Thursday, December 10, 2015


It's been a week since I watched Spotlight (2015), and when I think back on it, I feel disgust, anger, and shame.

Not at the movie, mind you. Spotlight falls in the great tradition of All the President's Men. The film illustrates how the staff of the Boston Globe uncovered and reported the sexual abuse of children perpetuated and covered up by the Catholic Church in Boston (the paper won the Pulitzer for its coverage). It is strongly acted, written, and directed, and enterprising young journalists would do well to learn from it. It focuses on the procedure of the newspaper: waiting around for interviews, calling sources, sifting through documents, cross-referencing information, and coaxing stories out of people.

My disgust stems from what these priests and clergymen did. The film does not depict scenes of child molestation or rape, but it does feature interviews of abuse survivors conducted by the Globe reporters. The ones we hear from are adults, years if not decades removed from their experiences, but the scars remain. The details are not pretty. Rachel McAdams interviews one man who explains how a priest took advantage of him, knowing he was gay, and the victim struggles to talk about it, always on the verge of tears. Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo speaks with another victim who initially doesn't want to be identified; when their session ends, Ruffalo notices faded needle tracks on the guy's arms.

Spotlight is a movie that will get your blood boiling. The reporters - led by editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) - uncover not only how widespread the abuse was but just how far the Church went to cover it up, moving pedophile priests around from parish to parish, paying off and pressuring families to keep quiet, and more concerned with upholding its image than protecting children. At one point, Robby tells his team they are holding off publication until they have all their ducks in a row, and reporter Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), who like his co-workers grew up Catholic in Boston, explodes.

"It's time, Robby! It's time! They knew and they let it happen! To KIDS! Okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this. Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!" 

But Robby holds off on the story because he wants to nail the system, not just one priest or one cardinal. As an attorney played Stanley Tucci says, "It takes a village to raise (children). It takes a village to abuse them." 

The Church knew. Police knew. Lawyers knew. The government knew. Hell, even the press knew. Years prior, Robby, as the metro section editor, all but buried a story about 20 priests suspected of abuse and never followed up on it. The only reason he and his team started covering it again was because new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) directed them to after reading a column about a priest on trial. People looked away, rationalizing it by saying the Church is too powerful, it does a lot of good, the priests will be removed, etc. 

In one illuminating scene, Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) questions a retired priest who candidly admits he abused children, claiming it wasn't a sin because he derived no sexual pleasure from doing it. Then his sister slams the door in Pfeiffer's face and tells her to never come back. Abuse in the church was a problem no one wanted to see or hear about, so people turned a blind eye. The film ends with a list of all the cities around the world where abuse has been reported since the Globe's coverage. It is sobering.

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