Spotlight: When the Church Turns Its Back on the Children

If you were a child sexually abused by the priest in your church, surely your parents wouldn’t turn a blind eye. If people in your church knew it was happening, they would definitely help. Wouldn’t they? If the neighborhood you lived in, the city that neighborhood was in, the lawyers, judges, schools and police in that city knew what was happening to you and hundreds of other children like you, there is no way they would stay silent. Right? What if the Church itself knew? All the way up to the top. What if the archdiocese knew…or the pope?

Just months after 9/11 rocked our nation, the Boston Globe broke exactly that story: a massive coverup of decades of sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests. The entire city of Boston had turned its back on these children. But a team of journalists from the Boston Globe known as “Spotlight” spent months digging through documents, tracking down victims and ultimately telling their stories.

“Spotlight” is not an action film. It is a slow burn of a film that builds quietly to its devastating conclusion. The riveting performances by the actors portraying the Spotlight team are what won this film the Oscar for best film in 2015. As the team members uncover case after case of abuse, the weight of what they are discovering begins to take a heavy toll. They must come to terms not only with what was done to these children at the hands of the Church, but also make peace with their own lives, which are so deeply entangled with that same Church.

This film showcases a type of journalism that has been all but lost in our digital age. In the era before huge internet databases and before nearly everything could be found in moments on Google, these journalists had to hunt down every document themselves. They did so under the long shadow cast by the powerful Catholic Church, which threatened their investigation at every turn and had buried this story so deeply that it thought no one could ever dig it up again.

In one of the film’s most powerful moments, the lawyer working on behalf of many of the survivors of the abuse says this:

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

This idea is what is at the heart of the film. These children weren’t just failed by their abusers and their church, they were failed by literally everyone they knew. If it hadn’t been for one survivor determined to tell the truth, one lawyer committed to seeing justice done and one paper willing to risk everything to tell the world what they had found, this story never would have seen the light of day.

“Spotlight” is filmmaking at its best: a compelling true story, performances by a remarkable cast and direction from a talented storyteller. This is a story that will rattle around in your head long after the final credits have rolled. With the Archdiocese of New York now admitting this is a problem still plaguing the church in 2019, there has never been a better time to watch this film that shook the Catholic Church right down to its very foundations.