4 Stars – Profound
This is a true story that is not easy to watch, but it has profound implications and is a challenge for each of us to confess our guilt and sin. The Boston Globe’s January 6, 2002 front-page Spotlight investigation told the readers about how John Geoghan, a local parish Catholic priest, had sexually abused more than 130 young boys in different churches for more than 30 years.
Spotlight was a key in-depth research team at the Globe that would take on major issues within the Boston area. Often they would take a year to put the story together. In this day of instant Internet news, it is hard to imagine having the luxury of having a team take a year to get the story right. Little did they know where this story would lead, or the implications for the Catholic Church, but it may have been one of the most healing moments in modern history.
Stories about priests breaking their vows were nothing new, and at first this team let by Walter 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton) and lead investigator Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) thought that this was old news. Through a series of interviews they came to realize that there were 13 boys that had been potentially molested. What the story led to though, was something much deeper with grave consequences. After weeks of trying to get to the bottom of the story, they realized that the number was much larger – in fact in the Boston area alone, 97 priests had been moved around due to complaints about their sexual interaction.
Most of these now grown men didn’t want to talk about what had happened to them as children, but the absolute disintegration of their personal lives was a testament to what the consequences of this abuse had caused. Many had turned to drugs and alcohol, some had committed suicide, almost all of them had lost their faith in God. Many felt their lives had been robbed from them, and they still felt like a little boy inside who was afraid to tell anyone because they would be denigrating a beloved man of the cloth. Most had been told at one time or another that they were lying, and that accusation often came from their own parents.
It shouldn’t shock anyone today that the Catholic Church covered up these sins, or looked the other way. It also shouldn’t shock anyone that it is a common experience with all of us that we don’t want to believe that good people could really be doing bad things, certainly not this bad! It is also no surprise that everyone – including these reporters who had gone to Catholic schools – wanted to weigh the good that the church does against the few bad apples within it. Holding everyone, each of us, accountable for our behavior goes against the grain of our post-modern society where what is right and wrong gets blurrier and grayer all the time. Most of us want to extend “grace” to all involved.
What is shocking, though, was the fact that some attorneys had turned this into a “cottage industry”, finding boys who had been molested, settling out of court with the church and getting a fat commission for it, and then having the records sealed as part of the deal. Dozens and dozens of boys had their lives stolen from them, the church just moved the priests around where they continued the same behaviors, lawyers got rich off of it, and no one saw a pattern of abuse or took responsibility.
It certainly is true that there have been consequences over the last 15 years. Thousands of people have come forward to tell their stories, the church has lost billions of dollars in paying restitution, and the list of humiliation extends all around the world resulting in two Popes having to plead mea culpa on behalf of Christians everywhere. And yet, few priests have been convicted for their crimes. Even Cardinal Law of Boston, who oversaw these priests in 2002, was moved to the Vatican when the heat got too hot in the kitchen of the rectory.
God forgive us for our sins.
1. It has been said that evil resides most fiercely next to the good. Thus when sexual abuse by priests lives within the blessed body of Christ, evil reaches its most destructive level. Have you ever experienced evil in such an amplified way? How did you fight it?
2. There is a tendency among all in charge of any organization, and definitely a church, to protect the church at the expense of the victims harmed by the people within that church. Holding those in leadership accountable for their sin is a primary responsibility of the church. But when the people of the congregation are kept powerless then it is unlikely to occur. Does your church empower the laity to hold church leaders accountable? If not, what are you doing to change that?
3. Sexual abuse devastates a person in a multitude of ways. Yet there are therapists who have the training and skill to assist in the restoration of the soul and mind of such victims. How can we support such work?