Several weeks ago I attended a screening of the movie Spotlight, a movie about the investigative reporting which led to the uncovering of the sex abuse cover up in Boston thirteen years ago. This same movie was a nominee last night for a Golden Globe Award for the best drama motion picture.
The movie was painful to watch. It vividly portrayed the unfathomable suffering of the sex abuse victims, the absolute failure of church leaders in dealing with and reporting predator priests, the outrage rightfully expressed by those uncovering the abuse, and finally the heartbreak of faithful believers whose faith in Jesus Christ was shaken and oftentimes crushed by the criminal behavior of priests and bishops.
Certainly this is not a Friday night, dinner-and-a-date type of movie. Spotlight, named after The Boston Globe’s team which led the investigation, slowly unravels a story revealing the inner workings of the newspaper. The movie is not only about the sex abuse scandal of Boston, but is very much also about The Boston Globe. The movie not only places responsibility on the Catholic Church for the abuse cover up, but on the whole community. A line in the movie that points to this is “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The movie shows how The Boston Globe itself had known about the abuse years before, but had not reported it effectively. Lawyers, parents, and prominent members of society had all known, and nobody had taken steps to weed it out.
I once heard that “getting caught” is an expression of God’s mercy since “getting caught” allows for repentance and a change in behavior. If a person does not get caught, the sin continues and the person’s soul remains in peril. This simple principle applies to what has happened to the Catholic Church in the United States. Disgracefully for a period of time, a number of priests abused children and their superiors did not respond as required by law. Now that the abuse has come to the light, the Catholic Church has been able to repent and change its behavior.Spotlight unfortunately does not provide a single hint of the Church’s response after the sex abuse scandal. What the movie reports was accurate in 2002, but it is certainly not the case today. Since the publication of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, the Catholic Church in the United States has become a national leader in its efforts to protect children and youth. The Church also has the strongest measures in the world in place for protecting children and young people, including safe environment training for children and adults, background checks and a zero tolerance policy towards sexual abuse. Just in the Diocese of Savannah, 16,987 employees and volunteers have had background checks and attended a training where they learned tools to recognize predatory behavior, develop safe spaces and report suspected abuse.
The uncovering done by The Boston Globe has directly led to a needed transformation of procedures within the Catholic Church. Other institutions, both secular and religious, now look to the Catholic Church for guidance in regards to child and young adult protection.
As I watched the movie I realized something. The same day The Boston Globe broke its first story about the sex abuse cover up, Sunday January 6th, 2002, I was at a discernment retreat at Camp Villa Marie in Savannah. That same morning I told the Vocation Director that I would apply to the seminary for the diocese. As I worked on my application to the seminary, news coverage of the scandal grew more and more. At one point a professor asked me, “Pablo, have all these scandals made you change your mind about becoming a priest?” I was very surprised by the question because the scandals had never made me question my desire to respond to God’s call.
Many young men continue to respond to God’s call out of love of Jesus Christ and His Church. It is not easy to be a priest in today’s society. Unfortunately, though thousands of airplanes land safely at their destinations, the one that crashes makes it to the news. Though thousands of priests and bishops faithfully and lovingly serve the people of God, the grave errors of a few have marred the Church’s authenticity when preaching the Gospel. It will take years of faithful service to the Gospel to regain the unconditional trust many once had in the Church (both Catholics and non-Catholics).
One case of abuse perpetrated by a priest is one case of abuse too many.
In the end, Spotlight may be seen as a redemptive movie. The exposure of the pain of victims and of the many faithful who felt betrayed by the Church they loved, has led to serious reform within the Church which will help ensure that no other children will be victims of such abuse.
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved.