Spotlight

Spotlight is the new movie about the Boston Globe’s expose of the the Boston Archdiocese’s coverup of extensive child abuse by its priests.  It expanded to wide distribution this weekend, and it seems to be doing reasonably well, if the near-sellout showing I attended on a Sunday afternoon in my little town is any indication.  That’s good, because every Catholic in America should see this movie (and everyone else should see it as well, if they want to see a great movie).

Of course, my little town has reason to be interested in the movie — an ex-pastor of one of its two Catholic churches (the church where my kids had their First Communion) is now serving life in prison for molesting little boys.  It happened here, but it also happened pretty much everywhere, in the Archdiocese of Boston and around the world.  (The movie ends by showing a seemingly endless list of the places where abuse by Catholic priests has been uncovered since the Globe broke the story.)

It also happened at the high school I attended. B.C. High. (My brothers and one of my sons also went there.) B.C. High figures prominently in the movie even though, as a Jesuit institution, it was at most a sidebar to the main story of the institutional failings of the Boston Archdiocese.  The main character, Michael Keaton, attended the school, and it’s right across the street from the Globe–that’s probably why they wanted to feature it, even though, by all accounts, the Jesuits handled their scandal far better than Cardinal Law.  The scene that takes place at B.C. High is almost ridiculously person to me.  The B.C. High principal portrayed was still the principal when my son attended the school.  Paul Guilfoyle, the actor who plays an archdiocesan big-wig in the scene, went to B.C. High with me, and I acted in a couple of plays with him; he’s had a nice Hollywood career as a character actor.  (It’s interesting and sad that another character in that scene, a B.C. High trustee named Jack Dunn, is devastated by his portrayal in the movie–apparently it didn’t get everything right.)

One thing the movie brought back to me was how soon after 9/11 the Globe broke this story–its reporters were pulled off the investigation to join in the 9/11 coverage; they then refocused on the story and published it in January 2002.  In retrospect, this was a watershed moment for religion in America; it certainly was a watershed moment for me.  You could no longer believe (or pretend to believe) that religion was primarily a force for good in the world; you could no longer be a cultural Catholic who went to Mass occasionally without worrying too much about the consequences of the Church’s beliefs and institutional practices.  The Church has done little since the story broke to change my mind.

One of many things the movie gets right, I think, is to not oversell the heroism of the intrepid Globe reporters and editors.  This story had been sitting under the Globe’s nose for literally decades, and somehow it never paid attention.  But at least the Globe finally did; and at least we now have a movie that does the story justice.

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God’s Bankers and Pontiff: Too Improbable for Fiction

A major subplot of my twisty thriller Pontiff involves the secretive Vatican Bank and a new pope’s desire to clean it up.  There’s a new book out called God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner that goes into 700 pages worth of detail on just this subject.  It’s been getting rave reviews all over the place, including the New York Times.  Much of what Posner talks image002about is familiar to me from my reading when I was working on Pontiff — for example, this:

Posner’s gifts as a reporter and story­teller are most vividly displayed in a series of lurid chapters on the ­American ­archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the arch-Machiavellian who ran the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989. Notorious for ­declaring that “you can’t run the church on Hail Marys,” ­Marcinkus ended up ­implicated in several sensational scandals. The biggest by far was the collapse of Italy’s largest private bank, Banco ­Ambrosiano, in 1982 — an event ­preceded by mob hits on a string of investigators looking into corruption in the Italian banking industry and followed by the spectacular (and still unsolved) murder of Ambrosiano’s ­chairman ­Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London shortly after news of the bank’s implosion began to break. (Although the Vatican Bank was eventually absolved of legal culpability in Ambrosiano’s collapse, it did concede “moral involvement” and agreed to pay its creditors the enormous sum of $244 million.)

But I didn’t know this part, which seems too improbable to put into a thriller:

In one of his biggest scoops, ­Posner ­reveals that while Marcinkus was ­running his shell game at the Vatican Bank, he also served as a spy for the State Department, providing the American ­government with “personal details” about John Paul II, and even encouraging the pope “at the behest of embassy officials . . . to publicly endorse American positions on a broad range of political issues, ­including: the war on drugs; the ­guerrilla fighting in El Salvador; bigger defense budgets; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and even Reagan’s ambitious ­missile defense shield.”

I don’t suppose I’ll have the time or the energy to read the book.  The story makes wonderful fodder for thrillers, but it’s pretty depressing to realize that this is real life.