John Geoghan was a Catholic priest in Massachusetts. In the opening scene of the film “Spotlight,” he is arrested by Boston police for molesting children. But instead of being prosecuted, he is released. The police are told not to let the story out to the press. A bishop meets with the family of the abused children. He persuades them that this is an unusual occurrence. He tells them that Geoghan is a fluke. He’s just a bad seed in a good organization.
Unfortunately, Geoghan’s case wasn’t unusual. He was just one of many priests in Boston who sexually abused children. Church officials transferred Geoghan to another parish. He molested boys there, too.
It’s a harsh story. It’s difficult to tell anywhere. But it’s particularly difficult to tell in a city like Boston. Boston is home to powerful Catholic organizations. The Church has influence all over the city. Clergymen exert pressure everywhere, from the courts to the business world. The Church’s disapproval can damage your reputation. It can ruin your career. Many people believe that going against the church can have bad consequences in the next life. In Boston, it can have consequences now.
“Spotlight” is mostly set in Boston in 2001. The film follows the work of the Spotlight team. Robby Robinson, Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll make up the team. They are journalists who do investigative work for the Boston Globe. They dig into some new information on the Geoghan case. As they work, they discover there is much more at stake than one case.
The Spotlight team members uncover many more stories of abuse than they had expected. As they dig deeper, they are met with resistance from many Bostonians. People don’t want the Church to be defamed. Many people encourage the reporters to forget the story. Their reputations and careers are threatened. All the reporters have Catholic backgrounds. Though they are lapsed, their findings unsettle them. Some of them experience a crisis of faith.
The story begins to consume both the reporters’ personal and professional lives. They have to do the tedious work of compiling data by hand. They are overwhelmed by the stories of victims. The film picks up pace with the story. The investigation becomes a blur of numbers, names, meetings and court documents. The Spotlight team becomes convinced that there is a system of cover-ups at place in the Catholic Church. And then the 9/11 attacks threaten to put the story on hold indefinitely.
Thankfully, the Spotlight team remains committed to revealing the truth. By telling a good story, the reporters are able to force the Church to reckon with its wrongdoing. This film reminds us that good journalism is still important in the 21st century.
“Spotlight” is not an easy film, but it feels necessary. It tackles difficult themes. You’ll feel the pain of victims. You’ll feel the righteous anger of the reporters. You’ll taste the frustration of advocates as the process drags on. And it’s almost impossible not to be moved in the closing scene. After the story is published, the Spotlight office is flooded with calls from victims who finally feel able to talk about their experiences. You’ll be inspired by the power of truth.