Why You Should See “Spotlight” and How to Talk to Friends about the Sex Abuse Scandal

Awards season is upon us. One of the standouts among the Best Picture nominees is “Spotlight,” which is about the investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe that broke the story about the Church’s sex abuse scandal in 2002.

Most Catholics wouldn’t touch this movie with a ten-foot pole.

I have a different opinion: Every Catholic should watch it. And then you should watch it with your non-Catholic friends.

Why? I’ve got a couple reasons:

“Spotlight” does show one side — but the side it shows is true.

The plot of “Spotlight” is more about the team of journalists and the nature of investigative journalism itself, uncovering a story that needed to be exposed. And the kinds of things they reveal in the film are true. One-sided, but true.

“Spotlight” paints a negative picture of the humans in the Church — though not necessarily of the entire Church, its hierarchy and all of its teaching. It’s rightly negative, because what happened is negative.

The side it doesn’t show is that other institutions — including families, schools, Protestant churches and other organizations, such as Planned Parenthood —are also guilty of abuse, as well as not speaking up.  The Catholic Church is actually one of the only institutional bodies working to effectively deal with the problem.

At one point in this film, the editor of the Boston Globe says, “There’s a fair share of blame to go around.”

We’re all guilty here.

Could we as a Church be doing more? Absolutely. Are we, because we are Catholic and claim this church started by Christ himself holds all of the Truth, more culpable for this crime than others? Yeah, I think we are. More is expected of us, and rightly so.

I spoke with Christopher White, associate director of Catholic Voices USA, on the topic, and he said, “In a way, we have to be grateful for the work of the media to expose this and make us deal with this…[to force us to] be true to who we really are as Catholics…we have to be accountable for that.”

“There’s little good to be gained by just putting our heads in the sand. Scripture asks us to always be ready to give an answer,” he added. “It’s our responsibility to see films like this and engage with people and account for them.”

We need to get it together, guys.

In a great movie review by the National Catholic Register, critic Steven Greydanus writes, “For Catholic viewers, clerical and lay, [“Spotlight”] can be seen as a dramatic witness to the profound need to…insist on a culture of openness, transparency and accountability. The Church is called to be the light of the world. We must not fear to turn a spotlight on ourselves.”

He nailed it on the head. We need to stop running away from negative perspectives.

This scandal happened. It was horrible and caused horrific hurt to so many people who experienced the abuse. It was covered up by some in the Church. And that is wrong.

But the fact of the matter is, the Church is a hospital made up of broken people. We are not a gated community or club of the bourgeois. We are a heartbroken, empty-handed, sinful people who are in need of mercy — clerics, religious and lay alike.

This is a reality many of us in the Church (really, everybody) still need to accept. Too many of us hold our noses up to the world, wear our masks of “I’m fine, really, I have everything together,” and reduce people to the sins we see in them.

Too often, we just hear all the negative things others say: We don’t see the broken, bleeding person saying it.

To be the arms of this broken Body of Christ that welcomes people back, we need to be the bridge that meets them in their suffering — validating their points of view, experience and emotions before a conversation about this topic can be had. If we start by having a heart of mercy that sees these beautiful souls, we could actually get somewhere. We need to bring them alongside us, recognize that we are all broken, just in different ways — and say to them, “Me too. Let’s go together.”

What should you say to your friends about this topic?

1. Acknowledge the truth.

In his visit to the U.S. in September, Pope Francis said this about the scandal: “God weeps.”

“Those who covered this up are guilty,” he said. “There are even some bishops who covered this up. It’s something terrible…The people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain. Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly we owe each of them our gratitude…I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately…”

Pope Francis’ comments are a pretty good starting point. Take responsibility and apologize for the hurt that this has caused the person.

White said, “Pope Francis spoke so beautifully about this….and I hope other people in the Church follow that example….People will talk about this issue, and we have to be on the front lines — we owe it to the world around us to talk about it.

2. Mention the changes being made.

“Don’t end the conversation where the film ends it,” as White put it to me. As I mentioned before, the Church is the leading organization when it comes to implementing protection for minors and victims of sexual abuse.

In 2013, just after being appointed pope, Pope Francis created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a group whose specific job is to come up with proposals that will bring about reform in parishes.

The pope also set up a tribunal to specifically to discipline bishops in question and approved an exception to a Vatican hiring freeze, imposed to allow the tribunal to attract qualified personnel.

Today, most diocesan websites have sections just on child protection with resources to documents and who to contact about the issue. There is more to be done, but the Church is definitely taking action.

3. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Here’s what it all comes down to: We are a broken Church. We were started by Christ himself, but that does not solve the brokenness of our humanity.

“Some priests — not all, not most — some,” as Bishop Robert Barron puts it, gravely messed up. And it was not, and is not, okay. We fell into corruption and have undergone a deep purification of our Church.

However, the sin of some within a good body does not negate the good of the body. It also does not negate the very many other good people, or the other good things the Church does: works of charity, the institution of hospitals, helping the homeless, etc.

Leaving the Church doesn’t make the problem better.

That being said, White added, “Don’t…cast any expectations on them — there will be, for some individuals, pure trauma that stays with them for the rest of their lives, and we as a Church have to feel that with them, and being acutely aware of this is our responsibility. We have to continue to respond and help them cope.”

4. We can’t completely erase the suffering, and there is no answer to suffering other than God himself.

We’ve made progress — this issue isn’t behind us — but we have taken responsibility. And we can continue to progress as we implement serious changes. We should boldly allow ourselves to suffer with victims, if we have the courage to let our hearts be moved by them.

But at the end of the day, do we have all the answers to their suffering? Can we take it away? No.

In the end, healing is God’s work. And the best thing we can do in the meantime is follow Jesus’ example: weep with them.

Therese Bussen
Therese Bussen
Therese lives in glorious Denver, Colorado and grew up in the high desert area of Southern California (and knows what the Israelites felt like waiting in the desert to get to the Promised Land). She graduated from Benedictine College with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Art. When she's not hanging out with friends, Therese enjoys reading, writing, painting, drawing, designing (basically any kind of art), and dancing awkwardly on purpose. She also loves surprising people with her love of shotgun shooting and cigars. Also, a glass of wine is her favorite thing.

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