The movie, Spotlight, released on November 6, 2015, is gaining popularity as rave reviews pour in. Marked as a possible Oscar, this true story takes us back to the scene in 2001 when The Boston Globe investigative journalist team, Spotlight, spent a year uncovering the sordid details of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The story broke after Martin Baron left the Miami Herald to take over as editor of The Boston Globe Newspaper. Unfamiliar with the level of secrecy he found, Baron demanded the same free access to state and local records in Massachusetts that he was accustomed to having under Florida’s Sunshine Law. What his team uncovered shocked the nation and initiated worldwide changes in the largest Christian institution on the globe: the Catholic Church.
Both the movie, Spotlight, and the book, Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, center around Cardinal Bernard Law’s decision to protect his priests, primarily Reverend John Geoghan who molested hundreds of children over three decades. Pay-off’s, secrecy, and scandal rocked the Diocese of Boston as the Spotlight team released hundreds of articles on their investigation. During a time in history when modern psychology was trusted to cure pedophile behaviors, Rev. Law shuffled Geoghan in and out of treatment and from parish to parish, offering no warning to unsuspecting parishes and little to no consolation or help to the victims of Geoghan’s abuse. A plethora of other priests and their innocent victims surfaced under the inexorable spotlight of the Globe’s investigative team.
When the story hit the news stands 2002, the Church was hit with a heavy blow as both Catholics and non-Catholics demanded answers. Pope John Paul called a meeting that included twelve American cardinals, two prominent bishops and other high ranking officials to draft new standards of investigation and prevention of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which outlined a new plan and set of procedures for preventing abuse and caring for victims.
Kit Johansen, Director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Palm Beach summarized the USCCB’s charter, “First and foremost, if anyone comes in contact with any children or youth at any of our parishes or schools, they must first be background screened. Second, they must attend a workshop that raises awareness of sexual abuse.” She emphasized, “No one, absolutely no one, can come into contact [with children] unless they’ve been background screened and attend these workshops.”
When queried as to whether or not priests must submit to this same screening, Mrs. Johansen promptly responded to One Christian Voice’s questioning, “If the Pope came and wanted to visit one of our children, we’d finger print him too.” Thirty thousand people in the Diocese of Palm Beach County have been trained to recognize and prevent child abuse. Additionally, the Church offers a Victims Assistance Coordinator who is available 24/7 to answer calls and assist victims of abuse.
Abuses in the Diocese of Palm Beach are not missed in the book, Betrayal, referencing the exploits of Bishop Keith Symons and Bishop Anthony O’Connell. Bishop O’Connell was quoted in the book, saying “My heart bleeds for Chris Dixon,” expressing no grief about his other undiscovered victims that later surfaced. When asked to comment on the callousness of the bishop, Johansen responded, “Remember, you are listening to a pedophile, whether that pedophile is a priest, or a person that is not a priest, a pedophile is a pedophile and that is always how a pedophile behaves: insensitive to the victims. The hardest thing is when it is a member of the clergy, because, yes, the priest is a very trusted person.”
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13
In response to the backsliding Symons and O’Connell, Father Brian King, of the Diocese of Palm Beach was quoted in the book saying, “Given the fact that the bishop of this diocese, the second bishop…they’re all going to wonder, ‘What’s happening in this diocese that people are covering up? What’s going on?’” He said out loud, the questions that both parishioners and the general public were asking, foreshadowing a level of transparency and trust that the Diocese would work hard to establish in the years that followed.
A Spotlight shone on a dark side of the Catholic Church and the Church responded quickly with remorse and with dedication to making positive changes.
“It’s part of our history…I would like people to go away knowing it was a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, and…when it came to light, because our Bishops responded as well as they did, [we have] this gift of the Charter.” Kit Johansen, Director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Palm Beach
For more information on the movie, Spotlight, visit www.spotlightthefilm.com.