Hollywood Taking on the Church’s Problem With Sexual Abuse

Nikki Finke is reporting that there is a new movie in the works at Dreamworks and Participant on the Boston priest sex abuse thing.

Life rights have been acquired to the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight Team” of reporters and editors, including then-Globe editor Marty Baron, special projects editor Ben Bradlee Jr., Spotlight Team editor Walter “Robby” Robinson and reporters Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll. The team spent a year interviewing victims and reviewing thousands of pages of documents and discovered years of cover-up by Catholic Church leadership. Their reporting eventually led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law who had hidden years of serial abuse by other priests and opened the floodgates to other revelations of molestation and cover-upsaround the world which still reverberate today. For their efforts, the Globe team won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003.


Well, we certainly have it coming. Again. The evil was so great that it could never be enough to be scourged by it again. It’s not going to be a commercial success. They already know that. I mean, no one is clamoring to see this horrific stuff played out as entertainment. But, it is already the lead contender for many Oscars, the Writers Guild Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the “This is the Most Flippin’ Important Brave and Brilliant Movie In Like Ever” award. It’s ironic that an industry which thrives off of turning beautiful young actors from people into pieces of meat is going to tell us all what is wrong with the Church, but, as I say, we have it coming.

And about that… We have it coming not because we aren’t supposed to have sinners in our house. And terrible sinners. Which tends to be what the secular religion-haters think about this topic. They think that Christians are hypocrites who say they don’t sin. This is, of course, an untruth. The Church is a refuge for sinners. We have it coming because we forgot this fact, believed the secular lie and so, we were scandalized by the revelation that we had the great sinners and we sought to run and hide that. Just so we’re clear.

One strong positive in the project’s favor is that the writer is great. Tom McCarthy wrote the The Station Agent (which I loved), The Visitor (which I really loved) and Up (which the whole cosmos loved). I swear I have given talks wherein I have only used clips from Tom’s movies. He’s very humane. Hopefully, he will bring that humanity to this piece and aim at saying something helpful to us all about how the sex abuse thing happened and why people handled the horror of it the way they did.

The Rest of the Review: Flannery O’Connor’s “A Prayer Journal”
Because That Puerile, Stupid Song is Really a Poison
Coming Soon: Exposing the Ickiness of the Christian Movie Selling Business
Noah – The Emperor’s New Movie
  • Ashley

    I don’t know if I qualify as a secular religion-hater,

    [FROM BN: "It is thou who hast said it."]

    but at least in my case you have it wrong about what angers non-Catholics about the abuse scandals. I don’t think the problem is that Catholics are hypocrites who say they don’t sin. The problem was and is the cover-ups, the finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and denialism of many Catholics, especially Catholic clerics. I’ve heard Catholic bishops blame sixties culture, hippies, gays, secular society, and the victims themselves for the abuse. This refusal to take responsibility continues to this day, as you just demonstrated above with the claim that your church “believed the secular lie” and thus was so scandalized it couldn’t face the problem. No. The clerical hierarchy of your church chose to place group loyalty to one another above the needs of abused children.


    • barbaranicolosi

      I believe you are basically right, Ashley, but, poor thing, you misunderstood what I meant about the secular lie about the Church. Too bad you got vitriolic. The point is, are you as thoroughly enraged about the pedophilia that is ongoing in, say, the Los Angeles Unified School District? Does it drive you to distraction how the teachers’ unions defend and fight for the people who abuse all of our trust and molest our kids at school? I mean TEACHERS abusing their students?!!!?!?!? Do you attribute the cover-ups and collusion with local authorities to avoid lawsuits going on here in the LAUSD sex abuse cases to a diseased government school culture? No, huh? That’s because you hold the Church to another standard. Which is the lie that the Church should not have sinners. Which was my point.

      • Carlos Helms

        I’ve come back to the Church in the midst of scandal…or at least in its waning moments. The seminaries have been cleaned up. The tired old men who covered-up the abuse are, for the most part, gone. The Catholic clergy is no longer a nest of socially-retarded, guilt-ridden homosexuals. But it will be decades before the liberal media will let this go…if they ever do. I used it as an excuse. My Mother Church was worse than I would (or could) ever be – so I used the Church to justify my own debauchery. I believe entire religions have been formed in response to the clergy’s misdeeds. It certainly has, like the pharisees two millenia ago, directed people AWAY from the Kingdom of God. HYPOCRITES!

        And yet in 2006, after 27 years away, I walked back into a Catholic Church and fell in love. The beauty, the Mass, the Sacraments, the Eucharist. Do Catholics shy away from the past? Not a bit. The abuses and the cover-ups don’t define the Church. The Church is 2000 years of light – despite the sinners who make it up. The sinners are everywhere, inside the Church and out. Our fallen nature is never “cured” in this world. But I have to ask: Quo Vadis? Where was I going without the Church? Where would I be?

  • N.

    Barbara, you have to know that this is a great drama — a great tragedy. It IS movie-worthy. And it’s movie-worthy because it IS the Catholic Church.

    I don’t think all the “secular religion-haters” are stuck in the notion that the Church abuse scandal is a hideous thing because the Church isn’t supposed to have sinners in it. I think a lot of non-religious people get the hideous evil here. More, maybe, than some religious people who still seem stuck on the notion that the scandal began and ended with the individual priests who committed the abuse. And we darned well should be scandalized that we had sinners of this nature in our midst – not just individual sinners, but sinners who conspired together to allow evil to continue for the most shallow of reasons. It’s not like this was one guy on his own.

    And, at the end of the day, it’s a story that’s made for film. It just is. Who knows how it’ll be received? Who knows how God’s hand will work in all this? Who knows? Maybe it’s part of the healing.

    • barbaranicolosi

      N. – “It IS movie-worthy.”

      I dunno, Nina. As a professional dramatist, I can tell you that pederasty and sexual molestation is not the stuff of entertainment. I say this as someone who has had to read probably a dozen narrative takes on sex trafficking. They always feel inappropriate. Something about having to go through the motions of developing characters and establishing sympathy and worrying about first act turning points just feels wrong when the subject matter is of this nature. It always feels to me that projects about molestation end up – even unintentionally – depending on the victim’s violation as part of the project’s necessary spectacle.

      This movie purports to be about the cover-up, but who wants to watch a bunch of men reading memos, citing statistics and dollar amounts and brooding with their lawyers. THAT movie feels ridiculously slow and dialogue-based. No, they will end up doing all kinds of lead-ins to the acts of molestation, which seems to me to be problematic.

      There is the other problem of two Hollywood studios trying to make money off the terrible things that happened to the mostly young boys who were set upon by the pederasts. And, how about the depiction of the largely gay men who preyed on the young boys? Is there any way that isn’t going to look like stereotyping of people with same-sex attraction?

      Anyway, back to your original point, I don’t think molestation is ever the stuff of entertainment. I think it is more suited to documentary.

      • BrianButler

        You are right on the money, Barbara. Thanks for this insightful blog and the follow up posts.

      • N.

        No, molestation is not the stuff of entertainment. But pride and evil and sin and conspiracies are.

        Aren’t you make the same mistake you’re accusing others of — you’re focusing on the fact that some priests were terrible, terrible sinners, which isn’t the issue.

        The issue is what happened after those sins were revealed. That’s the story. That story can be told without lurid scenes involving specific acts of molestation.

        • barbaranicolosi

          Actually, the molestation suffered by the mostly young boys at the hands of the pederasts in the rectories is a much bigger story. These were real people’s lives that were destroyed. The cover up is a mess and inexcusable, but it was what happened to the young people that matters the most.

          So, making a movie that makes the pederasty a secondary story seems to me to be victimizing the victims all over again.

          • N.


            They’re two separate but intertwined stories. The story from the institutional cover-up end of things is good drama. As you noted, the molestation story would be very tricky to cover on film without making it spectacle.

            As you say, writing lurid scenes depicting incidents of abuse is not the stuff entertainment is made of (nor should it be). Of course, as you also astutely pointed out, telling the other part of the story without those scenes is somehow victimizing the victims all over again. Are there any girl’s stories to tell from this tragedy? It seems like all the cases in Boston were about gay pederasts preying on adolescent boys.

            The ethics in this kind of narrative are necessarily all over the place — I get it. Of course, any fair-minded person would be concerned about the movie because there is so much potential to try and make a piece of entertainment instead of a humane and thoughtful story that would add something to what is already out there. As a female victim of priest sexual abuse, a Catholic, a film-goer and a “professional dramatist” myself (I’m good with mid-list hack, though — no pretensions here), I am looking forward to this film. I really need help from a story in figuring out my own life and why I have so much anger in me.

            I think there’s healing in story-telling, even if we have to tell a story several times over from various perspectives. I don’t see this as an attack on the Church, although there will be people who will use it as such.

            • N.

              [NOTE FROM BN: As is clearly stated on the sidebar, this blog adheres to the Nicolosi Protocol which means that if a commenter is rude and insulting, their comment will be edited into something edifying. This is effective in repelling trolls who learn very fast that they must stop being rude and insutling or they will have to suffer the exasperation of praising that which they are being rude and insulting towards. It is also a way of protecting nice blog readers from having to weather the hate-filled invective, sneering and vitriol which is the stuff of so much on-line presence. The commenter who follows was edited repeatedly for insults and sneers, and now she is demanding that I not edit her new comment. So be it. In the interest of demonstrating the kinds of bile that makes the stuff of public discourse on the Internet today, here she is speaking for herself.]

              Whoa — that’s not “edited for incivility”, that’s writing words I did not write.

              That’s as sinful as it gets. Shame on you. You will answer to God for that.

              Talk about victimizing victims all over again. How is what you just did really any different than what those priests die? How dare you write that as if I’d written it?

              My God, but you are an evil, evil bitch. There is nothing good or Godly about you. Nothing. Not one thing.

              You call yourself Catholic, you present yourself as a person of faith, a person who follows Christ, and you did what you just did because we disagree on a movie project?? What is wrong with you? What is WRONG with you? Did you have a good chortle, a good guffaw over this, you evil shrew? Did you get a good laugh at someone else’s expense?

              Don’t worry. You’ll get to explain this to God. You’ll get to stand before Him and tell Him how important and brilliant and RIGHT you are about everything. You’ll get to tell Him how you shredded other people just for giggles and to make yourself look good on the internet. Good luck, lady. Good luck with that. I’m sure God will be real impressed.

              DO N OT EDIT THIS INTO SOMETHING ELSE! Don’t post it if you don’t want, but do NOT edit it into something I didn’t say!

              • Norris

                The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

      • N.

        Also, let’s not forget that All The President’s Men was pretty much a bunch of white dudes scribbling notes and reading documents and making phone calls.

        Darned good movie, that…

        • barbaranicolosi

          Did you really think so? I had my students watch it a few years back and they thought it was draggy and really kind of ridiculous. They were very distracted by the 70′s look of the piece, and the self-important characters. We ended up having a conversation about how self-importance rather describes the Boomer generation.

          • N.


            Yes, I thought it was a good movie. But let’s face it — I’m pretty narrow, and frankly ignorant about anything that makes a movie great. Unlike your students, I’ve never had the benefits of your wisdom about cinema.

            I think film students have a lot to say to us about movies we once thought were good. They aren’t wed to the emotionalism of the period that drew us to the movie so they can look at it more objectively. Smart kids!

            I get that you get it.

  • RV

    As a Catholic, the whole sex abuse scandal is very sad and it is scary to see how these gay men ( I won’t call them priests because they don’t deserve this title) were able to prey on young boys. Obviously, the screening process for the seminary needs to be much more stringent. But, I also believe this has become such a huge story because of the large number of Catholics in the world. Let’s be honest, the proportion of abuse by Catholic priests is probably no different than sex abuse by leaders of the Lutheran church or leaders of the Episcopal church, or even leaders of non-denominational Christian churches, but the vast numbers of Catholics in the World makes this seem like a huge problem and creates the media attention it has garnered. It is sad that there is so much focus on this and not on the good that Catholic leaders do in the world with their ministry, compassion and self-sacrifice.

  • mrpkguy

    Okay, so some of the hierarchy (not all) were exposed in their attempts to protect the Church from scandal.

    May I suggest that these people who exposed the molesters and the cover up now turn their attention, as suggested earlier, on the teachers, coaches, rabbis and protestant ministers who are continuing to abuse those in their care. Probably won’t happen, it’s so much easier going after the “big guy” when there are so many haters of the Catholic Church. Check the figures on how many molestations there have been by priests in the last number of years……zilch!……oh, there will always be false accusations – as there have been before by those accusers who think they can reap a financial wind-fall by doing so. Statistics indicate most of the despicable acts were done back in the 70′s and 80′s and most of the molesters are now dead and gone, but the stench continues to be aired as if it all happened last week. Time to stop blaming the past administration just as the politicians have been doing these past 4 plus years.

  • Nishkalank

    I agree that the media wants to establish that Catholic Church is all bad, wrong, hypocritical and so on. There are bad and immoral people in any group or religion. The Catholic Church is not a zoo for saints but a hospital for sinners. Are all media people sincere and moral in all respects? Also does the media ever venture to touch Muslims? The Christians are meek and they are taught to suffer humiliation and persecutions without hatred towards the perptrators. The main point is that while the media will always be able to point an accusing finger at few clergy or believers, the real reason they go after the Church is because she is not influenced by modern trends when She teaches morals and upholds morality.


    Tragedy is that the so-called cover-up by Bernard Cardinal Law was not his doing, it was his auxiliary bishops and he had a reputation for handling it well pastorally. I am confident your writer will handle it humanely. At this stage, 12 years since the Boston tsunami broke over the few really mentally-emotionally ill men cut loose a wholesale violation of every right in civil and canon law one wonders if this will be a great yawn or milked by the dominant Culture to do what Jesus promised in John 15- they did it to me, they will do it to you. Ask Peter, Pius X11 B XV1 JP11 and now Francis in Argentina.

  • Tucker

    It seems to me that dramatically the only angle that is entertaining, at least at first glance, and without knowing a great deal of the story myself, is the “mystery” angle – the investigation and uncovering aspect of this whole thing. But that has issues. First, as has already been mentioned it does turn something horrible into entertainment, and probably mostly for those who are unhealthily fascinated with the sordid affair. Second, it will probably only look at one small corner of the overall story, and as a I understand it, there is a big picture with many different stories and persons involved. One way this could become more than just an exploitation film is if the writer can find a way to end up with real, genuine reconciliation and redemption – at some significant level at least. I also wonder if any of those in the Church who fought for the truth to come out will be given time, or will this only be a secular sanity vs. religious insanity story?

  • Jeff

    The London TImes had an essay contest in 1911: What’s wrong with the world? G.K. Cheserton’s entire essay: “Dear Sirs: I am.”
    I was Catholic before the scandal, and I am Catholic still. The cover-up of the sexual molestation of children is perhaps the most awful event that has happened in Church history in 500 years. The failure of bishops and priests to protect children is a colossal failure and sin that we should expect to always have to own up to. We should have been better. There should have been zero cover-ups. Zero. None. Jesus said those who would harm children would have a millstone around their neck. Good or bad movie? Who cares. The Globe did its job. Did the bishops do theirs? Why tell people that X was the cause or we should go after pedophiles at places X, Y and Z. Who is at fault for the Catholic sex abuse scandal? Catholics. Own up. Take responsibility. This is the failure that sickens the world. THis is the sin. To say, “We did not sin — it was Secular Satan who made me do it.” What’s wrong with the world? I am. The Church will continue to do penance. The world can tell heroic journalism stories. So what. Do penance. Redeem this. Make sure it never, ever, ever, ever happens again.

  • TruckinMack

    I am still not in love with the response from the Catholic church. The last conversation I had with a priest on this topic was that these poor men, these poor Catholic priests were born pedophiles. The thought being that while their actions can not and should not be condoned, it was not their ‘fault’. It was the fault of their genes.

    I enjoy my Catholic faith, but sometimes my Catholic leaders make me want to take a switch to their backsides.

  • Cambrai

    This is what I want to know about:

    “If only there were evil people
    somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to
    separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good
    and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to
    destroy a piece of his own heart?” -Solzheityzn