“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed” (John 3:20)
I have to admit to being a little bit nervous when I first saw the trailer to Spotlight, a film chronicling the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism into the priestly abuse scandals in Boston. I remember what it was like to be Catholic in North America in 2001, having every one of our spiritual leaders who wore a collar’s reputations dragged through mud and the authenticity of our very convictions questioned. Seeing it nominated for an Oscar just made me more wary of growing anti-Catholic sentiment in Hollywood and in popular culture in general.
I have to say though, that more than a decade after those scandals, and having lived through reform and rejuvenation of the North American church, even in places like Boston, actually seeing the film relieved me of any lingering worry*. I would, instead, encourage every Catholic who is mature in their faith to check out this film as it is an important recollection of how deep Satan’s reaches can go into our own sanctuaries, to paraphrase Pope Paul VI.
The abuse scandals were a significant black mark in modern Church history for sure, but it wasn’t only just the abusive actions of a few, but the ignorant actions of the bureaucracy that allowed it to continue, and quite unintentionally stimulating the growth of an evil sub-culture that compromised the integrity of the priesthood. And yet the film does not limit the blame to the priests or even the church bureaucracy but draws in the collective guilt of all community members. Even the journalists themselves are found not to be without blame (I wouldn’t consider this a spoiler) as remote as the blame may be.
A willful ignorance in the Boston community allowed evil to propagate unchecked through our seminaries. Books such as Goodbye, Good Men by Michael Rose chronicles this well and outlines the damage it has done to the visible aspect of our faith. It took the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team to force an entire city to confront what had always been suspected and over a decade later the Church has benefitted from those who hold us to our own high standard for being the standard bearer for the true, the good, and the beautiful. Thus, the film empowers the lay viewer with knowledge of how evil can work within the Church’s institutional structures and even the fabric of society at large. We can thank the Boston Globe for being a catalyst for change throughout North America, in prevention of more suffering at the hands of those who would insist on compromising the Church’s mission as light to the world.
* One exception I take with the film is when the psychiatrist blames the problem on the priestly discipline of celibacy. This statement is allowed to rest unquestioned even though statistically speaking, the abuse rate from non-celibate groups is higher.
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