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.