Thursday, March 24, 2016


This movie was well-done, disturbing, and sad—as a Catholic, and as a mother. If someone (anyone, anywhere, ever) abused my children, I would feel the guilt of that, the weight of it, for the rest of my life. Why wasn't I there? Didn't I see some sign, get some feeling about the abuser, register that something was off?

If that someone was entrusted with the eternal lives of my children, as well as the very basic physical welfare of the children when they were in their presence in the parish—how can you even comprehend what that betrayal feels like?

Certainly the movie could be seen as anti-Catholic. It is, after all, about the Spotlight team at The Boston Globe investigating priests who sexually abused children. In more than one scene, the reporters are speaking to victims with Catholic churches looming over their homes, or you can hear the peel of church bells in the background. It is ever-present. However, I find it discouraging in the Church, in politics, and in families, when love is so misguided as to refuse to acknowledge faults, or try to rectify them. That's not love—it's enabling and condoning, it's not wishing the best for the people, or the Church.

On more than one occasion the benefits the Church has provided the people of Boston are mentioned. The Archdiocese is seen to be in relationship with “the city,” the two relying on each other and supporting each other—if you crack the foundation of the Church, the city will crumble as well. A seat at the banquet has a way of corrupting those with even the best intentions.

There's a lot of sin in this movie. Not just the priests, but the reporters that downplayed tips about the growing abuse crisis, the lawyers making their share on victim settlements outside the court, the priests' defense lawyer arguing for due process, and the Catholic school administrators turning a blind eye to abuse. In the interests of the city, the school, and so-called justice, everyone looked the other way and accepted the handouts, tuition, and legal fees. Don't rock the boat, but grow the bank account.

There is such a vast chasm between the eternal Church and the Church of men. A character in the movie mentions the tension of still acknowledging the one, while being disgusted with the other. It's like the saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And how hard is it to separate the two, in your mind or heart?

Watching the movie, I kept thinking about the families. A letter is read from a mother of an abuse victim, saying that the family loves the Church, they don't want to hurt the Church. Another victim says that when a priest came to their house to talk about not making any abuse allegation his mom offered him cookies. Multiple times, people say the priest is “like God“ when he is paying attention to them, visiting them, sitting on their sofas. It's hard to feel like you're in conflict with God's earthly representative. 

The Church was clearly wrong to cover these things up. They wanted to preserve the good name of the Church, especially in Boston, and ended up with an even blacker eye than if they'd acted rightly—been less concerned with maintaining the status quo, presenting a flawless veneer. The truth has a way of coming to light, eventually.

But the families were also conscious of what the allegations would do to their Church. There's such a tension in the world for Catholics. We are in it, but not of it. We are the far, far right. There's a 2,000 year history full of lurid tales and conspiracy theories thrown in our face. I can understand wanting to protect the Church at the same time you protect your child. I can understand not wanting to go through a trial, to make your child a spectacle, to tarnish the image of something you love—The Church. 

The sins committed by the priests are unconscionable. And after watching the film, I made the mistake of googling Cardinal Law and his new digs in Rome. And that left another sour taste in my mouth. There's a phrase: When you go to Rome, you will lose your faith. 

If only there weren't the politics, the maneuverings, the careerism. If only there weren't the bureaucracy. If only everyone moving up and down the Catholic ladder had acted rightly. If only, if only. But the Spotlight team did what good investigative journalism should do—exposed a terrible injustice, and helped to save future children from this life-shattering abuse. 

Another casualty that touched me in the movie was the reporter Michael Rezendes, who tells his fellow journalist that while he was a lapsed Catholic, he always thought he'd end up going back. And now that wasn't possible for him. 

This wasn't just an error that occurred at a finite moment in time—it was a series of lies and manipulations with eternal consequences, for the victims, for the priests, for the reporters. How many people's faith was rocked by this? How many abandoned the Church? How much harder does it make the journey home for converts?

Spotlight was hard to watch as a Catholic, but harder as a mother. It's not like I was unaware of the scandal, but watching it and seeing my children—in the shaky hands of the victims, in the conflicted face of the wealthy defense attorney, in the reporter determined to remain lapsed—that tore at me.

The only comfort in this is the perfect justice of God.
And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. Luke 17:1-2