Spotlight: New Movie Exposes Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Cover-Up

Spotlight: New Movie Exposes Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Cover-Up November 12, 2015

MC_SpotlightPoster_1There really are so many more things to be outraged over as a Christian than a red coffee cup.

Take, for instance, the new movie, Spotlight. Opening this month, Spotlight tells the true story of the the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team of investigative journalists, who in 2002 shocked the city and world by exposing the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of widespread pedophilia perpetrated by more than 70 local priests.

That’s right. 70 priests. 70 priests, each with their own parish full of dozens of children, young boys, often from poor, broken homes, who were prey to the disturbed and distorted actions of their spiritual leaders. Leaders who were these young boys’ incarnations of God, of the Holy. The boys’ highest, most regarded examples of faith, of Christ. Not just one, which would be tragic enough; but 70. (And many more publicly accused over the course of the following years.)

Spotlight is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and important film for people of faith. It evokes a myriad of responses from the viewers, from audible gasps of incredulity to silent shock, to stinging tears of sadness and anger. Following the film, I heard remarks from the straightforward, “Wow, I didn’t know that story” to the more emotional, alarmed, “How did I not know that story?Spotlight shines a staggeringly bright light on that deep, dark secret that’s haunted the Catholic Church for decades.

As a Protestant Christian watching the film, I left the theater with a lump in my throat and a heavy sense of grief for people of faith. In the final minutes of the movie, where screen after screen flashes by listing the hundreds of other cities in this country and globally where major abuse scandals have been uncovered, the tears began. I felt grief not just for the thousands of young boys molested by priests (the number of survivors in Boston alone is estimated to be well over 1,000), but for the larger faith community, especially the millions of everyday Catholics who were raised in the Church and love the Church, and give their lives to their Church. Those faithful Christians whose hearts – and faith – were/are irreparably broken by their most trusted spiritual leaders. I grieved also as a Protestant for all Christians, Catholic and otherwise, who have had their faith – their relationship with the sacred, with their loving Creator — stolen from them by religious abusers. For we all know that there are spiritual abuse stories galore in every faith tradition, not just the Catholic Church. Wearing the cloak of God excuses a host of sins. And tragically, victims of such spiritual abuse become cloaked in their own shame as they are indoctrinated into an insidious culture of secrecy and silence. As one survivor says in the movie, “How do you say no to God?”

I was also moved by the vulnerability of a faith population – in this case the Catholic community in Boston – that is controlled culturally, socially, and spiritually by the Church. How many families were asked to forgive and forget, and did so, out of love for the Church and their community. Pillars of the community looked away from the rumors and reports, out of respect for the Church. In one poignant scene in the movie, two of the Boston Globe’s investigative team, Sacha and Michael — “lapsed Catholics” as they call themselves — wonder if they could ever go back to the Church, the Church they imagined they would always go back to at some time. How indeed, do you learn to trust again, when that trust has been abused at the highest level of your tradition? You begin to understand how it was preferable to pretend abuse wasn’t happening, rather than acknowledge such a dark reality.

Additionally, I was caught off guard by my surprise at how much more prevalent the abuse was than I was aware of. The cover-up in Boston alone, with nearly 240 priests accused of sexual abuse and a Cardinal resigning (only to be relocated to one of the highest ranking Roman Catholic churches in the world) astonished me to the point of saying out loud, “Wait, what? How did I not know about this? 6% of priests act out sexually? And in one city alone, the numbers were in the hundreds?” The movie, appropriately, will shock viewers with the gravity and weight of the scandal. Perhaps it was because we were a nation stunned and mourning more than 3,000 lives lost in the Twin Towers on 9/11, that this other tragedy of similarly evil proportions received less attention nationwide.

Photo credit: Open Roads Films

Lastly, I was left with a sense of awe and gratitude for investigative journalists, a vanishing breed in this new digital age. This team of five reporters, encouraged by their tenacious “outsider” of an editor (a Jewish man brand new at the paper’s helm), worked on this story exclusively for an entire year before it went to press. Spotlight Director Tom McCarthy says of what he calls his “cinematic love letter to long-form journalism”: “I’m extremely concerned with how little high-end investigative journalism is out there right now compared to what we had 15 years ago. I saw this movie as an opportunity to show by example: Here is the kind of impact that can happen when you have well-funded journalism done by experienced professionals. I mean, what could be more important than the fate of our children?” In the tight-knit community of Boston, where the Church held incredible power and was able to influence politicians, lawyers, and law enforcement, the newspaper was the only institution left to pursue the truth. And in doing so, they opened the lid on a horrific culture of abuse and cover-up, prompting similar investigations across the country, and finally leading to the serious conversation within the Church about the problem and how to fix it.

Spotlight is a story that needs to be told, discussed, wrestled with, accounted for and in some cases, repented of. Certain to be a contender for best picture, best director, and best actor categories, the movie is an earthquake of a story, an all-too-real-life scandal that will break your heart and leave you with many questions to ponder, including perhaps most importantly, “How does something like this happen?”

Watch a trailer from Spotlight below, and visit the Patheos Movie Club for more reviews from our faith bloggers HERE.


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