Today, November 6, sees the release of Spotlight, a movie starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Spotlight is a movie about investigative journalism. It explores the story of how the Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team unearthed a story about how powerful men were sexually abusing children. More importantly Spotlight explores how the organization these men worked for did everything in its power to cover up the abuse and how it tried to ensure that the guilty escaped justice.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Spotlight was a work of fiction focusing perhaps on the allegations that British members of Parliament were guilty of the sexual abuse of children in the 1970’s. The shocking fact is that Spotlight tells a true story, and even more shocking the story is an exposé of sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests. Spotlight shows how the journalists uncovered the abuse and the conspiracy that did all it could to cover up the facts.
The movie spotlights how that conspiracy spread all the way from Boston to the Vatican. By shining a light into the very darkest places of human depravity Spotlight may prove to be one of the most important pieces of factual storytelling of our time.
The Daily Beastsays that Spotlight is a “thorough account of the scrupulous toil that went into creating this titanic exposé.” USA Today simply says that Spotlight is a “masterpiece” and describes it as this generation’s All the President’s Men.
Back in 2001, The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team began to investigate claims that at least a dozen pedophile priests were abusing children in the city. One can only imagine the obstacles the Spotlight team faced as they tried to uncover the facts of an truly horrific case.
The Spotlight team found that the Catholic Church did everything in its power to stop the truth being uncovered. Perhaps the most shocking fact of all is that Spotlight tells the story of how the church knew that the abuse of children was taking place and left priests in place to continue abusing. The Spotlight investigation not only uncovered abuse in Boston, it blew the lid off abuse scandals the world over.
The Spotlight team’s work was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 2003, and Spotlight the movie tells an incredibly dramatic story without sensationalizing it.
Of course, the work of the Spotlight team focuses on a tiny part of what has become a worldwide scandal. It could be argued that Spotlight turned the unthinkable into fact. In the decade and a half since the Spotlight team uncovered abuse in Boston, similar scandals have been exposed across the world.
In the years since the Spotlight teams work in Boston, Vocativ claims that at least 3,400 credible cases of child abuse by priests have been referred to the Vatican. Over 2,500 priests have been sentenced to a lifetime of penitence, and almost 850 priests have been defrocked. Pope Benedict defrocked at least 384 priests in the two years before he retired in 2013.
Despite the sexual abuse scandals exposed by Spotlight, it doesn’t seem that the Catholic church has truly learned its lessons. As recently as 2010, Catholic Answers magazine claimed that accusations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church represented a “secular attack on the Church [which] is profoundly hypocritical.”
The BBC reported that in March of 2014 Pope Francis strongly defended the Catholic Church’s response to the scandals exposed by investigations like that by the Spotlight team.
In 2014 the Daily Mail reported that the bodies of 800 babies and children were uncovered in a septic tank “grave” at a former home for unmarried mothers run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Arguably, the “Spotlight” investigation was responsible for opening Pandora’s box. Spotlight broke the bond of trust that existed between people and the church.
As a result of Spotlight, it is no longer impossible to think of those who are represented as moral guardians as potential abusers. Spotlight has removed a social taboo, and as a result it may be one of the most important pieces of investigative journalism of all time.
[Photo by William B. Plowman/Getty Images]