Catholic Church has mixed reactions to ‘Spotlight,’ film on priest sex abuse

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Updated November 19, 2015 10:56 PM

By BART JONES [email protected]

Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams star in “Spotlight,” a drama about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s child-sex scandal. Photo Credit: Open Road Films / Kerry Hayes

A film that opens nationwide Friday about The Boston Globe’s breakthrough investigation of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in 2002 is getting mixed reactions from the church itself, ranging from criticism to recommendations that people go see it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued guidelines to dioceses around the country on how to handle the film, “Spotlight,” which opens at scores of theaters, including those on Long Island.

The movie stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and others as Globe reporters and editors who recreate the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning unearthing of priests’ abuse of children and Catholic Church higher-ups’ knowledge of it, which rocked the church worldwide. The film has received many positive reviews, including one from the official

The U.S. bishops see the film as an opportunity to highlight all the good the church has done since the scandal broke to ensure such abuse never happens again. They also want to assure people that what is depicted in the movie is far from the current situation.

“In our experience, Catholics and others will take the movie as proof of what is happening today, not what happened in the past,” said the conference’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, based in Washington, D.C. “Do not let past events discourage you. This is an opportunity to raise the awareness of all that has been done to prevent child sexual abuse in the church. There is much good news to share.”

The advisory memo counsels dioceses to acknowledge the church’s wrongdoing, as well as the role of journalists and victims in exposing the harboring of pedophile priests. It encourages church leaders to “be open and transparent about any abuse in the diocese,” and to make “sincere apologies to victims/survivors and their families.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, whom the Vatican appointed archbishop of Boston in 2003 in a move analysts said was aimed at cleaning up the mess of the scandal, said the film depicts “a very painful time” in the church’s history.

O’Malley told the archdiocesan newspaper The Pilot that the movie illustrates how the newspaper’s reports prompted the church “to deal with what was shameful and hidden.” A spokesman for the archdiocese said O’Malley plans to see the film soon.

“Despite what Hollywood promulgates and wishes for us to believe,” he added, “I would say that it would be nice for Hollywood to commission a picture on heroes — the true heroes that are the hundreds of Catholic priests and religious women who day in and day out care for the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, those in need of spiritual and pastoral support.”

“Why doesn’t Hollywood film a movie that looks at the good that these women and men do every day without looking for recognition or fame?” he said. “That’s a movie I would see.”

Some survivors of the sex abuse scandal said they thought the church’s claims that it has made great strides in protecting children were exaggerated.

“I’m really glad it [the film] is getting this attention,” said John Salveson, a former Long Islander who said he was abused as a child at St. Dominic Church in Oyster Bay.

22 Responses to Catholic Church has mixed reactions to ‘Spotlight,’ film on priest sex abuse

  1. Sylvia says:

    I’m not sure who the “he” is in this third last para?:

    “Despite what Hollywood promulgates and wishes for us to believe,” he added, “I would say that it would be nice for Hollywood to commission a picture on heroes — the true heroes that are the hundreds of Catholic priests and religious women who day in and day out care for the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, those in need of spiritual and pastoral support.”

    It’s very difficult if not impossible to tell if that is Cardinal O’Malley or the spokesman for the diocese. I think it’s the spokesman?

    No matter, what silly silly and totally inappropriate comment.

    • Leona says:

      I think that “Spotlight” is a movie about heroes. Heroes like Marty Baron editor of the Boston Globe who despite the archbishop’s attempts to silence him persisted in telling the story. Heroes like Sacha Pfeiffer who bravely knocked on doors to talk to victims and predator priests. Heroes like Phil Saviano who gave up a financial settlement in exchange for not being silenced. I’m not sure who “he” is either Sylvia, but it is a totally inappropriate comment.

    • Larry Green says:

      Hollywood “commissions” pictures based on what the viewing audience want to see and hear because that is what sells the most…i.e…people want true stories. The author above , on the other hand, is suggesting fiction ‘pictures’ because that is the kind of audience, he and his so called ‘brothers,’ tell (sell) their stories to.
      We always hear about all those “heroes” but very very rarely have I ever seen one of ‘those’ in ACTION. I see routinely, enough of them acclaimed for good deeds and bask in the glory for what others do…but without the rare exception of a Mother Teresa, there is a great deal of distasteful fiction surrounding the so called ‘ hundreds of heroes’ outlined above!

    • Roy says:

      Hollywood has commissioned and produced a number of these movies ~ examples being Boystown 1938/The Bells of St. Marys 1945. These blockbusters were a huge commercial success. Unfortunately they only served to create a reverence for this totally immoral institution. How did society buy into this propaganda leaving it’s youth to be victimized over and over again? I would like to suggest to the author of this nonsense they tune into the Turner Classics and then tell us the good old days were really that good.

      Remember the controversy in 1983 with the mini series the Thorn Birds. The Catholics were all squawking and wanting a boycott of the networks that were airing it. Oh how the truth hurt. Good truthful movies are few and far between.

      I would like to suggest a reality show called “The Rectory ~ Den of Inequity.”

  2. PJ says:

    Saw the movie last night and it was a difficult watch. It is well done and no matter what spin that church puts on this, it is still disgusting. And Law was actually PROMOTED to a higher position in their hierarchy! So to say the church has made big strides since then is bullshit. More cover ups, more spin-doctoring and hundreds of cases they continue to fight in the courts flies in the face of what they are trying to say. What hypocrisy in that church.

    • Lina says:

      Victims and survivors of clergy abuse.

      Peter Pollard was one many who wrote to Cardinal Bernard Law about his abuse by a priest. Mr. Pollard also wrote an opinion piece for the (Boston) Globe.
      While he endorses the Christian concept of bearing witness, he is less enamored with another principle in church teaching.

      ” To those who ask that we forgive and forget, please understand. The survivors, each of us in his (her) own way, have spent our lives trying to move on, always weighing those two options.

      For most of us, suicide, substance abuse, or violence ended the struggle early.

      To varying degrees, those of us have survived have begun to heal. We reclaimed dreams, earned degrees, formed families, went to work, even sought solace in spiritual practice.

      But we cannot escape the effects of betrayls that were committed against us in God’s name.They are inexorably woven into the texture of who we have become.

      That betrayal may not be chargeable offense in a court of law. But there is no statue of limitation on its impact. And there should be no forgetting.”

      • Lina says:

        I read this book recently, it came out 13 years ago.
        For those folks who are interested in more background about the “Spotlight” movie.

        Betrayal…The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe (2003)

  3. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    I find a very remarkable statement made here by OMalley that echoes what I have felt all along through this despicable journey that many of us have had to make without the help of the one true church of God. He actually admits that the church is incapable of policing itself in the past, and credits journalists and victims with causing the church to clean up the mess it created.
    Remarkable as well is that fact that the U.S. Conference of Bishops has decided to tell the individual diocesan groups on how to “handle” the film.
    “Handle it?” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What the hell does that mean? It is the truth, so why would the one true church of God need to be told how to “handle it?
    As PJ said, it remains to be seen. There is only so much bullshit that I can digest, before I see some real action instead of limp, bland statements. Mike.

    • Lina says:

      No matter how hard the Catholic Church try…they can’t outrun the past about those cover-ups.

      By the way Mike, I am happy for you about the results of your case.

      You are not alone. Best wishes to you, stay strong.

  4. Lina says:

    It is with sadness I say….the Catholic Church’s clergy and hierarchy still want to keep these crimes well hidden even to this day.

    Their evil secrets is not meant to be revealed but their are meant to be kept hidden in their holy closets, buried and prayerfully forgotten from their followers and the law.

    In 2002, child abuse survivor Phil Saviano blew the lid off the Catholic clergy abuse by coming forward to the Boston Globe.

    Saviano, along with actor Neal Huff who portrays him in the new film, “Spotlight,” to tell his story.

    The interview is with Nancy Redd runs about 28 minutes I hope the link still works.

  5. jg says:

    “the film depicts “a very painful time” in the church’s history”
    Because they got caught!
    …and they are still trying to divert attention, to go back to “normal”! They should be doing their mea culpa for much longer than a film’s premiere!
    It is offensive for the church, from the Vatican, through O’Malley, to already ask for us to look at their good deeds…
    It will take longer to regain the trust and we all know this is not a 2002 problem: it was a “historical” problem and is by no means finished and done with. It will return with more hypocrisy, secrecy and “skill” unless the pressure is maintained. Unfortunately it will have to be done by those outside the church who do not need to wear the rose colored glasses they already wish to distribute “en masse”.
    It is a long way to morality! The church suffering(less cash!) should endure….

  6. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Lina, thank you for the encouragement. The journey continues…………….
    I want to zero in on something you said about “evil secrets buried and prayerfully forgotten”. What a true and startling statement!!!
    Using terms like “prayer” and “concern for all parties involved” and “sincere apologies” and “alleged victims” is the church’s old bland habit. Such piffle!!
    Words are really easy and cheap when they are not backed up by actions.
    Your reference to “prayerfully forgotten” is right on the money!! That’s exactly what the church has been doing, and intends to continue on this path if you listen to O’Malley. Mike.

    • Lina says:

      I recall a priest giving his views on the Catholic clergy scandal in Boston.

      One particular statement stood out when this priest said:
      ‘In the seminary….we priests are trained to forget sins.’

      This represented of God came across that the Catholic clergy were just following a God permissible formula that was use down through the ages to deal with their sexual predator holy clergy.

      I came to understand that if it’s so easy for these priests to forget sins how much more convenient for them to forget the rippling effects of those sins on the victims and survivors of abuse by their brother priests.

      Even if this blueprint plan was use for centuries, it was wrong back then, it was wrong yesterday and it’s still will be wrong for tomorrow.

      Please fix it!

  7. Mike Mc says:

    ‘Prayerfully forgotten’. A term that will be used from now on, for sure. The abuse we still hear of today exists because the Church is still in “coverup mode”. The Vatican vaults are full of secrets that are considered prayerfully forgotten, but not by the general public. One day, I hope, they will be opened. I don’t intend to see this film. But I’m happy they produced it.

  8. Pat Noonan says:

    Perhaps I have missed something, but, could someone explain to me why Robert Bourne-tho defrocked- did not get jail time? Also, who is supporting these men? No wonder the pews are empty! Disgusting!!!!

  9. Mike says:

    Thanks Sylvia for the information you have provided. Father Robert Morrissey, back when I was a youngster in London, Ontario, wanted me to have a sleep-over with him with the Pastor was gone. Fortunately my parents were smart and said no, not at all. The Catholic Church needs to wake up and have these men treated once they find out they have a problem. Sweeping it under the carpet is not a professional way to deal with the issue at all and many people end up being damaged, some perhaps for life.

  10. Jack sprat says:

    Can’t help but comment on how the church is having mixed emotions about the movie spot lite . Lol. What a joke , there just pissed that there being more more exposed on there hidden evilness and terrified on how people are actually getting educated on how sick of a religion it is . , gotta laugh how there getting bent out of shape on possible assisted suicide getting voted into Canada. Most Hospitals are owned by the Catholics , there terrified of having emty beds and loseing money. People need to open there eyes to there political vomit .

  11. Jack sprat says:

    I pray to da good lard jesus almighty himself , that they can put more movies and knowledge out to the public about the scandals and hidden secerets of the Catholic Church, and expose the popes that are walkin around in white bed sheets pretending there jesus himself . Amen .

  12. PJ says:

    There is a possibility of Canada’s own Spotlight in a little more than a month…my court case is scheduled for April 4th in Sudbury.

  13. Jack sprat says:

    Wow , good luck to you PJ . I too have a court case coming up again soon with a priest George smith and arch bishop Lahey . Should be interesting on how they covered things up and jumped from town to town .

  14. Jack sprat says:

    I wana go live on CBC and tell the whole truth . That time is coming real soon aswell .

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