29 February 2016


(Written before Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars.)

After Saturday night we could easily understand why Spotlight has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Spotlight is an underplayed but relentless account of the work of the Boston Globe newspaper in uncovering the extent of the abuse of children by a significant number of priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and, more distressingly, the cover-up of that abuse by the leadership within the Church.

While some may criticize Spotlight for focusing only on abuse within the Catholic Church, it is a dramatic film, not a documentary. While Spotlight is appropriately R-rated, we believe that Spotlight was not unnecessarily graphic in its accounts of what happened to young boys (and girls); none were reenacted in flashbacks and only a few were described in detail. Moreover, director and co-writer Tom McCarthy allocates at least some of the blame for what happened for so long to the judicial system and even the Boston Globe itself. One cannot conclude, however, that any institution other than the RCC is primarily culpability for what happened to so many.

We also appreciated that Spotlight maintained its narrative focus. In particular, there were no action scenes or romantic diversions.

Of course we understand that the Catholic Church was not alone in failing to address the issue of abuse of children. Similar events and cover-ups have occurred in Protestant churches, non-ecclesiastical organizations, and government institutions like public schools. Yet there can be no question that such failures in churches have deeper and more significant effects than those of other institutions. For, unlike other institutions, the Church is the principal means by which God's grace is communicated to the world.

Thus, we should not be surprised at the hurt and rejection of the ministry of the Church by many when they learned what those trusted to care for them did to the least of these, and that their leaders knew and did little or nothing about it. In other words, the Church itself bears significant responsibility for its waning influence in the world today.

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