18 Nov Why Catholics Should be Grateful for ‘Spotlight’ and the Media’s Exposing Abuses Within the Church
A new film serves as a painful reminder of one of the darkest periods in Catholic Church history, where more than 200 priests and religious were accused of abusing minors and were reassigned in reshuffled in a cover-up.
“Spotlight,” which opened in theaters last weekend, chronicles the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston that would go on to win the paper a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. The film’s retelling of these events may very win its filmmakers Academy Awards.
Reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the Globe’s revelations, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that “the media helped make our Church safer for children by raising up the issue of clergy sexual abuse and forcing us to deal with it.” (Editor’s note: The Globe’s editor at the time was Martin Baron, now executive editor of The Washington Post)
And as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed in 2010: “The Catholic Church has always had enemies. … But Catholics — and especially Catholic leaders, from the Vatican to the most far-flung diocese — should welcome it, both as a spur to virtue and as a sign that their faith still matters, that their church still looms large over the affairs of men, and that the world still cares enough about Christianity to demand that Catholics live up to their own exacting standards.”
It’s for this very reason that U.S. Catholics should be grateful for the earnest reporting that took place then–and continues to take place–to tell a story that must be told. However, an unfortunate feature of an otherwise excellent film is that “Spotlight” ends where the real story begins.
In January 2002, the Globe first broke the story of former priest John Geogan’s abuse of more than 130 young boys. In over 600 follow-up articles, they revealed the tragic story of numerous other abusers and the cover-up that reached the highest levels of authority within the American Church, law enforcement and the legal system. Dubbed as “The Long Lent of 2002” by Catholic commentator George Weigel, the revelations marked a crisis of faith for Catholics around the world.
Since then, the Church adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for abusers. If a clergy member commits even one act of sexual abuse, he is immediately and permanently removed from ministry. In the United States, the Church has implemented mandatory background checks for any individual—priest or otherwise—that comes into contact with minors. And every single U.S. diocese has enacted Safe Environment coordinators to ensure compliance with both canon and civil law enforcement and independent, outside review boards have been set-up to monitor these initiatives.
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Christopher White is associate director of Catholic Voices USA. To request an interview with Chris, email firstname.lastname@example.org