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Spotlight: Diving Deep & Surfacing

Dec 31, 2015 — Categories: , ,

Spotlight is the name of the team of Boston Globe reporters who investigated the Archdiocese of Boston in 2001 when the puzzle pieces began to fall into place surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests. Their reporting yielded a Pulitzer Prize and finally blew the lid off the long-standing conspiracy of silence surrounding the protection of priest pedophiles in the Catholic Church. Spotlight, the film, is indeed a cautionary tale for us all. While non-Catholics might be tempted to walk away from the theater with just a tinge of self-righteousness, assuming that this is a Catholic problem, don't give into that temptation. And let us not spend time arguing (as some commentators have) over whether "the problem" is greater or lesser in our faith community. Neither will serve us well.

Spotlight is the name of the team of Boston Globe reporters who investigated the Archdiocese of Boston in 2001 when the puzzle pieces began to fall into place surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests. Their reporting yielded a Pulitzer Prize and finally blew the lid off the long-standing conspiracy of silence surrounding the protection of priest pedophiles in the Catholic Church.

Spotlight, the film, is indeed a cautionary tale for us all.  While non-Catholics might be tempted to walk away from the theater with just a tinge of self-righteousness, assuming that this is a Catholic problem, don't give into that temptation. And let us not spend time arguing (as some commentators have) over whether "the problem" is greater or lesser in our faith community. Neither will serve us well.

The fact is that sexual abuse of children, teens, and adults by those designated as faith leaders is a serious and disturbing reality in every faith community. No exceptions.

Spotlight dives deep into the dark recesses of the institution of the church which in this case was more interested in what it perceived as the protection of the institution itself than it was interested in the protection of its vulnerable members.

This of course is the great irony: in their efforts to "protect" the institution, its leaders in fact did great damage to individuals and families and great damage to the church as an institution.

The supposed “institutional protection agenda” is not only morally bankrupt, it just doesn't work. Whether hiding behind the charitable immunity limit of $20K or putting offending priests on “sick leave” and moving them on to the next parish or pressuring the Globe to back off its investigative reporting, all of it revealed that the default position was the preservation of the Cardinal and the status of the Catholic Church. The consequence was the betrayal not only of individual children and their families, but of the entire diocese.  This hypocrisy brings us all to the edge of cynicism and despair.

The people of Boston lived through the reporting by the Globe and its impact not only on the church but also on the wider community.  Now Spotlight brings this story to the rest of us.

This glimmer of justice that comes with truth-telling is welcome in this bleak midwinter.  In Matthew we are reminded:  “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”

Let this be a lesson to us all and especially to faith leaders who are called to be stewards of our institutions.

What did you think of the film, Spotlight?  Share your thoughts.

In upcoming blogs, I plan to address the calls for a U.S. national commission to investigate child sexual abuse, the persistent challenges for the church and legal system in responding to abuse by faith leaders, and the important role of laity in confronting and preventing abuse.

So stay tuned. And Happy New Year.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
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Excellent article

Posted by Nancy Richardson at Jan 04, 2016 08:24 PM
I have not yet seen Spotlight, but I lived through the story in Boston. I especially appreciate your comment about those of us who are "non-Catholic" walking away filled with self-righteousness. Differences in church structure result in different approaches to sexual abuse, but sexual abuse is sexual abuse and those of us who are "non-Catholic" need to be vigilant about how structures in our situation avoid dealing with the issue.

Thank you,
Nancy

Question

Posted by Allyson McKinney at Jan 05, 2016 03:28 PM
Thank you, Marie, for letting us know about the film Spotlight and for reminding us that the problem of sexual abuse by clergy is not limited to one religion or denomination. I am always saddened when I hear someone talking about this issue as if it were confined to the Catholic Church. It seems there is still need to raise awareness about how pervasive abuse is across traditions.

Question: Can you say more about the "charitable immunity limit of $20K" that you reference? I had not heard of this before.

$20K limit

Posted by Sarah at Jan 07, 2016 03:19 PM
At the time, there was a law in MA that limited church liability to $20K.
Here's a link to an article about the Porter law suit (referenced in the film) from the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/[…]/051392_porter.htm.

It was a hotly contested law, especially after the abuse became public. http://web.law.columbia.edu[…]%20Corrective%20Justice.pdf

MA was one of only a few states that placed a strict limit on non-profit organizations.

Where's the outrage??

Posted by Susan at Jan 06, 2016 04:18 PM
I do believe it was a positive that the Catholic Church and the priests pedophiles were brought to light (over 10 years ago), because I think it forced the Church to address actively the problem; however, the film and Rev. Dr. Fortune demonstrate their VERY strong anti-Catholic bias by not reporting the "rest of the story" in how the Church has continuously addressed the issue and has taken stringent steps for the scandal never to again occur in the Church. Where is this same outrage directed toward the public schools in what continues (and has continued)? The public schools have done the same thing by "passing on" child rapists and child abusers by quietly "letting them go." These perpetrators move on to the next school to continue their evil on innocent children. Please read the following article from the New York Times that was also reported in MSN News. I quote one of the lawyers of some of the victims, “Sexual abuse in education is the clergy-abuse crisis of this decade, if not this century, and you’re going to see more and more of it.” Sadly, because this reflects poorly on our education system, (a political "holy cow"), I do not expect to see the same outrage directed at our education system. How sad!
http://www.msn.com/[…]/ar-AAgqyFu?ocid=spartandhp

Kudos to FTI and Spotlight

Posted by Mary E. Hunt at Jan 07, 2016 04:11 PM
Marie Fortune and her Faith Trust Institute colleagues have been expressing outrage for decades and doing a lot about it. They are a big part of the reason why some survivors have had the courage to stand strong in the face of overwhelming institutional stonewalling.
I respectfully disagree about the anti-Catholic nature of any of this film and this work. I found the movie marvelous in its attention to detail, its evenhanded presentation of the Boston events, its ability to show the many good things about Catholic culture, including the values instilled in young people that can last a lifetime. I worried only that the focus on the crucial work of journalists might overshadow the horror of the crimes they were uncovering. A Boston priest friend observed that he felt the portrayal of Cardinal Law was not unctuous enough. Yes, this was about sexual abuse with religious sanction, not simply a journalistic tour de force.
Of course sexual predators come in all religious flavors. But the uniqueness of the Catholic situation lies in its ubiquity and the impunity with which perpetrators moved right along for decades. Boston is a prototype of how NOT to handle such problems, especially when it comes to clergy professionals who should be trained to know better. That training is an important component of FTI’s work.
I, too, shudder at what some schools are uncovering. But I rejoice that we now have a vocabulary to talk about these crimes, a legal system that is wising up to the criminals, and a growing consensus that all children deserve to be safe wherever they are. Thanks to FTI for being in the vanguard in this justice work.

Response to "Kudos....

Posted by Susan at Jan 08, 2016 12:48 PM
Your viewpoint is to be respected, but so is mine as well as many others, who are deeply offended by anti-Catholic biases. Please refer to TheMediaReport.com and its fact checks on the film, Spotlight. Also, please read the newly released book, "Sins of the Press, The Untold Story of the Boston Globe's Reporting on Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church."
I do not dispute Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune and her/FTI's great work on training/education in the area of sexual abuse...that is NOT the issue. What is the issue and what I do question is: Why does there seem to be stone cold silence RE: sexual abuse and the sexual predators in our CURRENT education system? Where is the same outrage (directed at the Catholic Church) toward the education system and the way it handles sexual abuse and perpetrators in their system? The education system is also guilty of "ubiquity" and "impunity" by quietly "letting go" education predators and allowing them to "move along" and to be hired by the next school thereby permitting predators to prey on even more innocent children. How is this any different from the abusive priests being moved to another parish?
Whether it is a priest OR an educator predator, the innocent children are the victims; and, whether it is a school system or a church "covering up" the offense, BOTH should be held accountable. There appears to be a double set of standards: (1) a "pass" via total disregard and silence for our education system and its CURRENT sexual abuse/perpetrator practices and then another (2 )a "loud" vociferous outrage for the Catholic Church/priests/bishops' handling of PAST sexual abuse.
My hope is that the same outrage/passion against the Catholic Church and its handling of priest predators (in the PAST) would be also directed toward our education system and the way it CURRENTLY handles its predators. Sexual abuse needs to be addressed and perpetrators held accountable whether be it by a priest OR an educator. Let's focus our energy and concentrate on the CURRENT in order to protect our children from ALL predators!

Abuse is abuse

Posted by Mary E. Hunt at Jan 11, 2016 02:34 PM
I agree with you that abuse is abuse is abuse. All cases need to be prosecuted and all perpetrators stopped. Whether in boarding schools or churches, public schools or synagogues, the horror is outrageous. That said, no one considers it anti-democratic to call out the public schools just as it is not anti-Catholic to call out the Catholic Church for how it has handled cases. I am deeply grateful to the Boston Globe for for its work, and to the film people for bringing to Oscar-level attention the abuse so many have suffered. If it will stop it, I'm all for it.

RE: Abuse is abuse...

Posted by Susan at Jan 12, 2016 06:24 PM
     We agree: abuse is abuse be it by a priest OR an educator. HOW the perpetrators are held accountable is where our viewpoints diverge. I believe ALL perps and ALL the systems that they are involved with should be treated EQUALLY and ALL brought to light and EQUALLY held accountable. It seems that my previous reply has been grossly misinterpreted. Nowhere was it stated that it was "anti-democratic to call out the public schools" and/or "anti-Catholic" to do so for the Church. If only that WERE the case ~ that public schools were "called out" RE: educators perpetrators; but sadly, there IS a double standard ~ one for priests/the Catholic Church and then another for educators/and the public school system.
     What was brought up in previous posts was the apparent hypocrisy of the Boston Globe's investigation (see book, "Sins of the Press, the Untold Story of the Boston Globe's Reporting on Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church.") Boston TV station, WCVB has stated the following, "[WCVB] found in recent years, on average, the licenses of 15 Massachusetts educators are suspended or revoked each year for sexual misconduct. But there aren't always charges." (Nov. 2015)
     Contrast this with the Archdiocese of Boston, where the last time a priest was publicly accused of contemporary abuse of a child was in January 2002, over thirteen years ago. So according to these findings of WCVB's investigation, there has been nearly 200 public school educators found to have abused students in Massachusetts since the last time a priest was publicly accused! This begs the question: Where is the Boston Globe on this explosive story? Not only has the Globe NOT published a single syllable about this outrage, but it presents a selective-factual film on the Catholic Church and its handling of priest predators...This DOES smack of anti-Catholic bias.
     It appears that from Hollywood's and from Boston Globe's perspective, that, child sexual abuse is only evil when it is perpetrated by a Catholic priest. This definitely is not "objective" journalism nor fair in the film's portrayal. Sadly, too many movie goers will believe the film to be factual, when in truth, it does not portray the "complete" story and omits some important events, in other words, deceit by omission. (Refer to themediareport.com fact checks on the film, "Spotlight.")
     The issue is (again): abuse is abuse, and ALL perpetrators (be it a priest OR an educator) as well as All systems (Education and all Churches) need to be considered EQUALLY. ALL need to be held accountable and ALL should be brought out into the light and NONE should be avoided by selectively "picking and choosing" which ones will be scrutinized (priest/Catholic Church) and which abuse will be ignored (educators/education system) which was previously stated in aforesaid responses.

Back story that didn't make the screen

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at Feb 19, 2016 04:02 PM
There was a huge spiritual movement through an organization called Linkup, largely Catholic. It began shortly before the Porter case in 1993 and stayed active until shortly after the untimely death of a wonderful friend of mine, leader of Linkup, Tom Economus. The meetings of this group were led by Richard Sipe, Tom Doyle, Joan Chittister and many more spiritual giants.

They welcomed any survivor or activists who wanted to get involved. By 1994, I was writing a column for the newsletter, which was like a lifeline to people all over the world who couldn't make the international meetings, most around Chicago. Phil Saviano was one of those. He told me recently that he read every word of that newsletter for years, turning to it for encouragement.

I am so thrilled to have been able to witness all of this, to have a small part in it, and to know without a doubt: Our collective voices make a difference. They were to encourage, empower, and even manage to change minds--I dare say even a few hearts.

One more thing about SPOTLIGHT and that lost article. Because I had a brand new book out (How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct) only weeks before the Porter verdict, I was on drive-time's top radio program in mid-December. It was one of many interviews I was doing around the country at that time. I regret that I don't remember the station. What I do remember came flooding back while watching SPOTLIGHT, at the moment the female journalist walks into the team's pod, waving the lost article about the additional priests the Boston Globe itself had published and then buried. In the radio host's introductory statements that morning, he talked about this lost article and how the whole city was really reeling because of this additional info. Hard to say how long they reeled. Certainly not long enough. That's another piece of significant back story.

The first piece teaches us about the power of connections laced with spiritual unity for a common cause. The second reminds us how quickly we all can lose our focus and go back to sleep after our world is shattered by acts of terror.