In winning the Oscar for best picture, Spotlight once again lifts the lid off of the sexual abuse of minors committed by dozens of priests in the Boston Archdiocese — and around the world — for decades. Despite attempts from the church to throw water on the fire, the scandal of ecclesiastical pedophilia continues to boil.
“This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” said producer Michael Sugar on stage at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, still holding his newly received statuette. And then, speaking directly to the pope: “Pope Francis, it is time to protect the children and restore the faith.”
The film, written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, tells the mother of all priest sex abuse stories. In 2002, Spotlight, a crack team of investigative journalists at The Boston Globe, broke the news of as many as 90 parish priests accused of sexually abusing young people over the course of 30 years. Not only that, but the Boston Archdiocese, then headed by Cardinal Bernard Law — currently archpriest emeritus of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome — perpetrated a cover-up, sheltering offending priests by moving them from parish to parish. For their investigation, the Globe won a Pulitzer Prize.
The film earned the support of Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the archbishop of Malta, who has been at the forefront of the fight against sexual abuse by clergy. He told the Italian daily La Repubblica, “All bishops and cardinals must see this film.” And the Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican Radio, “There’s a great appreciation for the film and of course an appreciation for the message and the way it is transmitted.”
Zollner went on: “It is a strong invitation to reflect and to take seriously the central message: namely, that the Catholic Church can and must be transparent, fair and committed to the fight against abuse and must work to ensure that it does not occur again. We must change our attitude, which in Italian can be expressed with that famous word ‘omerta.’ We want to solve everything by sweeping it under the rug, hiding it and believing that everything will pass. We must understand that it will not. … And this I think is one of the central messages of this film.”
The story Spotlight tells is more or less a closed case. The Vatican sent Capuchin Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley to Boston to clean up after Law resigned, and Pope Francis appointed O’Malley president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. But pedophilia in the Catholic Church is still an open question.
The proof is the fact that, by a singular coincidence, the Oscar award to Spotlight came on the same night in which the conservative Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s powerful economy secretary, disclosed that he had ignored whisperings of an abusive monk who went on to be convicted of molesting 20 boys. Pell testified by video conference from a hotel in Rome — he avoided the journey on medical grounds — before an Australian commission investigating child abuse in the church.
As in other countries, pedophile priests in Australia have been reported to bishops, who customarily transferred them to other parishes where they continued their abuse. Pell is not accused of having committed abuses, but of covering up scandals and covering for pedophile priests in his diocese. The Catholic Church “has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those, but the church has in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down,” Pell told the commission.
“I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” he added. At that time the Church was “strongly inclined” to believe denials from those accused. “The instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church, from shame.”
After the deposition — which was attended by 15 Australian victims — Pell was received for an audience (already scheduled) with Pope Francis. More hearings with the Australian commission are scheduled, in which inevitably the cardinal will be questioned on individual abuse cases.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.