Last night I sat down and watched Spotlight, a movie released late last year centering in on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team during the investigation of their Archdiocese’s actions in the early 2000’s – they were the ones who uncovered and publicized not only the (initial) amount of priests involved in sexual abuse, but the collusion and cover-ups coming with it.
There’s been a lot already written about the issue and a quick (though discerning) Google search can get you all the coverage you need. There’s also been a lot written about the movie itself but I don’t want to focus too much on it except to say that, while I think it received Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars last week* more out of social interest than artistic achievement, it was a well-made project that knew exactly what it wanted to be, nothing more or less. The performances were good across the board (with Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton having some understatedly stellar moments) and the script was tense while achieving an admirable restraint – it doesn’t overdramatize or go for any lurid angles. The protagonists aren’t idealized – just dedicated reporters with their own set of rough edges and ghosts in the closet.
I don’t know why, but watching the movie was the first time I really felt the horror of what happened – I was elevenish at the time when the original articles were coming out and so was probably not as aware as I could’ve been about what the scandal really meant. I was surrounded by priests in my boyhood and they were a huge part of my life – I couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like to have experienced that particular type of betrayal. Or the shame. I still can’t, and am only realizing now just how many people had a very different experience with the Church in their childhood/adolescence. I’m not afraid to say that I cried or physically felt sick during a few scenes – though not because of any explicitness or whatever. Just from the content.
But I’m very thankful for the experience, and for having my eyes opened. I’m also thankful that the filmmakers held back from what must have been the very tempting option of sensationalizing the whole thing.
When I think about it, though, one of the things I’m most thankful for is the response of Catholics (both from clergy and laypeople) to the movie – it’s overwhelmingly been a movement of humility, admission, openness and repentance. What could have turned into another occasion for culture war became a moment to mourn for our sins past and present. Here’s a sampling of different remarks from the corners of the interwebs that I’ve been privvy to:
“The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the Church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself — to deal with what was shameful and hidden — and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests.
We have asked for and continue to ask for forgiveness from all those harmed by the crimes of the abuse of minors. As Archbishop of Boston I have personally met with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse over the last twelve years, hearing the accounts of their sufferings and humbly seeking their pardon. I have been deeply impacted by their histories and compelled to continue working toward healing and reconciliation while upholding the commitment to do all that is possible to prevent harm to any child in the future.” – Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
“All bishops and cardinals must see [the film Spotlight]…they must understand that it is reporting that will save the Church, not omerta.” – Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, current head of a Vatican tribunal concerning sex-abuse cases.
“This film celebrates journalists exposing corruption to prevent ongoing harm, so in that regard I was cheering them on.
The painful experience of Boston and related scandals has been largely purifying. As a journalist, I take pride in what Spotlight achieved, and as a priest I think the journalists did the Church a favour, though few on either side likely would have thought so in the heat of January 2002.” -Fr. Raymond de Souza, “Catholic Guilt” via The Walrus**
“I found Spotlight to be very sober, very understated, and I think they were careful about not doing good guys [vs.] bad guys.” -Bishop Robert Barron, video via Catholic News Agency
“Witnessing the further fraying of the reporters’ already fragile ties to the church adds to the overwhelming sense of grief Catholic viewers will feel throughout “Spotlight.” Yet this generally accurate chronicle can provide them with a valuable insight into one of the darkest chapters in ecclesiastical history.” – CSN (Catholic News Service) Movies
“Spotlight, the Oscar-winning film, has a compelling plot. The film is not anti-Catholic, as has been written, because it manages to voice the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities.
“The fact that a call arose from the Oscar ceremony — that Pope Francis fight this scourge — should be seen as a positive sign: there is still trust in the institution, there is trust in a Pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor, then still a cardinal. There is still trust in a faith that has at its heart the defence of victims, the protection of the innocent.” Lucetta Scaraffia, L’Osservatore Romano
“Some people in Church leadership have suggested that this movie should not be seen, that it is a Hollywood conspiracy against our beloved Church.
I say just the opposite; watch it and weep with Jesus. The real conspiracy was the one between the abusers and their protectors. The victim is not the Institutional Church, but rather the children who were abused and the faithful who lost faith.
Then come back, if you will, and help us work humbly to make our parish a safe and holy place where all of us, especially the most vulnerable, may experience God’s tender love.
Thank you, “Spotlight” producers and actors, for giving the Catholic Church, and our parish, the perfect Lenten penance.” – Fr. James Morris, Private Facebook Post
For some continued thoughts on Spotlight‘s legacy and how Christians have been responding to criticism over time, check out the “Beyond the Spotlight” series of posts.
*Congrats go out to Leo for single-handedly breaking the internet by finally snapping up that Oscar.
** I really encourage you to read the whole piece, as it’s an interesting conversation between three journalists (Fr. Raymond included) about Catholicism, the media, abuse (generally) and different double-standards. The Walrus, where it was published, is basically Canada’s attempt at The New Yorker.
Josh Nadeau lives in Russia and, when not teaching or writing, may be found winter cycling, hitchhiking or engaged in general shenanigans. He hopes, when he’s older, to maintain a sense of awe.