Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on November 27, 2015 and has been completely revised.
Prior to 2002, sporadic reports of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests had been relegated to the back pages of newspapers, if reported at all. But in 2001-2002, the “spotlight” investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe uncovered large scale clerical sexual abuse within the archdiocese of Boston as well as the systematic cover-up by cardinal Bernard Law and other diocesan administrators. The film, “Spotlight” (2015), depicts the efforts of the newspaper team to bring the truth to light despite opposition from all sides.
Directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci
Open Road Films, 2015, 129 minutes
It’s 2001 and the Boston Globe’s newly-hired editor (Schreiber) directs Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton) and his three-person, crack investigative team to dig into the possibility that the Boston archdiocese hierarchy has been covering up for priest sexual abusers. One of the journalists, Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), contacts a lawyer (Tucci) who has been advocating for multiple victims of priest abuse, although with little success up to that point. The team gets to work and begins to uncover the enormity of clerical abuse within the archdiocese. They begin with a list of twenty pedophile priests, which eventually grows to ninety. Circumstantial evidence shows cardinal Law repeatedly transferred abusive priests within the archdiocese. There’s also evidence that public safety and court officials cooperated with the church hierarchy in keeping the abuse “problem” under wraps. Robby and the spotlight investigative team eventually unearth hard documentation proving Law’s enablement of the abusers and the systematic cover-up. The Globe begins publishing a series of articles on the scandal in early-2002. The movie’s epilogue states that cardinal Law (d. 2017) resigned his office in 2002 and was immediately transferred to Rome and that a total of 249 priests and brothers in the Boston archdiocese were eventually credibly accused of abuse (as of 2015).
“Spotlight” is admittedly a tough movie to sit through because of its tragic and sordid subject matter. The story is well-written, although somewhat difficult to follow because of the preponderance of names that are mentioned by necessity. It’s tough to tell the “players” without a scorecard. I saw this film at the theater when it was originally released in 2015, but I was able to follow along much better when I watched it the second time via Amazon streaming in April 2020. The cast does an excellent job, especially the spotlight team members, Keaton, Ruffalo, and McAdams. In 2016, “Spotlight” was nominated for six Oscars (including nominations for Ruffalo and McAdams for their supporting roles) and won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Many theater-goers didn’t want to deal with the film’s controversial subject material. “Spotlight” was the second-lowest domestically grossing film to win Best Picture in the past four decades.
I’m so grateful this film was produced and the public got to see the sordid story of the widespread abuse by priests and the systematic cover-up by church officials. Starting in Boston, the breadth of this scandal has been revealed to be nationwide and worldwide with similar circumstances of abuse and hierarchical cover-up. In the last two years, the scandal turned into a tsunami with abuse being exposed in the highest offices of the church. Multiple states have lifted statutes of limitations allowing survivors to sue their dioceses several decades after the abuse was committed. To date, 21 dioceses in the U.S. have filed for bankruptcy to protect their assets from survivors.
In one scene, Ruffalo’s character angrily rails against the totally corrupt church for destroying his “faith.” The faith that’s represented is misplaced. Roman Catholics need to repent of their sin and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone and then ask the Lord to lead them to an evangelical church in their area that preaches the Gospel without compromise.