Spotlight has won the Oscar for Best Picture 2015. The movie tells the story of an investigative news team that uncovers a deep-seated pattern of cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic diocese. For those who haven’t seen the film, here’s a summary:
In 2001, The Boston Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron. Baron meets Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor of the Spotlight team, a small group of journalists writing investigative articles that take months to research and publish. After Baron reads a Globe column about a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who says that Cardinal Law (the Archbishop of Boston) knew that the priest John Geoghan was sexually abusing children and did nothing to stop him, he urges the Spotlight team to investigate. (Since the 1990’s over 130 people brought charges of fondling and rape against Fr. Geoghan.) Journalist Michael Rezendes contacts Garabedian.
Initially believing that they are following the story of one priest who was moved around several times, the Spotlight team begin to uncover a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Massachusetts, and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese.
Sadly this story has been repeated in many Catholic diocese around the United States and throughout the world. The film points to a deep-seated pattern of abuse and cover up that is shocking. The result is untold thousands of children and their families who have had their trust broken by the abuse of priests and systemic cover up by the hierarchy. Certainly this abuse is done by a relatively small percentage of clergy (conservative numbers are 2 – 6% of priests). But the fact this pattern has persisted with systemic cover up by the hierarchy is troubling on many levels.
I say this as an outsider with a deep appreciation for the Roman Catholic tradition. I have worked ecumenically with many priests, bishops and diocesan leaders in several states who do great good and are appalled by the behavior of a minority within their midst. Pope Francis has taken concrete steps to address such behavior. Yet, I hope that the Church will also seek to understand the culture from which such behavior arose and how such a cover up was allowed to take place for so long in so many diocese. I don’t know the answer but such questions must be asked so that trust can be restored.
To break trust under the cloak of faith is a profound sin. The challenge for all of us in whatever faith tradition we call home, is to recommit ourselves to creating faith-based communities with appropriate safe-guards, where everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, know that they are safe … emotionally, physically and spiritually. For the sake of the victims we can do no less.