.

Of course, the Church and some Catholics will not appreciate first-time writer-director John Deery’s noir-ishly candid approach, but then Deery refuses to condemn Catholicism itself; rather, he criticizes the oppressive and overly conservative beliefs within the institution of the Church that have created many obvious problems in the modern world. For instance, Conspiracy of Silence makes a plea to end Church celibacy, a policy the film says leads to sexual repression, homosexuality and AIDS.

Unfortunately, after a strong opening reel, Deery loses his way with repetitive storytelling techniques (unnecessary flashbacks and montages) and overly emphatic dialogue about the evils of the Church. Even some of the characters seem more stereotyped as the story progresses, rather than less, including the crusading journalist, the heroic whistle-blowing priests, the corrupt officials and the outraged parents.

But Deery gains from competent production values and his strong ensemble of players, mainly Jonathan Forbes, in his first starring role, as the innocent Daniel, and John Lynch, all too rarely seen in films, as the lover of the suicidal priest. Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker struggles valiantly with her one-dimensional role as Daniel’s irate mother.

Though Conspiracy of Silence misses a chance at being a first-rate drama, it sheds much-needed light on an area that the mainstream press has mysteriously abandoned.