I was going to be clever and frivolous this week…until Friday night. Kathy and I went to see Spotlight and all I can say is the Academy in Follywood for all its faults and foibles got it right. For the uninitiated it is a film about an investigative group at the Boston Globe called Spotlight and its dogged pursuit of the Catholic diocese of Boston and its horrible handling of pedophilia among several of its priests. This is not going to be a movie review but musings from a long time Catholic who loves great journalism.
At its best it shows what a principled group of reporters can do. They pursued the story for over one year and by all signs got it right. At its worst it shows what it takes to get a story out as editorial boards decide sometimes arbitrarily what gets through and what doesn’t from both a worthiness as well as political perspective. Good ideas sometimes find the circular file because one doesn’t want to make waves or enemies. You have the feeling it is not only the Fourth Estate that exercises the prerogative.
As portrayed and I believe in reality there were no superstars but a group of people who received a tip and delved to find its veracity.They literally turned over every rock and pursued every lead. If you are looking for salacious details they are not there but the underlying misery and guilt of those preyed upon lets the story unfold. It is an indictment of the Catholic Church for sure but it also affects society as a whole. While watching, you can’t help but let your mind drift to every seat of power and apart from the specifics of this particular situation see them every bit as culpable.
I have locked horns with our former bishop about the Church’s response or lack thereof. It wasn’t naivete but an assault on their power base that caused them to cover up and subject those poor bastard victims to intimidation and guilt. We are sacrosanct and holier than thou and don’t you dare challenge us or our decisions. Our failures and perversions are not to be displayed lest one shake the foundations of the Holy Mother Church. By the way our bare knuckled exercise of ordained powers have kept us in the driver’s seat all these centuries. We have history and God on our side. What incredible arrogance!
For those that shout foul please consider there were 87 priests in the Boston diocese that were guilty of the most heinous crimes perpetrated on young people. Let’s take your cries of unfairness and reduce that number by a half. But then multiply that by hundreds of dioceses throughout the US and sadly the world. For a moment let’s even give the offending clerics a pass and say they were sick, sick people. I lay the blame at the feet of the hierarchy. The wealth and power of the Church is over the top and that has been passed on to its district managers everywhere. Now this is the point where I think of the Congress and board rooms and say the religious are not alone.
Think about Watergate, Clinton, GM,Volkswagen, JP Morgan, Bear Sterns, Lehman, Enron, BP, Madoff to name a few before you cast the first stone. It is considered dangerous to your career if you don’t look the other way. At the same time we see every type of transgression and dismiss it saying we are just following orders or even worse using it as get out of jail free card. 50 shades of gray is not a tacky novel but a way our consciences and outrage shift and bend to make every situation different and somehow palatable.
I am not a boy scout or trying to adopt some sense of righteousness but I can’t help but think our keen sense of right and wrong becomes duller over time. One of the most telling lines in the movie is a Lebanese lawyer named Garabedian who states in a very Irish Catholic town that,” It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to abuse one”. We don’t worry about political correctness but how we will look to our fellow man or woman. Hey, we have to work together or see each other at the club. Don’t want to get the evil eye you know.
I came away feeling incredibly sorry for the poor parishes of North and South Boston, Revere and the Elmhursts and Woodsides of New York. These places grew up as places of solace for poor immigrants. You were known not by where you lived but what parish you belonged to. It wasn’t a Sunday go meeting place but in many cases the center of your life. You went to school there, were an altar boy and your mom and grandparents made novenas for those who had gone to war or a dad who had lost his way. The titular heads of this family were the pastor and his curates. It was a place of trust and unfortunately who one trusts one becomes vulnerable. Kind of like when one puts faith in a company where they work, a boss they loved to work for or even a company they invested in for a better life later on. Not so simple to just say one of the oldest and most revered pillars of decency is besmirched. They, my friends are not alone.
This is a far cry from the pithy piece I wanted to write but I hope you understand that after seeing the movie and cogitating for many hours I had to open up and maybe yes for once not look the other way. Those shades of gray become a lot more black and white when one puts a Spotlight on them. I felt deep down a bunch of emotions and I just wanted to share that with someone. I guess that was you.
Ted The Great
Newspapers today have for the most part forgone investigative journalism. It is too time consuming and expensive. People want headlines not deeply involved analysis. Too bad.
It is estimated that some 5,000 priests are guilty of sexual predation in the US which is about 5% of the clergy. Of those that have come to light it appears that 80% of worldwide offenses have been here in the US but the factors enabling people to come forward are incredibly difficult to quantify.
If there are 5,000 rogue priests that means there are 95,000 out there who are for the most part wonderful and decent people. The Catholic Church has led all other charitable organizations in the help of the sick and the poor. I have known priests and religious my entire life. Many of them are close friends whom Kathy and I treasure. In all those encounters over 65 plus years I have never encountered even a scintilla of impropriety.
Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources.