Film Review: Spotlight
by Eileen Mathy
For those of you who attended the showing of the movie Spotlight, reactions though they may vary are more than likely intense. This movie much like the investigative articles of the Boston Globe was designed to rock our Catholic worlds with new awareness of the full scope of and damage done by priest abuse and subsequent cover ups. In my parish, a large group of us attended the movie and met over supper to process our feelings. I’d recommend self care especially if the movie triggers memories of abuse or other disturbing thoughts and feelings. Talk about your reactions with a trusted friend or confidant. Seek counseling if it would be helpful. Soothe yourself in ways that are healthy. Seek forms of activism to channel anger in constructive ways.
I saw the movie twice. I went on a Friday afternoon by myself as a victim of priest abuse. I wanted privacy to process my pain. And I wept. The second time my husband and I joined our friends for an intense discussion about the movie. As I looked at the faces of longtime parishioners I saw expressions of disbelief and betrayal. We thought of our own children, and of our own childhoods. We shared about our relationships with our priests, and the dark history in our own parish and diocese. How had this happened? What made us vulnerable as a people?
One quote from the movie stood out to us that night and has directed much of my reflection. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” I thought about my own story of abuse. This priest was a trusted family friend. Absent in that relationship were natural boundaries and reactions to red flags. How had we become conditioned that way? As one woman in the movie was interviewed by reporters she was asked about her mother’s reaction when the bishop came to discuss allegations of the abuse. She responded that her mother served the bishop cookies. I thought of my own mother and I understood.
In the book Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: Gender, Power and Organizational Culture by Marie Keenan the author suggests that there are distinctive characteristics found in the Catholic church that set it apart from other organizations in terms of vulnerability towards sexual and other forms of exploitation. She highlights the closed nature of the organization and a distinctive lack of outside checks and balances. She states “In essence a closed organization that does not actively engage with or listen to those it purports to serve is likely to be at high risk…” (location 447) Keenan also claims that the risk is even higher if and when leadership is centralized. She advocates for a broader examination of seminary applicants stating that there is little evidence of specific pathologies found in standardized testing among offenders and that we cannot accurately examine the characteristics of the offender without the context of the organization. This is correlated by a study done for the US Council of Catholic Bishops in 2002. The John Jay report finds that only 32% of alleged abusers had evidence in their personnel files of ‘other behaviors or psychological problems’ ((p. 7).
Regardless of the root causes of clergy abuse, the onus is on us as laity, mothers, fathers, adult children…to ask questions, be aware and to speak up. When did we lose the right to have a voice, to ask questions, to disagree? Sometimes we even crucify each other when we do. That’s the kind of cultural conditioning I am referring to. In examining my own relationship to my pastor I recognize that the lines are sometimes blurred between God and clergy, confessor and confidant, someone on a pedestal and someone capable of sin. I know now that I owe it to myself to keep those distinctions clear and to hold the men who serve us accountable for the honesty and integrity of the positions they hold. It makes them better priests. It keeps our children safe.