Thank God for the Boston Globe. Thank God for Spotlight.
I watched Spotlight, the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting that uncovered a clerical-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan one Sunday morning after Mass this fall. I went right after a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I cried watching that movie.
I looked around and saw sorrow. I couldn’t help wondering if someone around me had been hurt by someone who professed to be a man of God. As a member of the body of Christ, which is what the Church is, I wanted to embrace her or him, a son of God, a daughter of God, a brother or sister in Christ. I wanted everyone there to hear the words of Pope Francis during a Mass with people who had been abused by priests in Ireland, Britain, and Germany: “Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.”
It’s been more than a decade since the Boston Globe shined light in the darkest of places. The Church is a different place now. As my friend Ed Mechmann, who runs the Safe Environment program in the Archdiocese of New York, put it in the New York Times, “The Catholic Church in America has done something no other organization in the world has done — we’ve made a huge, across-the-board change in our corporate culture so that now every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on his agenda. And we’ve been a great success.” The story Spotlight doesn’t tell is the one that comes after — “a story about learning from tragic mistakes and then committing to a course of transformation,” in Mechmann’s words.
And yet, there’s still more to do. As Pope Francis has said, you can never do enough to protect children. There is also the work of healing and atonement.
Spotlight brings with it an opportunity for closeness to those who suffer.
While “the scandals” are perhaps the predominant thing many in that Upper West Side movie theater know about the Catholic Church, most Catholics have never looked a man or woman abused by a priest in the eye. It’s an experience in the life of the Church that is foreign to many. Yes, perhaps you’ve endured the late-night comedian insults. But that’s not nearly the same. Pope Francis often discusses solidarity and even weeping for those who suffer and making reparation for the evil men do. Spotlight brings with it an opportunity for closeness to those who suffer. It does so with respect and compassion. And it is an opportunity for faithful Catholics to do more in prayer and service for healing and renewal.
It was only this summer that I encountered a prayer distributed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — “A Prayer for Healing” of “Victims of Abuse.”
God of endless love,ever caring, ever strong,always present, always just:You gave your only SonTo save us by his blood on the cross.Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,join to your own sufferingthe pain of all who have been hurtin body, mind, and spiritby those who betrayed the trust placed in them.Hear the cries of our brothers and sisterswho have been gravely harmed,and the cries of those who love them.Soothe their restless hearts with hope,steady their shaken spirits with faith.Grant them justice for their cause,enlightened by your truth.Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts,heal your people’s woundsand transform brokenness into wholeness.Grant us the courage and wisdom,humility and grace, to act with justice.Breathe wisdom into our prayers and labors.Grant that all harmed by abuse may find peace in justice.We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
In-the-pews, Mass-going Catholics should be praying this.
The U.S. Catholic bishops are perhaps better known for a press release about immigration or poverty or, yes, life and marriage. Their words on such things have credibility because of the work the Church does on the ground, helping families, the stranger and the lost, and those who need uplift and healing. But that work can be near-impossible to see while this gaping wound still bleeds.
Spotlight isn’t a perfect movie. And I know there are all kinds of politics and agendas surrounding it. It leaves the impression that celibacy led to abuse and cover-up. It didn’t. Evil did.
In one of Spotlight’s most memorable scenes, one of the reporters visits an elderly inactive priest who had abused children. He is casual and even nostalgic about it. You want to throw up. And scream. And weep. Before his sister, with whom he lives, sends the reporter away, we get the hint of a cycle — that he had been abused, too, as a child.
This year, as anyone who listened to Father Paul Scalia’s homily for his father last week knows, has been designated a year of mercy. This movie, which was released only weeks before Pope Francis opened the year, on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is an act of mercy. Just this past week, it was released on DVD. Every parish should own a copy. Every seminary should watch it. Spend time in prayer before and after. Grave evil happened.
I remember a Mass very early in life. I did not know that my father would be reading, but there he was at the altar. He read from Matthew: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” That’s my memory. I was ushered to the door of sacramental nourishment — to Christ Himself — with love. What if your memory is of violence or violation behind those doors?
Spotlight is not just the movie of the year. It captures the sorrow of generations.
Spotlight is not just the movie of the year. It captures the sorrow of generations. Of baby boomers who took their faith for granted or held onto it because of culture or sentiment. Of their children who kept it at a distance but as a lifeline they thought they might return to in the future. The scandals could provide justification for hardening and rejection, when more love is what is needed. Because of the scandals, love is not seen.
Pope Francis has renewed interest in the Church among those who left but may yet return, in part struck by his words and gestures that communicate love. His misunderstood “Who am I to judge?” may be fruitful if it helps people see that sin — not the Church or the priesthood — is the problem, and encourages them toward the Gospel. Church teachings on many things, but especially the so-called pelvic issues, are seen as needless or oppressive prohibitions. In truth there is so much more, and so much that the world longs for: meaning and purpose and healing and truth.
Spotlight is a tremendous opportunity to say: This happened. It was evil. It was awful. People suffered. People still do. God forgive us. Neighbor and stranger, forgive us. Dear brokenhearted man or woman whose innocence was torn from you — we pray to God that the sting of your wretched memories can be lessened. That the love of God the Father will be your overwhelming strength and that your closeness to Jesus can be your overwhelming reality. In this way, you are not a victim, but a witness.
It’s also an opportunity to thank a priest. There are good and holy men out there — running parishes and ministries, walking with people during their hardest and loneliest hours. Many of the priests assuming key leadership roles now and in the coming years are priests who were called by God or ordained around the time the Boston Globe did their Pultizer-winning work. They are a new generation. They had no illusions. Not only do they live in a time of new transparency, but they are liable to be considered guilty until proven innocent. Pray for them. Thank them. Let a good father know he is appreciated and loved.
And give thanks to God that he keeps calling people to Himself, in the Church. Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners, is our hope. Put a spotlight on Him for the remedy and healing for evil that men do. Watch Spotlight and give thanks for the good in men, too. For those who protect and seek justice for the innocent and tell the truth.