by C4C Guest Blogger
Last Friday night, I saw the movie “Spotlight” with two friends. It had been on my “to do” list since I had first seen the trailer. As a Clergy Abuse Survivor, it was interesting to me how the Catholic Church would be portrayed. All too often, Catholic apologists bash the media and critics as being “anti-Catholic” and haters – convenient defenses to cover the scandal within the Church. I was hoping that “Spotlight” would not fall into that trap.
One of the defenses that is also used is “that was in the past – it is not happening now.” However abuse from the past continues to surface involving present day priests. Two years ago, it became public that my abuser was being investigated.
This public announcement caused dozens, myself included, to file additional complaints with the Archdiocese. After two years of investigations, both by the Archdiocese and law enforcement officials in several counties, my abuser decided to quietly remove himself from the priesthood after one claim was substantiated by the Church. He disappears from the roll of active priests in good standing however does not appear on the list of priests who have had their faculties suspended or removed – sort of a clergy “limbo.”
The movie takes place in Boston – a city with many similarities to Philadelphia. A city of neighborhoods. A city where people identify so closely with their parish – their high school. A city where the Catholic Church has substantial influence. All of the major characters, with the exception of the Jewish editor, identify themselves as Catholic even though they admit that they are not regular churchgoers.
First, I want to say that every Catholic should see this movie. Many have closed their eyes for far too long and failed to educate themselves on the extent of the clergy abuse scandal and cover up. As has been said, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
“Spotlight” does an excellent job of creating a profile of victims and how the abuse was cultivated. In one scene, that was particularly relevant to me, a Boston Globe reporter is reading a case file of an accused priest. His victims are listed as “7 boys – 1 girl” and another reporter is shocked that a girl is a victim. It is a standard misconception – that this was a crime against only boys committed by homosexual priests. It was not.
In another scene, Michael Keaton’s character realizes that one of the priests that has been removed taught at his High School – probably a scenario that all of us have experienced. He meets with the Board of Trustees of the High School who proclaim that no one could have known that this was going on. Until one brave man speaks up – “they ran this school as a tight ship – they knew everything – they had to know.”
It was a scene that struck myself and my friends very deeply for it is a question that we have all asked. My High School was a small one. The principal was an old school priest who knew when a piece of paper was in the corner of a hallway. My abuser was at the school for 11 years. They had to know.
Finally, there is a scene with Mark Ruffalo, who plays a Boston Globe reporter and should win an Academy Award for his performance, is upset because the Globe is waiting to print the story. His anger – his frustration – come out in this scene. “They knew and they let it happen. It could have been you, it could have been me. It could have been any of us.” Truer words have never been spoken.
I have heard stories of people standing and applauding as the final scene fades to black and, across the screen scrolls city after city, throughout the country, throughout the world, where abuse claims have been made. In our theater – dead silence.
How was the Catholic Church portrayed? The film plays like a documentary and the evidence presented as well as the investigative process that went into it were both flawless. Apologists cannot argue Catholic bias or hate – it was cold hard facts that dominated the script. In fact, several of the main characters struggle with these results and their Catholic upbringing – a point that was not lost on me as I have faced the same struggle personally and when telling people about my abuse.
As a Survivor, this was a movie I needed to see although I could not have seen it alone and was blessed to have two friends who offered to go with me and have been supportive throughout my recovery. We did not have a doubt as to the magnitude of this scandal – in Boston or in Philadelphia. The question remains – does it still go on now? As the movie portrays, my abuser could be living across from a school, from a playground, from your family or mine. Investigations are still taking place – victims still coming forward. So I think the answer is clear.